Verses 17–22

Here, I. The people of God express the deep concern they had for the ruins of the temple, more than for any other of their calamities; the interests of God’s house lay nearer their hearts than those of their own (Lam. 5:17, 18): For this our heart is faint, and sinks under the load of its own heaviness; for these things our eyes are dim, and our sight is gone, as is usual in a deliquium, or fainting fit. “It is because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the holy mountain, and the temple built upon that mountain. For other desolations our hearts grieve and our eyes weep; but for this our hearts faint and our eyes are dim.” Note, Nothing lies so heavily upon the spirits of good people as that which threatens the ruin of religion or weakens its interests; and it is a comfort if we can appeal to God that that afflicts us more than any temporal affliction to ourselves. “The people have polluted the mountain of Zion with their sins, and therefore God has justly made it desolate, to such a degree that the foxes walk upon it as freely and commonly as they do in the woods.” It is sad indeed when the mountain of Zion has become a portion for foxes (Ps. 63:10); but sin had first made it so, Ezek. 13:4.

II. They comfort themselves with the doctrine of God’s eternity, and the perpetuity of his government (Lam. 5:19): But thou, O Lord! remainest for ever. This they are taught to do by that psalm which is entitled, A prayer of the afflicted, Ps. 102:27, 28. When all our creature-comforts are removed from us, and our hearts fail us, we may then encourage ourselves with the belief, 1. Of God’s eternity: Thou remainest for ever. What shakes the world gives no disturbance to him who made it; whatever revolutions there are on earth there is no change in the Eternal Mind; God is still the same, and remains for ever infinitely wise and holy, just and good; with him there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. 2. Of the never-failing continuance of his dominion: Thy throne is from generation to generation; the throne of glory, the throne of grace, and the throne of government, are all unchangeable, immovable; and this is matter of comfort to us when the crown has fallen from our head. When the thrones of princes, that should be our protectors, are brought to the dust, and buried in it, God’s throne continues still; he still rules the world, and rules it for the good of the church. The Lord reigns, reigns for ever, even thy God, O Zion!

III. They humbly expostulate with God concerning the low condition they were now in, and the frowns of heaven they were now under (Lam. 5:20): “Wherefore dost thou forsake us so long time, as if we were quite deprived of the tokens of thy presence? Wherefore dost thou defer our deliverance, as if thou hadst utterly abandoned us? Thou art the same, and, though the throne of thy sanctuary is demolished, thy throne in heaven is unshaken. But wilt thou not be the same to us?” Not as if they thought God had forgotten and forsaken them, much less feared his forgetting and forsaking them for ever; but thus they express the value they had for his favour and presence, which they thought it long that they were deprived of the evidence and comfort of. The Lam. 5:22 may be read as such an expostulation, and so the margin reads it: “For wilt thou utterly reject us? Wilt thou be perpetually wroth with us, not only not smile upon us and remember us in mercy, but frown upon us and lay us under the tokens of thy wrath, not only not draw nigh to us, but cast us out of thy presence and forbid us to draw nigh unto thee? How ill this be reconciled with thy goodness and faithfulness, and the stability of thy covenant?” We read it, “But thou hast rejected us; thou hast given us cause to fear that thou hast. Lord, how long shall we be in this temptation?” Note, Thou we may not quarrel with God, yet we may plead with him; and, though we may not conclude that he has cast off, yet we may (with the prophet, Jer. 12:1) humbly reason with him concerning his judgments, especially the continuance of the desolations of his sanctuary.

IV. They earnestly pray to God for mercy and grace: “Lord, do not reject us for ever, but turn thou us unto thee; renew our days,” Lam. 5:21. Though these words are not put last, yet the Rabbin, because they would not have the book to conclude with those melancholy words (Lam. 5:22), repeat this prayer again, that the sun may not set under a cloud, and so make these the last words both in writing and reading this chapter. They here pray, 1. For converting grace to prepare and qualify them for mercy: Turn us to thee, O Lord! They had complained that God had forsaken and forgotten them, and then their prayer is not, Turn thou to us, but, Turn us to thee, which implies an acknowledgment that the cause of the distance was in themselves. God never leaves any till they first leave him, nor stands afar off from any longer than while they stand afar off from him; if therefore he turn them to him in a way of duty, no doubt but he will quickly return to them in a way of mercy. This agrees with that repeated prayer (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19), Turn us again, and then cause thy face to shine. Turn us from our idols to thyself, by a sincere repentance and reformation, and then we shall be turned. This implies a further acknowledgment of their own weakness and inability to turn themselves. There is in our nature a proneness to backslide from God, but no disposition to return to him till his grace works in us both to will and to do. So necessary is that grace that we may truly say, Turn us or we shall not be turned, but shall wander endlessly; and so powerful and effectual is that grace that we may as truly say, Turn us, and we shall be turned; for it is a day of power, almighty power, in which God’s people are made a willing people, Ps. 110:3. 2. For restoring mercy: Turn us to thee, and then renew our days as of old, put us into the same happy state that our ancestors were in long ago and that they continued long in; let it be with us as it was at the first, and at the beginning, Isa. 1:26. Note, If God by his grace renew our hearts, he will be his favour renew our days, so that we shall renew our youth as the eagle, Ps. 103:5. Those that repent, and do their first works, shall rejoice, and recover their first comforts. God’s mercies to his people have been ever of old (Ps. 25:6); and therefore they may hope, even then when he seems to have forsaken and forgotten them, that the mercy which was from everlasting will be to everlasting.