Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
he will not prolong your exile.
Lamentations 4: 22 (NIV)
At the beginning of every NFL season, I look at the Vikings’ schedule and predict how many wins and losses they are going to have. I’ve been a fan for fifty years, endured four Super Bowl losses, and survived many forgettable seasons. I am a realist when it comes to my prognostications. This year, I figured they’d struggle to win half of their games or more. I predicted them to end the season 8-9 or 9-8.
It stinks to be right.
In today’s chapter, Jeremiah pens his fourth of a five-poem cycle lamenting the fall of Jerusalem. In reading the words of the prophet, we’re reading a first-hand account of a historical event that took place in 586 B.C. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and laid siege to the city a year before. With no way to get supplies in or out of the city, the people eventually grew weak and starved. Social order began to break down. At that point, the Babylonians stormed in, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s Temple (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and set the city on fire. The Babylonians took the young royalty and nobility into captivity (Daniel was one of those), killed off anyone who might pose a political threat after they left, and they left those who were weak and dying in the rubble.
Jeremiah was one of those left behind.
What we read in today’s chapter is gruesome stuff.
Children, their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, beg for bread that no one has to give.
Formerly affluent people lie destitute on ash heaps of rubble.
Women cook and eat the flesh of their own children to survive.
Emaciated people, skin shriveled to the bone, wander aimlessly.
As I read the chapter, I imagined myself standing in the sandals of Jeremiah. He prophetically predicted the entire thing. If you go back to Jeremiah 25-27, he prognosticated that all of this would happen. The rise of Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of Jerusalem, along with seventy years of captivity and exile for God’s people in Babylon. No one believed him. The corrupt political and religious machines refused to repent of their crooked ways. They doubled down on their profiteering. They made Jeremiah public enemy number one. They threw him in the bottom of a well to die.
Woven into the poetic horror of today’s chapter is a not-so-subtle “I told you so.”
The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
the blood of the righteous.
Now they grope through the streets
as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
that no one dares to touch their garments.
It stinks to be right.
Yet this I call to mind: Jeremiah’s prophecy was not hope-less. Jeremiah may have prophetically predicted Jerusalem’s fall, but he also predicted her return and restoration, and that’s how the chapter ends: “Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion.”
In the quiet this morning, I find myself sobered by the chapter. I like to think that good times will last forever and calamity will forever be held at bay. I like to think that the Vikings might surprise me and win a Super Bowl. Then reality descends. Jeremiah stands in the middle of the very devastation he predicted. I’m no prophet, but I also know that there are no guarantees in this life.
I’m in a position to care about the record of a silly football team. Today is a good day. I am grateful.
I couldn’t help but think of this video we watched earlier this week. A man whose house was blown away by the tornadoes in Kentucky this past week sat at his piano and played There’s Just Something About that Name amidst the rubble.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.