18 “The LORD is righteous,
For I rebelled against His commandment.
Hear now, all peoples,
And behold my sorrow;
My virgins and my young men
Have gone into captivity.
19 “I called for my lovers,
But they deceived me;
My priests and my elders
Breathed their last in the city,
While they sought food
To restore their life.”
In Scripture we often read the prophets and Jesus lamenting the fallen state of the Jews, mourning their unwillingness to repent and seek God on His own terms rather than theirs. But in the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah gives a voice to Jerusalem herself, and the city that was once proud host to the house of the Lord now laments for the children of God. She knows of her rebellion, and she knows she needs to repent, and yet it is the people who must turn to the Lord on her behalf. Jerusalem is truly just stones and mortar, but the heart of the city is her people, and Jerusalem’s heart was altogether corrupt and wicked. And so Jeremiah allows the city–“how like a widow is she”–to mourn with him. (Lamentations 1:1)
Today’s verses are just a small part of Jerusalem’s mourning, and yet they speak to us a message about all human sin and rebellion. Jerusalem first says that the Lord is righteous–i.e. right to have punished the people for their transgressions, for they rebelled against His commandment. And what one commandment have they turned from?
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
And because they did not love the Lord their God, the result is that their young men and women “have gone into captivity.” That is, of course, what happens when a society forsakes the Lord God: our children grow up without His guidance and become captive to every sort of lawlessness and sin, bound to the spiteful will of Satan rather than the loving will of God. Our children grow up without knowing their heritage, without knowing true love that flows from the Father, without learning the way of God’s righteousness. Bound as our children are to worldly materialism and secular measures of success, held in bondage to the love of money and other shallow desires, they mature into adults who do not have the breath of life God wishes to breathe into them. And once that generation is lost, what then? Who then will rise to sing praises to the Lord our God? Must God raise up stones or dead bones to be His faithful?
Jerusalem called for those who loved her, but they deceived her. What did she call out? “Repent!” was the cry spoken in her streets. “Return to the Lord,” said Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and so many others. But those who ought to have known the Lord–“my priests and my elders”–did not turn to the Lord. The ones who should have been praying and crying out to God, they instead “sought food to restore their life.” Food? Food?!?
“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.”
And yet the priests and elders sought food to restore their life. Who alone has the power to restore life to His people? Who alone is mighty to save? Who alone loves His people and brought them from captivity to a land overflowing with milk and honey? The priests and elders sought FOOD instead of seeking GOD! They turned from Him who breathes life and they breathed their last while searching for life in material things.
How long will we turn from the Lord? Will our streets one day lament our unrepentance? Will our cities speak over our breathless bones, saying “They sought food instead of You, O Lord”? How long will we allow our children to be taken into captivity while still living in our homes, made slaves to Satan even as the Word of God sits dusty on a shelf? Will the Cross be emptied of its power because we have forgotten the One who hung there to bear our sins?
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
38 “See! Your house is left to you desolate;
39 “for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'”
Let not our Savior Himself mourn for us! Let not our Lord say we were unwilling to receive Him! Let not our cities lament over our dry bones as Satan enslaves our children! Let us not seek food while we ought to be seeking the life that comes only from the Cross of Christ!
Soon we will be celebrating Resurrection Sunday, when an empty tomb signaled the return to life of One who was slain for our sins. That empty tomb and that empty Cross are the testament of our Lord’s gospel. This is ευαγγελιου ιησου χριστου (“euaggelion Jesou Christou”)–the good news of Jesus Christ: the debt of our rebelliousness and sin has been paid, and we have been set free from captivity to have eternal life with our Father. Let us therefore repent and believe in that gospel, and seek first the kingdom of the Lord our God. Let us give our cities and our Savior cause to rejoice with us as we seek only the One who gives eternal life.
Father God, I pray that You will not mourn for our cities, that no generation shall be completely lost from You. Enter into our lives, Lord God, and breathe Your Word into our hearts. Strengthen our rulers with Your wisdom. Teach us to seek You and only You, that we may taste and see that life eternal which You offer. Be glorified in our lives, O Lord. Amen.