The Lord Has Become Like an Enemy

Most Christians don’t have a problem seeing God’s hand in the blessings of life. Give us a new job, a narrowly-avoided accident, or an energizing time with a friend and we’re eager to point to God as the giver.

It’s harder for us to see God bringing difficulty our way. How can we attribute bad circumstances to a good God?

The author of Lamentations did not have this modern problem. As he sits in the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem, he knows for a fact that God has done every bit of it.

So Much Devastation

The poet of Lamentations 2 looks around and sees his city destroyed. And though Babylon is directly responsible for the fires and the rubble, he knows this is God’s work.

God has “broken down” the defenses of the city (Lam 2:2) and “cut down” its might (Lam 2:3). He has “swallowed up all its palaces” and “laid in ruin its strongholds” (Lam 2:5).

Even the destruction of the temple can be traced back to the Lord. God “laid in ruin his meeting place” (Lam 2:6). He has “scorned his altar” and “disowned his sanctuary.” He delivered this holy building “into the hand of the enemy” and they “raised a clamor in the house of the Lord” (Lam 2:7).

Through this work, God was not removed. He was angry. In the first ten verses of this chapter alone, notice the words that describe God’s posture toward his people: anger, fury, burned, killed, without mercy.

At one point it must have seemed unthinkable for God to stand against his people like this. But now, “the Lord has become like an enemy” (Lam 2:5). The author does not take the easy road, writing that God allowed this or that tragedy. No, God “did not restrain his hand from destroying” (Lam 2:8).

This chapter contains some of the most vivid, forceful, specific language in the Bible about God’s judgment on Israel. If the prayer of Lamentations 1 could be summarized as Look at what has happened to us, then chapter 2 takes a harsh turn: Look what you have done to us!

Reasons for Judgment

We don’t have a detailed list of the sins of Israel in this short book. But chapter 2 offers a few details.

The prophets have failed the people. They have seen “false and deceptive visions.” They “have not exposed” the people’s iniquity, but have instead spoken “oracles that are false and misleading” (Lam 2:14).

In his response, God has not acted out of character or against his promise. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word which he commanded long ago” (Lam 2:17).

The Response to Judgment

This chapter is filled with weeping and lament. Here we have a profound example: We can mourn our circumstances to the Lord even when God is the one who brought about our mournful circumstances.

It is not wrong—in fact, it is deeply right—to cry out to the Lord in the midst of pain and tragedy that are the result of God’s judgment.

The repeated prayer in Lamentations 1 is a request for the Lord to see the poet. That is also the author’s main request in this chapter: “Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus?” (Lam 2:20)

But now the request to be noticed acknowledges God’s hand in the devastation. The end of this verse captures the layers of grief, surprise, and horror: “Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?” (Lam 2:20)

While few of our hardships can be traced with certainty to our guilt, all suffering exists because of the fall of humanity into sin. This chapter helps us understand that crying out to God is good, even in the midst of judgment. How much more, therefore, is it good for us to lament when we are not necessarily directly to blame?

The Laments of Jesus

Because God is just, sin must be judged. And for every Christian, this is what Jesus accomplished. His sufferings were greater than those of the residents of fallen Jerusalem. His agony was deeper than we could imagine. In the unthinkable way that God became like an enemy to his people, God confronted Jesus as he was “made sin” in his final hours (2 Cor 5:21).

On the cross, our Lord lamented being forsaken by God (Matt 27:46). He could just as easily have cried, “With whom have you dealt thus?” (Lam 2:20)

Called to be Lamenting People

The white, western church is deeply uncomfortable with lament. Our calls to worship, our songs, our congregational prayers bear little resemblance to Lamentations. Though we often suffer, we have swallowed the lie that our lives and our words to God should be nothing but celebration.

But it is good to grieve over sin and its consequences. In this way we agree with God—our broken world needs redemption.

As we turn to God, let’s acknowledge him as the good, sovereign king who justly brings consequences for sin. When we feel that sorrow, and when our neighbors bend under that same weight, we can bring this anguish to God.

He will hear. He will see.

Photo credit

Look and See, O Lord!

In the midst of any prolonged suffering, we feel a natural desire for relief. We want the pain to go away, the grief to recede, the devastation to subside.

But there’s an earlier, more fundamental need we have as humans in mourning. We want to be seen.

Lamentations

The book of Lamentations in the Bible is filled with urgent cries of agony. Assumed by many to be written by Jeremiah (though never identified internally this way), Lamentations is a book of five laments about the destruction of Jerusalem. As an agent of God’s judgment on his people for their sin, the nation of Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. After destroying the temple and much of the city, the Babylonians led most of the residents away to captivity.

This was a heartbreaking, disastrous situation for all Israelites. The prayers recorded in the book of Lamentations were written by one of the people left behind, and they were used in Jewish worship services for decades afterward. These prayers are filled with loss and anguish, and they teach us as God’s people how to process grief in his presence.

Requests in Lamentations 1

lament is a genre of prayer found in the Bible which usually contains complaints, requests, and expressions of trust in the Lord. Not all of these ingredients are found in all laments, but most laments include at least two of these elements.

It’s not hard to find the complaints in the first chapter of Lamentations—they’re everywhere. This is easy to understand, as the city and temple have been leveled. All that the Jewish people knew and held dear was reduced to rubble.

The requests in this chapter are more scarce. In fact, before the last two verses, there is only one petition I see, and it appears three times.

“O Lord, behold my affliction”

In verse 9, the author writes, “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!”

The Israelites have “sinned grievously” (verse 8) and Jerusalem has fallen in a public and embarrassing way (verses 8–9). There is no one to comfort her (verse 9). The Lord “has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (verse 5).

“Look, O Lord, and see”

In Lamentations 1:11, we read, “Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.”

The nations have entered unlawfully into the Lord’s sanctuary and have taken “precious things” (verse 10). The people are starving, groaning as they search for bread (verse 11).

“Look, O Lord, for I am in distress”

In verse 20, we read, “Look, O Lord, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious.”

The Lord has “inflicted” sorrow in his “fierce anger” (verse 12). The author writes in detail of the painful physical judgment God has brought on his people (verses 13–15). There has been no one to give comfort (verses 16, 17).

A Desire to be Noticed

As painful as suffering can be, loneliness amplifies this hardship. Agony is more acute when it is held in private and not seen or acknowledged by others.

Here is the root of these requests. Before asking for relief or deliverance or restoration, the author of Lamentations wants to be seen by the Lord.

This is something we should be praying for ourselves and our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ: “Look, O Lord, and see!”

Jesus, Our Lamenter

The book of Lamentations is bleak territory. With some minor exceptions, it doesn’t feel hopeful. I’d wager no verses from Lamentations 1 appear on a Hallmark card.

And yet, when we understand how all of the Scriptures point to Jesus, there is much we can learn from this rich book.

The author of Lamentations understands the connections. God is holy and the people have rebelled. So God has brought the judgment for sin he promised. The people are lamenting because they are suffering the consequences of their sin.

This probably doesn’t sound like Jesus yet, but remember what he screamed on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)

Jesus knew the pain of judgment for sin. He knew loneliness. He knew what it was like to look in vain for comfort. Piped through the right speakers, Jesus’s cry on the cross sounds a lot like “Look, O Lord, and see!”

If you are a child of God, Jesus has suffered and lamented for you. Jesus is evidence that God has looked and seen!

Do Unto Others

We can now lament—even more fully than the author of Lamentations—because we have a lamenting Savior. Christians have the comfort of the Holy Spirit because, for a time, Jesus was without comfort.

We know how vital it is to be seen and noticed, to have our pain recognized and named. Entering into the full suffering of humanity, Jesus knew the same, so we have a sympathetic advocate in heaven when we pray.

The application for us toward our friends and neighbors here is obvious. We must learn to notice and acknowledge the suffering of others. We can lament on their behalf, asking God to look and see and comfort.

When we encounter our neighbors’ grief, it may be raw and wild. We don’t need to offer advice or platitudes; often our presence is enough.

And a lament to God for our neighbors—with our neighbors—may point more persuasively to Jesus than a sermon could.

Photo credit