You, O LORD, remain for ever; your throne from generation to generation.…
Thus at last our attention is turned from earth to heaven, from man to God. In this change of vision the mood which gave rise to the Lamentations disappears. Since earthly things lose their value in view of the treasures in heaven, the ruin of them also becomes of less account. For the moment the poet forgets himself and his surroundings in a rapt contemplation of God. This is the glory of adoration, the very highest form of prayer, that prayer in which a man comes nearest to the condition ascribed to angels and the spirits of the blessed who surround the throne and gaze on the eternal light. The continuance of the throne of God is the idea that now lays hold of the elegist as he turns his thoughts from the miserable scenes of the ruined city to the glory above. This is brought home to his consciousness by the fleeting nature of all things earthly. God only remains, eternal, unchangeable. His is the only throne that stands secure above every revolution. The unwavering faith of our poet is apparent at this point after it has been tried by the most severe tests. Jerusalem has been destroyed, her king has fallen into the hands of the enemy, her people have been scattered; and yet the elegist has not the faintest doubt that her God remains and that His throne is steadfast, immovable, everlasting. The fall of Israel in no way affects the throne of God; it is even brought about by His will; it could not have occurred if He had been pleased to hinder it. This idea of the elegist is in line with a familiar stream of Hebrew thought, and his very words have many an echo in the language of prophet and psalmist, as, for example, in the forty-fifth Psalm, where we read, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." The grand Messianic hope is founded on the conviction that the ultimate establishment of God's reign throughout the world will be the best blessing imaginable for all mankind. Sometimes this is associated with the advent of a Divinely anointed earthly monarch of the line of David. At other times God's direct sovereignty is expected to be manifested in the "day of the Lord." For Christians, at least as much as for Jews, the eternal sovereignty of God should be a source of profound confidence, inspiring hope and joy. Now the elegist ventures to expostulate with God on the ground of the eternity of His throne. A long time had passed since the siege, and still the Jews were in distress. It was as though God had forgotten them or voluntarily forsaken them. This is a dilemma to which we are often driven. If God is almighty can He be also all-merciful? If what we knew furnished all the possible data of the problem this would be indeed a serious position. But our ignorance silences us. Some hint of an explanation is given in the next phrase of the poet's prayer. God is besought to turn the people to Himself. The language of the elegy here points to a personal and spiritual change. We cannot water it down to the expression of a desire to be restored to Palestine. Nor is it enough to take it as a prayer to be restored to God's favour. The double expression, "Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned," points to a deeper longing, a longing for real conversion, the turning round of the heart and life to God, the return of the prodigal to his Father. In the next place, it is to be observed that the turning here contemplated is positive in its aims, not merely a flight from the wrong way. To turn from sin to blank vacancy and nothingness is an impossibility. The great motive must be the attraction of a better course rather than revulsion from the old life. This is the reason why the preaching of the Gospel of Christ succeeds where pure appeals to conscience fail. Then we may notice, further, that the particular aim of the change here indicated is to turn back to God. As sin is forsaking God, so the commencement of a better life must consist in a return to Him. But this is not to be regarded as a means towards some other end. We must not have the homecoming made use of as a mere convenience. It must be an end in itself, and the chief end of the prayer and effort of the soul, or it can be nothing at all. The poet is perfectly confident that when God takes His people in hand to lead them round to Himself He will surely do so. If He turns them they will be turned. The words suggest that previous efforts had been made from other quarters, and had failed. The prophets, speaking from God, had urged repentance, but their words had been ineffectual. It is only when God undertakes the work that there is any chance of success. Next, we see that the return is to be a renewal of a previous condition. The poet prays, "Renew our days as of old" — a phrase which suggests the recovery of apostates. Possibly here we have some reference to more external conditions. There is a hope that the prosperity of the former times may be brought back. And yet the previous line, which is concerned with the spiritual return to God, should lead us to take this one also in a spiritual sense. The memory of a lost blessing makes the prayer for restoration the more intense. In some respects restoration is more difficult than a new beginning. The past will not come back. The innocence of childhood, when once it is lost, can never be restored. That first, fresh bloom of youth is irrecoverable. On the other hand, what the restoration lacks in one respect may be more than made up in other directions. Though the old paradise will not be regained, though it has withered long since, and the site of it has become a desert, God will create new heavens and a new earth which shall be better than the lost past. In our English Bible the last verse of the chapter reads like a final outburst of the language of despair. It seems to say that the prayer is all in vain, for God has utterly forsaken His people. But another rendering is now generally accepted, though our revisers have only placed it in the margin. According to this we read, "Unless Thou hast utterly rejected us," etc. There is still a melancholy tone in the sentence, as there is throughout the book that it concludes; but this is softened, and now it by no means breathes the spirit of despair. Turn it round, and the phrase will even contain an encouragement. If God has not utterly rejected His people assuredly He will attend to their prayer to be restored to Him. But it cannot be that He has quite cast them off. Then it must be that He will respond and turn them back to Himself. Thus we are led even by this most melancholy book in the Bible to see, as with eyes purged by tears, that the love of God is greater than the sorrow of man, and His redeeming power more mighty than the sin which lies at the root of the worst of that sorrow, the eternity of His throne, in spite of the present havoc of evil in the universe, assuring us that the end of all will be not a mournful elegy, but a paean of victory.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.