|Ruins of Jerusalem—Google Images|
Of course, the reference to these "laments" spurred me to read Lamentations, one of the two books attributed to Jeremiah.
The prophet had lived through the reigns of men like Hezekiah and Josiah. Both these men followed the Lord and did much to restore Judah to her religious roots. Jeremiah also lived through some not so righteous reigns, including those of the last kings of Judah before the kingdom was overrun by the Babylonians and the people taken into captivity. Lamentations was exactly that—Jeremiah's expression of sorrow for the fate of Judah because of her sin.
As is often the case in other passages, Jeremiah lays blame for the disaster at the feet of the leaders of the time, especially her spiritual leaders.
"The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading" (Lamentations 2:14, NIV).
"But it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests; who shed within her the blood of the righteous" (Lamentations 4:13, NIV).
Such an accusation doesn't absolve the individual of his responsibility for his own choices, but it does highlight the truth behind the expression, "herd mentality." Most of us are followers. We follow the fashion trends. We follow the latest technology. We follow whoever are the "beautiful people" of the era. We follow the habits and attitudes of our generation. We follow those who have position, power and authority. Few of us buck the system.
Nothing much has changed. The same was true in the days of Jeremiah, which is why he laid the greatest responsibility for the spiritual failure of God's people at the feet of those who were her spiritual leaders. They had failed in their responsibility to keep themselves pure, had spread a popular message rather than a truthful message, and had failed to call the people to account for their sins. They had failed to lead well.
Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, ends his book with this cry: "Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry beyond measure" (Lamentations 5:21, 22, NIV).
Had he given up all hope? No, he hadn't. Even through his tears and even though he had no idea if, and when, restoration would happen, Jeremiah knew, and trusted, that God would act in righteousness and mercy because that was God's nature. He wrote:
"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him'" (Lamentations 3:22-24, NIV).
It's hard to imagine being able to sit surrounded by the ruins of the life you have known, to accept that your people are under the judgment of God, and still to believe that God is merciful and faithful and to hold Him close and wait it out. But that is exactly what Jeremiah did.
That is exactly what we should do.