The Lamentation of the prophet Saint Jeremiah

Here is the far shorter book we have attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, containing his long moan over the destruction of his nation and its great capital city. There’s not too much to add to this post apart from what I put into the post on Jeremias earlier on. For the sin of idolatry and partial apostasy, the prophets had read out a sentence of doom on the people and the City from God on high, and Jeremias among others had been properly ignored. Now all was desolation, the people almost entirely removed (except for the poor workers on the land) and the City properly levelled. We may imagine the prophet sitting in the ruins, with his long lament, which speaks of punishment imposed on account of sin and wretched regret for what is now lost – not just the City and the Nation, but the treasured covenant with almighty God.

Look well, you that pass by, and say if there was ever grief like this grief of mine; never a grape on the vineyard left to glean, when the Lord’s threat of vengeance is fulfilled. Must fire from heaven waste my whole being, ere I can learn my lesson? Must he catch me in a net, to drag me back from my course? Desolate he leaves me, to pine away all the day long with grief.  No respite it gives me, the yoke of guilt I bear, by his hand fastened down upon my neck; see, I faint under it! The Lord has given me up a prisoner to duress there is no escaping. Right the Lord has in his quarrel; I have set his commands at defiance. O world, take warning; see what pangs I suffer, all my folk gone into exile, both man and maid.” 

Lamentations, 1: 12-14

Indeed, the sinner knows that God’s Justice cannot be questioned, for the punishment has been earned by him. Worst of all for one who knew the glory of the City in her prime, looted often but still resplendent in the days of King Josias of Juda, Jeremias and others had to suffer the hideous sight of the ruins left behind by the Chaldeans. 

All dim, now, and discoloured, the gold that once shone so fair! Heaped up at every street-corner lie hallowed stones. Bright they shone once in all their renown, the men of Sion, and now what are they? Little regarded as common earthenware, of the potter’s fashioning. Cub of jackal is fed at its dam’s breast; and has my people grown unnatural towards its own children, like some ostrich in the desert? Dry throat and parching tongue for babe at the breast; children asking for bread, and never a crust to share with them! Ever they fared daintily, that now lie starved in the streets; ever went richly arrayed, and now their fingers clutch at the dung-hill.”

Lamentations, 4: 1-5

The very Temple lay all around the streets in hallowed stones, stripped bare of her gold, silver and bronze. The warriors of the people who survived now sent into slave labour. The narratives in the prophecy of Jeremias tell of a remnant of the people left behind by the invaders, who had carried most of the rest to Babylon. It must be this remnant that the prophet sees in the streets of the City, still starved after the two-year-long siege, including women and children. The last chapter is a piteous call for help from a dispossessed people, once themselves invaders there in the same land, and ends with a beautiful confession of faith:

“Bethink thee, Lord, of our ill case; see where we lie humiliated, and seeing take pity! New tenants our lands have, our homes foreign masters; orphaned sons of widowed mothers were not more defenceless. Ours to buy the very water we drink, pay a price for every stick of fire-wood; led hither and thither under the yoke, with no respite given, we must make our peace with men of Egypt or Assyria, for a belly-full of bread. So must we bear the guilt of our fathers, that sinned and are gone! Slaves for our masters now, and none to ransom us; bread won out in the desert, and at peril of our lives from the sword’s point! What wonder if our skins are burnt dry as an oven, seared by long famine…? Lord, Thou abidest ever; age after age Thy throne endures; and wilt Thou still be forgetful of us, through the long years leave us forsaken? Bring us back to Thee, Lord, and let us find our home; bring back to us the days of our youth; wouldst Thou altogether abandon us, shall Thy indignation know no measure?”

Lamentations, 5: 1-10, 19-22
The Prophet in effigy, at Rome
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