But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us. – Lamentations 5:19-22 ESV
Jeremiah was living in what was the ruins of Jerusalem. He is surrounded by a rag-tag remnant of individuals who were left behind by the Babylonians after they took tens of thousands of their fellow Israelites into captivity. In the earlier part of Jeremiah’s prayer, recorded in chapter 5, he gave God a vivid description of their circumstances. They were living in disgrace. In keeping with the book’s name, Jeremiah laments, “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows” (Jeremiah 5:2-3 ESV). They were having to pay for clean water to drink and wood to burn. They had resorted to alliances with Egypt and Assyria just to be able to have bread to eat. Crime was on an upswing. It wasn’t safe to go into the wilderness. Jeremiah reported, “Women are raped in Zion, young women in the towns of Judah” (Lamentations 5:11 ESV). Everyone was forced to work in order to exist. There was no longer any joy or any reason to celebrate or dance. And Jeremiah knew that their circumstances were the result of their own sin and rebellion against God. While the remnant that remained had escaped captivity, they were trapped in an endless cycle of poverty and despair. They were living in the land of Judah, but without any of the blessings or benefits they had known before.
And in the midst of all the pain and suffering, Jeremiah called out to the only one who could do anything about it. He turned to God, acknowledging His power and sovereignty. “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” Everything else was unstable and insecure, but not God. The temple may have been destroyed, but the one for whom it had been built was alive and well. The city of Jerusalem may have fallen and the king of Judah taken captive and humiliated, but God remained King of the universe. God remained the one stable factor in Jeremiah’s topsy-turvy world. But Jeremiah couldn’t help but feel that God had somehow forgotten them. He knew that God had promised to restore the people to the land, in spite of all that they had done. But each day Jeremiah woke up to the same sad circumstances. Poverty, injustice, pain, suffering, and hopelessness. He wondered when God was going to keep His word. When would God step in and do what He had promised to do? Jeremiah pleaded with God to restore them and to renew things back to the way they used to be. He longed for the good old days. But he knew that any hope of restoration was up to God. He would have to do it. As a people, they were completely incapable of saving themselves. Those in captivity were helpless to do anything about their situation. Those left behind in Judah were powerless to change their circumstances. They needed God.
It is amazing how quickly we can become God-focused when we find ourselves in a jam from which we can’t escape. Nothing improves our prayer lives like troubles and trials. The feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are great motivators when it comes to our spiritual lives. We seem to operate on the maxim: when all else fails, try God. But Jeremiah wasn’t turning to God as a last resort. He was appealing to his one and only hope. Without God, all was lost. There were no other viable options. God alone was capable of doing anything about their predicament. But sadly, many Christians always have another trick up their sleeve or another option to turn to other than God. Whether through pride or a lack of faith, far too many of us make God our desperation destiny. When all is lost, we turn to Him. And amazingly, He is always there. He is the one consistent, unchanging and constantly reliable reality we can count on. Jeremiah ended his prayer and his book with the words, “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.” I don’t think Jeremiah believed that was the case. He knew his God all too well to think that He would abandon them forever. He had heard God promise to restore them. He had obeyed when God told him to purchase land in Judah as an investment for the future. He knew in his heart of hearts that God was going to remember, renew and restore. But that did not stop him from wondering when it would all happen. It did not prevent him from asking God to move the timeline up.
And we know that God kept His word. He did eventually restore the people to the land. He brought them back out of captivity and allowed them to rebuild the temple, restore the walls of Jerusalem and repopulate the land. He did exactly what He had promised to do. Catastrophe and captivity were no match for God. The hopelessness and helplessness of men were poor indicators of God’s capabilities. To Him, the circumstances were nothing more than an opportunity, not an obstacle. At no point was God worried, concerned, or sitting up in heaven wringing His hands, wondering what He was going to do. He was and is the Lord God, who reigns forever. He is the King of the universe, the all-powerful God for whom nothing is too difficult. He will remember. He will renew. He will restore. We can rely on Him.