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by Rosco Brong

A Mourning Prayer
Lamentations 5: 1-22

Fifth of a series of poetic lamentations over captivity and oppression of Judah under Babylonian rule, the fifth chapter of Lamentations constituting this lesson is really a plaintive prayer, and may be outlined as follows:

1. The Bill of Wrongs, verses 1-10.
2. The Abuse of Slaves, verses 11-14.
3. A Godly Sorrow, verses 15-18.
4. Hope Against Hope, verses 19-22

The Bill of Wrongs, verses 1-10.
Chosen of God to be His own peculiar people, chosen to be set apart from other nations of the world, chosen to be delivered from powers of evil that they might partake of His holiness, the people of ancient Israel and Judah had sinned against their God. Except for a tiny remnant, both individually and as a nation they had despised the word of God given through faithful prophets, and had finally brought upon themselves their own destruction.

Wicked idolaters became instruments of divine vengeance in the hands of the true God as He sent temporal judgments upon His own people. Having departed from the rule of righteousness, they were crushed by the rule of wickedness. Having despised their Bill of Rights, they were forced to suffer a Bill of Wrongs.

Surely, although we have no exact parallel, there is some instruction here for the United States of America. Government according to human whims and fancies, whether those human tyrants are executive, judicial, or congressional, replacing government under settled constitutional principles, can lead only to disaster. A national government and citizenry despising our heritage of freedom under God will finally bring us to slavery under powers of Satan.

Praying for his people, the prophet calls upon God to remember, consider, and look upon their sad condition [verse 1]. We may safely remark that when we ourselves are aware of our condition, our needs, and our responsibilities, God knows and remembers better than we do [I John 3:20]. Yet under the language of appearance we are commanded, "Let your requests be made known unto God" [Philippians 4:6].

Property rights were despised under heathen rule [verse 2], and the land was filled with widows and orphans because the able-bodied men had been either killed, maimed, or taken away into slavery [verse 3].

Under the controlled economy of an alien government, the surviving Jews had to pay for a drink of water or a stick of wood [verse 4], and the yoke of slavery weighed heavily on their necks [verse 5].

Plundered and robbed of their resources, they submitted to and sought foreign aid from Egyptians and Assyrians by turn in desperate attempts to get enough to eat [verse 6]. Verse 7 has been interpreted as blaming their ancestors for their sorry plight; but the actual statement is not that the punishment, but that the very iniquities, of their fathers were upon them. In other words, they kept on sinning as their fathers had sinned, and so judgment finally came upon them.

Among the humiliations suffered by the once so proud Jews was the exaltation of Babylonian slaves, perhaps even former slaves of the Jews themselves, to positions of political power, with their cruel rule enforced by an army of occupation [verse 8].

Babylonian arms, however, provided little or no protection from desert raiders [verse 9]; or perhaps the Babylonians themselves, like the modem Communists, continued to loot and kill wherever anyone succeeded in gathering a little store of food. So the darkness of death by starvation came upon the faces of the miserable victims [verse 10].

The Abuse of Slaves, verses 11-14.
Idiots who proclaim that wars never decide anything should study a little history or open their eyes to the treatment of the losers by the winners in some parts of the world today. The only wars that do not decide much are the "no victory" wars.

Murder, rape, torture, and abuse are often considered no longer crimes but commonplace amusements with occupying armies [verses 11-12]. Nor is this only ancient history: barbarity and savagery are not extinct, but are exhibited in our own generation.

Cruel slavery put young men to a woman's work, and children fell under the loads of wood that they were forced to carry [verse 13]. Godless rulers had no respect for the aged or pity for the young. The elders were cast out of their positions of honor, and young men left their music [verse 14]. (If their music was anything like some we hear today, perhaps their leaving it was a blessing in disguise -- to others if not to themselves!)

A Godly Sorrow, verses 15-18.
Verse 15 of our lesson may remind us of James 4:9, and in verse 16 we have the confession of responsibility for sin. All this humiliation and suffering was the result of sins, and there could be no deliverance until this fact was faced and confessed. Only a remnant of God's people would face it then; only a remnant are willing to face it now.

"For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim" [Verse 17]. Here is godly sorrow [II Corinthians 7:10]; not so much sorrow that they were suffering, but sorrow that they had sinned [verse 16] and sorrow that the mount of God lay desolate [verse 18].

Godly sorrow that works repentance [II Corinthians 7:10] is "a necessary preparation" for prayer that seeks deliverance from divine chastisement. The prophet was in the right way; the tragedy is that most of his people refused to follow in that way.

Hope Against Hope, verses 19-22.
In all the changing scenes of earth, in all our ups and downs and wanderings to and fro, the eye of faith sees the unchanging, living, sovereign God sitting still upon His throne [verse 19]. He is our only hope.

But in appearance it seemed to the prophet, as it often does to many of us, that God had forever forgotten His people and His promises [verse 20]. His people seemed to have been forsaken, and the time seemed long.

As always, the remedy was revival; and the prophet well understood, as many modem so-called revivalists do not, that revivals must come from God [verse 21]. When He turns us, we shall really be turned; and if our days are to be renewed, He must do the renewing.

Hardly a beam of brightness broke through the dreary darkness of desolation during the day of the prophet who uttered this prayer. Like Abraham of old, "who against hope believed in hope" [Romans 4:18], Jeremiah too had to "hope against hope." All circumstances and appearances seemed to show that God had utterly rejected His people and remained very angry against them [verse 22].

Yet this "mourning prayer" was not in vain. No doubt it brought divine help and comfort to Jeremiah and to others who shared his faith; and even a rebellious nation will one day learn that God is faithful that promised, and that His gifts and calling are without repentance

CONCLUSION [Psalm 130:7]
This advice to Israel is also the best advice we can give to any other nation or any individual soul. The "Lord" here is Jehovah. Mercy can be found only in Him; and that only through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Although the way is narrow [Matthew 7:14], "with him is plenteous redemption" -- enough of grace to save completely and eternally all who put their trust in Him.

[From Ashland Avenue Baptist newspaper, July 12, 1968, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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