How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. — Lamentations 4:1
Desolation . . . as far as the eye could see, it was a city in ruins. United States Air Force sergeants Bob and Reuel Green could hardly comprehend what they were seeing. The unthinkable had become history, the atomic bomb had fallen, and they were viewing the results. Hiroshima, Japan — once a beautiful city of 300,000 inhabitants — had been wiped out in a matter of seconds.
In the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, these two brothers had been on an American transport ship headed to Okinawa. As their convoy steamed out of Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands, an announcement over the ship’s loud speaker informed the military personnel on board that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. As Bob and Reuel absorbed that world-changing news, they had no idea that just a few months later, they would view that terrible scene of destruction with their own eyes.
Nothing could have prepared them for what they saw during their time in Hiroshima, on December 30, 1945. Bob relates, “That was a walk that I will never, ever forget. It was a quiet city; there was hardly a rustle. The streets had been cleared, but that was all. Mounds of debris and broken down buildings were everywhere. They had built some shacks with corrugated metal roofs in the rubble — just found something as a support on two or three sides and put a sheet of metal across the top, to make a hovel down there. Reuel and I had seen cities before that had been bombed — Manila, Osaka, and Kobe — but this city had been devastated by just one bomb. It was absolutely staggering. I remember, it was almost like you were walking on hallowed ground. You didn’t even want to talk out loud.”
Unlike the sudden destruction that obliterated Hiroshima, the city of Jerusalem had suffered a slow, lingering death. Today’s text describes how the people — literally trapped within the city’s fortified walls by the Babylonian army’s siege — ran out of food. Filled with eye-witness details, these verses describe how priorities changed, people became desperate, and positions of influence meant nothing. Things of value became worthless — even the gold and the “stones of the sanctuary,” mentioned in our focus verse, became as valueless as rubbish. The streets of the city, once busy avenues of commerce and companionship, were empty except for the scattered rubble of the Temple, dying children, and people disfigured by the effects of starvation.
The sad commentary about this account was that it did not have to be this way for Jerusalem. As the chosen city of God, all that God asked of its people was hearts that would truly worship Him. The people of Jerusalem had chosen to rebel against the God of the universe, and thus had brought this horrible judgment upon themselves.
We can learn a lesson from the terrible devastation of Jerusalem. It is imperative that we heed the commands of God. When He calls us to serve Him and honor His name through the way we live, He expects us to do just that. If we ignore and reject His mercy and grace, we will bring judgment upon ourselves, and most likely will cause innocent people to suffer as well. Ultimately, utter destruction awaits those who refuse God’s love. But it does not have to be that way! He offers a way of escape for everyone — we simply need to take advantage of the offer and live to please our Creator.
Chapter 4 continues on with the account of the holy city of Israel, Jerusalem, in ruins. Given the detailed descriptions in this chapter, commentators agree that the narrator must have been a first-hand witness to the complete devastation of this once powerful, beautiful city.
The focus verse refers to the Temple gold. King Solomon’s Temple, a masterpiece of craftsmanship and extravagance, had been torn apart. The fires of war had caused the once bright and polished gold of the Temple sanctuary and holy of holies to become dim. The phrase “stones of the sanctuary” in this verse has a double meaning. There were the literal twelve stones on the breastplate of the high priest; but also, metaphorically speaking, this could refer to the priests and Levites who performed the ceremonial and sacred duties of Temple worship. Because of their sins, they had been cast out of their consecrated office to become as common people.
The siege against Jerusalem lasted for eighteen months, and caused the slow but utter destruction of the city. The walls that served to protect its inhabitants during times of war also prevented the besieged inhabitants from harvesting crops and gaining access to water supplies. This chapter of Jeremiah’s lament portrays a picture of such complete devastation that it touched every aspect of Jewish culture and every strata of society. From the oldest to the youngest, the richest to the poorest, no one was exempt from God’s judgment. As the supplies of food slowly ran out, hunger slowly intensified.
The reference in verse 6 to this punishment being worse than the punishment of Sodom refers to the knowledge of God that the people of Jerusalem possessed. They knew and understood what God required of them and their prolonged sinful choices brought a prolonged form of judgment. Sodom was destroyed in a moment compared to the lives of the people in Jerusalem slowly ebbing away through famine.
Due to the extreme famine in the city, women were forced to neglect their dying babies, having no means of feeding them. Others resorted to eating their own children (verse 10), while those who were accustomed to living well and staying clean were found clinging to filth, or “dunghills.” Everything comfortable and pleasing had been stripped away.
Verse 13 gives the reason for the horrific destruction that had come upon the city: “For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her.” The spiritual leaders had killed innocent and righteous individuals.
The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. They were long-time enemies of the Children of Israel and enjoyed knowing that Jerusalem had fallen. In verses 21 and 22, the Edomites were warned of judgment that would come to their nation.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The description of the siege of Jerusalem (4:1-22)
A. The horrors of the siege (4:1-10)
1. The destruction of the city (4:1-2)
2. The affliction of famine (4:3-10)
B. The cause of the siege (4:11-20)
C. The judgment upon Edom (4:21-22)
Pain and utter misery await those who fail to follow God’s instructions. Let us learn from the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, and purpose to escape divine judgment by being obedient to God and faithful in our worship of Him.