“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!”
These words begin the book of Lamentations, the sad song of the prophet Jeremiah as he wept over the destruction of Jerusalem. The great city of God — the Holy City — was a place of blessings and beauty in the good times. Crowds of worshipers would flood its gates and fill its streets, singing praises as they made their way up to the Temple.
But by the end of this tragic, final chapter of Second Kings, the streets of Jerusalem are empty, the protective walls around the city are knocked down, and the people are living as exiles in Babylon. Worst of all the great Temple has been ransacked and lies in smoldering ruins.
Historians date the destruction of Jerusalem to 586 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian invasion, but it was not the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem — it was sin. Never forget that. The Jews who were carried away from Jerusalem as exiles were not the innocent victims of an evil king, they were guilty sinners who were receiving the wages of their sin. It was the wrath of God that carried them away, not the King of Babylon. Picture the captive Jews marching eastward out of Jerusalem. As they look over their shoulders at their ruined city they learn this profoundly painful lesson: peace is not found in a place but in a Person (the Lord); safety is not found within the walls of a city, but in obedience to God.
For many years God had been patient with His people, but there came a time when His patience turned to wrath. The Jews had ignored God’s commands, despised God’s prophets, and followed ungodly leaders until, like their counterparts in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they had sinned away their last opportunity to repent and remain in the Promised Land (see 2 Kings 17). Their punishment was to be uprooted and carried away to a strange and godless place of humiliation. It has been noted often that the book of Second Kings opens with Elijah being carried away to heaven (the place where those who are faithful to God go) and it closes with the Jews being carried away to Babylon (the result of their sustained unfaithfulness).
This chapter is a wake-up call for believers, a warning about what happens when we take the grace of God for granted and begin to flirt with sin. James 1:12-15 is the New Testament summary of the same warning:
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.