“The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire — something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 34 I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.”
8:1 “At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, the bones of the priests and prophets, and the bones of the people of Jerusalem will be removed from their graves. 2 They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens, which they have loved and served and which they have followed and consulted and worshiped. They will not be gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground. 3 Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the Lord Almighty.” Jeremiah 7:30-8:3
In chapters 7 and 8 of Jeremiah, we begin to see the first signs of the fate that awaits the nation of Judah. Convinced of their own special connection to Yahweh [YAH-veh], they do not see their fate coming. In chapter 7, we see Jeremiah at his fiery best, as he calls out the nation that has continued to sacrifice in the temple but has failed to live out the way of Yahweh [YAH-veh] in practice. Even their repentance has been hollow. He predicts that the fate of Judah will be the same as Israel’s. He tells us of an “end to the sounds of joy and gladness”.
Disaster is coming. Lament will begin.
And the city once full of the sounds of joy and gladness will be left desolate. Jeremiah 7:34
At the end of the seventh century BC, the Chaldean Empire would sweep across the area we know today as the Middle East. While we might have some sense of what would take place, our information is limited. Kathleen O’Conner notes that the writing of history usually omits mention of human suffering. The brutal practices are often lost in the simple narratives of Jeremiah, and we are left to imagine as best we can: the displaced families left with nothing, the stench of a city under siege, and above all, the loss of life and dignity.
It is perhaps Lamentations rather than Jeremiah that best provides us a window into this suffering.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us, and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven, feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones; boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned! Lamentations 5:7-13
As we enter a week of contemplating and participating in ”lament”, begin by placing yourself in the midst of the people of Jerusalem. What are your emotions? What actions follow? Where is God in the midst of it all?