Grief is Good

Posted: July 23, 2015 in Lamentations, Route 66

Route 66: Lamentations, “Grief is Good”

Sometimes we need to mourn.  Sometimes only a sad song will do.  When life hits us in the gut, or we enter into some period of extended suffering, it can be difficult to pray to God with joy.  Sometimes the only honest prayer is one filled with grief, accompanied by our weeping.  Sometimes the most honest prayer journals are the ones stained with tears.

We tend to avoid this kind of thinking in the church.  After all, we know that as Christians, we always have access to the joy of the Lord.  Our salvation alone is reason enough to rejoice even in the midst of incredible pain.  And to that, we can say amen!  But that doesn’t mean there is no room for sorrow among the people of God.  It certainly doesn’t mean that Christians who voice their sadness are somehow lacking in faith, or are sinning against God.  No – there are times that sorrow is entirely appropriate.  Paul wrote that we are to weep with those who weep, and Jesus personally demonstrated this when He joined in the weeping of those who mourned the death of Lazarus.  Sorrow can be sometimes be the most appropriate emotion.

This is true on both a personal level as well as a national one.  It applies to the people of God individually and corporately.  Just as God’s people rightly grieve over our own sins, so do we grieve the sins of our culture.  There are sins within the Church over which we should mourn & repent.  There are sins within our nation over which we ought to be appalled & thus confess unto God.  Abortion – racism – perversion – injustice – all these things (and more) rightly provoke the anger of God, and these things ought to cause us grief.  The fact that we mourn over these national sins is a sign that are hearts are not yet completely calloused & hardened.  Grief, in this case, is good.

So it was with the kingdom of Judah, and this is the reason why the Book of Lamentations exists.  For generations, the Jews had engaged in horrid sin against the One they claimed to worship as God.  More often than not, they actually engaged in rampant idolatry, behaving no different than any of the pagan nations surrounding them.  Sure, there were occasional times of repentance and revival, but it never lasted long.  So despite warning after warning via the prophets, the people continued in their sin & rebellion against God.  Eventually the dam had to break, and it did in 587-586 BC when God brought in the Babylonian armies to lay waste to Jerusalem.  Though they themselves were pagan, God used the Babylonians as His instrument of justice & the Jews didn’t stand a chance.  They experienced horrendous hardships over the course of the siege (all of which were prophesied in Deut 28), and by the time the dust settled, the people were slaves & their city lay in ruins.

Jerusalem was dead, and the Book of Lamentations is its funeral dirge.  In Lamentations, both the prophet and his people cry out in anguish, mourning their suffering & coming to the full recognition that their suffering was deserved.  Lamentations is not a book of excuses, but of somber sorrow.  In its pages, the people think through their sin, and weep at the consequences.  Sometimes it is only tragedy that grabs our full attention, and such was the case with the ancient Jews.

Yet even in their sorrow, the Jews knew where to turn: back to their Covenant-keeping God.  The people may have been unfaithful to their covenant promises, but God wasn’t.  In fact, the punishment and suffering endured by the people was part of their covenant with God.  It was proof God kept His word.  God kept His part of the bargain, demonstrated through their discipline & His wrath.  There is good news in all of that.  If God is faithful to that part of the covenant, then God would be faithful to every part of the covenant…including His promised mercy which followed their repentance.

So the Book of Lamentations is a book of sad songs, but not hopeless songs.  Desperation is seen among the people, but their desperation only causes them to turn back to God.  From this point-of-view, grief is good.  God can use our grief for His purposes, just as He used the grief of the Jews.  How will He use yours?

BACKGROUND:
Technically, the book is anonymous, though tradition and conservative scholars consistently argue for Jeremiah.  The main reason given among liberal scholarship for their doubt has to do with the difference in tone & writing style.  The Book of Jeremiah reads far differently than the Book of Lamentations.  Yet that in itself is not necessarily a cut & dry argument.  After all, the genres of the two books are completely different.  The Book of Jeremiah is filled with prophecy & narrative, whereas the Book of Lamentations are songs of mourning – specifically, funeral dirges that follow a typical format.  We might expect the same author to write differently, depending on the genre.  (History vs. Hiaku, for instance….)  Considering all the situations described in Lamentations are all verified and backed up by the Book of Jeremiah, there’s really little reason to doubt that Jeremiah is the author.  The purpose & genre may be different, but the author is the same. (Dr. Thomas Constable) “Whereas the Book of Jeremiah contains many warnings about the judgement that would come, the Book of Lamentations contains much mourning over the judgment that had come.”

As to when it was written, there can be no doubt it was written after the fall of Jerusalem, 587/6 BC.  How far after that date is the real question.  Those who doubt Jeremiah’s authorship suggest a later date, but the book reads very much like an eyewitness account.  It would seem that whoever the author is, he personally saw the destruction brought on by the Babylonians, and personally lived through the horrors of the siege.  Again, this leans heavily towards Jeremiah.  It’s no stretch of the imagination to think that he wrote the book soon after Jerusalem’s fall – perhaps even when being forced to go down to Egypt with the other Jewish refugees.

Hebrew title comes from the word “Alas/How/Oh,” which is how the first several chapters begin. English title comes from the Greek LXX (Lament) & Latin Vulgate “Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet.”  “Lamentations” certainly is descriptive of its contents, and a fitting title for the book.

As to the content itself, the structure of the text is interesting in itself.  Ch 1-4 are acrostics (each line following the Hebrew alphabet), with Ch 3 being an extended acrostic (3 lines each).  Ch 5 mostly follows the same form, but doesn’t truly fit the alphabetical style.  It seems to be a conscious conclusion to the book, summarizing much of what came before.  In addition, there is a distinct rhythmic pattern throughout the Hebrew text.  Ch 1-4 all follow a certain “beat” in its parallelism, with the second line one “beat” shorter than the first.  There’s a feeling of incompleteness throughout, adding to the sense of grief & sorrow.

Of course, all of that is seen in the Hebrew, but not in the English, so we might as the question: Who cares?  So what?  Answer: There is design here – intricacy – purpose.  It takes time to craft poems of this nature.  These aren’t words spewed out & written down in a hurry.  Jeremiah took time writing down the words of God in Lamentations. God doesn’t rush our grief.

GENERAL OUTLINE
Beyond structure in the poetry of the text itself, there is structure in the arrangement of the book, chapter-by-chapter.  The Hebrews were fond of a literary technique later referred to as “chiasm,” in which ideas were introduced, and then repeated in reverse order.  “Chiasm” comes from the Greek letter χ (looks like our X), and that gives the basic picture of the structure, where ideas “cross” back over to one another.  Chiasms are found throughout the sayings of Jesus (“the last shall be first & the first shall be last), some of the words of God in Genesis, throughout the Psalms & Prophets & other areas.  The Book of Lamentations itself seems to be arranged as one large chiasm.

One of the uniqueness of chiasm is that it puts an emphasis on what is found in the middle.  If it has an A-B-C-B’-A’ structure, then (most likely) the emphasis of the author is going to be found in the C section.  Such is the case with Lamentations:
A  The city cries out in mourning (1)
B  The Lord’s wrath poured out (2)
C  Hopelessness and hope (3)
B’ The Lord’s wrath deserved (4)
A’ The city cries out to God (5)

There’s a lot of pain in the book, but what does Jeremiah want the reader to remember?  That there is hope in the covenant faithfulness of God.  Though the Jews might now grieve under the thumb of the Babylonians, that wasn’t the entirety of their future.  There was more, and it was found in God’s faithfulness.

Ch 1: The city cries out in mourning
Jerusalem’s lament (1-11)
The book begins with mourning, describing a city that was once vibrant, but is now a lonely ghost-town.  She once was respected among the nations, but now sits alone, surrounded by enemies (1:2).  The once-free nation of Judah had gone into captivity & been made slaves (1:3), and all the glory once enjoyed by the Jews (especially that of Zion) had departed (1:6).  They had nothing left but uncleanness (1:9), and they felt scorned by the Lord (1:11).

If it sounds like hyperbole & exaggeration, it isn’t.  Although by this point in Judah’s history the nation had been ransacked many times by many enemies, we need to remember that it once was highly respected.  When the Hebrews first came into the Promised Land, the people of Jericho, Ai, and Gideon feared them.  They had heard how God brought out His people from Egypt with a mighty hand & how God did incredible wonders.  Joshua led the Hebrews on a total conquest of Canaan, as God at that time used this nation as His instrument of judgment upon the Canaanites, Amorites, etc.  If the life and reputation of the Israelites took a freefall during the days of the judges, it certainly increased again under David and Solomon.  David greatly expanded the influence of the Kingdom of Israel, and by the time Solomon ascended to the throne, the Hebrews were the wonder of the world.  Rulers from far-off Gentile nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon and witness his incredible wealth.

Yet in light of the Babylonian conquest, those days are a distant memory.  The kingdom had taken a long fall through the various splits & apostasies, until finally God used the pagans as His instrument of judgment upon His own people, and the Jews were finally left with nothing.  As when the ark of God had long ago been taken captive by the Philistines, Jeremiah could look at Jerusalem and say again, “The glory has departed!”

  • Although it wasn’t the case with Jeremiah, so often we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone.  Like the ancient Jews, it can be so easy to take the mercies and grace of God for granted.  We think that God will always let us escape unscathed from our sin, simply because God has been merciful to us in the past.  Not so!  God will not be mocked.  What a man sows, that he also reaps ().  The Jews had expired the patience of God, and they now experienced the full consequences of their actions.  Only now did they realize what it is they had lost.
  • Thankfully as New Testament believers in Jesus Christ, we won’t ever lose the mercies and grace of our Heavenly Father.  Yet to a lesser extent, we can still reach the end of His patience towards us.  Although the eternal punishment due our sin was taken for us by the Lord Jesus, God may still allow us to face the temporal consequences.  Simply because God gave us temporary mercy once doesn’t mean He’s obligated to do so.  If you know God has shown you mercy, be thankful!  Be humble!  Recognize it for what it is, and never take it for granted.

Jerusalem’s understanding of God’s wrath (12-19)
Not only had this trouble come upon Jerusalem, but the Jews understood that it came from the very hand of God Himself.  “…Which the LORD has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger,” (1:12b).  The fire in their bones had come from God (1:13), and it was God who delivered Jerusalem into the hands of their enemies (1:14).  God trampled them down (1:15), and they wept bitterly (1:16).  Jerusalem no longer had a comforter (1:17), because the righteous Lord was punishing their rebellion against His commandment (1:18).

It’s one thing to face an enemy.  It’s quite another when your opponent is the Lord God Almighty.  Paul rightly asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” – and we rejoice, knowing that God is for us.  But what would happen if God set His face against us?  Who could possibly stand?  No one!  That is where Jerusalem found itself.  They had made God their enemy, and they had no chance to stand against Him.

As New Testament Christians reading this, we cannot but be grateful for the cross!  Without the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, THIS wrath would be OUR punishment.  God would turn Himself against us, and when His timing was fulfilled, He would come against us in all of His righteous fury.  People so often think that they will have the last word with God.  They mistakenly think that when they die, they’re going to be able to call God to the carpet & make Him answer for all sorts of things that they were unhappy about in this life.  How false!  How foolish!  God is God, and when God acts, none can stand in His way.  The only possible option we have is to plead for mercy, and the only opportunity we have to do so is while we still breathe.  (So don’t waste your chance!)

Jerusalem’s prayer for mercy (20-22)
Chapters 1,2,3,5 each end with a prayer (Ch 4 being the lone exception), and it emphasizes the point that though God may have turned against the Jews for a season, He was still their God & they were still His people.  It was the people who had walked away from God; not vice-versa.  The judgment that God poured out was the last option left to Him in order to grab their attention.  And guess what?  It worked!  The people repeatedly prayed to God, learning to trust Him and His promises again.

Each prayer is brutally honest, and Ch 1 is no exception.  There is no pretense here – no fake smile – no “church face.”  Jeremiah (on behalf of all of Jerusalem) writes how they are distressed & troubled (1:20).  They understand how this was their own fault due to their rebellion (1:20), and that they knew that this had been done by the Lord God Himself (1:21).  To be sure, this led to taunting from their enemies (1:21), and the people of Jerusalem prayed for vindication as God would do to them as He had done to His own people (1:22).

Aside from the imprecatory prayer at the end, this is true & honest confession!  There are no excuses offered (and none would be valid, anyway).  There is no blame-shifting, or rationalization, or any of the other things we so commonly do in our attempts to escape our own sin.  There is only confession & contrition.  They agreed with God that they had sinned, and they were ashamed because of it.

  • When we sin, this is what God desires from us: simple confession & repentance.  If we would be humble ourselves & confess our sins to our Heavenly Father, we would find assurance that the Jews of Lamentations did not yet know: forgiveness!  That’s the glorious promise of 1 John.  1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  There is a reason this is such a fundamental verse to Christians: it’s the truth!  When we sin, we don’t need to offer a bunch of excuses…we don’t get cleansed that way.  We don’t need to try to rationalize the reason we sinned…there’s no forgiveness through that.  Forgiveness and cleansing only comes through humble confession as we once more throw ourselves upon the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.  (Be done with the excuses, and turn back to Christ!)

Ch 2: The Lord’s wrath poured out
The anger of God (1-10)
The first song already acknowledged the hand of God at work in their affliction.  This time, God’s righteous anger comes to the forefront.  The beauty of Israel had been cast down by God (2:1), and God had swallowed up the dwelling places of Jacob (2:2). God cut off the horn of Judah’s might & authority (2:3), and went so far as to act as an enemy against Israel, drawing His bow against her (2:4).  God allowed violence to be done to His own tabernacle (2:6, His dwelling place – probably a reference to the temple), and the worship practices of Jerusalem were totally disrupted as the feasts were forgotten (2:6) and the sanctuary was abandoned (2:7).  It was God’s purposed will to destroy the city & people (2:8), and the revelation of God was taken away (2:9) as the people mourned (2:10).

Did you notice that God even allowed worship to be destroyed from Jerusalem?  Keep in mind that the Jew’s rampant idolatry was the primary reason for their destruction.  They abandoned their worship of God, and engaged in all kinds of wickedness.  The very thing that they ought to have been doing all along was to worship God, and now God took that opportunity away from them by allowing the temple to be destroyed.

  • Did God not want them to repent?  Absolutely He did.  But for now, they had to face His wrath, and their time to hide under atoning sacrifices was gone.  They had wasted the opportunity God gave them, and now they had to face the full wrath of God.
  • The good news for the Christian is that we have only One sacrifice that atones for sin: that of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  We don’t have to offer sacrifice after sacrifice upon a temple altar; one sacrifice was already provided for us & that sacrifice is enough.  However, we must receive of that sacrifice while we have the opportunity.  Otherwise, we’ll be like the Jews & wait until it is too late.

Jeremiah’s grief (11-19)
Jeremiah is often known as “the weeping prophet,” and his tears are on full display in the Book of Lamentations (2:11).  The destruction of the temple made him sick to his stomach, as did the destruction and slaughter of his countrymen (2:11-12).  Keep in mind that although Jeremiah consistently called these people to repentance, he didn’t hate them.  They sinned in horrible ways (many times against Jeremiah personally), but he still wanted them to turn to God in repentance.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and neither did Jeremiah. (Neither should anyone who is called by the name of God!)

Jeremiah grieved for his people, knowing they were comfortless (2:13), and because they had bought into false prophecies (2:14).  Instead of believing the true word of God given to them through the true prophet, they preferred having their ears tickled with the messages they wanted to hear.  As a result, their hope was based on a false foundation & they experienced humiliation at the hands of their enemies (2:15-16).  Instead of listening to the false, they should have received the truth & understood what it was the Lord purposed & commanded (2:17).  If they had, they would have repented, humbling themselves before God & crying out for His mercy. (2:18-19).

  • There is no lack of Christian teachers offering up lies & ear-tickling messages!  They tell people what they want to hear, rather than what God has truly told us through His word.  The only way we have any hope at all is if our hope is based upon the truth.  And the truth is only found in the Person of Jesus Christ & His revelation given to us in the Bible!

Jeremiah’s prayer of anguish (20-22)
Jeremiah’s prayer invited God to look upon the personal slaughter that had taken place as people lay dead in the streets (2:21), and how mothers turned even to cannibalism in order to survive (2:20).  The prophet was rightly horrified by the things which he witnessed, but these were all things that were foretold centuries earlier when God initially made this covenant with Israel.  Deuteronomy 28:52–53, "(52) “They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you. (53) You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you."

Why would God allow all of this to come?  He said it earlier: Deuteronomy 28:45–48, "(45) “Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. (46) And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever. (47) “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, (48) therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you."

God told them everything that would happen if the Israelites abandoned Him – and they did it anyway.  This wasn’t God’s desire for them, but it certainly was something God would allow to happen to them.

  • If God did it to His covenant people Israel, what makes us believe that God would not allow something similar to happen to our own nation.  Obviously as born-again believers, we do not individually face the wrath of God – but our nation has no such protection.  The United States of America does not enjoy the same covenant with God that Israel had.  God has certainly shown much mercy to our own country, but surely that mercy cannot be taken for granted!  As a whole, our nation has neither kept the commandments of God, nor worshipped Him alone with joy.  Unless the Lord tarries, we might be soon writing our own lamentations for our nation.

Ch 3: Hopelessness and hope
As mentioned earlier, Ch. 3 is an extended acrostic poem/song, and this is the focal point of the book.  This is where Jeremiah wants the reader to concentrate our attention.  There is great hope to be seen, but even that is found in middle of intense suffering.

Jeremiah’s personal sufferings (1-21)
Jeremiah may have been a faithful prophet of God, and one who sincerely & consistently worshipped God, but he still personally experienced suffering and affliction, even calling it God’s own wrath (3:1).  In Jeremiah’s case, it wasn’t punishment, but persecution as he served the Lord in the midst of a rebellious people.  Nevertheless, God allowed it, just as God allowed Peter, Paul, John, and even His own Son Jesus to physically suffer on behalf of the gospel.  Thus to Jeremiah, it felt as God turned His hand against him, aged his flesh, broke his bones, etc. (3:1-6).  Because of his faithfulness to God, Jeremiah was thrown into prison, and his freedom was hampered by hewn stone (3:7-9).  He was ridiculed, physically assaulted, and forgotten by his own people (3:13-18).  He called upon the Lord to remember him, and that’s when he was reminded of his hope (3:19-21).

Anyone who tells you that true faith-filled Christians never suffer is either totally ignorant of the Scriptures, or is lying.  Godly people DO suffer, sometimes in horrendous ways.  Are they forgotten by the Lord God?  No – though undoubtedly it sometimes feels to them as if they are.  Yet their promise (like ours) is that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us.  When we suffer (when; not if), that is the promise to which we cling!  Our God is with us, even in our worst times.  He does not abandon us, and because of Him, we can have hope.

Jeremiah’s hope in God (22-42)
This is where Jeremiah has been leading the entire time.  Lamentations 3:22–24, "(22) Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. (23) They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. (24) “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”"  If you highlight your Bibles, highlight that.  THAT is the key passage of the entire book of Lamentations.  The people had endured much – the prophet had endured much – but their hope was still found in the Lord God of Israel.  Their hope was found in His covenant faithfulness.  They may have pushed the mercies of God to the very limit, but His mercies are new every morning!  As a people, they had hope for the future.  God was good to His covenant promise to bring them into the land.  He was good to His covenant promise to discipline them & pluck them out of the land.  And He would be good to His covenant promise to bring them back into the land once again.  They had a sure hope in the Lord God!

And so do we!  Our sure hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been showered with the ever-new mercies & everlasting grace of the Creator God of Israel.  We have been brought into a new covenant relationship with Him, grafted into the promises He made to the Hebrews.  We can also know that though we may suffer – though we may face discipline – we also will not be consumed, and we will forever live in the compassions of our God.  Our hope is in Him!

Those who turn to the Lord in sincere repentance find the compassions of God.  As Jeremiah goes on to say, “the LORD is good to those who wait for Him,” (3:25).  Those who seek the Lord in humility & truth have true hope, because God will not cast us off forever (3:31).  He will bring His discipline, as a Father disciplines the child whom He loves, but He will not cast us aside.  Amen!

As for Jerusalem, Jeremiah called them to repentance, to seek the Lord once again (3:40-41).  So far, God had not pardoned them (3:42), but who knows what God would do in His mercy?

Jeremiah’s weeping & prayer for justice (43-66)
If vss. 22-42 were the highlight & focal point of the book, that means we have to start backing out the themes in reverse order.  Just as Jeremiah grieved in the first part of Ch 3, so does he finish this chapter with grief.  The people were called to repentance, and for good reason: they were currently suffering.  Through the rest of the chapter, Jeremiah recalls the anger of God that pursued the nation (3:43) & how he wept continuously over the suffering of his people (3:49).  Jeremiah continued to call upon the Lord (3:55), and pleaded with God to judge his own personal case by repaying his persecutors for the things they did against him (3:64).

  • God is the merciful God, but He is also the righteous Judge.  We can turn to Him with all our injustices, trusting Him to do what is right.

Ch 4: The Lord’s wrath deserved
Description of the siege (1-11)
Chapter 2 looked at the anger of God as it was poured out upon Jerusalem; Chapter 4 describes what it was the people endured as a result of God’s anger.  The sanctuary was destroyed (4:1), the people were disregarded as rubbish (4:2) – they were no better than the scavenger animals of the wilderness (4:3).  Hunger ran rampant among the people, and the whole city was desolate (4:4-5).

It wasn’t always that way.  The city was described briefly in its glory (4:7), but it was all overthrown due to their sin (4:6).  Once more the pain of hunger, slaughter, and cannibalism are described (4:8-10).  It was purely awful.  It’s no wonder the prophet wept!

Reasons for the siege (12-20)
The sin of Jerusalem had been described as being worse than the sin of Sodom (4:6), and it is described in part here.  Prophet & priest both shed innocent blood (4:13), people walked in their uncleanness (4:14).  They depended upon other nations for help, rather than looking to God (4:17), and so God got their attention by bringing in their enemies (4:19).

  • God won’t hesitate to do what is necessary to get our attention.  Don’t force His hand!  If you need to repent, the time to do it is when your heart is first awakened to the need.  Far better to willingly humble yourself before God now, than to be humbled by Him later.

Jerusalem not alone in the siege (21-22)
Chapter 4 is unique that it doesn’t end with a prayer, but rather shows Jerusalem turn its attention to the neighboring nation of Edom.  Apparently Edom rejoiced to see the fall of Judah, having been subjected to Jewish rule for years.  Yet what came to the Jews would surely come to the Edomites.  Babylon did not conquer only part of the Middle East; they conquered all of it.  Just as Jerusalem was punished for its sins, so would Edom have its own sins uncovered & be punished by the Lord (4:22).

  • What does that tell us?  Don’t get cocky!  We might see other people fall to the consequences of their sin, but we ought to treat them with as much compassion as we ourselves would want to be treated.  Take heed, lest you fall!

Ch 5: The city cries out to God
Prayer of contrition & confession (1-18)
Although we cannot see the difference in English, the Hebrew structure of Chapter 5 changes.  It is still a funeral dirge, but it is no longer an acrostic.  It’s as if Jeremiah simply poured out his heart to God, and didn’t want to force a structure upon it.  As he did in Chapter 1, the prophet takes up the personal cry of the whole nation, and calls upon the Lord.  He asked God to remember them & look upon them (5:1).  It’s not as if God didn’t see them, but it felt as if God had pushed them aside.  So they ask God to look upon their plight & take pity on them.  They had no more possessions (5:2) – they were widows & orphans (5:3) – they had to pay for basic necessities (5:4-5) – servants ruled over them (5:8).  It was a terrible fall for a once-mighty nation!  They were oppressed & experienced starvation, rape, torture, slavery, and joylessness (5:9-15).

This wasn’t God’s will for His people!  He desired something so much better for them.  They could have lived in safety, prosperity, influence, and joy – but they abandoned it all when they abandoned God.  They turned away from His abundance when they turned to follow idols.  And they knew it.  They had sinned (5:16), and because they did, they were desolate (5:18).

  • Oh, the things we give up when we choose sin over Jesus!  Thankfully, we do not lose our salvation, but we certainly walk away from His blessing.  We walk away from joy.  We walk away from the empowerment of the Spirit.  No Christian needs to live life tossed to & fro by trials & by temptation.  We will certainly experience trial & temptation, but we shouldn’t be ruled by it.  Those who abide in Christ understand what it is to have our lives built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ.  He is our foundation in the midst of those trials.  Choose Christ!

Prayer for restoration (19-22)
The final prayer acknowledges both the exaltation of God, and the reality of their own judgment.  God was exalted & still on His throne, but God’s people were cast down.  This seems incongruous – something doesn’t match.  How could the victorious God of the Universe have a people who were cast down & enslaved?  Shouldn’t God’s own people be victorious over every nation on the earth?  Not when they were in sin.  They would be treated no differently than any of the other nations, and it was finally apparent to the Jews.  They pleaded with God to remember them, and to restore them.  Interestingly 5:21 doesn’t ask God to turn back to them, but asks God to cause the Jews to turn back to HIM.  What was needed was true repentance.  God was still God; it was His people who needed to act like His people once more.

Conclusion:
The Book of Lamentations ends with a prayer, but the prayer seems focused on their desolation, wondering if God is going to be angry with them forever.  Was it indeed hopeless for the Jews?  Were they facing eternal isolation from God?  Is this really how Jeremiah wanted to end this message to them?

This is where we need to remember the literary structure of the book.  As a chiasm, the end reflects/mirrors the beginning.  The meat is in the middle…that’s where the main message of the book is found.  And what is the message?  The people have a sure hope in their faithful God!  Yes, they grieve now – they would be deep in sorrow, repenting over their sin, knowing that the horrors they experienced were fully deserved.  But that grief served a purpose: it took them back to God, where they could be renewed in the sure hope of God’s covenant mercies.  When grief takes us to God, then grief is a good thing!

How do you deal with guilty grief?  How do you deal with the pangs of your conscience when you’ve sinned against God?  You can try to ignore it – harden your heart against it – pretend it’s no big deal & make all kinds of excuses for yourself, or shift the blame to someone else.  OR, you can let it cut you to the heart, where you truly feel the grief and sorrow someone feels when they realize that they’ve caused pain to someone they love.  After all, that is exactly what’s happened.

But once you feel that sorrow, don’t dwell in it.  Don’t let grief become your god; let it turn you back to God.  Confess it through the Lord Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us & is our defender as well as our sacrifice.  Confess it sincerely, and be done with it entirely.  Receive the forgiveness and cleansing of our God, and return to living in His abundant joy!

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