Lamentations 3 has our prophet taking a different tact in how he writes this chapter. It is different in style from the previous two. The writer speaks as if he is the representative of all Judah, describing Judah’s sufferings as if they were his own. And those sufferings are God’s righteous judgment on himself as the front of God’s people. “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath”. God has been in judgment mode with his people. And the weight of that punishment has worn the people, including our writer, down to a point they were desperate for some respite.
To the writer God seems like a wild animal that tears its prey to pieces, or like a hunter who has shot his prey with an arrow. Life has been difficult. God may punish, but the writer still trusts in him. He knows that God’s steadfast love does not change. It is constant and reliable. God disciplines and trains, but those who are patient will enjoy the fullness of his salvation. “Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail”.
God never leaves us. Our choices and sin gets in the way and causes a rift in our relationship with God. But it never changes the fact that God loves us. He never gives up and is waiting when we come back to Him in humility with a surrendered spirit. Each day is a new opportunity to come back to Him. “They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him”. We have to make the effort to return – to take the first step to confess, repent and receive His forgiveness and salvation.
And that’s how it happens. We recognize that sin creates a gap in our relationship with God. “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord….We have transgressed and rebelled, you have not pardoned”. The writer knows sin is a problem. He confesses that it has been a barrier between him and God, preventing God from hearing his prayers for mercy. As a result he has been ruined and disgraced. “You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and have not spared. You have covered Yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through”. But God is always waiting for us to return. Jesus was sent to help us do that. We have to take the steps to receive His grace and mercy!
Lamentations 2 has the prophet talking about the dire effects of God’s hand coming against His people. “The Lord has swallowed up; He has not spared…. He has poured out His wrath like fire”. The description given in this chapter is pretty clear. God has allowed His people to be punished and judged for what they have done. And it is all consuming. Sin does not go unnoticed nor unpunished. God doesn’t miss anyone. He doesn’t spare the rod of correction on any. And His people are reeling from the power of His hand.
In much of their history, they experienced God as their protector and provider. Now they see Him through different eyes – He is judge and punisher. “The Lord has become like an enemy”. And taken to the extreme, He’s become like an enemy to them. That’s a pretty big shift. God is angry with His people. God has been thorough in destroying Jerusalem’s wall. He has allowed the enemy to invade the city, and now all Jerusalem’s leaders are gone. This is intense and broad destruction.
And it impacts the prophet powerfully. These are his people too, and they are suffering in an intense way. “My eyes fail because of tears, My spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is poured out on the earth Because of the destruction “. Can you imagine having to watch this knowing you have warned for many years that this would be the outcome. God wants and demands repentance. And the prophet shouts that from the top of his lungs. “Let your tears run down like a river day and night; Give yourself no relief, Let your eyes have no rest”. Nothing will change until repentance happens.
One thing that we really need to learn is how to respond to things when it seems God is our adversary. It’s not the nature of God to be at odds with us – He loves us. But because of that love and His very nature, He does expect us to live in obedience to His Word. When we fall short, we need to get right with Him. It looks something like this – rather than running from God we need to run to Him. We need to confess our sin, repent and come back to Him. “Arise, cry aloud in the night At the beginning of the night watches; Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to Him”. That’s the power of God’s love. He’s there with open arms waiting to receive us!
Jeremiah 39 has the prophet in Jerusalem as it comes under siege of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. This happens during the 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign, and the siege lasts for about 18 months before “a breach was made against the city”. The city was surrounded, preventing all business and trade from entering or leaving the city, and eventually starving the population into surrender – or the defenses of the city gave way and the surrounding army poured into the weakened city. It was not a pretty sight.
Zedekiah and his solders saw what has happening. “When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled, going out of the city”. Probably there was a private passage underground, leading without the walls, by which Zedekiah and his followers might escape unperceived. They weren’t interested in being captured, so they took off but “the army of the Chaldeans pursued them” and eventually run them down out in the plains of Jericho. And as part of the work to be sure there was no question of who was in charge, another portion of the army “broke down the walls of Jerusalem”.
Zedekiah is captured along with his sons and leaders of the army. He is brought to Nebuchadnezzar and while the rest of his leadership were killed before him, he had his eyes put out and was bound. But the king of Babylon ordered the captain of his guard to find and care for Jeremiah. He had to wonder what would become of him when the Babylonians eventually conquered Jerusalem. God cared for His faithful servant, keeping him safe and in favor with Nebuchadnezzar and his captains. “Take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.”
So Jeremiah was able to dwell among the people and was protected by the Babylonians, being released from his captivity in Zedekiah’s kingdom. He was able to live among the people once again after being isolated for some period of time by Judah’s king. God had promised his safety, and God did exactly what he promised. “For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me”. God is faithful. Jeremiah believed and trusted God. And God faithfully and fully delivered. God never fails!
Jeremiah 37 has the prophet beating his head against the wall again as King Zedekiah and all his team refuse to listen to God’s words. “Neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet”. How frustrating that must have been. Jeremiah gets clear direction from God to pass along, but the king and his men just ignore it. However King Zedekiah does have a suspicion that something is up. So he sends some of his folks to talk with Jeremiah.
They ask him to “Please pray for us to the Lord our God”. They didn’t want to publicly appear that they were listening and heeding Jeremiah’s words from God, but down deep they were. Zedekiah knows he is the true prophet with a message from God. Jerusalem has been under attack by the Chaldeans, but now “The army of Pharaoh had come out of Egypt. And when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem”.
Seems like great news doesn’t it. The enemy is gone and they are free to live again. Jeremiah hears from God that this is a temporary situation and that in fact the Chaldeans weren’t really going anywhere. The other pretenders were telling the king what he wanted to hear, that they were free from this enemy and life could return to normal. But Jeremiah says it like it is. “Do not deceive yourselves….they will not go away’. They accuse Jeremiah of being a traitor and “beat him and imprisoned him” for what he had done.
Jeremiah attempts to defend himself but to no avail. Fortunately King Zedekiah knows that Jeremiah is the true prophet and calls him to come to his place to give him the straight scoop. He tells him the truth, not what was pleasing to his ears like all the other pretenders were doing. And Jeremiah asks to be placed in a different prison that he would be cared for, which the king did allow. Jeremiah was placed in the court of the guard and given care until the bread was gone due to the Chaldean siege!
Jeremiah 20 has the prophet in a tight spot. Pashhur, the priest and chief officer of the house of the Lord has had enough of Jeremiah. “Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord”. Jeremiah was beaten and had to endure painful public disgrace. He wasn’t only regarded as a false prophet, but surely also as a traitor, discouraging the people who still trusted in help from God or Egypt against Babylon. Jeremiah doesn’t back down, but when Pashhur lets him out of the stocks the next day, he gives God’s words to him.
“I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends…. And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely”. His position as priest and chief governor would not help him. He was one of those who prophesied lies, and he and his friends who heard him would all die in Babylon. There is a price to pay for dishonoring God, and it will be step and inclusive for Pashhur and his friends.
Jeremiah has a chat with God about his life. Jeremiah explained to God that he was compelled to his prophetic work. He had not desired it or pursued it, yet God prevailed upon him to take on this prophetic work. And now, it feels to him like he’s become a mockery for the people. Jeremiah is overwhelmed by the load he carries. “For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long”. He’s bummed out and since his prophecies were so long coming, the people around him were ridiculing him whenever he spoke of the future.
In his frustration, Jeremiah threatens to stop his prophesying work. But he can’t, as God’s Word “in in my heart as it were a burning fire”. He’s consumed with speaking truth from God. And as he wrestles with his life calling, he remembers “the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me….for to you have I committed my cause”. He knows that in the end God prevails and he will too. With that recognition, he shifts to praising God for who He is. While he knows his pain and problems aren’t over, he also knows who holds the future and is confident in Him!
Jeremiah 9 has the prophet lamenting about his sorrow over the people’s failure to walk with God and thus bringing judgment upon themselves. “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a travelers’ lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them”! Jeremiah knows what lies ahead, and gives us an image of the sadness in his heart – that of weeping nonstop because ot the sin of his people.
They are going to pay a huge price for their choices. God is not pleased and reminds Jeremiah “they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the Lord….they refuse to know me….I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do”. God is at the end of His rope because His people are mired down in living in evil and they are deceived of what will happen to them. God’s plan for each of us is to refine us and make us like Himself. The heat and melting of refinement was certain and to come. And the purpose was also certain – not to destroy, but to refine and ultimately to purify.
God doesn’t get joy from punishing us. But His character and very nature require it. “Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this”? The people of God had allowed the world to pull them away from the things of God to the point they were no different than any other nation. We must be careful not to fall into that same trap. Being a Christ Follower should make us different. Their problem can easily become ours if we are not intentional and diligent to follow Christ. “They have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them”. When self gets on the throne of our life, bad things happen and we follow the wrong things.
Jeremiah warns what we need to be careful to avoid: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Man wants to board about power, wisdom and riches. God wants us focused on love, justice and righteousness. The world has it all wrong and points us toward the wrong things. We must learn to stay focused on what matters to God, and avoid the things the world tells us are important. We must follow God’s heart!
Isaiah 64 has the prophet recalling God’s amazing power and glory. And he reminds us of the why – “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence”. If we’re going to summarize what we are to do as Christ followers on this planet today – that’s it. We are to make God known to the nations. We do that the exact same way that Isaiah does here – by recalling the wonders of His hand and the glory of His creation. We do it by living with His power in our life. We merely expose God to the world we live in.
The truth of the matter is that God has already done plenty. “When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence”. God doesn’t need us to convince people of who He is. We merely need to remind them and point them to His majesty. “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him”. It’s undeniable stuff – overwhelming and beyond what any man can imagine.
While God’s done amazing and great works, man has a problem. In a word it is called sin. “You were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved”? Sin is a problem. It makes us unclean and separates us from God. It prevents us from living in close fellowship with the Creator. It is a problem, and must be faced or it will prevent us from spending eternity with our Father. Most importantly is the reality that we cannot deal with it on our own. We’ll come up short. We need a Savior – and His name is Jesus Christ. He alone is the atonement for our sin. He alone can free us from the price sin will cost us if not addressed. “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”.
God wants to work in our life. “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand”. He loves us and wants to shape and mold us into what He desires. He has a plan. He is our Father and we are His. We need to cry out for mercy that God’s love will cause Him to deal with mercy and mold us into what He desires. But we have to address that which separates us from Him – our sin. We need to confess, repent and receive His offer of Salvation through Christ. Then God can take us and mold us into a new being that brings Him glory and honor and praise!