Lamentations 4 • The Beginning of Wisdom


What is Lamentations doing in the middle of the books of the “great” prophets? To the left of it is Isaiah and Jeremiah, the greatest prophets of the time leading up to the exile of all Israel, to the right is Ezekiel and Daniel, the greatest prophets in the period of the exile, and right in the middle is Lamentations with its 5 little chapters. Why is it amongst the books of the major prophets? [No, it’s not just because most attribute its authorship to Jeremiah.] One way to look at it is that Isaiah and Jeremiah explain conditions leading up to judgment, Ezekiel and Daniel expound on the situation after judgment, but only Lamentations tells what it was like during judgment. Lamentations has been described as “the hinge on a great big door—small, but the crucial mechanism that allows the door to swing both ways”. Lamentations teaches how we should respond when we’ve experienced God’s judgment for the life-choices we’ve made and desire to be reconciled to Him. It’s a manual for the back-slidden.


Lamentations is not just 1 long poem repeating the same thing over and over—each chapter covers a distinct topic:

In chapter 4 which we’re studying here, the theme is “The Beginning of Wisdom”. It is the point at which one learns from past mistakes, changes one’s behavior to incorporate those lessons into one’s life, and begins the process of firmly affixing one’s steps on God’s path leading to reconciliation.

Read verses 1-6

Q: What is the overall contrast being made? How has their faith been proved to be in the wrong thing?

A: It’s the contrast of the false security and faith placed in possessions (“gold”, “pure gold”, “sacred stones”, “precious stones”, “fine gold”, “delicacies”, “reared in purple”) that could not withstand God’s judgment (“regarded as earthen jars”, “become cruel”, “thirst”, hunger, “desolate”, “embrace ash pits”). They placed their trust in things rather than God and have now experienced the difference.

Q: Their sin is compared to that of Sodom in v.6. Why do you suppose that Sodom’s condition is called “sin” and their condition is called “iniquity”? Is there a difference?

A: The Hebrew word for “sin” means to miss the mark, another way of saying “way off course” from God’s ways. The word for “iniquity” implies the changing or twisting of a known standard. It’s someone that knows the course to begin with, but twists and changes it into something that suits their self.

Application: Is a “backslider” someone that is simply “missing the mark” or trying to redefine what they know to justify their choice/behavior?

Point: The beginning of wisdom that leads the backslidden to see things as God sees them is to stop trying to redefine His ways to conform to their own lifestyle, but to actually change their life to conform to HIM.

Read verses 7-8

Q: What was “purer than snow” that is now “blacker than soot”? What example is God expanding on?

A: “Her consecrated ones”. BEFORE engaging in iniquity—the twisting of God’s Word into something other than originally intended—they were faithful and obedient and therefore pure. The result of iniquity is to become spiritually unrecognizable. They have become as twisted as the ways of God they themselves twisted.

Read verses 9-10

Q: What does “food” most often symbolize in the Bible?

A: God’s Word.

Q: How is the judgment of the destruction of earthly food a judgment of one’s spiritual condition?

A: Just as iniquity twisted God’s Word—their spiritual food—into something completely useless for their spiritual hunger, so God has withheld physical food. They trusted in the things of this world rather than the things of God, so the things of this world are literally failing to fulfill or even meet their needs.

Application: Do spiritual choices sometimes result in circumstances wherein horrific earthly choices have to be made? What is the difference between “judgment”, “testing”, and “persecution”?

Read verses 11-12

Q: How was their trust misplaced?

A: They trusted in the physical city of Jerusalem—its foundations, walls and gates—rather than the spiritual city of Jerusalem intended to serve and worship God—a far greater strength and protection.

Q: Why was this just as great an example to the rest of the world as to the nation of Israel specifically?

A: No one thought it could actually be accomplished because ever since the conquest of Canaan, Jerusalem had withstood all efforts against it. There was a false belief on EVERYONE’S part that God was protecting something physical regardless of the spiritual condition of its inhabitants—now everyone was learning the truth.

Read verses 13-15

Q: How far had they twisted God’s Word to justify their own behavior?

A: To the point of killing those that remained true to God. They so completely redefined what it meant to serve God that it resulted in their becoming “defiled”, unfit for the very presence and service of God.

Q: What does God’s Law teach regarding how to deal with something unclean or defiled?

A: It must be abandoned or separated. It cannot be allowed into any part of the temple, much less the very presence of God. It must be made pure or clean again.

Application: Have you ever known someone whose actions are undeniably entrenched in sin, yet they vehemently deny that they’ve left the faith? Do you see parallels with Paul’s actions to separate such people from the body of Christ? When is such an action warranted?

Read verses 16-20

Q: What are the 4 actions they experienced which caused them to finally realize that this was God’s judgment for their iniquity?

  1. scattered” (v.16)
  2. hunted” (v.18)
  3. chased” (v.19)
  4. captured” (v.20)

Q: What was their false belief that was shattered by these events?

A: They “had said, ‘Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.’” In other words, they thought having an heir to David’s throne was enough, that they didn’t actually have to BE like David.

Q: How do we know that they now see the error of their beliefs?

A: In v.16, they acknowledge that “The presence of the Lord has scattered...”; that is, the very presence Whose shadow they thought it was enough to be in has caused this.

Q: How is this the “beginning of wisdom” for the backslidden?

A: They clearly understand the cause and effect, that this has not come about as a test of faith or persecution by man, but judgment for their unfaithfulness. They understand that God is the source behind the instruments used and this will lead to the realization it is with God, first and foremost, that amends must be made.

Read verses 21-22

Q: What is Edom teaching us about this situation?

A: Like Israel who did not learn the lessons of God’s judgments against other nations, so Edom is not learning the lesson of what has happened to Israel. Some people think while God is occupied with someone else that somehow that means they’re exempt when in reality it only means that they’re squandering the opportunity to repent and avoid judgment themselves.

Q: What is the good news conveyed in v.22?

A: Punishment does not go on forever for those working towards reconciliation—the end is in sight.

Overall Application