The remnant of Israel, those left behind after the destruction of Jerusalem, lacked the faith to remain in Israel and instead fled to, of all places, Egypt. But God continues to pursue his people into Egypt through his prophet Jeremiah.
What is God’s message to the remnant of Judah (Israel) living in Egypt? What have they failed to learn from the destruction of Jerusalem? What is the remnant doing instead of returning to God? Where have they put their faith? What will happen to them because of their lack of faith?
“Lamentations is not an emotional outburst but a formal expression of grief in a high literary style. However, each lament moves rapidly from one topic to the next, revealing that the writer’s soul is still in turmoil. Like most elegies, the lyrics in Lamentations deal with profound loss by recollecting past glories and cataloging what is now gone forever, lamenting the finality of the losses while at the same time seeking consolation in present sorrows and some hope for the future.” [ESV Study Bible Introduction to Lamentations p. 1477] So although we may associate mourning and grieving with lamenting, the biblical view includes an element of hope.
Lamentations is ascribed to Jeremiah though the book does not itself identify its author. It is a collection of poems (laments) written to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem. The lamentations are poems written acrostically which means little to those of us confined to other than Hebrew. It means that the first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the second with the second and so forth until the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are expended. What this means to us is that a great deal of thought and skill went into the writing of Lamentations.
Israel in this book is identified with the “city”, “Zion”, “Daughter of Zion”, which are all references to its capital city Jerusalem, home to the Temple of God, which was destroyed by the Babylonians. Jerusalem in turn is personified as a woman. When you think about Israel’s history, who do you think the ‘lovers’, and ‘friends’ are? What did these ‘lovers’ fail to deliver? How have the ‘”woman’s” children and princes suffered because of her infidelity?
The punishment for the “woman’s” adultery has caused her to be exposed with the world despising her and looking on her shame and nakedness. Compare this to Jesus’ experience on the cross. He hangs there naked on the cross, as his enemies heap scorn upon him. Whose shame is Jesus bearing?
Imagine these words applied to the crucifixion of Jesus:
Lamentations 1:12 Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like mike suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?
What has God taken from Israel, the “Daughter of Zion”? In what way did their “prophets” fail them? What should the prophets caused the people of Israel to see?
There is one question that Jeremiah does not answer: “Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” That in poetic form is the central question of the Old Testament. The sin wound is so deep, who can rescue us from the his body of sin? See Romans 7:21-25a.
In what way does Christ the true prophet, succeeding where Israel’s prophets failed? Who will take on the wounds and shame of Israel in order to redeem her? Compare Lamentations 2:15 to Matthew 24:41-44.
The books Nehemiah and Ezra are closely linked and are thought to be authored by the same person. “The events narrated in Ezra cover almost a century. Jews had been taken into exile in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., but in 539 King Cyrus of Persia overthrew the Babylonian king, Nabonidus. By doing so, he took control of a vast empire, including the territory of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree that the Jewish exiles were free to return to their ancestral home.” The ESV Study Bible, Introduction to Ezra p. 799.
It was believed in the Ancient world that when a people was defeated, it was because their gods had been defeated. How does God demonstrate that he is still God even though his people are in exile? Who caused the remnant of Israel to return to Jerusalem? How does Cyrus explain his decision to allow the temple of the LORD to be rebuilt? How right is he?
The remnant that returned to Jerusalem rebuilt the LORD’s altar, offered sacrifices and celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles. How was this an expression of the people’s faith in the LORD? In other words, what made this move risky? When the foundation is laid, why is there a mixed reaction from the community? Who was it that rejoiced? Who wept?
Although the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem, it will be nothing like the splendor of Solomon’s Temple. A remnant has returned, the promises of God are still alive, but we are still waiting for the descendant of David who will reign forever and build a temple that will outshine them all.
A certainty in life is that those who are in power are ever vigilant of those who would deprive them of that power. It is also true that when one people appear to be thriving, envy and jealousy seize their neighbors. This was true in Jerusalem as well. Let’s face it, the Jews have never been a people warmly received. So when it became clear to the peoples about Jerusalem (the non-Jews) that the activity going on in Jerusalem might mean its resurgence on the world stage, they took it upon themselves to write to the king.
Who is raised up to oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem? How do they succeed in convincing Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, to put a stop to the rebuilding effort?
Interestingly the opening words of Haggai begin with: “In the second year of Darius the king…” Well, wouldn’t you know it, the word of the LORD came to Haggai in the second year of Darius the king. As we have seen, the people in Judah have been told that they may not rebuild their temple nor their city. Evidently, however, they have been allowed to build their homes and to make improvements to them.
Why has the remnant that returned to rebuild Jerusalem harvested little? Why are they unable to quench their hunger and thirst? Why can’t their clothes keep them warm? Why is their money never enough? How did the people respond to the LORD’s admonition?
How does God encourage those who were old enough to remember the old temple? What does God promise for the future? Who do you think the ‘desired of nations’ is? What is this new temple that the LORD speaks of? See Acts 2:1-3 and Revelation 21:1-27. One thing that may help is to remember that the temple is not so much a building, but the place where God lives with his people. In Israel’s past, God dwelt first in the tabernacle (a tent), then in the temple. Then it was Jesus. Then it was the Holy Spirit living in the hearts of Jesus’ followers. And then at the end of time, God himself will make his home on earth at the restoration of all things.