Study Guide

Lamentations Justice and Judgment

Justice and Judgment

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions. (NRSV 1:5)

Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy. (KJV 1:5)

This is a pretty clear statement of cause and effect.

The Lord has rejected all my warriors in the midst of me; he proclaimed a time against me to crush my young men; the Lord has trodden as in a wine press the virgin daughter Judah. (NRSV 1:15)

The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me: he hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men: the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress. (KJV 1:15)

Check out this amazing imagery. God seems like Godzilla in this description. It really conveys the destruction of the beauty and vitality of the city in its use of the images of the young men and women. The wrathful God of the Hebrew Scriptures does seem to mete out some pretty disproportionate punishment at times.

The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word. (NRSV 1:18)

The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity. (KJV 1:18)

Exactly. God is right. This is totally not overkill at all. The people deserved to be driven from their homes and murdered. Totally just. In Jewish tradition, when hearing about the death of someone, observant people will say, "Blessed is the divine judge." Even though it's a tragedy, it's acknowledged as something judged by God to be right, and some people find that comforting.

Bring on the day you have announced, and let them be as I am. Let all their evil doing come before you; and deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my transgressions; for my groans are many and my heart is faint. (NRSV 1:21-22)

Thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me. Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint. (KJV 1:21-22)

Fair is fair, God. If you're going to punish Judah, you might want to try punishing their enemies when you get a minute. Revenge might be sweet, but would it get Judah back to their homeland? It does. Babylonians do eventually get theirs at the hands of the Persians, who allow the Jews to go back to their homes courtesy of Cyrus the Great.

How the Lord in his anger has humiliated daughter Zion! He has thrown down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger. The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of daughter Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers. He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn his right hand from them in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around. He has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; he has killed all in whom we took pride in the tent of daughter Zion; he has poured out his fury like fire. (NRSV 2:1-4)

How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger! The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof. He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about. He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire. (KJV 2:1-4)

Just in case you didn't realize how bad it was…

The Lord has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat; as he ordained long ago, he has demolished without pity; he has made the enemy rejoice over you, and exalted the might of your foes. (NRSV 2:17)

The Lord hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries. (KJV 2:17)

Lesson learned. Please brush up on Deuteronomy next time.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one's mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one's cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one's case is subverted —does the Lord not see it? Who can command and have it done, if the Lord has not ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. (NRSV 3:21-41)

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth. To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High, To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not. Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. (KJV 3:21-41)

The Poet cheers himself up with the thought that God can't stay angry forever. He also suggests that being miserable for a while has its benefits—it lets you think about what you've done to deserve it and change your ways.

Those who were my enemies without cause have hunted me like a bird; they flung me alive into a pit and hurled stones on me; water closed over my head; I said, "I am lost." I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief!" You came near when I called on you; you said, "Do not fear!" (NRSV 3:52-57)

Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off. I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not. (KJV 3:52-57)

The poet consoles himself and the people by remembering the times when God did hear their pleas.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom, you that live in the land of Uz; but to you also the cup shall pass; you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare. The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished, he will keep you in exile no longer; but your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish, he will uncover your sins. (NRSV 4:21-22)

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins. (KJV 4:21-22)

This verse reflects a popular idea at the time. The people thought that Judah's fortunes kind of see-sawed with other nations. If they were down, other folks were up. The poet warns the nations that their turn to suffer and be judged is coming.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! (NRSV 5:1)

Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach. (KJV 5:1)

The poet beseeches God to answer Judah and to see how bad things have become. Does he think God doesn't already know this?

But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure. (NRSV 5:19-22)

Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation. Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us. (KJV 5:19-22)

The poet wants Judah's relationship with God to be like it used to be in the old days. He's pleading for reconciliation but worries that things may have reached the point of no return. The devastation has been so bad, and God hasn't seen fit to provide any relief, so you can see how he might wonder if the abandonment is permanent.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...