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Lamentations 1-2

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4/3/2005
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Lamentations 1-2
Lamentations 1-2
Skip Heitzig
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25 Lamentations - 2005

As Jerusalem fell in judgment to the Babylonians after years of rebellion against God, an anonymous author—probably the prophet Jeremiah—poured out his heart in what we now know as the book of Lamentations. In this series, Skip Heitzig shows how there is hope even in the midst of extreme pain and suffering.

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My son, Nathan, is graduating this year. We have a great relationship. But I remember when he was quite young, and I had to punish him for certain things. And that didn't sit well with him. He was awfully disturbed by the fact that his dad, who said he loved him, would have to spank him.

In fact, I remember one time having to discipline him for something he did, and his response to me was, "And you call yourself a Christian."

[LAUGHTER]

Judgment challenges our concept of love. "God, if you love us so much," thought the nation of Judah, "how could you allow an enemy, a people even more wicked than we are, to be your chastening rod to this nation? You don't love us." G Campbell Morgan, one of my favorite commentators-- preachers of old-- said, "A state that can't punish crime is doomed, and a God who tolerates evil is not good. Deny me my biblical revelation of the anger of God, and I am secure in this universe."

So Jeremiah predicted judgment, and Jeremiah now sees judgment come upon the nation of Judah. If the book of Jeremiah was the prophet overseeing the death of the nation, then the book of Lamentations is the prophet presiding at the funeral of the nation. For that's what lamentations is essentially-- five funeral dirges; five elegies; five chapters of five sad, sad songs-- as Jeremiah sees the city fall at the hand of the Babylonians.

Verse 1 begins with a lament. "How lonely sits the city that was full of people, how like a widow is she." The first word, how, is the name of the book of Lamentations in the Hebrew language. In the Hebrew Bible, it's called Ekah, which is how. And often the books of the Old Testament were named after the first word in the Hebrew sentence. And ekah was a lamentable term, like a sighing or a woe. It's lament. It was often a word used at a funeral to express great dismay.

The book of Lamentations, a short book actually-- we'll cover it in two weeks-- is only 154 verses in total. It's part of a group of writings in the Hebrew Old Testament called The Megillot, or The Five Scrolls. These are five books that include the book of Ruth, Esther, the Song of Solomon, the book of Ecclesiastes, and the book of Lamentations. These books are read in the synagogues on special occasions.

And it's the book of Lamentations that is read every-- what they call-- Tisha B'Av, or Ninth of Av, to commemorate the fall of the temple. As we mentioned before, both the Temple of Solomon and Herod's Temple at the time of Christ fell on the same date though years apart-- one in 586 BC, the other in 70 AD. But they both fell on the same date in the calendar, the Ninth of Av. And so every time in that year, in the synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read.

You might ask, what's so good about reading such a sad book like Lamentations? Why is it even here? Because it helps us focus on ultimate realities. That's why. Solomon said something interesting in the book of Ecclesiastes. He said, "It's better to go to the House of Mourning than to go to the House of Feasting for that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart." In other words, Solomon said, it's better sometimes to go to a funeral and a cemetery than it is to go on a Caribbean cruise. Because it's those kinds of times that make us realize the brevity of life and the ultimate realities of life and death.

So this book, that is a book of mourning. There has been a movement in the church the last decade or so. And in this movement, there is even a practice known as holy laughter. Now I'm all for laughter for the right reasons. But the idea is that we all gather together in a service, and we all break out in hysterical laughing as worship to the Lord. And you've probably heard stories of this, how just crazy people can get-- barking like dogs, making animal noises, and laughing hysterically, all supposedly by the Holy Spirit in the name of the Lord.

I think the church could use a little more holy morning. For Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn. They shall be comforted." This is a book of holy lamenting-- holy mourning. Jeremiah was on the north side of Jerusalem probably when he wrote this book.

Pastor Chuck mentioned last week that just outside the walls of Jerusalem is that hill, the top of Mount Moriah Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. And in that very hill is a grotto known as the grotto of Jeremiah where it is thought, by tradition, that Jeremiah perched himself in that cave and saw Jerusalem fall. Jerusalem fell from the north. He could see the walls crumbling down. He could watch as the Jewish captives were led away in their chains, as people were starving to death, as so many died, and then the rest were taken over to Babylon.

Jeremiah has seen a lot. He saw the revival under King Josiah. It thrilled his heart when young Josiah went back to worshipping and serving the Lord with his heart, reading the scriptures, breaking down the false altars. But then Jeremiah also saw four wicked kings come-- Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, Zedekiah-- and each one of those reigns, he predicted the desolation and the captivity of Jerusalem. And so, "How lonely sits the city that was full of people, how like a widow is she who is great among the nations. The princess among the provinces has become a slave."

Jerusalem is normally crowded. You go to Jerusalem today-- it's always crowded. And at festivals, it's especially crowded. It's an eerie feeling to go to a place that was once full of people and to see it a ghost town. It's an odd, eerie kind of a feeling that Jeremiah experienced. And so, "How lonely sits the city that was full of people."

What Jeremiah saw in the city of Jerusalem has also been seen historically with many churches and denominations-- once full of people, once full of life, once full of the Holy Spirit and evangelism, only to over time sadly be emptied of its zeal, emptied of its life. And it's a sad, sad day to see so many in past times in history-- movements, denominations, churches so full of people now empty and fractured.

You go to Europe, and I've been in European churches where it's huge in this cathedral I was in at one time-- a couple of thousand seats. And there were probably about 15 people just like this desolate, empty-- nobody there. Jerusalem is described as a widow in verse one, and also "The princess among the provinces become a slave." At one time Judah took tribute money-- tax money, revenue money-- from countries like Edom and Moab. And then eventually, they turned on Jerusalem, and Jerusalem became subject now.

"She weeps bitterly in the night. Her tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers, she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her. They have become her enemies." The lovers that Jeremiah refers to in this poetic section of scripture are the nations that Judah turned to make an alliance with-- a relationship with-- in hopes to defend herself against the Babylonian siege.

At times, Judah thought, I'll turn to Egypt. They'll protect me. And other times, I'll look up north toward Tyre and Sidon. But all of the nations-- all of the lovers-- that she turned towards when she should have turned toward the Lord for protection, but she didn't. Judah has gone into captivity. "Under affliction and hard servitude, she dwells among the nations. She finds no rest. All of her persecutors overtake her in dire straits."

Officially, it was 586 BC that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. But there were three visits that the Babylonian armies made to Jerusalem. Three times, they assaulted her. And three times, they carried away captives from Jerusalem to Babylon. 605 BC, 597 BC, and then 586 when finally they decided, let's stay here. Let's finish the task. Let's destroy the city and take all that we can captive.

"The roads to Zion mourn, because no one comes to the set feasts." Three times a year, if you lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem, you were required to come to the feasts in Jerusalem. At Passover, you were required to make the journey up toward the mountain of Zion-- not only Passover but Pentecost and then the Feast of Tabernacles. Those were the three set feasts that, if you lived within a 20-mile radius, you were required to go to Jerusalem. Of course, Jews all over the world wanted to go to Jerusalem during those feasts and especially at Passover.

That's why, at the Passover Haggadah every year, part of the liturgy that is said in the Passover is, "next year in Jerusalem," so that, wherever you are in the world, it's your firm desire to go up to Jerusalem at least once and celebrate the Passover. But, "The roads to Zion mourn, because no one comes to the set feasts. All her gates are desolate. Her priests sigh. Her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness." The roads going up to Jerusalem-- so packed at one time, filled with throngs of people worshipping, singing in caravans, going up the winding roads from virtually all over the land-- now empty, now desolate. No one comes.

Something else-- and this is from a Jewish source-- the idea of the roads in mourning is a Jewish picture in that, when somebody dies in the family, the males let their hair grow long. They don't cut it. They don't shave for a period of 30 days. They look really ragged, really scraggly. It was a symbol and a sign of mourning.

And after the fall of Jerusalem, since no one was traveling on those foot paths any longer, the weeds grew up in the roadsides. No one was traversing the trails anymore. It looked like a mourner. "The whole land was mourning. Her adversaries have become the master. Her enemies prosper for the Lord has afflicted her. Because of the multitude of her transgressions, her children have gone into captivity before the enemy. And from the daughter of Zion, all her splendor has departed. Her princes have become like deer that find no pasture, that flee without strength before the pursuer."

Zion is mentioned, and in the pages of scripture, Zion was a term that originally referred to the primary city of Jerusalem known as the City of David. They called that the Stronghold of Zion. Later on, as the temple was put up on the top of Mount Moriah, that mountain, that eastern hill of Jerusalem, was known as Mount Zion.

Over time, however, Zion became a term that referred to all of the city of Jerusalem and even sometimes in the scripture to all of the nation of Israel. That's the use of the term, Zion. But notice it says, "All her splendor has departed. Her princes have become like deer that find no pasture, that flee without strength before the pursuer."

There are some sources that tell us that the presence of God that dwelt in the temple, called the Shekinah Glory. That's an Aramaic term that means the presence-- the presence of God. The visible presence of God did not leave Jerusalem-- so the stories tell us-- until the children were led away captive by the Babylonians. And as the children were being led away in chains, then that presence of God-- the Shekinah Glory-- left never to return. So that, even when Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, a couple of the things he said that were missing in the temple was, number one, the Ark of the Covenant. It was not in that temple, nor was the Shekinah Glory-- the visible presence that abode over that temple.

"In the days of her affliction and roaming, Jerusalem remembers all of her pleasant things that she had in the days of old when her people fell into the hands of the enemy with no one to help her. The adversaries saw her and mocked at her downfall." How sad to be in a place experiencing the judgment of God and you have to look back on the days when things were good, when the sun was once bright and shining in the favor of God you enjoyed. But it's all past tense.

Now there's mourning. Now there's desolation. Now there's heartache. Now there's emptiness. "Jerusalem has sinned gravely. Therefore, she has become vile. All who honored her despise her because they have seen her nakedness. Yes, she sighs and turns away. Her uncleanness is in her skirts. She did not consider her destiny. Therefore, her collapse was awesome. She had no comforter. Oh Lord, behold my affliction for the enemy is exalted. The adversary has spread his hand over all her pleasant things, for she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary-- those whom you commanded not to enter your assembly."

The temple was, at one time, the very building they trusted in for their security. They treated the building as sort of an icon, sort of like a good luck charm. As long as that temple is standing, they thought, were OK. And then they trusted in their own rituals of coming to the temple.

In the seventh chapter of Jeremiah, God instructs the prophet to go stand in the gate of the temple and decried their attitude saying, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these." The prophet said, "Don't trust in these lying vanities." They trusted in the rituals they were keeping at a place rather than the relationship they should have with a person of God. They rested in that. And now that very good luck charm, that very icon that they trusted in, was destroyed, leveled to the ground.

We have to be careful. It is human nature to want to confine God to a place. This is that place where something happened. And we can idolize it.

In Israel, there's three different churches on the Mount of Olives. All of them claim to be the place that Jesus ascended into heaven from. They're holy places, they say. Now how do you have three places that Jesus ascended into heaven from? One even claims to have the footprint of Jesus that He left behind. It's interesting the Bible tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, but He went as far as Bethany, which is on the other side of the Mount of Olives, the place where none of those three churches that claim Jesus to have ascended from are. So I think these church folks need to read their Bibles more, don't you?

The point is they have made these places as places of worship, and they idolize them. That's why I love when we take tourists to Israel. We don't really spend much time in churches, though we may visit one or two. But we really love to show people the land that Jesus walked on and get out in the open where He was with his disciples. And Jesus even predicted to His own disciples that that temple that they said, "Look at the stones! Look how magnificent!" He said, "Not one stone will be left upon another. They'll all be thrown down."

The Lord isn't interested so much in a place as He is in the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is His people. It was the woman from Samaria who said, "Well, our fathers worship in this mountain. You Jews say Jerusalem is the place that one ought to worship." Jesus said to the woman, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming, and now is when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will they worship the Father, for the Father is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and in truth."

That's what the Lord wants. He wants true, spiritual worship from the heart. And you can do that anywhere. "All her people sigh," verse 11. "They seek bread. They have given their valuables for food to restore life. See, O Lord, and consider for I am scorned." Now, the first 11 verses is a description of Jerusalem from the outside looking in. The rest of the chapter is from the inside of Jerusalem looking out. "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the Lord has inflicted in the day of his fierce anger."

And as pastor Chuck did this morning, taking verse 12 as a reference to that very place where Jeremiah was by Golgotha, as people were walking by, "Is it nothing, all you who pass by," walking by, not even noticing. And so it is with Christ, people passing Him by and still today passing Him by.

"From above, He has sent fire into my bone. It overpowered them. He has spread a net for my feet and turned me back. He has made me desolate and faint all the day. The yoke of my transgressions was bound. They were woven together by His hands and trust upon my neck. He made my strength fail. The Lord delivered me into the hands of those whom I am not able to withstand."

Once a farmer put a yoke-- that wooden implement that controlled the direction of his animals-- once the yolk was placed on the animal, the farmer, with his hands, could control where that animal or those animals in tandem in that yoke were going. The picture is the yoke is Babylon. "God placed that yoke upon his people's neck." But God was still firmly controlling the outcome and the destiny of his people. He was in sovereign control, though he used Babylon as the yoke to bring his people into bondage. "The Lord has trampled underfoot all my mighty men in my midst. He has called an assembly against me to crush my young men. The Lord trampled, as in a wine press, the virgin daughter of Judah."

Now the symbol of a wine press is one that is used in the Bible frequently to describe judgment. Just as grapes are put in a wine press and they're crushed so that the juice burst forth, the idea is sort of a grotesque or picturesque one of blood bursting forth at the time of battle as in a wine press.

In Revelation 14, that same word picture is used. John sees a vision of the angel with a sickle in his hand and he says, "I saw as the angel thrust his sickle in the earth and drew out the vine of the earth and threw it into the wine press of the fierceness of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city. And blood came forth from the wine press up to the horse's bridle--" a picture of judgment at the time of Armageddon, that last bloody battle upon the earth-- "trampled as a wine press."

"For these things, I weep. My eye overflows with water because the comforter who should restore my life is far from me. My children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed. Zions spreads out her hands but no one comforts her. The Lord has commanded, concerning Jacob, that those around him become his adversaries. Jerusalem has become an unclean thing among them."

Now here is where we see Christ in the book of Lamentations. You might say, boy, what a sad book. Is Jesus in this book? Oh, yes he is. In fact, one of the rumors going around about the time of Jesus Christ is that Jesus was Jeremiah.

When he was up in Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do men say that I, the son of man, am?" And they threw out several identities. Some say that you're John the Baptist. Others say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Why did they think Jesus was Jeremiah? Because Jesus reminded the people of the ministry and the heart of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. He had compassion on people. It broke his heart to see Jerusalem trampled by the enemies, taken captive. The young, the old, the priests slain, the temple destroyed. The Bible tells us when Jesus looked over the crowds in Galilee, He had compassion on them, because He saw the people as weary and scattered like sheep having no shepherd. As Jesus stood over the city of Jerusalem, he too wept. And he also saw the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

"The Lord is righteous," verse 18 continues. This is now Jerusalem's confession of its own sin. "The Lord is righteous for I rebelled against His commandment. The Lord has been right in what He has done. I have sinned I deserve this. Here now, all peoples, behold my sorrow. My virgins and my young men have gone into captivity. I called from my lovers, but they deceived. My priests and my elders breathed their last in the city while they sought food to restore their life.

See, O Lord, that I am in distress. My soul is troubled. My heart is overturned within me, for I have been very rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves. At home, it is like death. They have heard that I sigh, but no one comforts me. All my enemies have heard of my trouble. They are glad that you have done it. Bring on the day you have announced that they may become like me. Let all their wickedness come before you, and do to them as you have done to me for all my transgressions, for my size are many and my heart is faint." This is Jerusalem's confession of its own sin. It recognizes this is the judgment of God. I've deserved this. My transgressions are many. God is righteous.

In the book of Proverbs, chapter 28, we read, "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will find mercy." It's as if the Lord is just waiting for you to agree with him about your sin. That's what confession means. Confession simply means to agree with God about your sin. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Here, Jerusalem makes that confession.

We can respond-- and I say "we" meaning we humans, we people-- can respond to our sin in a number of ways. One of the most typical ways is denial. I'm not that bad. I'm fine. I don't need to admit that I'm a sinner.

Another way that people deal with it is comparison. Well, I'm not perfect, but there are other people who are a lot worse than I am. That's what the Pharisee tried when he said, "I thank you, God, that I am not like other men and especially like that tax collector." Comparison.

Another way people deal with their sin is to try a self-help method. Yeah, I know I'm not perfect, but I'm going to work really hard on overcoming it myself. And you just dig the hole deeper when you try that.

The best way to deal with it is to confess it, say, "You're right, God. I've been wrong. I admit it. I'm a sinner. Now cleanse me, Lord, and give me the grace and the strength to walk in repentance and in humility before you." "Whoever confesses and forsakes it will find mercy. The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart."

Every now and then, I'll read these stories about the crazy laws that we once had in America years ago in different places. Odd laws were on the books. For instance, back in 1842, the bath tub was considered a luxury that should be outlawed. In Boston, it was illegal to bathe unless a doctor gave you a prescription to bathe. Well, I'll tell you what, I'd find a doctor really quick and make him my best friend.

Over in Boston in the following year, 1843, on the books, it was illegal to bathe between November 1st and March 15th. I don't know why. A law was on the books. Now I know that stinks, doesn't it, not law.

[LAUGHTER]

The point is, we would rather put up with the stench of our own sin and failure rather than getting clean.

Finally, Jerusalem in this broken condition, in this language depicted by Jeremiah, says, "God, you're righteous. I've been wrong." And that starts, not only the 70 years of captivity, but now that starts the turning of Judah. And they're well on their way to restoration as they will be brought back into the land and shown mercy by God.

Lamentations 2 is the second dirge that is given us-- the second funeral song. And you might say that this is lessons from the woodshed, as the reasons for the captivity and the fall of Jerusalem are outlined in more detail in this chapter. It's a picture of the anger of God as God systematically dismantles the nation of Judah and takes him into judgment.

You have to understand something. In this chapter, God is seen as the one that causes the calamity. Now don't let that throw you, because we mentioned that Jeremiah mentions Babylon more than any other biblical writer. 164 times, in the book of Jeremiah, he mentions Nebuchadezzar or Babylon or the Chaldeans as being the instrument of God's judgment.

In the book of Lamentations, Babylon isn't mentioned. Nebuchadezzar isn't mentioned. Rather, God is seen as the prime agent using the enemies to punish His people. God takes responsibility. He takes the rap for the judgment. And the idea is that God is in sovereign control of placing that yoke on His people. He's still holding the rope and controlling the bondage.

"How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with the cloud of His anger. He casts down from Heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel--" a reference to the temple-- "and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger." Now footstool-- sort of like the beauty of Israel-- is also a reference to the temple.

Back in 1 Chronicles, chapter 28, David addresses the people and said, "I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God. In Psalm 132, the psalmist says, "Let us go to His tabernacle. Let us worship at His footstool." This was the place on Earth where God would rest among His people, and His presence was known.

"The Lord has swallowed up and has not pitied all the dwelling places of Jacob. He has thrown down, in His wrath, the strongholds of the daughter of Judah. He has brought them down to the ground. He has profaned the kingdom and its princes. He has cut off, in fierce anger, every horn of Israel."

The horn upon an animal was its strength. It was its defense. It would attack, or it would defend itself with the strong horn or horns that protruded from its head. So horn, in the Bible, is so often a symbol of military strength or power. And so for a horn to be cut off means that Israel is defenseless.

"He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy. He has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire devouring all around. Standing like an enemy, He," that is God, "has bent His bow with His right hand like an adversary. He has slain all who are pleasing to His eye. On the tent of the daughter of Zion, He has poured out His fury like fire." Again, it's the Lord that is the subject. He is the one that, as that prime mover, He is the subject, the one acting out this judgment upon His people.

There's a principle there. God is willing to let us suffer if that is what is required to turn our hearts back to Him. God loves you. And God loves you so much that, if need be-- just like a parent who might say, I've got to do this. I don't want to punished this child of mine, because I love them, but I need to because I want him to turn-- that God would allow us to suffer temporarily if that would mean our hearts would be fully loyal and committed to Him as a result. In Psalm 119, David said, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I keep your word." It was the affliction that turned him back to the Lord, got his attention, and brought him to that place of devotion once again.

Every now and then, you'll come across, either in a supermarket or somewhere out in public, maybe even at somebody else's house, you'll come in contact with a brat.

[LAUGHTER]

And you know a brat when you see a brat or hear a brat. What is a brat? Just somebody who's left to himself-- a child without discipline who does what he or she wants when he or she wants it, gets whatever they desire. No discipline, no love. And a child left to itself is disastrous. A child of God left to himself can be disastrous. That's why God never leaves us to our own desires and designs. He will, at one point, at some point, intervene.

"Do not despise the chastening of the Lord." For whom the Lord loves, he spanks. That's a loose translation for "chastens." Lord, why are you allowing this to happen? Because I love you. That's why. And look what it's done-- such seeking of the Lord, such repentance, such heartfelt cries to Him. It's worked. It's gotten your attention. "Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I keep your word."

"The Lord was like an enemy. He has swallowed up Israel. He has swallowed up all her palaces. He has destroyed her strongholds and has increased mourning and lamentation in the daughter of Judah. He has done violence to his tabernacle as if it were a garden. He has destroyed his place of assembly. The Lord has caused the appointed feasts and the sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion. In His burning indignation, He has spurned the King and the priest."

In verse six, the word tabernacle is literally booth. Every year, in the Feast of Tabernacles-- you know the story-- the children of Israel were commanded to make little tabernacles-- booths-- and live in them for a week remembering how God protected them and their forefathers in the wilderness.

Here's a picture however of a temporary booth out in a farmland, dismantled by the farmer. The farmer would have built it to keep him protected from the heat and the elements during the harvest. But now the harvest is over. The sickle is drawn forth-- a picture of judgment. And that booth is dismantled. And that's the idea in verse six. "He has done violence to His booth," or His tabernacle, "as if it were a garden." "The Lord," verse seven, "has spurned his altar. He has abandoned his sanctuary. He has given up the walls of her palaces into the hand of the enemy. They have made a noise in the House of the Lord as on the day of a set feast."

The Lord abandoned his sanctuary. The temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. In mid-July 586, the city was fully captured. The walls were breached. In August of 586 BC, the burning began. There was no temple any longer. No place of sacrifice. No place for the rituals and the ceremonies as prescribed by the Mosaic law. And the children of Israel were displaced some 500 miles to the east in Babylon. No temple, no ability to practice ceremonial law. They were now confined only to reading the law and commenting upon the law.

During this captivity, a number of things will develop. Number one, the synagogue will develop. You never read about synagogues in the Old Testament, but suddenly you come to the New Testament you read about the synagogues that were there that Jesus visited. The synagogue was something that developed in the Babylonian captivity. They had no temple. They could only meet together and discuss what Moses meant in the law.

And so they developed a bet knesset, or a house of gathering-- the synagogue. Also, the office of the rabbi developed during the Babylonian captivity. You never read about rabbis in the Old Testament. You read them all the time in the New Testament. The rabbi was a teacher. And the scribe and the rabbi would talk together and sermonize and argue, what did Moses mean when he said thus and such? And as they would discuss it, they developed what is called the Oral Law. And the Oral Law eventually became written down. And there is the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud four times as long-- volume after volume of what the scribes opinions are and rabbis opinions are as to what Moses meant when he said a certain law.

Eventually, because of this change in constitution, no temple, et cetera, eventually the Oral Law became uppermost to them even over, in some cases, the written law. So Jesus will say, in the Sermon on the Mount, "You have heard that it was said that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." Well, who said that? The rabbis. It's not in the written law. But they started making Moses say things that Moses never meant. And because of these landmark cases that developed during the Babylonian captivity, they started placing an emphasis on what the rabbis said rather than what God's word said because of this change.

"The Lord has purpose to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. He has stretched out a line. He has not withdrawn his hand from destroying. Therefore, he has caused the rampart and the wall to lament. They languished together." To stretch out a line is what a builder does. A builder will have a measuring line and a plumb line.

The plumb line and the measuring line will make sure that the corners and the walls are straight. The idea of stretching out a line means to take exact measurements and do something with great precision when you build. The fact that it is used of God dismantling his people is simply saying that God will use as much precision in destroying his people as a builder would use and building a building. He'll stretch out the line and make sure this is done exactly as he said it would be done-- in precision and in finality or in totality.

"Her gates have sunk into the ground," verse nine. He has destroyed and broken her bars. Her King and her princes are among the nations. The law is no more. And her prophets find no vision from the Lord." That says the gates have sunken into the ground. There is a legend-- and I really believe it is a legend from the mid rash part of that Oral Law that was written down as years went on. And the legend says that when Jerusalem was taken captive and destroyed by the Babylonians that the gates of the temple literally sunk into the ground and became invisible so that the enemies could not defile them.

But probably this is a figure of speech-- speaking of destruction. They fell to the ground. They sunk into the ground. However, it's interesting if you look at this archaeologically. Archaeologically, if you go to Israel, you find that wherever you stand you're not standing on the original pavement of 2,000, 3,000 years ago. You're standing some 20, 30, 40, 50 feet above the original street. Because when stones were toppled over into the valley, and rubble was put there, eventually the level of the city grew. It raised up so that, rather than removing the debris, you simply build on top of it.

So if you were to look at, say, the gates of Jerusalem from 2,000 years ago, today they're underground. An archaeologist by the name of Asher Kaufman was outside the east gate of Jerusalem. That's the Golden Gate that is closed up today. You see it from the Mount of Olives. And he was out there one day walking around, and he fell into a hole.

He happened to have a camera. It was dark inside the cave. He fell into it he didn't know what was around him. There were familiar, dry feeling things. He didn't know exactly what they were. And so he took a lot of photographs.

Later on, after he got out of the hole and he got the film developed, he looked at the pictures. And those familiar objects around them were skulls and back bones. It was a mass grave he had fallen into. Hundreds of people had been buried in this place, in this huge hole right in front of the east gate.

But also on his photograph, he saw two arches in the stone below the level of the present gates of the east gate, which showed him evidence that the city gates had sunken into the ground simply because of the debris, that they were covered over and then later on the wall was built on top of it. But he knew that that marked the original entrance of the city of Jerusalem at the time of Christ from the east. So it could be a prophetic reference to the city falling and the debris rising, and so the gates have sunk into the ground.

"The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground and keep silence. They throw dust on their heads and gird themselves with sackcloth. The virgins of Jerusalem bow their heads to the ground. My eyes fail with tears. My heart," or is the King James puts it, my bowels. "My heart is troubled. My bile, or liver, is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because the children and the infants faint in the streets of the city.

In ancient times, it was the abdomen that was considered the seat of one's emotions. We still talk about, I feel it in the pit of my stomach. And here, where it says, "My liver, or my bile, is poured out," it simply means I'm drained emotionally. I'm drained in the very core of my being-- painfully agitated is the idea. Why? It says because "The children and the infants faint in the streets of the city." One of the saddest scenes in any war is what war does to the children of that country.

When I traveled to Rwanda after the genocide and I stood on mass graves-- you remember the stories of almost a million people massacred in that civil war-- what was so heartbreaking were the thousands upon thousands of children wandering the streets whose parents have been butchered. And they were crying out, Mom, Dad! And they couldn't find their mom or their dad. Their mother or father had been killed or both.

And so this prophet, Jeremiah, emotionally drained as he sees the devastating effects upon the children because of the fall of Jerusalem-- "They say to their mothers, where's the grain and the wine? And they swoon like the wounded in the streets of the city as their life is poured out in their mother's bosom--" kids crying out for food and for water for nourishment. And parents, though they love their children, they have nothing. They're unable to help.

"How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion, for your ruin is spread wide as the sea? Who can heal you?" In other words, can I point to any other nation that has suffered such calamity as you have suffered?

The ancient rabbis used to say that God gave 10 measures of beauty to the entire world. Nine of them he placed in Jerusalem. One he placed everywhere else to be dispersed. And then they went on to say God has placed 10 measures of knowledge in the world. Nine of them he gave to Jerusalem, one for the rest of the world. But they also said God has given 10 measures of suffering to the world. Nine is given to Jerusalem and one to the rest of the world.

What will I compare you to? Who else has suffered this kind of calamity? And why did they suffer it? Because their own refusal to be brought under the yoke of God's spirit. And so they now have the yoke of the Babylonians.

"Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions. They have not uncovered your iniquity to bring back your captives but have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions." You remember those false prophets. We saw a couple of them in Jeremiah. They were lulling the people into a false sense of security-- a false peace-- making people feel really good about their present condition rather than being in mourning.

One of them was named Hannaniah. And Hannaniah came during the time of Jeremiah. And he gave a false prophecy. He said, within two full years, King Jeconiah, who's been taken captive, will return to this land, and the yoke of Babylon will be overturned. Jeremiah said something to the effect of, well, that'd be great. I wish that were true, but you're wrong. You're a false prophet. And all he was doing-- the false prophet-- was causing the hope of the people to swell and not really see their own sinful condition-- that would be the solution to turn from it.

Jesus said, beware of false prophets who will come to you in sheep's clothing. Jesus said, they'll come to you. You really don't have to go looking for them. They'll come knocking on your door. They'll come bicycling up to your door. They'll give you literature that is well presented in flashy, and they'll get your attention.

Now they're not going to announce, hi, I'm your neighborhood false prophet. I'd like to deceive you. Could I have 10 minutes of your time? No, they'll come in, and they'll use words like "God" and "Jesus" and "the Bible" and "the Holy Spirit," and you'll think they're one of us. But listen carefully to their message. Listen carefully to how they describe the person, nature, and work of Jesus Christ. There are many false prophets that have gone out into the world to deceive.

"All who pass by clap their hands at you." They're happy about the judgment. "They hiss, and they shake their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem. Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty and the joy of the whole earth?" Remember Psalm 48-- "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God and the mountain of His Holiness, beautiful for situation. The joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion in the sides of the north. It's the city of the great King."

Jerusalem does take your breath away. It's a breathtaking view. Everybody on a tour, it's the highlight to come around that bend on the Mount of Olives and look down and see the city of Jerusalem. Wow! It still brings my wife to tears. Beautiful! All of that city packed full of history. "The joy of the whole earth." The rabbis used to say, he who has never seen Jerusalem in its beauty has never seen a beautiful city.

But now the joy of the whole earth is desolate. "They hiss. They shake their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem. All your enemies have opened their mouth against you. They hiss and gnash their teeth." In other words, anger, animosity, scorn, and intense scowling. "They say, we have swallowed her up. Surely, this is the day we waited for. We have found it. We have seen it.

The Lord has done what He purposed. He has fulfilled His word, which He commanded in the days of old. He has thrown down and has not pitied. He has caused an enemy to rejoice over you. He has exalted the horn of your adversaries. Their heart cried out to the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night. Give yourself no relief. Give your eyes no rest. Arise, cry out in the night. At the beginning of the watches, pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord." It's a beautiful picture of sincere, humble prayer-- pouring out your heart like water, unleashing your emotions and your thoughts to God.

Do that when you talk to God. Get real with him. Be honest with him. He can handle it. He's listened to a lot of prayers for a long time of a lot of people. And take your cues from the Psalms. Listen to how David would articulate a prayer so heartfelt he would often pour out his heart unto the Lord, unleashing how he felt and asking God to deal with him on that honest level.

"Lift your hands toward him for the life of your young children who faint from hunger at the head of every street. See, O Lord, and consider to whom have you done this? Should the women eat their offspring-- children they have cuddled? Should the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?"

This is what Jeremiah saw. He would weave his way through the streets of Jerusalem. He would go into that temple area. He'd look around and see the hundreds, the thousands of bloated dead bodies of priests killed in the very sanctuary of God and then the children and the parents who left natural affection. And unfortunately, this is one of those desperate consequences of a war that includes starvation.

Remember, we mentioned that the Babylonians surrounded the city of Jerusalem. From January 15, 588 BC to July 18th 586 BC, they surrounded that city, not letting people in or out. And after a period of time when food supplies were out, when cisterns ran dry, when there was no water, no food, the unthinkable, the unimaginable took place. It's sad enough to think of children during a war who lose their parents or who are victims of war. But some of the parents even turned to cannibalism and ate their own children. By the way, not only during this siege, but during the Roman siege, Josephus writes about how one of the Jewish mothers ate her baby son during the Roman siege against Jerusalem in 70 AD. Both of those times, it's on record.

There's a gross story that comes to us from the book of Kings, where the King of Israel is on the walls of Samaria. And a couple women cry out to the king, King, help us! And the King says, where am I going to get help? From the threshing floor or from the wine press-- if God doesn't help you, there is no help. And then he, out of curiosity, I said, well, what is it that ails you? What's the problem?

And one of the women spoke up in sort of a matter of fact tone. She said, well, this lady and I made a deal that one day we would boil my son and eat it and the next day boil her son and eat him. And so we took my son, and we boiled him. We cooked him, and we ate him. And then the next day, she hid her son. The King of Israel saw how desperate they had become. And he tore his robe in disgust and grief, because the city-- the people-- had fallen to such desperate measures.

"Young and old lie on the ground in the streets. My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of your anger. You have slaughtered and not pitied."

The Babylonians, once they did take the city, because it took so many months to get through it, the people of Israel-- the Jews and Judah-- had managed to defend themselves for many months so that, by the time the Babylonians came in, they were angry. And they butchered, without discrimination, young, old, without discrimination of gender-- male, female, babies, adolescents, the aged, and the infirmed as well as the priests.

"You have invited as to a feast day the terrors that surround me. In the day of the Lord's anger, there was no refugee or survivor. Those whom I have born and brought up my enemies have destroyed." So once again, lest anyone forget, God is seen as the ultimate judge and reminded them I, the Lord, is-- I am the one wielding the sword of judgment, taking the yoke of Babylon, placing it upon His people, but still very sovereign, very much in control, and would one day cause them to return.

I guess, to me, in reading Lamentations, a question surfaces. And here it is-- is sin worth it? Whatever it might be, is it really worth it? I know that sin promises a lot, but it doesn't produce. It promises freedom. It promises fun. And the Bible says, sin is pleasurable for a season. But is it worth it? No, it's not, because it promises pleasure, but it delivers bondage and eventually judgment. The wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life.

And I guess another question comes in reading this book, because, after all, these are God's people experiencing the chastening hand of God. And perhaps, some of you are experiencing God chastening you. You're wondering about God's love. It's actually a proof of God's love to you. Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.

So when somebody tells me, yeah, man, my life is trouble free. Hallelujah! I'm a Christian. I never experienced chastening. That's not a good sign. I go, oh, no! Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.

God is sanding you, chiseling you, working on you, honing you. And here's why-- He wants fruit. The Lord loves you so much, Jesus said, He will prune you that you might bear more fruit. Take heart in that tonight. Rejoice in that tonight. Your suffering is not indiscriminate. It's not haphazard. The yoke that you feel is under the firm control of a God who loves you and wants the very best for you.

One of my favorite old preachers is a guy by the name of Samuel Rutherford who preached in Scotland. He was banished from where he lived and went to Aberdeen, where he was kept really under lock and key. But he wrote a lot of letters and words of encouragement to people. And one of the things he wrote was a little poem. "Why should I tremble at the plough of my Lord that maketh deep furrows in my soul? He is no idle husbandman. He purposeth a crop."

When God plows deep and it hurts and there you are crying out, O Lord, why, it's because God sees a crop coming. And one day, it will bring forth fruit and blossom, and you will be the better for it. Whom the Lord loves, He chastens. Let's pray.

Lord, you love us just as we are. But you love us too much to leave us that way. And so you work, and you allow things, and you prescribe things, because all things work together for good to those who love you and are the called according to your purpose. Thank you for your firm but loving hand on our lives. Thank you for your love even displayed in these times of chastening.

We love you, Lord. And we take comfort in your great love for us in Jesus' name. Amen.

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4/10/2005
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Lamentations 3-5
Lamentations 3-5
Skip Heitzig
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