Is this just grief-stricken hyperbole? From what I know of the ancient world, the fate of Jerusalem was far from unique; from what I read in the news, much the same is happening around the world today. It could, of course, be hyperbole. The authors of Holy Scripture were men fully caught up in the national life of Israel and Judah, and felt keenly the national grief at the loss of Zion. It would be no surprise if they gave vent to that grief in their writings. But I think there is more behind it. The suffering of Jerusalem is unique because two unique circumstances stand behind it.
The first is that the sin of Jerusalem is unique. Jeremiah writes:
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care;No other nation has so rejected its gods - and those gods were just their own inventions, which could easily be changed at will! But Israel has uniquely turned away from God, the Living God. The sin is unique.
see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
And the second circumstance stands behind that one. Israel was a people uniquely privileged with knowledge of God, uniquely party to a gracious covenant with him. "Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?" "He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules." Israel's unique relationship with God means that their rejection of God is a unique sin, and their suffering is the unique punishment of God on that unique sin. No matter the historical resemblances to other situations, the internal logic is utterly different.
When one man died on a cross, his historical circumstances were far from unique; indeed, two other crucifixions occurred on either side. But this man was unique, because he uniquely bore the guilt of all human sin. And he was unique because he only stood in total unity with God, as God the Son incarnate.
Is there any sorrow like his sorrow?