The book of Lamentations is often neglected. Perhaps this is because the themes are not themes we like to think about very often. Here the Holy Spirit teaches us how we can express sorrow. Sorrow for our sin, sorrow for the sins of others, sorrow for our feelings of abandonment, and sorrow over God’s Fatherly chastisement (there’s a reason it’s called Lamentations!). But neglect of Lamentations will ultimately lead to neglecting gospel comforts.
In the fourth lament Jeremiah sorrows over the famine that had struck Jerusalem as a result of the Babylonian siege (see 1:11 and Jeremiah 52:6). In graphic terms we learn that the whole of Jerusalem’s strength had been sapped away, her very foundations had been devoured (4:11). So much so that the enemy could now prevail over the city they once thought indestructible (vs. 12). The climactic point of the enemy’s victory came when Judah’s king, King Zedekiah, was caught fleeing the city (see Jeremiah 52:8). And Jeremiah expresses the sorrow of their loss in these words:
The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen. -Lamentations 4:20
Can you imagine if in a time of war you turned the television on to hear that the President had been captured by the enemy? Agree with his politics or not, it is undoubted that chaos, fear, and grief would be felt from shore to shore. This gives us a small sense of what Judah feels. The king is here called the “breath of our nostrils.” That is, our very life, our very heartbeat. He’s “the anointed of the LORD.” That is, he’s part of David’s chosen family, the promised king of Israel (see 2 Samuel 7:12). Babylon could take their homes, cities, temple, and nation, but the people would still have an ounce of hope so long as they could live under the shadow of their king in exile. But even this was taken from them.
Like so much of Lamentations it’s really a depressing scene. But it doesn’t end in despair. God was teaching Judah something in all of this, a lesson summed up by the Psalmist, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth” (Psalm 146:3-4). Judah had a misplaced hope, and in order that they might turn to the LORD, he takes even their king.
But he gives us a better hope, even a better King, Jesus Christ! One whom the enemy could not hold (Acts 2:24) and one who was been given all things by right of his Mediatorship (Philippians 2:9-11). Because his dominion extends over all we, during the time of our exile (1 Peter 2:11), can live under his shadow. Even the nighttime of sorrow dawns in the splendid hope of the gospel, for Jeremiah, and for us.