For thousands of years, the Jews have lived as foreigners in the world. They have had no homeland and even the land they are attempting to claim in the 21st century is in constant conflict with its neighbors. She is always at war. I find Jeremiah’s cry in the book of Lamentations significant for every generation of the Jews, not just those going into exile in Babylon at the time of his writing this bible book. Lamentations 1:3 seems to capture the entire history of the Israelites, “Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.” Israel’s chosen status and her subsequent failure in their call to be God’s people left her aliens in the world. Not even God pitied her. The depth of her despair is seen in her early history where she hangs up her musical instruments and cannot sing songs of Zion while a slave in Babylon. David wrote songs about his great love for God and God’s instructions for holy living. Psalm 119 is one of the longer songs that praised God’s laws and David’s passion to live by them. That Psalm has 22 divisions. Each one with 8 verses and each verse begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet to show the completeness of his love. This is repeated for the entire Hebrew alphabet.  Lamentations has a similar pattern. Ironside observes, “In Ps. 119 we have twenty-two divisions of eight verses each, similarly arranged, as even the ordinary English Bible shows. There, every letter of the alphabet (which represents the whole compass of man’s speech) is used in the praise of the perfect law of the Lord. In Lamentations, every letter is required to express the sorrows following upon the neglect and breaking of that law.”[1]

The personification of the destroyed Jerusalem as a woman bereaved of her husband and children has been the subject of some interesting artwork, painting as well as sculpture. Ryken tells of one of the more famous pieces. He writes, “She sits among the ruins, slumped slightly to one side. Her elbow rests on the arm of her throne, supporting her chin. Her gaze is turned downward in a resolute frown. Her aspect reveals that she has endured great suffering, a grief too deep for words, perhaps even for tears. Though the crown on her head gives her a regal air, she is despondent. The queen who answers to this description was carved into stone by William Westmore Story (1819–1895). Story’s sculpture establishes an imposing presence in the galleries of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The inscription at the base of the woman’s throne identifies her as ‘Jerusalem in Her Desolation.’ The queenly city William Story carved into stone is Jerusalem personified, the Jerusalem that barely survived the tragic events described at the end of the book of Jeremiah. She had already experienced all the indignities and indecencies of the Babylonian assault. After a long siege, the city finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 587 b.c., and her citizens were deported to Babylon. Story’s sculpture depicts the aftermath—a city still numb with grief. The crumbled bits of mortar around her suggest a city in ruins. Yet the most significant detail is the tiny serpent slithering near the queen’s feet. The serpent stands for sin, showing that Jerusalem’s desolation was the result of her disobedience.”[2]

It’s hard to imagine that all of man’s toils, troubles, and trials are the result of taking a bite of one apple. All pain and hardships in life have their roots deeply embedded in sin. Adam and Eve started it, but we’ve all participated in perpetuating it. Like the Israelites in captivity, sin always leaves its impact. One web blogger says, “As we make our way through this life we have endless opportunities to encounter sin. Sometimes this is our own sin and sometimes this is the sin of others. Sometimes this sin is pre-meditated and carefully constructed to bring the greatest devastation. Other times this sin is inadvertent, negligent, thoughtless, based on omission rather than commission. Of course, the motive behind the sin does little to lessen its pain and impact. No matter where the sin comes from, no matter the intention or lack of intention behind it, we encounter sin and are harmed by it. What we find as we examine sin and its consequences are that sin leaves a trail behind it. Sin isn’t here for a moment and then gone. No, sin is so evil that it leaves its lingering scent behind.”[3] Only in Jesus Christ can we find salvation. Jesus’ first words when He began His ministry were, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” What is the good news? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Then in Romans 6:23, we read, that the devastation of sin is death, but “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

[1] Ironside, H. A. 1906. Notes on the Prophecy and Lamentations of Jeremiah. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.

[2] Ryken, Philip Graham. 2001. Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.