"How lonely sits the city that was full of people." The time is 586 BC. The author is the prophet Jeremiah and the book is Lamentations. That title is a translation of the original Hebrew word, "alas!" or "how?" It sounds as though the nation was in shock at the sudden catastrophe that had come upon them, totally upending their lives. Lamentations by definition means wailing, complaint, mourning. The occasion of mourning is the capture of the nation of Israel, under Nebuchadnezzar's army, resulting in their captivity and the destruction of the center of Jewish life, their temple. They had supposed their temple to be indestructible. The book is a national and personal lament.
But sorrow and woe is not what impressed me the most about this passage. The Jewish people were known to be quite demonstrative and I can just imagine the commotion. What stood out to me most of all amidst this tale of tragedy are several verses; Lamentations 3:22,23 "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness." In the midst of such a disastrous situation, how did Jeremiah find such peace and assurance? What was his secret? It can be found in Psalm 91:1 "He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." Some expositors say this meant to stay in the temple but I don't see that. Only priests could live in the temple and as we see from Lamentations, even the sacred temple was not safe from enemy attacks. Neither is the secret place something you stumble into or casually enter. It is like an "X" on a treasure map; a place that is diligently sought after and carefully guarded.
What does it mean to abide under the shadow of the Almighty? Does God really have a shadow? Doesn't the Word say there is no shadow of turning with thee? (James 1:17.) This passage refers to the steadfastness and unchangeable nature of God. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. So to be in His shadow is to snuggle up just as close to Him as is humanly possible. And do we dwell or live there, in His presence? Or do we occasionally go in and out?
Once we're that close to Him, we will know that He is the Almighty; possessor of all might. One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 40. Verse 21 asks "Do you not know? Have you not heard? ..God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. To who will you compare me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Why do you complain, Oh Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, My way is hidden from the Lord? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom."
Jeremiah rejoiced at the majesty and constancy of God, no matter the painful circumstances that surrounded him. And he knew that though the present situation was disheartening, it was not permanent. God, however, is all powerful and unchanging. His mercies are sure and eternal. Jeremiah lifted his eyes from his surroundings to the One who surpassed the temporary. The prophet's understanding was limited but his trust was not. The city would thrive again and the temple would be rebuilt. Because God's mercy and faithfulness were, and are, unfailing. In this we rejoice.
Lamentations 3:26 "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." And Chapter 3, verse 41 "Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens."
Perhaps instead of lamenting all we have lost, we should, like Jeremiah, be celebrating all that forever remains.