Dark Mourning, Deep Mercy (Lamentations 1-2)

MOTIVATE

  • 2020 was a tough year because few, if any, had experienced a pandemic. We are all inadequate and need to give ourselves space and grace to one another.
  • Imagine having those feelings of inadequacies all your life.
  • Frodo Baggins in Tolkein classic LOTR. Frodo is a hobbit character who is unsuspectingly called upon to make a long and dangerous quest to destroy a ring of power. Frodo’s inadequacies are prevalent as he’s depicted as awkwardly shy, frequently overwhelmed and emotional, and unfit to stand against the enemy powers. Yet, Frodo becomes responsible for the ring precisely because he’s the least likely to be captivated by the powers, or be suspected by the enemy that he has the ring.
  • God often chooses the foolish things of the world to despise and confuse the wisdom of humanity (1 Cor 3).
  • Likewise Jeremiah was chosen, not because of his eloquent speech or experience, but simply because his feebleness required him to fully rely upon the Lord.
    • “The LORD said to Jeremiah, ‘Do not say, I am only a youth; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of [their faces], for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jer 1:8-9)

EXAMINE           Lamentations 1-2

  • Jeremiah was an OT prophet around 627 BC.  Lamentations was written around 605-586 BC.
  • Jeremiah known as “weeping prophet” because of the despair and persecution he faced.
    • Jer 4:19 “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm for war.”
    • Jer 8:18 “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me”
    • Jer 14:17 “Let my eyes run down with tears not and day, and let them not cease”
    • Jer 23:9 “My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake”
  • Jeremiah’s prophecies from the Lord warned against coming judgment.
    • Jer 15:2-6 “Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword, and those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity… I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth… You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you.”  
    • Jer 25:3 “For twenty-three years… the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.”  
  • Jeremiah wrote book of Lamentations.
    • While book of Jeremiah was mostly about prophecy, Lamentations was reality; Jeremiah was warning but Lamentations was mourning. It’s Jeremiah’s record of events and feeling during the time of Jerusalem’s invasion by Babylon and their exile. Despite all the false prophets saying “peace,” Jeremiah weeps at the certainty of God’s judgment. Jeremiah pleaded with King of Judah – Zedekiah to turn to God but he would not listen. The King’s court mocked Jeremiah, they burned his scroll, they imprisoned him in a cistern and left for dead
    • Lamentations = How?!? (ʾekâ) as in “How could this happen!?!” It’s also the first word in 1:1; 2:1; and 4:1. The Septuagint translators called the book “Threnoi” (dirges, wailings) of Jeremiah. English translators used “Lamentations” for more clarity. The themes of grief, tragedy, and suffering are central in the book.
    • Jeremiah is poetic in the book, using each verse in chapters 1, 2, and 4 as an alphabet acrostic with each successive letter, and chapter 3 is so with each stanza; and chapter 5 no acrostic but has 22 stanzas, for each number of Hebrew alphabet. The idea is Jeremiah comprehensively exhausting emotions and showing suffering from A-Z. Further, Jeremiah is reflecting circumstances of chaos have order, and are under the sovereign control of God.
    • The lamentations are based upon Israel’s stubborn sin against God that led to punishment with the Babylonian invasion. The Babylonian army attacked Jerusalem in three significant series: 605 BC with deporting citizens (cf. Daniel), 597 BC with more unrest and deportations, and then fully in 587 BC where the king’s sons were murdered and his eyes poked out, the city walls were finally destroyed, temple looted and burned, the city houses burned, with many murdered or exiled.
  • Why Lamentations?
    • Lamentations is 1 of 66. I’ve taught at least from one portion of 48 books (36 in majority), so that leaves 18 (now 17) books left for me at SP.
    • Macro-level of God’s work in the world we need to know God is in control. In Lamentations, we see God not in the politics (Babylon is in power) but on the throne of life – God removes kings and sets up kings…His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and his dominion endures from generation to generation (Dan 2:21; 4:3).
    • Micro-level of God’s work in life we need to remember that God sees our suffering, hears our heartache, and has compassion for our cries.

2 truths about God during suffering lament.

  1. God allows suffering to help us see ourselves accurately.

For so long, Jerusalem did not listen to God or heed the prophets call to return to God. They viewed God as a means to their desired end. God was useful for health, happiness, and power, but they were unwilling to honor God with integrity and authentic faith relationship. So, God allowed the consequences of sin to accumulate and gave them over to the desires of their heart (cf Rom 1).

Now Jerusalem is no longer viewed as the city of God but a city of grief. The layers of pride have been pulled back and it is revealed for who she really is.

  • Lamentations 1:1 Jerusalem is empty (once thriving in national commerce and religious center is now gone).
  • 1:2-3 Jerusalem is wrecked by death (“a widow”), and enslaved by sin (a princess now a slave).
  • 1:2-6 Jerusalem is forsaken by ally nations (“her lovers are gone and none to comfort her…” “her foes have become her head”).
  • 1:7 Jerusalem is mocked (“When her people fell into the hand of the foe… her foes gloated over her, they mocked at her downfall.”)  
  • 1:8-9 Jerusalem is depraved sin upon sin (“sinned grievously… filthy…they have seen her nakedness… her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future, therefore her fall is terrible.”)
  • 1:10-17 Jerusalem is devasted (“people groan as they search for bread… left stunned, faint all the day long… transgressions bound into a yoke… “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; none to comfort or revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed”)
  • 1:18 Jerusalem is bare before Almighty God. “The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word”

Jeremiah is broken over the absolute devastation of the city. Someone has said, “Sin will always take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Jerusalem is suffering the consequences of prolonged and persistent drift away from God.

Quote: We shall look at the world through tears, so that perhaps we shall see things that dry-eyed we could not see. Biblical lament can be a prism through which we see a path for healing and growth.[1]

Illus:

Story of a husband and wife who had difficult marriage due to his addiction to alcohol. Husband would drink many weeknights but still function to go to work. Weekends were often a blur as he spent hours drinking and getting wasted, which resulted in conflicts, arguments, and a dysfunctional marriage. Some nights the wife wouldn’t see her husband bc he spent night hours at the bar and would go straight to work the next day. He’d deny it as well as him having any drinking problem, that all was under control as he worked each day and made a living to pay their bills. One night the husband came home late but left early for work and he assumed his wife wouldn’t have caught his actions. However, she calls him at work and says, “I know you were out drinking last night and that you got into a fight.” He responds, “No, why would you suggest that?” She says, “Well I noticed your clothes on the bathroom floor were stretched out and have some tears, there’s pain meds left out on the sink, and the tell-tale sign was there’s band aids taped in a circle around the mirror. You were so drunk that you bandaged your reflection in the mirror. You need some serious help!”

We can try to compartmentalize our beliefs and behaviors, conceal our feelings, screen our selfishness and pride, and disguise our depravity. But the reality is our life is visible to everyone on the outside. Until we are willing to look in the mirror for an honest evaluation, we will never find the healing we need. We must be willing to be specific with our problems so we can be productive with our solutions.

  • Individually: We need three traits: humble enough to accept feedback and to admit wrong, and then to act to do right.
    Proverbs 15:31-33 “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
  • Nationally: Our issue is not the white house but the church house. What concerns me the most about the divisions in society is persons on each side claiming to have faith in God with symbols of crosses and “Jesus saves” signs. To be sure, Christians can have convictions, opinions, and preferences for what happens in culture and even politics. But, the line is crossed when our words toward those we disagree are uncharitable, untrue (lies), and when our actions are hostile toward others or betray a lack of civility to work through appropriate channels of change. Hearts and minds are changed not by force but 1) winsome dialogue and relationships, and 2) setting examples of personal conduct and public systems that are salt and light making a difference for others.  

    2) God allows our hurt because He wants our heart.

While we know Lamentations is Jeremiah journaling about God’s evil enemy and actions of Babylon, they are never mentioned in the book. God is sovereign, and He has orchestrated circumstances of nations and kings and prophets and people to fulfill His purpose.

God raised up King Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon as a judgement upon Jerusalem. God’s people didn’t listen, so He found others who would listen. God removed Daniel from Jerusalem and placed him in Babylon to influence the nation. Daniel would help Nebuchadnezzar interpret dreams and discern God’s plans for Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant for a specific season and task (Jer 25:9, 27:6, 43:10).

Ps 2 “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed… [But] He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord holds them in derision”

Ps 37 “Fret not yourselves because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb… Refrain from anger and forsake wrath… For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land… the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.”

We cannot discern why God allows evil to elevate or permits the wicked to prosper. But we do know God orchestrates our hurts because He wants our heart. God is creating circumstances in dozens and hundreds of ways to awaken our attention that we might call upon Him for help, forgiveness, and rescue.

  • Lamentations 1:20-22 “Look, O LORD, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious… You have brought the day you announced; now let them be as I am. Let all their evildoing come before you and deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my transgressions; for my groans are many and my heart is faint.”
  • Lamentations 2:1 “How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud.”
  • 2:2 “The Lord has swallowed up without mercy.
  • 2:2-8 “The Lord’s wrath has broken down… cut down in fierce anger… burned like a flaming fire… bent his bow… and has killed all who were delightful in our eyes… he has poured out his fury like fire… The Lord has become like an enemy and has swallowed up Israel… laid in ruins its strongholds… multiplied our mourning and lamentation… laid waste and laid us in ruins… scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary, delivered into the hand of the enemy.”
  • 2:13 “What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you daughter in Zion? For your ruin is vast as the sea; who can heal you?
  • 2:17 “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago”

The Book of Lamentations is a display of God’s righteous discipline. God’s anger is referred to throughout the whole book – at least 12x, and even ends on its mention (1:12; 2:1, 2, 3, 6, 21, 22; 3:1, 43, 66; 4:11; 5:22). One writer notes the variety of Hebrew OT vocabulary for wrath, and that the book of Lamentations utilizes the full range of expression for God’s anger, wrath, and judgment.

What is important to understand is that God’s anger is not emotional or neurotic; He doesn’t just have irrational mean streaks or tantrums. Instead, God’s anger is holy and honest. He is righteous in all His ways and words.

Hebrews 10:31 “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

When we think of anger, we think of

  • Incredible Hulk: Cross me and you won’t like me bc there will be violence and mayhem.  
  • Infant Toddler: Selfish anger without perspective.

Instead, we should think of God’s anger as

  • Impartial Judge. One who understands the full perspective, positions, and personalities, and is able to offer a final judgment that is always perfectly right and profoundly relevant.

Further, we should be grateful for God’s anger. The opposite of God’s love is not anger, but indifference. The Bible never presents God as indifferent or casual towards His creation. Instead, the Bible shows that God is intricately involved and engaged in the affairs of people. God loves us too much to not be angry when we’ve misplaced our affections.

Hebrews 12:7 “It is for discipline that you have to endure, God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons… He disciplines us for our good that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

  • We do not relish our sin, but we do remember what God has saved us from. And we may not be where we want to be, but we thank God we are not where we used to be. Thank God for the grave places in your life, because there we find evidence for the resurrection in your life. We can see scars and burns, but those scars tell a story of what God has done and that He’s not finished what He’s doing in your life.  

  • Discipline, hurt, and suffering can be God’s tools to teach.
    C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world… Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.”
    Sometimes you can discern the message on your own, but other times you need a prophet like Jeremiah or Daniel to give you insight. Don’t be afraid to talk with someone God has placed in your life for this purpose. Don’t be like Zedekiah who turned Jeremiah away over and over to listen to someone else tickle your ears. If there’s ever a time where our world needs prophets of God, it’s now.

  • Take your hurts to the heart of God. There you will find the cross, where Jesus bled and died, and has swallowed the full penalty for your sin. There you will find replenishing grace to revive your spirit and renew your strength. Today might be a day of lament… but it can also be a day where love meets your lament through Jesus Christ. Tell Jesus your sin story and let Him write new chapters.

APPLY/THINK

When a parent disciplines a child, it’s often “One more time… one more time…” and consequences are delayed.

When God disciplines, His delay is patient wanting us to repent.


[1] Quote adapted from Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, p.90.

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