It is a very sad representation which is here made of the state of God’s church, of Jacob and Israel, of Zion and Jerusalem; but the emphasis in these verses seems to be laid all along upon the hand of God in the calamities which they were groaning under. The grief is not so much that such and such things are done as that God has done them, that he appears angry with them; it is he that chastens them, and chastens them in wrath and in his hot displeasure; he has become their enemy, and fights against them; and this, this is the wormwood and the gall in the affliction and the misery.
I. Time was when God’s delight was in his church, and he appeared to her, and appeared for her, as a friend. But now his displeasure is against her; he is angry with her, and appears and acts against her as an enemy. This is frequently repeated here, and sadly lamented. What he has done he has done in his anger; this makes the present day a melancholy day indeed with us, that it is the day of his anger (Lam. 2:1), and again (Lam. 2:2) it is in his wrath, and (Lam. 2:3) it is in his fierce anger, that he has thrown down and cut off, and (Lam. 2:6) in the indignation of his anger. Note, To those who know how to value God’s favour nothing appears more dreadful than his anger; corrections in love are easily borne, but rebukes in love wound deeply. It is God’s wrath that burns against Jacob like a flaming fire (Lam. 2:3), and it is a consuming fire; it devours round about, devours all her honours, all her comforts. This is the fury that is poured out like fire (Lam. 2:4), like the fire and brimstone which were rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah; but it was their sin that kindled this fire. God is such a tender Father to his children that we may be sure he is never angry with them but when they provoke him, and give him cause to be angry; nor is he ever angry more than there is cause for. God’s covenant with them was that if they would obey his voice he would be an enemy to their enemies (Exod. 23:22), and he had been so as long as they kept close to him; but now he is an enemy to them; at least he is as an enemy, Lam. 2:5. He has bent his bow like an enemy, Lam. 2:4. He stood with his right hand stretched out against them, and a sword drawn in it as an adversary. God is not really an enemy to his people, no, not when he is angry with them and corrects them in anger. We may be sorely displeased against our dearest friends and relations, whom yet we are far from having an enmity to. But sometimes he is as an enemy to them, when all his providences concerning them seem in outward appearance to have a tendency to their ruin, when every thing made against them and nothing for them. But, blessed be God, Christ is our peace, our peacemaker, who has slain the enmity, and in him we may agree with our adversary, which it is our wisdom to do, since it is in vain to contend with him, and he offers us advantageous conditions of peace.
II. Time was when God’s church appeared very bright, and illustrations, and considerable among the nations; but now the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud (Lam. 2:1), a dark cloud, which is very terrible to himself, and through which she cannot see his face; a thick cloud (so that word signifies), a black cloud, which eclipses all her glory and conceals her excellency; not such a cloud as that under which God conducted them through the wilderness, or that in which God took possession of the temple and filled it with his glory: no, that side of the cloud is now turned towards them which was turned towards the Egyptians in the Red Sea. The beauty of Israel is now cast down from heaven to the earth; their princes (2 Sam. 1:19), their religious worship, their beauty of holiness, all that which recommended them to the affection and esteem of their neighbours and rendered them amiable, which had lifted them up to heaven, was now withered and gone, because God had covered it with a cloud. He has cut off all the horn of Israel (Lam. 2:3), all her beauty and majesty (Ps. 132:17), all her plenty and fulness, and all her power and authority. They had, in their pride, lifted up their horn against God, and therefore justly will God cut off their horn. He disabled them to resist and oppose their enemies; he turned back their right hand, so that they were not able to follow the blow which they gave nor to ward off the blow which was given them. What can their right hand do against the enemy when God draws it back, and withers it, as he did Jeroboam’s? Thus was the beauty of Israel cast down, when a people famed for courage were not able to stand their ground nor make good their post.
III. Time was when Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were strong and well fortified, were trusted to by the inhabitants and let alone by the enemy as impregnable. But now the lord has in anger swallowed them up; they are quite gone; the forts and barriers are taken away, and the invaders meet with no opposition: the stately structures, which were their strength and beauty, are pulled down and laid waste. 1. The Lord has in anger swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob (Lam. 2:2), both the cities and the country houses; they are burnt, or otherwise destroyed, so totally ruined that they seem to have been swallowed up, and no remains left of them. He has swallowed up, and has not pitied. One would have thought it a pity that such sumptuous houses, so well built, so well furnished, should be quite destroyed, ad that some pity should have been had for the poor inhabitants that were thus dislodged and driven to wander; but God’s wonted compassion seemed to fail: He has swallowed up Israel, as a lion swallows up his prey, Lam. 2:5. 2. He has swallowed up not only her common habitations, but her palaces, all her palaces, the habitations of their princes and great men (Lam. 2:5), though those were most stately, and strong, and rich, and well guarded. God’s judgments, when they come with commission, level palaces with cottages, and as easily swallow them up. If palaces be polluted with sin, as theirs were, let them expect to be visited with a curse, which shall consume them, with the timber thereof and the stones thereof, Zech. 5:4. 3. He had destroyed not only their dwelling-places, but their strong-holds, their castles, citadels, and places of defence. These he has thrown down in his wrath, and brought them to the ground; for shall they stand in the way of his judgments, and give check to the progress of them? No; let them drop like leaves in autumn; let them be rased to the foundations, and made to touch the ground, Lam. 2:2. And again (Lam. 2:5), He has destroyed his strong-holds; for what strength could they have against God? And thus he increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation, for they could not but be in a dreadful consternation when they saw all their defence departed from them. This is again insisted on, Lam. 2:7-9. In order to the swallowing up of her palaces, he has given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces, which were their security, and, when they are broken down, the palaces themselves are soon broken into. The walls of palaces cannot protect them, unless God himself be a wall of fire round about them. This God did in his anger, and yet he has done it deliberately. It is the result of a previous purpose, and is done by a wise and steady providence; for the Lord has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion; he brought the Chaldean army in on purpose to do this execution. Note, Whatever desolations God makes in his church, they are all according to his counsels; he performs the thing that is appointed for us, even that which makes most against us. But, when it is done, he has stretched out a line, a measuring line, to do it exactly and by measure: hitherto the destruction shall go, and no further; no more shall be cut off than what is marked to be so. Or it is meant of the line of confusion (Isa. 34:11), a levelling line; for he will go on with his work; he has not withdrawn his hand from destroying, that right hand which he stretched out against his people as an adversary, Lam. 2:4. As far as the purpose went the performance shall go, and his hand shall accomplish his counsel to the utmost, and not be withdrawn. Therefore he made the rampart and the wall, which the people had rejoiced in and upon which perhaps they had made merry, to lament, and they languished together; the walls and the ramparts, or bulwarks, upon them, fell together, and were left to condole with one another on their fall. Her gates are gone in an instant, so that one would think they were sunk into the ground with their own weight, and he has destroyed and broken her bars, those bars of Jerusalem’s gates which formerly he had strengthened, Ps. 147:13. Gates and bars will stand us in no stead when God has withdrawn his protection.
IV. Time was when their government flourished, their princes made a figure, their kingdom was great among the nations, and the balance of power was on their side; but now it is quite otherwise: He has polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof, Lam. 2:2. They had first polluted themselves with their idolatries, and then God dealt with them as with polluted things; he threw them to the dunghill, the fittest place for them. He has given up their glory, which was looked upon as sacred (that is a character we give to majesty), to be trampled upon and profaned; and no marvel that the king and the priest, whose characters were always deemed venerable and inviolable, are despised by every body, when God has, in the indignation of his anger, despised the king and the priest, Lam. 2:6. He has abandoned them; he looks upon them as no longer worthy of the honours conveyed to them by the covenants of royalty and priesthood, but as having forfeited both; and then Zedekiah the king was used despitefully, and Seraiah the chief priest put to death as a malefactor. The crown has fallen from their heads, for her king and her princes are among the Gentiles, prisoners among them, insulted over by them (Lam. 2:9), and treated not only as common persons, but as the basest, without any regard to their character. Note, It is just with God to debase those by his judgments who have by sin debased themselves.
V. Time was when the ordinances of God were administered among them in their power and purity, and they had those tokens of God’s presence with them; but now those were taken from them, that part of the beauty of Israel was gone which was indeed their greatest beauty. 1. The ark was God’s footstool, under the mercy-seat, between the cherubim; this was of all others the most sacred symbol of God’s presence (it is called his footstool, 1 Chron. 28:2; Ps. 99:5; 132:7); there the Shechinah rested, and with an eye to this Israel was often protected and saved; but now he remembered not his footstool. The ark itself was suffered, as it should seem, to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans. God, being angry, threw that away; for it shall be no longer his footstool; the earth shall be so, as it had been before the ark was, Isa. 66:1. Of what little value are the tokens of his presence when his presence is gone! Nor was this the first time that God gave his ark into captivity, Ps. 78:61. God and his kingdom can stand without that footstool. 2. Those that ministered in holy things had been pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion (Lam. 2:4); they had been purer than snow, whiter than mile (Lam. 4:7); none more pleasant in the eyes of all good people than those that did the service of the tabernacle. But now these are slain, and their blood is mingled with their sacrifices. Thus is the priest despised as well as the king. Note, When those that were pleasant to the eye in Zion’s tabernacle are slain God must be acknowledged in it; he has done it, and the burning which the Lord has kindled must be bewailed but the whole house of Israel, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, Lev. 10:6. 3. The temple was God’s tabernacle (as the tabernacle, while that was in being, was called his temple, Ps. 27:4) and this he has violently taken away (Lam. 2:6); he has plucked up the stakes of it and cut the cords; it shall be no more a tabernacle, much less his; he has taken it away, as the keeper of a garden takes away his hovel or shade, when he has done with it and has no more occasion for it; he takes it down as easily, as speedily, and with a little regret and reluctance as if it were but a cottage in a vineyard or a lodge in a garden of cucumbers (Isa. 1:8), but a booth which the keeper makes, Job 27:18. When men profane God’s tabernacle it is just with him to take it from them. God has justly refused to smell their solemn assemblies (Amos 5:21); they had provoked him to withdraw from them, and then no marvel that he has destroyed his places of the assembly; what should they do with the places when the services had become an abomination? He has now abhorred his sanctuary (Lam. 2:7); it has been defiled with sin, that only thing which he hates, and for the sake of that he abhors even his sanctuary, which he had delighted in and called his rest for ever, Ps. 132:14. Thus he had done to Shiloh. Now the enemies have made as great a noise of revelling and blaspheming in the house of the Lord as ever had been made with the temple-songs and music in the day of a solemn feast, Ps. 74:4. Some, by the places of the assembly (Lam. 2:6), understand not only the temple, but the synagogues, and the schools of the prophets, which the enemy had burnt up, Ps. 74:8. 4. The solemn feasts and the sabbaths had been carefully remembered, and the people constantly put in mind of them; but now the Lord has caused those to be forgotten, not only in the country, among those that lived at a distance, but even in Zion itself; for there were none left to remember them, nor were there the places left where they used to be observed. Now that Zion was in ruins no difference was made between sabbath time and other times; every day was a day of mourning, so that all the solemn feasts were forgotten. Note, It is just with God to deprive those of the benefit and comfort of sabbaths and solemn feasts who have not duly valued them, nor conscientiously observed them, but have profaned them, which was one of the sins that the Jews were often charged with. Those that have seen the days of the Son of man, and slighted them, may desire to see one of those days and not be permitted, Luke 17:22. 5. The altar that had sanctified their gifts is now cast off, for God will no more accept their gifts, nor be honoured by their sacrifices, Lam. 2:7. The altar was the table of the Lord, but God will no longer keep house among them; he will neither feast them nor feast with them. 6. They had been blest with prophets and teachers of the law; but now the law is no more (Lam. 2:9); it is no more read by the people, no more expounded by the scribes; the tables of the law are gone with the ark; the book of the law is taken from them, and the people are forbidden to have it. What should those do with Bibles who had made no better improvement of them when they had them? Her prophets also find no vision from the Lord; God answers them no more by prophets and dreams, which was the melancholy case of Saul, 1 Sam. 28:15. They had persecuted God’s prophets, and despised the visions they had from the Lord, and therefore it is just with God to say that they shall have no more prophets, no more visions. Let them go to the prophets that had flattered and deceived them with visions of their own hearts, for they shall have none from God to comfort them, or tell them how long. Those that misuse God’s prophets justly lose them.
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