Culturally speaking, Christians are called to be exiles and not tourists or immigrants. Here is the difference:
Tourists are non-residents in a foreign country. Generally, they only engage culture that is familiar to them and they usually stand out as odd. Likewise, too often Christians stand out as odd because they isolate themselves against a society of which they exist to make better. The Pharisees tried to isolate from culture, but their depravity and wickedness stemmed not from outside but within (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23). Christians are not to relate to the world as tourists without investment or influence.
Immigrants are non-residents in a foreign country too. However, generally they tend to blend in making the new place their permanent home. They work for the common good. But, Christian’s who reflect an immigrant approach to culture of going along with cultural norms often end up drifting away from their identity and without eternal impact.
But the Bible says Christians are exiles. Exiles are removed from their homeland and placed in a temporary setting. Yet, exiles never forget their identity. They live as a witness to who they are, and they don’t just stand out as odd, but they stand up with principle and purpose. God’s people have been exiled from Eden and on a faith journey to cultivate good and pursue the welfare (shalom) of the land for all people. Ultimately, exiles live is earthly citizens informed by heavenly citizenship.
As we have been studying the prophet Jeremiah and God’s people during the book of Lamentations, we are learning lessons about how to live in exile. Specifically, we are learning about biblical lament – how to grieve the present but hope and work for the future.
Lamentations is not a popular book. Yet, God’s people need the unfiltered truth of God’s word because we live in a raw and rough world that only a faith foundation can sustain us. The book of Lamentations mourns the effects of suffering on a society and the consequences of a nation that has rejected God. Specifically, in these last chapters we are seeing how God has removed Israel’s idols – false security and hopes – to reveal its emptiness apart from God.
EXAMINE Lamentations 4-5
This chapter continues the designed order and meticulous structure with the Hebrew alphabet acrostic. Chapter 4 opens with the name of the book How?!? (ʾekâ) as in “How could this happen!?!” (cf. 1:1; 2:1; and 4:1). In the rest of the chapter we identify three idols causing suffering and consequences that should lead us to repentance and restoration with God.
Illus: Think of life like a giant glass of clean water with dirty sediment at the bottom. If the glass remains stable and still, then the water looks clear and even pure. However, if one were to bump or shake the glass, then the sediment will be activated, and the appearance of purity is gone. Problems bump us and suffering shake us so that the sediment of self-sufficiency, pride, jealousy, and fear that lay dormant erupt and reveal idols of our heart.
Perhaps burdens are bumping your life or struggles are shaking you. God allows our hurts because He wants our heart. Today’s message will examine burdened and broken areas of our life and world that God can use to bring us closer to Him.
God awakens us with a debased nation.
The city of Jerusalem was the economic and spiritual center for the nation. The temple was the central architecture of the city, not only for its external appearance but its internal contents: ark of the covenant, gold and silver vessels, utensils, shields, chains of gold, and other precious gems and costly stones, cedar carvings and engraved figures, not to mention the wood beams and pillars (cf 1Kings 6:20-22, ff). Yet, all of this was destroyed, and the city lost its luster with ash covered heap of ruins and vanished gold.
- 4:1 “How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed. The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street.”
The people who were popular and prized were now treated like broken pots (cf Jer 19:11). Israel was like a precious heirloom but now shattered clay. Their rulers are wandering the streets without aim. Their fame was deformed and their beauty unrecognizable.
- 4:2 “The precious sons of Zion… regarded as earthen pots.”
4:5-8 “Those who once feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple embrace ash heaps… Her princes are not ruddy… and dark with soot, not recognized in the streets”
Instead of families caring for one another, they are callous and cruel. Looking out only for self, they abandon family and friends in need. Worse, maternal instinct surrendered to depraved survival as mothers killed children for food.
- 4:3-4 “Even jackals offer the breast; they nurse their young, but the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness (cf Job 39:13–18). The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives to them.”
- 4:10 “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became food…”
Before we move on from this text, we need to pause. We must lament the millions of children who have been robbed of life through the immoral holocaust of abortion. We must lament the shedding of innocent blood in our land – and the world. We should lament when mothers decide their body is more valuable than that of a baby’s, and fathers decide their present convenience is more respected than a baby’s future. Let us lament the promotion of personal comfort and the marketing of greed when we can silence the cries of unborn children, and even sell aborted babies’ bodies. Let us lament the bias spin of language of being “pro-choice” or even how “pro-life” is merely pro-birth rather than understanding a host of issues womb to tomb recognizing the value of every person made in the image of God.
- Recognize SOHL. Pray for families considering abortion to know they are not alone and to make alternate decisions such as adoption, surrogate foster homes, and dozens of other ways to permit life. We pray for Pregnancy Clinics and other organizations that nurture and support families in tangible ways. And we pray for those who have made unfortunate decisions to know that God can transform heartbreak into hope. God’s grace is sufficient for every mistake, fault, and sin.
- Recognize SOHL not just in word but in deed. This year from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day we will promote a “baby bottle blitz” to stuff bottles with coins, cash, credit info to support local SPPC.
Overall, the nation of Judah was debased. Its glory days were gone, the culture was corrupt, the nation was unjust and unrighteous, and the people overall depraved and despairing.
- 4:9 “Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger who wasted away, pierced by the lack of the fruits of the field.
- 4:11 “The LORD gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and he kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations.”
Likewise, it could be said the last several years our nation is growing debased and unraveling at its very core. We echo the psalmist words:
- Psalm 11:3 “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Some Christians have passed from alarm or sorrow into despair because of recent events and political happenings. Unfortunately, they are teetering from turning nationalism into an idol.
Tim Keller says, “An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit God is anything so central and essential in your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living… Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others… Despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit.”
- If you have alarm for what’s happening in our nation, then allow biblical lament to awaken you to God.
Psalm 20:7 “Some trust in chariots and horses [national military and economy], but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people who are called by my name
- post their political views more on social media
- debate and hate friends based on their disagreements with my opinions about life
- divide with family over who they voted or didn’t vote for
- … humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
- Last – listen – there are absolutes in our Christian faith and these all come from God’s word. There are also a plethora of uncertainties and grey areas on preferences and choices today. Christians, let us be careful what we declare to be absolute truth and demand of being non-negotiable in the way we relate to others.
God awakens us with discredited leaders.
Israel/Judah was in a spiraling crisis with centuries of disloyal leaders, dishonest priests, and deficient kings. That’s the message of the OT – searching for a true and better king/leader! And when a crisis occurs, people seek and need a competent leader to provide guidance and deliverance. But Jerusalem’s leadership was dreadfully lacking.
God sent prophets – Jeremiah and others – to warn of judgment but other prophets promised peace.
- 4:12 “The kings of the earth did not believe, nor any of the inhabitants of the world, that foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.”
- 4:13 “This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed blood of the righteous”
- 4:14-16 “They wandered, blind through the streets; they were so defiled with blood that no one was able to touch their garments. “Away! Unclean!” people cried at them… so they became fugitives and wanderers… ‘They shall stay with us no longer.’ The face of the LORD has scattered them; he will regard them no more, no honor was shown to the priests, no favor to the elders.”
- Note: The literal language “face of the LORD” normally shines to grant glory and extend blessing, but here it’s a sharp rebuke to scatter the people for their sin.
- 4:20 “The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed, was captured in their pits, of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.”
- Judah’s king Zedekiah was captured and made to watch slaughter of children, and then his eyes were gouged out. (Cf Jer 52:10-11).
Spiritual leaders were being judged for spiritual malpractice.
- Teaching truth
- Training people in righteousness and justice.
- Ministering with compassion for the vulnerable and needy.
- Warning against spiritual drift and disobedience to God’s commands.
- Rebuking against idolatry.
When culture unravels, we need
- Spiritual families. The most basic is a Dad & Mom, along with grandparents, discipling their children in the word and way of God. Simply reading Scripture and rehearsing spiritual truth through songs and catechisms can establish an unshakeable foundation. People who come to faith in Christ largely (~90%) do so before the age of 18. If this is not a wake up call to parents and pastors to prioritize growing godly generations, then not much will.
- Spiritual leaders. The most basic is Christians who open their Bibles and their homes in neighborhoods. Our communities and country are trying to interpret the culture, and the best cypher is the word of God. The person who has a biblical worldview on life and living that out as salt and light is the most powerful and impactful people in the world.
- Spiritual communities. The most basic is the local church. When a culture’s leaders are being discredited, the church is the last line, if not the front line, of defense to stand for life and speak for truth. The church can make a tangible difference simply by being different.
- “[T]he problem with evangelical Christianity in America is not that we are too strange but that we are not strange enough. We should be countercultural in loving God and loving our neighbors in ways that ought not to make sense except for the grace of God… The biggest threat facing the American church right now is not secularism but cynicism. That’s why we have to recover the credibility of our witness. It’s one thing to dismiss the teachings of Christianity as strange and unlikely, but if people walk away from the church because they don’t believe that we really believe what we say, then that’s a crisis. There is an entire generation of people who are growing cynical that religion is just a means to some other end.”
God awakens us with dismissed alliances.
Those who were thought to be loyal helpers and reliable defenders were notably absent when Babylon was invading Jerusalem. In the book of Jeremiah, the last few chapters are spent calling judgment upon the potential allies and hopeful protectors: Egypt would be conquered, Philistines would be cut down, Moab overpowered, Ammon, Damascus, Keder, Hizor, Edom and Elam all would suffer the same fate as Israel, including Babylon in God’s timing. No one is exempt from God’s judgment if they are not walking in repentance and right relationship with Him.
Specifically, Edom stood aloof and gloated over Judah’s destruction but would receive its due (Ob 1:10-16; Ez 35:15; Ps 137:7-9).
- 4:17 “Our eyes failed, ever watching vainly for help, in our watching we watched for a nation which could not save.”
- 4:21 “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom… but to you also the cup shall pass and you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.”
The fear and reality of God’s consuming discipline haunted Judah.
- 4:18-19 “They dogged our steps so that we could not walk in our streets; our end drew near; our days were numbered, for our end had come. Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the heavens; they chased us on mountains, they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.”
God loves us too much to not take away our crutches of dependency, so like Paul, we may be “utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despair of life and feel the sentence of death, but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead… on Him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2Cor 1:8-10).
Biblical lament reminds us the limitations of earthly governments, human leadership, worldly economics, and national defense. None of these are sufficient to save or sustain our hope. Our deliverance will not come from a seat on the supreme court, reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, nor sit in a business boardroom, nor stand in the pulpit. Our deliverance comes from being profoundly planted and deeply rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Pray Ps 119:37 “turn my eyes/heart from worthless things and give me life in your ways.”
Lamentations 5 is not acrostic structure but is a reflective gasp and prayer for God’s restoration.
- 5:1 Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us, look and see our disgrace.”
While crying is embarrassing, hardship is humbling, faith reminds us we live for an audience of one. People of faith don’t need to photoshop their flaws or air brush their burdens. Christianity offers a community of broken sinners who are mended through confessing weakness, repenting of self-reliance, and pleading for the steadfast love and mercy of God. Even more, Christianity offers a God who was sent on a mission to identify with our sin and suffering effects, and walks with us through the presence and power of His Holy Spirit.
- 4:22 “The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished; he will keep you in exile no longer”
While there were uncertain circumstances, dark clouds and intense suffering, God’s mercy was faithful. God’s promise was to discipline with purpose and not abandon His people without forgiving grace.
- 5:19 “But you, O Lord, reign forever, your throne endures forever.
- 5:21 “Restore us to yourself, O LORD… renew our days”
There are no “and they lived happily ever after” moments in Lamentations. The book ends without resolving conflict, challenges, or the destruction of the city.
Biblical lament does not untie all the knots or heal all the pain of our life. Instead, biblical lament teaches us to breathe – inhaling spiritual truth and exhaling hope in God. It pushes us to persevere praying, continue asking, never stop seeking, keep knocking, and endure trusting.
Lament does not take away our longing for things to change, but it gives us perspective to pray. Lament is our…
- Language for our sense of loss.
- Solution for our silence.
- Category for our complaints
- Framework for our feelings
- Grace for our grieving
- Process for our pain.
- Way to worship God in weakness and suffering.
Ultimately, biblical lament gives voice to what we feel but vision for our future by longing for God’s day of full and final redemption in the return of Christ Jesus.
 Adapted from Mark Vroegop: Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, p.123.
 Lament inspired by Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, p.131.
 Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii-xi.
 Russell Moore, quoted in https://time.com/5932014/donald-trump-christian-supporters/
 Vroegop, p.159-160.