Lamentations 1:1 – Sin’s Consequences and Cure

12 08 2008

How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave!” (Lamentations 1:1)

Jeremiah has been called “the weeping prophet” because of the heartfelt sadness he expresses over the devastation of Jerusalem for her sins. Centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ would weep over Jerusalem again, as He mourned her hardness of heart and anticipated yet another great judgment upon her. Sin promises fulfillment, happiness and contentment, and yet its promises are empty and hollow. In the end, the wages of sin is death, and the consequences of self-indulgence are a broken life and untold miseries. The people of Jerusalem learned this lesson the hard way.

Yet sorrow for sin is not an end in itself. Godly sorrow is designed to lead to repentance, which in turn leads to forgiveness and restoration. There is no shortcut to restoration that bypasses godly sorrow. Before a sinner can be brought to reconciliation, he must face the reality of his offenses against God and feel the sting of conviction.

The chastisements of God are calculated to accomplish this purpose. They are, in that sense, a means of grace. Make no mistake… God would be perfectly just to bring every sinner instantly to judgment and consign him or her to an eternity of punishment. But in His grace and mercy, He often brings only temporal sufferings into the life of the sinner, to show him the consequences of rebellion and call him to acknowledge his offenses and cry out for mercy.

Chastisements serve a double purpose. They are the just consequences of sinful actions, and they are the gracious instruments of God to humble the sinner that he might be restored. The first step toward restoration is to mourn over sin and its results.

Repentance begins with an acknowledgment of particular transgressions. If your child, while being punished for some act of disobedience, sought to have the punishment removed by making a vague and general apology (“I’m sorry for whatever I might have done to make you angry”) you would rightly question whether he truly understood his offense. So it is with repentance before God. The heart of the true penitent must come to grips with his particular sins, and be made to acknowledge precisely how he has given offense to the Holy God.

Often, the first step toward recognizing particular sin in our lives is the wake-up call of finding ourselves smarting under the sudden consequences those sins have brought down upon our heads. The Lamentations of Jeremiah therefore begin with a consideration of the misery of Jerusalem, that she might see how her sins have reduced her to the deplorable condition in which she now finds herself. The design of this contemplation of suffering is not to encourage self-pity, but to stimulate self-examination.

The lament begins with the acknowledgment that the former glory of the city has been stripped away: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave!”

The Hebrew titles of the books of the Old Testament are generally taken from the first word of the first verse of the book. The formal title of the book of Lamentations is the Hebrew word “Eekah,” which means “How!” It is a word denoting sudden alarm and amazement, and might also be translated “Alas!” or “Behold!” The force of the language used here is important. The idea conveyed is “Look at us! Look what has become of us!” Jerusalem was once a grand city, bustling with activity. Her marketplaces thrived and people filled her streets. All of this is now gone. She has become a ghost town, lonely and desolate. The throngs of people that once overflowed her streets have perished or been carried off as captives to a foreign land.

The eerie emptiness of the streets of Jerusalem testifies to the vanity of placing confidence in prosperity.None of the inhabitants of that great city ever imagined that it would have come to this. The prosperity of the city had lured them into a false assurance. Every great nation presumes itself to be invincible. Yet God is able to reduce the greatest and most prosperous nation to nothing. A nation that rejects God is not secure, regardless of the appearance of prosperity. All of the prosperity in which they trust can be stripped away in an instant when God brings judgment upon those who reject His laws and spurn the Son of His love.

Jerusalem had been a princess among the provinces, but she finds herself a widow. She had received tribute from kings, but now finds herself a slave. In reality, Jerusalem had been a slave long before her captivity.The people had sold themselves into bondage to sin. The captivity of the nation was only the result of God giving them over to the desire of their own wicked hearts.

The effect of sin in a nation or an individual is bondage. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). This is the great illusion of sin, which promises freedom from the demands of God’s law, only to clap chains of iron around the wrists and ankles of those who submit to its lusts. Those who are given over to sin may imagine themselves to be free for a time, but eventually their bondage will become evident.

The promises of sin are empty. In the end it leads to solitude, grief, and slavery. The façade of prosperity will be stripped away from all who imagine themselves secure in their ways apart from Christ. They will be left to mourn their pitiful condition as they look back at the vain confidence they once had.

What application are we to make from these opening lines of Jeremiah’s Lamentation? “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Here is a word of warning for the church, the nation, and the individual…

The Church

Judah was God’s covenant people, and Jerusalem was the place where He chose to dwell among them. They mistakenly presumed that they could boldly continue in sin and that God would never forsake His covenant people or His holy sanctuary in Jerusalem. Now they looked with horror upon the ruins of the temple, in which they once boasted – and the holy city, which they thought could never be overthrown. Judah learned the hard lesson that “Judgment begins at the house of God!”

Today, the Church already finds itself, to a great extent, in a posture of subjection and forsakenness, though she has not yet recognized her deplorable condition. She must awaken unto repentance and reformation while the voices of God’s prophets are still sounding the warnings of inevitable judgment if she continues to follow after worldliness and self-satisfaction while forsaking obedience to the revealed will of God as it is found in the Scriptures!

The Nation

Our nation needs desperately to learn the lesson of Lamentations. When the godly attempt to point out the inevitable consequences of moral decay and spiritual decline resulting from the rejection of Christ in our land, their warnings are casually or mockingly dismissed. We are assured that the economy is strong, as though a strong economy is a guarantee of future security no matter what the moral condition of the land and its people may be. The people are resting in a vain security. Our nation will find itself echoing the laments of Jeremiah if we continue to ignore the Lord’s warnings.

The Individual

Perhaps you find yourself in the place of mourning personally. Has your outward prosperity been stripped away? Is your life filled with grief and sighing? Do you see that sin’s empty promises of freedom have only led you into bondage to fear and lust? If so, then God is calling upon you to begin the process toward restoration. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Don’t wait to receive your paycheck! The perks you have been promised are fraudulent! Look at where sin has brought you! How did it come to this? How empty and vain is your life! How pitiable the condition of your soul! How lonely and desolate you are! How enslaved to your lusts and wants and insatiable longings for the things of this world!

You must acknowledge your condition and recognize the mournful emptiness that your life has become. You must see the vanity of trusting in self-satisfaction or in the approval of others. True repentance begins with anguish of heart over sin and its consequences.

I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? And I said, “This is my anguish;” But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. (Psalm 77:6-10)

That “right hand” is the place where Jesus now sits… having displayed the power of God’s justice and mercy. It is to Him – and to Him alone – that you must look when the Spirit of God opens your eyes to the bankruptcy of your own heart and the desperate lostness of your eternal soul.

Sin has led you into bondage, but the Son will set you free!