The fourth chapter of Lamentations reveals more of the sorrowful heart of God’s people. The prominent theme in this passage is worth. Throughout the twenty-two verse there is a contrast developed between items of high worth and low worth. Gold (1), precious stones (2), delicacies (5), princes and rubies (7), kings (12) – these are the luxurious and beautiful items which have been lost or soiled. Pots of clay (2), ash heaps (5), black, shriveled and dry (8), no honor, no favor (16), filthy (14-15) – these are now the surroundings of God’s people. The theme of value not only reflects their possessions, but it also speaks on their self worth. It is not simply what they lost in tangible means that affects them so deeply, it is also the loss of apparent worth as a people. Not even their own God wants them anymore so what good are they in the world? This harsh reality reveals a deep-seated idolatry. They found their worth in things which could be lost.
The suspension of identity finds further support in the passages on hunger. They “thirst [and] beg for bread” (4), “those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine” (9), and the most gruesome verse “with their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children” (10). The people have lost a sense of worth and now, as they struggle to meet even their most basic of needs, they begin to lose their sense of humanity. Their hunger is so great it has driven them to desire death and take part in detestable acts. Chapter four records a complete loss of self.
Where is God in all this? He appears very shortly in 11 and 16, in both cases the imagery is rather negative. Verse 11 records that God has “given full vent to his wrath; he has poured our his fierce anger…kindled a fire in Zion.” The account in verse 16 is equally as dark, “The Lord himself has scattered them; he no longer watches over them.” The people’s eyes are securely on themselves, their loss, their hunger, and they cannot lift their heads up long enough to look to God. The only glimmer of hope is found at the very end of the chapter. Verse 21 – Edom’s time of punishment will come; 22 – Zion’s time of punishment will end.
Side note. In verse 3, there is a strange line, “but my people have become heartless like ostriches in the desert.” There is no clue to its meaning the immediate context. However, the verse is illumined by a passage in Job. Job 39:14-15: “For she leaves her eggs on the ground, and warms them in the dust; She forgets that a foot may crush tem, or that a wild beast may break them.” Upon further study this text states the practice that when an ostrich is unable to provide for her eggs, due to circumstance or sickness or whatever it may be, she will abandon them where they lay. Therefore, the verse in Lamentations speaks about the people abandoning, not because of lack of resource but lack of compassion (as contrasted against jackals). Verse 4 further explains when the children have no bread, because they have been abandoned. Matt 7:9 comes to mind. In their abandonment they impose their own actions upon God – thinking he has abandoned them, and has given them snakes instead of bread (20).