unless You have utterly rejected us and remain angry with us beyond measure.
The Scriptures are the volume of hope; they lend no countenance to despondency; they rebuke despair. Deep as was the degradation of the Jews, far as they had wandered from God's ways, inexcusably as they had defied his authority, there was for them a place of repentance. And Jeremiah closes this Book of Lamentations with language of confident supplication and well grounded hope of better times.
I. THE NEED OF TURNING. The whole of the book thus closed witnesses to this necessity. Judah had gone wrong, had wilfully taken the path of rebellion and defiance. In this respect her case represents that of every culpable transgressor. The end of the way of sin is death, is destruction without remedy. It is a stern truth, but it is a truth, and a truth which mercy reveals.
II. TO WHOM THE TURNING MUST BE. "Turn us unto thee!" Away from the sin which has misled, away from the human counsellors and helpers in whom is no wise counsel and no sufficient help, away from self, to God against whom the sinner has transgressed and to whom he needs to be reconciled. The old phrase, "conversion unto God," is one full of truth, meaning, and appropriateness.
III. BY WHOM THE TURNING MUST BE EFFECTED. The prayer is unto the Lord; for he alone can turn the wanderer unto himself. By the authority of his Law, by the winning, melting power of his gospel, by the sweet constraint of his Spirit, he alone can transform the heart, reverse the steps, and renew the olden clays of those who have transgressed but have now at length sought his favour and forgiveness. - T.
Thou, O Lord, remainest forever; Thy 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.
God's unchangeableness a support in troubles.(1) Look upon the choicest things that the world affords as mutable, this will take off thine affections from them, they perish, but the Lord endures, they all wax old like a garment, but God is the same forever (Psalm 102:26, 27
). This will make their loss to thee, thy deprivation of them to be no sore affliction, for who will breathe out sighs, at the breaking of an earthen vessel, at the scattering of a vapour, at the withering of a flower, or the vanishing of a shadow?(2) In your worst condition, when you are afflicted and tossed with the waves of sorrow, stay, and still yourselves with the thoughts of the unchangeableness of your God, He is immutable as well in His mercy as in His holiness, He is that Sun that shineth always with a like brightness, and remember that as this is the way to bring serenity in your hearts, so also your safety at all times depends upon God's immutability (Malachi 3:6
; Psalm 73:23-26
).(3) Hold out alacrity, be cheerful, let not your souls faint, and your hearts die within you, though your lovers have forsaken you, your friends turn enemies, and your adversaries set up their ensigns for banners, your God is unchangeable in His love, neither life, nor death, principalities, nor powers shall take you out of His thoughts, He thinks as well of you when you are black with persecution, as when you are fair, and shine in a prosperous condition; for the Church is His beloved, though a lily among thorns (Song of Solomon 2:2
). And the immutability of His rule will terminate the worst of your sorrows (Psalm 7:9
; Jeremiah 29:11
).(4) Lastly, remember what God is, and that in a degree it is your duties to assimilate Himself, therefore humble yourselves for your fickleness in your purposes, and for your changeableness in your resolves for holiness, have not hereafter a heart loving to wander (Jeremiah 14:10
). Be not soon removed (Galatians 1:6
). Keep close to your determinations for the things of heaven, let not the blasts of seducers take your spirits from their hinges, either in relation to principles or duties (Ephesians 4:14
). You must imitate your Father, and you see He is a God that is immutable.
2. God is eternal as well as immutable.(1) Look upon this attribute of God which, like a golden thread, runs through all the rest, and admire it; let thy soul echo out the praises of Divine eternity upon all occasions (1 Timothy 1:17). And well mayest thou, for this the eternity of God exceeds that of the most glorious creatures: theirs is but an half eternity, it is to everlasting, not like the Lord's from everlasting; theirs is not intrinsical in themselves, they receive it, but God's is independent; they cannot communicate to others, or extend it beyond themselves as the Lord can, therefore now extol God's eternity, and let it be matter of wonder to thy soul.(2) Be not dismayed when the rage and fury of your adversaries speaks a stripping, a deprivation of all enjoyments, when they tell you they will enter upon your houses, seize upon your lands, take away your food, and deprive you of the delight of your eyes, tell them you know these things are but mutable, and they may take them, but they cannot take away your God, who is eternal in the heavens.(3) Rest not upon creatures, Solomon gives you to know that their strength, their help is vanity, put your trust in this the eternal God, He hath said He will never fail you nor forsake you, He is not as man that He should repent, He is faithful as well as eternal, and cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Wherefore dost Thou forget us forever, and forsake us so long time?For the ship doth not more naturally arise with the flowing in of the waters, than doubts in the soul with the coming in of troubles. For all this while God is but either trying thy disposition, and the frame and temper of thy spirit towards Himself, He is but seeing whether thou wilt love Him frowning as well as smiling upon thy soul (Isaiah 8:17), or ransacking of thine heart, and making discovery to thee of the filth and guilt of sin that is within thee, for man feels his sins with most hatred and sorrow in the times of God's withdrawings (1 Samuel 21:1, 2), or He is but putting thee into that most excellent life of His most precious saints. Thou wouldest live by sense, but He will now teach thee with David to live by faith (Psalm 27:13), or else the Lord is preparing thee for greater apprehensions of His love and favour for the time to come. Yet still, for all that hath been spoken, methinks I see you, O ye captived Jews, like Rachel, weeping and refusing consolation; what, are you like the marigold, which opens and shuts with the sun? are you as court favourites, whose comforts and discomforts depend upon the countenance or discountenance of their prince? I must needs acknowledge, that heaven's frowning, God's neglecting, or the Lord's deserting, wounds deep, and pierceth through a Christian's heart. And this hath been the cause why in an expostulatory way they have breathed out these, or the like complaints; if the Lord be with us, why is all this befallen us? Will the Lord cast off forever, will He not again show favour? hath He forgotten to be gracious, and doth His promise fail for evermore (Psalm 77:7-9)? Neither do I marvel if, in this pang those have been the expresses of their souls. For where is a believer's love concentrate, as it were, and gathered together, but in the Lord its God? and therefore it languisheth in His absence, and is ill at ease, until it enjoy His presence (Song of Solomon 5:8). Hath not the saints' rejoicing ever been principally in Divine communion (Psalm 4:7)? Is not the assurance of His love the very day and joy of a Christian heart?
Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old
Homilist.I. It is a turning of the soul TO the Lord. Not to creeds, not to churches, but to the Lord Himself, as the object of supreme love. The centreing of the whole soul upon Him. If the Lord is loved supremely, He will be the dominant subject of thought, the leading theme of conversation, the paramount sovereign of life.
II. It is a turning of the soul to the Lord BY the Lord. No one can turn the human soul to God but Himself. A man may as well endeavour to roll back the Mississippi to its mountain springs as to turn back the soul to the Lord; He alone can do it, and He does it by the influence of nature, historic events, Gospel truths, and Christly ministries.
()1. Afflictions send the saints unto their God. O happy sorrows, O blessed troubles that thus bring poor souls nearer to their God. Now, having been thus doctrinated in the school of the Cross, thou mayest experimentally say with the sweet singer of Israel, it is good for me that I have been afflicted, thereby I have learned to know Thy statutes.
2. Troubles no discouragements to God's precious servants.
3. Repentance the work of the great God.
4. Pressures put not God's children besides their prayers.
5. Deliverances are only perfected by the Lord.
PeopleAssyrians, Egyptians, Jeremiah
PlacesAssyria, Egypt, Mount Zion, Zion
TopicsAngry, Beyond, Canst, Exceeding, Exceedingly, Full, Hast, Measure, Quite, Rejected, Unless, Utterly, Wouldest, Wrath, Wroth
Outline1. A complaint of Zion in prayer unto God.
Dictionary of Bible ThemesLamentations 5:19-22
5058 rest, spiritual
6233 rejection, experience
LibraryWhether an Angel Needs Grace in Order to Turn to God?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angel had no need of grace in order to turn to God. For, we have no need of grace for what we can accomplish naturally. But the angel naturally turns to God: because he loves God naturally, as is clear from what has been said (Q, A). Therefore an angel did not need grace in order to turn to God. Objection 2: Further, seemingly we need help only for difficult tasks. Now it was not a difficult task for the angel to turn to God; because there was no obstacle …
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica
Man's Inability to Keep the Moral Law
Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God? No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but does daily break them, in thought, word, and deed. In many things we offend all.' James 3: 2. Man in his primitive state of innocence, was endowed with ability to keep the whole moral law. He had rectitude of mind, sanctity of will, and perfection of power. He had the copy of God's law written on his heart; no sooner did God command but he obeyed. …
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments
The book familiarly known as the Lamentations consists of four elegies (i., ii., iii., iv.) and a prayer (v.). The general theme of the elegies is the sorrow and desolation created by the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.: the last poem (v.) is a prayer for deliverance from the long continued distress. The elegies are all alphabetic, and like most alphabetic poems (cf. Ps. cxix.) are marked by little continuity of thought. The first poem is a lament over Jerusalem, bereft, by the siege, …
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament
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