Now your bulletin says that we're going to just do chapter three tonight. You're not going to get off that easy.
We're going to finish the book of Lamentations tonight, starting in chapter three, going through chapter five.
Sometimes I'll turn on the television, and I will catch a TV preacher or two. And I'll pause as sometimes they rant and they rave. It's funny. I like to put it on mute--
--and just watch as they go through so many different gyrations. Sometimes their theme is the love and mercy and compassion of God. But if you put it on mute and you watch them, you'd never know by the grimace on their face and some of the affectations of their body language. So many preachers, however, almost relish speaking about the judgment of God as if God is carrying around a pack of grudges and can't wait to judge people, giving people the wrong impression of who God really is.
RW Dale was a preacher's preacher from Birmingham, England during the days of Dwight L Moody from America. And RW Dale used to say that it seems to him the only one that had the right to preach about judgment was Dwight L Moody, because, according to Dr. Dale, Moody, when he preached, always had tears in his voice. He said it with such compassion-- like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.
Unfortunately, some consider tears to be a sign of weakness. But what made Jeremiah so much like Jesus is that he did weep over Jerusalem. He wept over his people. Jerusalem on the northern side, Jesus on the eastern side, but both beholding the city-- Jesus looking into the future, Jeremiah seeing the present destruction in 586 BC, weeping over that city because they had turned from God.
Jeremiah, the book of it, or the book of Lamentations, is written by Jeremiah. And it's a series of five dirges, songs-- sad but very descriptive, prosaic poems of the judgment of God and the city of Jerusalem. It's as if Jeremiah is presiding over the funeral of this city. "He saw its death, and now he weeps at the funeral."
I've done a lot of different funerals over the past several years. And some of them stick out in my mind. One of the worst that I've ever done-- you say, worst, are any of them good? Oh, yes. Many of them are homecomings. They're wonderful. But one of the worst was the funeral of a mother and father that were murdered by their son. They were murdered with a sledgehammer and then buried in the backyard in shallow graves. And for a few days, while he had buried them, he brought all of his friends over to party. When the crime was found out, the city and the state were in shock-- how that could happen in their midst in their neighborhood.
What happens to Jerusalem that Jeremiah writes about in these chapters, it's as if the nations around are in awe, in shock, at how bad it's gotten. In fact, down several verses, verse 45, the prophet says, "You made us an off-scoring and refuse in the midst of the peoples."
Just a word about the way it's written-- the first four chapters of Lamentations are written in what we call an acrostic poem. And acrostic meaning that the first letter of the sentence of verse one begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second verse begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The third verse with the third. So there's 22 verses. There's 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. And so it's alef, bet, gimel, dalet, all the way down through the alphabet. Each verse begins with the subsequent letter of the alphabet like Psalm 119.
Chapters one, two, and four have 22 verses, and they're acrostics. Chapter three is a little bit different, because as you can see, it has 66 verses. That's because it's done in triplets. It's done a little bit differently so that the first three verses begin with the alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second three with the second letter, et cetera.
When we get into chapter five, though there are 22 verses, it's completely different. The meter is different. The way it's written is different. The entire book is done in what is called "limping meter." That is, it's done in a very somber tone. The last chapter, however, is really a prayer. And so it's not an acrostic, and it follows a different kind of a pattern, because it is a prayer to God.
So chapter three, verse one-- "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath." That's Jeremiah saying, I watched God spank His people, the nation of Judah. I've watched it. I've seen it. I've beheld it. "He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in the light. Surely, He has turned His hand against me time and time again throughout the day."
I think, of all the different ministries that you could have of any of the prophets in the Bible, Jeremiah's would probably be the last you'd ask for because of the difficult assignment that he had. Now there are some that you follow their ministry and you think, I wouldn't mind having that ministry. I think of Philip going down to Samaria. Revival broke out when he preached there. I'd say, I like that guy's ministry.
Or Peter on the day of Pentecost, when 3,000 souls respond to the altar call. That's a great ministry to have. Even Jonah, though he wanted to go in the opposite direction, by the time he gets to Nineveh and gives that short little message of judgment, the entire city repents-- 100% all get saved. But Jeremiah was different. He saw, he heard, and he said difficult things. He watched the city that he predicted would fall fall.
"He has aged my flesh and my skin and broken my bones." The effect of that kind of stress is now being taken out on his own body. "He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago. He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out. He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer."
You remember back in the book of Jeremiah that God invited this prophet to pray. In the 33rd chapter, He said, "Jeremiah, call unto me, and I will answer you. And I will show you great and mighty things which you know not--" an invitation from God to pray and a promise that God would answer the prayer. However, on three occasions, God said to this prophet, "Don't pray for this people any longer. If you pray, I refuse to hear." And here's why-- because this people had hardened their hearts and because this people had refused to hear God, God says, "I have reached my limit so that now I refuse to hear prayers on their behalf."
Whenever you pray for people who don't know the Lord, pray that their hearts will be tender toward God, that God would soften their hearts, that their ears would be open. Pray that that hard, calloused heart would soften just a bit, just enough for the seed of the Gospel to get through and for God to do a work, that their hearts would be open.
Verse 9, "He has blocked my ways with hewn stone. He made my paths crooked." The prophet is feeling alienated, isolated. "He has been to me a bear lying in wait, like a lion in ambush. He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces. He has made me desolate. He has bent his bow and set me up as a target for the arrow. He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my loins. I have become the ridicule of all my people, their taunting song all the day. He has filled me with bitterness. He made me drink wormwood. He has also broken my teeth with gravel. And he has covered me with ashes."
In the Middle East, whenever they would bake bread, and they would bake it usually on a stone that was over a fire, but some kind of an open fire configuration. So often, either because of the coal fires, grit would get into the dough when it cooked or blowing sand, so that sometimes you bite into the bread, and it's crunchy. And so this reference, "He's broken my teeth with gravel," it would be tantamount to us saying, here in the West, he made me eat dirt. Here's Jeremiah describing what he feels, not just what he sees. This is very descriptive, very poetic language. "He has also broken my teeth with gravel and covered me with ashes.
On one occasion, the same prophet said to the Lord, "Your words were found, and I ate them. And they were to me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart." Sometimes, to this prophet, reading and hearing God's word was just enough to get him through. "Oh, yes, Lord. It's what causes me to rejoice all the day. But now he is having to eat this bread of bitterness, of gravel because of the judgment that is mixed with the promises of God. God promised to restore his people, but in the immediate, in the now, he is seeing the judgment. The walls crumble. The fires burn from the Babylonian armies.
You remember in the book of Revelation around chapter 10, the angel gives John a little book. And he says, "John eat this." And John eats it, and he says, "It was sweet in my mouth, but it was bitter in my stomach." And the angel said, "You must prophesy yet too many peoples, many nations."
It is sweet in that final restoration will come. It is bitter because of all the ensuing pain and tribulation that will come before the coming of Christ in John's case. In the prophet, Jeremiah's, case, he's holding on to the promise of restoration, but he is seeing the judgment in the meantime.
"You have moved my soul far from peace. I have forgotten prosperity. And I said, my strength and my hope have perished from the Lord. Remember my affliction and my roaming. The wormwood--" second time he mentioned it, "and the gall, my soul still remembers and sinks within me." Wormwood is an extract, a very strong, bitter extract from a dark green oil that exudes from a plant in that part of the world that is considered poisonous. And so, once again, in poetic language, what he's describing-- "My soul still remembers and sinks within me."
Now beginning in verse 21, Jeremiah is going to review what he knows about the character of the God he serves, which is always important to do whenever we're facing difficult situations. When you're facing an uncertain future or you're in the midst of certain problems, it's important to pause and reflect on what you know about the character of God. It keeps you rooted. It keeps you grounded. It keeps you centered in faith and trust. Otherwise, those circumstances you're in will rob you of the joy that God promises you.
So here's Jeremiah sandwiched on either side of this bright diadem of hope that we're just about to read. On either side is judgment, fire, burning, desolation, deprivation. But right here in the middle, he pauses to tell us, reviewing what he knows for sure about the God that he serves.
One of my favorite stories is about Donald Grey Barnhouse, who is one of my favorite authors. I never heard him preach. He's before my time. But Donald Grey Barnhouse went to Princeton Theological Seminary before the days it got too awfully liberal. And he had a professor named Robert Dick Wilson, who was an apologist for the Christian faith and taught him in theology. 12 years after graduation, Donald Grey Barnhouse went back to preach at Princeton at Miller Chapel where all of the devotions were held. Old Dr. Wilson came out that day, and he sat right in the front row and listened to his student preach 12 years after graduation.
Afterwards, Dr. Wilson came up to Donald Grey Barnhouse, put out his hand, shook it, and he said, "It's great to see you again, Donald. If you ever come back to preach at Miller Chapel, I'll never come and hear you." He said, "I only come once." And he smiled the whole time he said this. He said, "I only come once. I want to see if my students are big godders or little godders."
Donald Grey Barnhouse looked at him with a question mark in his face. He didn't understand. Dr. Wilson said, "Let me explain. Some people have a little God, and I call them little godders. They're always in trouble with God. God can't do any miracles. God can't take care of the transmission and the accuracy of the Scriptures." And he goes, "I always notice them, because I know that their ministry will amount to nothing. But then there are those who have a big God, a great God. And I believe God will do great things through their ministry. You, Donald, have a great God. And God will bless your ministry." He noted that this student of his, when he spoke about God, spoke about God accurately with great hope in the midst of any message. And it was a message of judgment that day, but Donald Grey Barnhouse spoke of a great God that he served.
"This I recall to my mind--" here's his review-- "therefore, I have hope. Through the Lord's mercies, we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul. 'Therefore, I hope in him.' The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."
These verses are the only real bright spot in all five of these dirges, these elegies, these funeral songs. This is that bright diamond in the midst of coal. It sparkles. It's as if Jeremiah is looking through the smoke of judgment. It clears just enough for him to have such hope, such trust in what God is going to bring. He says "Because of the Lord's mercies, we're not utterly consumed." We're not wiped out.
Maybe in his mind, he was thinking of some of the other people groups that were around him of whom God had spoken judgment against-- Edom, Moab, nations that don't exist any longer today. They are utterly consumed. They've been wiped out. I challenge you to find a Moabite today, an Edomite. They're gone. But he knew God's promise to the people of Judah, that though they would be in captivity, though they would be judged, God would restore them. "And it's through the Lord's mercies," he says, "that we are not totally consumed, because his compassions fail not."
He says it's through the Lord's mercies-- a great word. It's a word that is used some 250 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes it's translated, "loving kindness." Sometimes it's translated purely "love." Here, it's translated "mercies." It's the Hebrew word, "chesed." And it literally means, "God's loyal love" or "God's covenant love." It's the kind of love God has toward us based upon a covenant that he makes.
So Jeremiah knows this about God, that God has made a covenant with his people. And in that covenant, he has said, I love you. And because of that love, he knows God will stick with his people to the end. "Because of the Lord's mercies, we are not consumed." And then that great phrase-- "Great is your faithfulness."
The bedrock of our faith-- the bedrock of our faith in God is the certainty that God will keep His promise, all of His promises. "What God has promised, he will keep. Great is your faithfulness." Now a promise is only as good as the one who gives it. There are some people that, when they promise you something, in your minds, though you say outwardly, oh, thank you, or that's nice, you go, yeah, right.
Never going to happen. I know the guy.
Promises will get you friends. The performance of those promises will keep your friends. That's why God has so many friends after all these years. He has made so many promises. And he's kept them.
Now in your Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, you have 31,173 verses. That's a lot to keep you going. In those 31,173 verses we call Scripture, somebody calculated that there are 7,487 promises that God has made to man. That's enough to keep you going for the rest of your life.
What do you do with all those promises? I know. We quote them. We underline them. We memorize them. We put yellow marks around them. But when you take those promises to the bank and you stand on those promises, and you say, "That's mine," God is faithful. This God of mercy, this God of loyal covenant love, I stand upon his promises. That's when they count. That's when their ours. God is faithful.
Down where I live and where I pastor in San Juan Capistrano, there's that world famous mission, San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows return every year. They make their journey from Argentina, Agua Corrientes. And they come all the way up to San Juan Capistrano every March 19th, even in leap year. They know when to arrive on time. Now if God can program that into a bird brain--
"And God so feeds the birds of the air," as Jesus said, "and clothes the grass of the field shall he not much more care for us, O you of little faith." God's faithful.
Of course, this verse of Scripture is a song that inspired a preacher and a songwriter by the name of Thomas Chisholm. And I think you sang that hymn this morning in church. Great hymn of the faith-- "Great is thy faithfulness." Thomas Chisholm was born in a law cabin of a poor family, no education at all. But he said, "I must not fail to record God's unfailing faithfulness to me in this life." And so he wrote the words of that great hymn of the faith. "Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changes not. Thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been out forever will be," based upon this verse of Scripture, this bright light in this dark prophecy. God is faithful.
Now, in the meantime, as we go on in this chapter, God's people should develop the right attitude about the afflictions they suffer. And there are several principles as we finish out this chapter-- several right attitudes, several things we should note about affliction.
Number one-- beginning in verse 27-- "Affliction should be endured with the hope of restoration." Affliction should be endured with the hope, or the view, to restoration. "It is good," he says, "for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent because God has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust." That is, let him bow forward. That's a sign of humility. Let him put his face in the earth, a symbol of being humble before God, bowing before God. "There may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him and be full of reproach."
Now some believers think that, because they are believers, they should be automatically exempt from all trials, all tribulation, all suffering, all pain. And if you talk to them about this, they'll say, well, I'm a child of the King. And they see all pain, all suffering, anything that would cause them discomfort as being from the devil. And they'll go through all sorts of interesting incantations. "I bind all pain in Jesus' name."
Well, maybe the Lord, as it says in these verses, has laid it on him.
Expecting not to be treated badly just because you are a good person or a godly person is sort of like expecting an angry bull not to attack you just because you are a vegetarian.
Jesus said, "The sun falls on the just and unjust. And the rain comes on the just, the good, and the bad alike. However, with the believer, if God lays it on him-- as we discovered last week-- it's because God purposes a crop. He's growing something good in our lives. He's doing something grand from it. It's all part of his plan. So we should endure affliction with the hope toward restoration.
Job said, "Man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward," didn't he? It's the lot of life. David even said, in his prayer, "Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," not though I'd be airlifted from mountaintop to mountaintop, though we would love that. No, we have to walk through the valley. That's where the lessons are. That's where the fruit is. That's where the lush, green, verdant lessons are taught.
Verse 31 and 32 talk about affliction that comes our way, but it's tempered by God's compassion. "For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though he causes grief, yet he will show compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." Now there is a statement of faith, because surely what Jeremiah sees around him when he wrote this, when he said that this day, all he saw was desolation. All he saw were stones that had been overturned and the armies of the invaders coming in and taking his people away captive. That's what he saw. But this is a statement by faith, knowing that all of the curses that God promised in Deuteronomy, chapter 28, that he is seeing come upon this people will eventuate in all of the restoration that God promised in Deuteronomy, chapter 30. God's going to bring them back. His judgment mingled, mixed with mercy.
And so it's important to recognize what we know for certain about God and apply that in our situation no matter what it might be and say, God is faithful. God is compassionate. God has a loyal, covenant love towards me. I love that about Jeremiah. He does see the reality. But he has eyes of faith.
You may remember that great theological story, Winnie the Pooh? There's a couple of characters. One is Tigger. Tigger was always the optimist. He always saw the bright side, the good things. But there was always that other guy, Eeyore, the donkey. He saw the sour side of life. OK. Everything was a downer. Jeremiah saw, in the midst of the downer-- his up-look determined his outlook. God is compassionate. God is faithful. This I know.
Verse 33-- "For he does not afflict willingly." There is a third principle. God doesn't delight in affliction. "He does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." It's not like God enjoys seeing us suffer.
Please don't picture in your mind some mean deity getting off every time we suffer. He goes, "All right, they're suffering again." Oh, no, God doesn't delight in it. He delights in the fruit that comes from it. He delights in what it makes us into. As we said last week, "God loves you the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you the way you are."
Verse 34-- "To crush under one's feet all of the prisoners of the earth." Now here's another principle. If affliction comes because of injustice, God sees it and does not approve of it. God does not approve of all of the calamities that he sees upon the earth. Notice-- "To crush under one's foot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the justice do a man before the face of the most high, or subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve."
See, a lot of people will say things like, well, if there is an all-powerful, loving God, how could God allow evil to exist? Either God is not all powerful, or God is not all loving, or God is not at all. There is no God, because if God were all powerful and all loving and he existed, he certainly wouldn't allow the evil to exist.
God does allow evil to exist because he created man with a very powerful faculty called choice, volition. And every parent knows that, when you allow your children to choose, they must also be allowed to live with certain consequences that are a result of the choices they make. Otherwise, they won't learn the lesson. However, when there is injustice that happens, God has promised to one day eradicate the evil that is in the world, even the calamity that is the result of the fall, a result of sin. God will deal with it one day.
"Who is he who speaks, and it comes to pass when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?" There is another principle of affliction. Affliction is always in relationship to God's sovereignty. Did you notice how, in verse 38, God is taking the responsibility? "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?" God is saying, the ultimate reason for woe and the ultimate reason for well-being is because I am sovereign. I've allowed it. This bothers people.
Let me quote to you another verse out of Exodus 4:11. "So the Lord said to him, 'Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute and the deaf and the seeing or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?'" Now this immediately challenges our whole concept of a loving God. We go, wait a minute, what's up with that?
Understand two things. Number one, the world today is not as God intended it to be. It's a result of the fall. It's a result of a choice that caused, as Paul said, "Sin to spread and infect the whole human race. By one man, sin entered. And death by sin so that all have sinned." So the world that we see, this isn't the world God originally intended when he first created it.
Number two-- God is sovereign, and he doesn't owe you or I an explanation for his sovereignty. He just declares, I'm God. I'm sovereign. This is what I've done. This is what I've allowed.
We may not like to hear it, but listen-- if we can get over that hurdle, if we can just cross over that hurdle, we'll have greater faith-- immovable faith-- to be able to stand in any circumstance and say like Jeremiah, "God is faithful. God is merciful, God is good." It's easy to say God is good when you're in perfect health, and the cupboards are full. But when the cupboards are barren and you're not in perfect health, to say "God is good. God is faithful," that's faith. If you can just get over that hurdle, your faith will be immovable.
"Why should a living man complain a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search out and examine our ways and turn back to the Lord. Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven." That's the sixth and final application of affliction. Affliction, whatever the cause, should turn us back to God. For he says, "and turn back to the Lord."
Now listen, if affliction does serve to turn us back to God, it's worth it, isn't it? Isn't a relationship with the Lord worth any kind of pain, suffering, or affliction we might endure? And how many people have we seen that have turned to the Lord because of difficult circumstances? As painful as it was, we have to rejoice because of the result of it. So often, what we call the worst thing can actually be the best thing then. You'd say, boy, the worst thing that could possibly happen to that person is that. But what if during that difficult circumstance, that person is brought into intimacy with God, repentance before the Lord, and that difficulty produces what the Bible promises?
Paul said, in Romans chapter five, "Suffering produces perseverance." Or, "Tribulation produces patience." Jane said, "Let patience have its perfect work that you make the entire, complete, lacking nothing." "So let us lift our hearts and hands to the God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled. You have not pardoned. You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us. You have slain and not pitied. You have covered yourself with a cloud that prayers should not pass through. You made us an off-scoring and a refuse in the midst of the peoples. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us." These are the people who would go by the different nations, going by Jerusalem, mocking, deriding, ridiculing them. "Fear and a snare have come upon us, desolation and destruction."
Now here's a summary of Jeremiah's sorrows, verse 48. "My eyes overflow with rivers of water for destruction of the daughter of my people. My eyes flow and do not cease without interruption." There is the weeping prophet. "Until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees, my eyes brings suffering to my soul because of all the daughters of my city."
What makes you cry? What makes you laugh? However you answer that, whatever the truth really is, will reveal a lot about your character. So many times my tears have been out of self-pity. Why did this happen to me? How could God allow this to happen to me? I love him
Nehemiah wept over the city of Jerusalem from times past-- 100 years earlier, it had fallen to the Babylonians and had been lying in ruins, even though the people had come back. Jesus Christ wept for the city in the future as he saw 70 AD just around the corner. Jeremiah weeps for what he sees during the present time, because he saw the mothers weeping, the priests weeping. And being a man of great compassion like his Lord, he wept not only for but with the people.
There was a little girl going home from school one day. And she came home late. And any parent would be worried. And so mom scolded her for being late that day. And her daughter explained, "Well, Mom, on the way home, my friend, Suzie, was crying because her doll broke." And so Mom said, "Oh, I see. You stopped to help her fix her doll. How sweet." She said, "No, Mommy. I stopped to help her cry."
There was a friend weeping with those that weep, Jeremiah weeping with his people not just for them because of the suffering. So what makes us cry, what makes us laugh will reveal a lot about our characters.
"My enemies, without cause, hunted me down like a bird. They silenced my life in the pit, and they threw stones at me. The waters flowed over my head. I said, 'I am cut off. I called on your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit."
Jeremiah had several episodes, didn't he? Remember back in Jeremiah, chapters 11, 26, 37, and 38. In chapter 11, people from his own hometown, Anathoth, falsely accused him and put out a murder plot on his life. In chapter 26, the people in the temple had gathered wanting to assassinate him. In chapter 37, the plot thickened, and they arrested him. And then in chapter 38, they lowered him down into that pit, that cistern, that mud, where he was sinking in the mire. And what did Jeremiah do? Well, he was faithful to God. He loved his people. He wept for them. He wept with them. And that's how he was treated.
Being a faithful servant of the Lord won't always be understood, especially if you tell people the truth about their future if they choose not to turn to God. Any preacher of repentance, any preacher of the truth, any Christian who lives his or her Christian life the way the life ought to be lived will suffer persecution. Isn't that what the Bible says? "All who live godly shall suffer persecution." That's a promise. You can write that down. You can underline it and memorize that one and live by it. "All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."
"You have heard my voice. Do not hide your ear from my sighing. From my cry for help, you drew near on the day that I called you and said, 'Do not fear.' Oh Lord, you have pleaded the case for my soul. You have redeemed my life. O Lord, you have seen how I am wronged. Judge my case."
That's always a great prayer, always a safe place. Because people will not always judge your case fairly. They'll tell their side of it. They'll do an end run and malign you. And so you leave it with the Lord. "Lord, judge my case." Great place to leave it.
"You have seen all their vengeance, all their schemes against me. You have heard their reproach, O Lord, all their schemes against me, the lips of my enemies, and they're whispering against me all the day. Look at their sitting down and their rising up. I am their taunting song. Repay them, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. Give them a veiled heart, your curse be upon them."
The idea of a veiled heart is so that they may not see. So as to incur judgment, Paul said in the New Testament that the hearts, the minds of the Jews who read the Old Testament had a veil when they read it. They didn't understand it. "In your anger, pursue and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord." Aren't you kind of glad that that prayer is in the Bible? Doesn't that make you feel a little bit better about your own prayers?
Now here's a prophet praying what we call an imprecatory prayer. You read them, and you go, now that's not the nicest thing for a profit of the Lord to pray. "Judge them, Lord. Bring vengeance upon them. Destroy them." But here's an honest man before a sovereign God. God will not always answer your prayers. I don't care how much you claim it and say, I bind that, and I claim this. You always leave it with the will of God.
But even David, in the Psalms, prayed quite an interesting prayer. Concerning his enemies, he said, "Lord, break their teeth in their mouth."
Now I've never prayed that. I've come close, but I've never prayed it. And even if I did, I'm not confident that God would want to answer that prayer. Because God is merciful. But here's an honest prayer of an honest man. And God hears all of our prayers.
There is, in the book of Revelation, the souls that are under the altar, those persecuted ones during the tribulation. And they cry out for vengeance. And God answers them. "O Lord, how long until you avenge our blood on those who are on the earth?" And God promises that, in a little while, he will. He tells them to wait. And he does at the end of the tribulation period.
Lamentations, chapter four, is this fourth dirge. The anger of the Lord is highlighted. Jeremiah again surveys the scene in Jerusalem-- 22 short verses. "How the gold has become dim, how changed the finegold. The stones of the sanctuary are scattered at the head of every street." I think he's referring to the stones of the breastplate of the high priests and the gold crown that was worn and all of the vestments and the accouterments that surrounded the worship in the temple. The finegold was all tarnished and destroyed, dimmed.
"The precious stones of Zion, valuable as fine gold, how they are regarded as clay pots, the work of the hands of a potter. Even the jackals present their breasts to nurse their young, but the daughter of my people is cruel like ostriches in the wilderness." He's saying even beasts will take care of their young, but the daughters of Jerusalem can do it for their young. They don't have what is needed to supply nourishment. "The tongue of the infant clings to the roof of its mouth for thirst. The young children ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them."
Jeremiah is, again, in prosaic language, describing the fall of the city and the dismantling and the burning of the sanctuary, the Temple of Solomon. When Solomon built his temple in Jerusalem, it was considered the zenith of Israel's glory-- a fabulous structure. It took 183,000 workers to complete, 7 and 1/2 years, very expensive-- cedar, limestone, gold.
I've told you before that, to replicate the Temple of Solomon, just the temple house itself, which is 45 feet tall, 30 feet wide by 90 feet deep, would cost today $11 million. If you were to replicate all of the temple buildings, all of the vestments of the priests, all of the musical instruments, all of the dishes, the altars, the basins, all of the things that involve temple worship, it has been estimated that it would cost $174 billion in modern economy. All of the blood, the sweat, all the years that have been wasted now because of the Babylonian captivity. The gold dimmed. The precious stones of Zion, as valuable as finegold, regarded as clay pots.
In verse five, "Those who ate delicacies are desolate in the streets. Those who are brought up in scarlet embrace ash heaps. The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment with no hand to help her." You know, at least Sodom's punishment was quick. In one night, brimstone fire fell from the sky and consumed it. The siege of Jerusalem lasted 30 months-- two and a half years-- slow, lingering, disease-ridden, fevering kind of death.
"Her Nazarites were brighter than snow and whiter than milk. They were more ruddy in body than rubies, like sapphire in their appearance. Now their appearance is blacker than soot. They go unrecognized in the streets. Their skin clings to their bones. It has become dry as wood."
It's probably a reference to how that, when any one took a vow of a Nazarite and had to fast and do without, that God preserved their appearance so that they look healthy ready instead of wasted-- sort of like Daniel when he made a covenant before God in Babylon. And he and his three buddies didn't want to eat the King's delicacies. And they looked healthy after the days of their fast not weak.
"Those slain by the sword are better than those who die of hunger, for these pine away stricken for lack of the fruits of the field. The hands of the compassionate women have cooked their own children." We've made comment on that. It's gross enough, we'll pass on. "They became food for them in the destruction of the daughter of my people. The Lord has fulfilled his fury. He has poured out his fierce anger. He kindled the fire in Zion, and it has devoured its foundations. The kings of the earth and all inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem."
The Jews referred to the Temple Mount, the place where Solomon's Temple rested. They called it in the Hebrew "HarHabeit," or mountain of the house. It was where the glorious temple rested, because at one time, it was the place where Abraham brought his son, Isaac, and almost sacrificed him there. That was the place. They knew God said, "I will keep my name. And I will meet with you there."
In the Talmud, the Jews have a saying. They say, "Israel is the center of the world. Jerusalem is the center of Israel. And the temple is the center of Jerusalem." It's been decimated. The enemies have breached the walls. They thought they were impenetrable, because as long as that temple stood, they thought, we're safe. Who would have thought, Jeremiah laments. Even the kings are dismayed.
Here's the reasons for their judgment-- "Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests who shed in her midst the blood of the just, they wandered blind in the streets. They have defiled themselves with blood so that no one would touch their garments."
The leadership in Israel had become corrupt-- these prophets and some of the priests. The prophets represented God to the people. The priests represented the people before God. They had become corrupt. They lost the most important thing for anyone in ministry-- for any Christian for that matter-- it's the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's the beginning of knowledge. It's the fear of the Lord that causes us to rush away from sin, rush away from evil, live what is right in the sight of the Lord.
There is an engraving at a church here in Lubeck, Germany. I found it. And it says, "Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us. You call me Master, but you obey me not. You call me light, but you see me not. You call me the way, but you walk me not. You call me life, but you live me not. You call me wise, but you follow me not. And if I condemn thee, then blame me not."
You could have hung that plaque over the temple in Jerusalem. God was judging the very ones who claimed, by that temple, to know the God they were disobeying. And so God brought the judgment. And the fault, God lays it on the prophets, the leaders. They cried out to them, "Go away, unclean! Go away! Go away! Do not touch us!" When they fled and wandered, those among the nations said, "They shall no longer dwell here. The face of the Lord scattered them. He no longer regards them. The people do not respect the priests nor show favor to the elders." So now the people were corrupt, not respecting the leaders who had become undeserving of respect.
"Still our eyes failed us, watching vainly for our help. In our watching, we watched for a nation that could not save us." Remember the time they looked over to Egypt or up to Assyria or up to Tyre and Sidon to make an alliance to protect them against Babylon? They waited for help. It didn't come.
Instead of looking to the Lord, they looked to other nations. "They tracked our steps so that we could not walk in our streets. Our end was near. Our days were over. For our end has come. Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles of the heavens. They pursued us on the mountains. And they lay in wait for us in the wilderness. The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord was caught in their pits of whom we said under his shadow we shall live among the nations."
Now that's a reference to King Zedekiah. They were trusting in him. He'll protect us. He was the anointed one, they said. When Jerusalem was beginning to fall, King Zedekiah left and went out down into the plain toward Jericho, seeking to cross the Jordan River and be protected by the Ammonites, who eventually will turn on Jerusalem. The one they trusted in has fallen.
"Rejoice and be glad O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz. The cup shall also pass over you. You shall become drunk and make yourself naked. The punishment of your iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion. He will no longer send you into captivity. He will punish your iniquity, O daughter of Edom. He will uncover your sins."
So Edom took an active role in urging the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. So, hey, rejoice, but your rejoicing will be for just a little while, because eventually, after the fall of Jerusalem, Edom will also fall in judgment to the Babylonians.
Now the language, though very poetic and picturesque up to this point, has been pretty straightforward. We can understand why people in Israel and Judah didn't like Jeremiah. Because he spoke of their sin and the need to repent. He spoke very plainly, "Turn back to God. Let this affliction wake you up." And so eventually, they would just lower him down that cistern, and he'd sink in the mud, because he was a preacher of the truth.
Billy Sunday, from many years ago, was a colorful preacher. I don't know a lot about him, but I've tried to do a little bit of reading. He was a baseball player that went into the ministry. And he was very demonstrative in his preaching. And one time, he said, "I'm against sin. I'll kick it as long as I've got a foot. I'll fight it as long as I've got a fist. I'll butt it as long as I've got a head. And I'll bite it as long as I've got a tooth. But when I'm old and fistless and footless and toothless, I'll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition."
Isn't that good? And he, like Jeremiah, was also known for those punchy, straightforward kind of messages.
Now Lamentations, chapter 5, and we'll finish the book. It's the fifth and final lament, a dirge of the city. It breaks the acrostic form, 22 verses, but the whole meter changes. It's really a prayer to God. Let's eavesdrop on that prayer.
"Remember, O Lord, what has come upon us. Look and behold our reproach. Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens--" not from Roswell, of course, the foreigners it's speaking about-- "and our houses to foreigners. We have become orphans and waifs. Our mothers are like widows. We pay for the water we drink, and our wood comes at a price."
They were in Babylon. Even when they were taken to Babylon from Jerusalem, they had to pay for their supplies. While they were in Jerusalem, the supplies ran out. The water source sources dried up. The Babylonians surrounded the cities so that they couldn't get out and get all that they needed to survive till they finally starved to death. "They pursue at our heels. We labor and have no rest. We have given our hand to the Egyptians and the Assyrians to be satisfied with bread."
Now when it says, "We have given our hands," it literally means, we have shaken our hands and made a treaty or a pact. The idea is that we have surrendered our will to the will of somebody stronger than us for protection. They looked to Egypt. They shook hands. They made a deal. Egypt, you'll protect us against the Babylonian armies-- didn't happen. Their security was short lived.
"Our fathers sinned and are no more, but we bear their iniquities." Now they're complaining that, look, we're not as bad as our fathers, yet we're suffering the brunt of the judgment. "Servants rule over us. There is none to deliver us from their hand. We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the wilderness. Our skin is as hot as an oven because of the fever of famine. They ravished the women in Zion, the maidens in the cities of Judah."
These are scenes of savage brutality that unfortunately are played out every time an old ancient conquering army would come in and destroy any nation. Lustful soldiers would take advantage of unprotected, defenseless women. And the people are complaining, it's not our fault. It's our forefathers' fault.
Now that's not true, but in a sense, it is true in that sin has been accumulative. God was patient, and he did not judge immediately when their fathers were steeped in idolatry. He waited. And there were several turnings back to God, glimmers of hope, renewals, even a revival. But then they went deeper and deeper and deeper. And God waited and waited and waited until sin reached the point where he then acted.
Oh, how I love the New Testament. "Where sin has bounded or reached its high water mark, grace overflows." Aren't you glad to be living under the new covenant and not the old? They reached the watermark. God judged. When our sin reaches that mark, grace overflows. And no matter what condition you find yourself into tonight, God is compassionate and gracious and long suffering and forgiving.
"Princes were hung by their hands. And elders were not respected. Young men ground at the millstones. Boys staggered under the loads of wood. The elders have ceased gathering at the gate and the young men from their music. The joy of our heart has ceased. Our dance has turned into mourning."
In verse 12, it describes "princes hung by their hands." We think possibly this is a reference to crucifixion. The Persians, not the Romans, invented crucifixion. And here was the thinking-- the Persians considered the earth to be sacred. They thought it was not good. It was bad karma to die on the earth. And so when somebody was executed, the idea is let's lift their body off of the earth and have them die separated from the earth. And so they invented crucifixion. Now other nations picked it up. The Romans perfected it by the time of Christ unfortunately. But this is probably an early reference to crucifixion. "The elders were not respected."
In verse 14, "The elders have ceased gathering at the gate, the young men from their music. The joy of our heart has ceased. Our dance has turned into mourning." Remember that beautiful promise where God would turn their mourning into dancing? Here's a promise where God says, I'll turn your dancing into mourning.
Music is always associated with joy, rejoicing. And God's people were always to rejoice, because they have a reason to rejoice but not now. Music has ceased. It's gone. A veil of gloom hangs over Jerusalem. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned. Because of this, our heart is faint. Because of these things, our eyes grow dim. Because of Mount Zion, which is desolate with foxes walking about on it. You, O Lord, remain forever-- your thrown from generation to generation. Why do you forget us forever and forsake us for so long a time?"
Now compare that with verse one where his prayer is, "Remember us, O Lord." And now, "Why do you forget us forever?" The people feel utterly rejected, totally cast off by God. "Turn us back to you, O Lord, and we will be restored. Renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are very angry with us."
Now we're done with the book, but we're not quite done with the study. You see, what we just read was predicted. Way back in the early books of the Old Testament, God knew that his people would sin, be taken out of the land, and cry out for mercy, as they are here, feeling rejected. And listen to what God said-- they should have known it.
Deuteronomy 4:26, I'm going to read a few verses. "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess. You will not prolong your days in it but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left a few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.
But from there, you will seek the Lord, your God, and you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul when you are in distress and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord, your God, and obey his voice, for the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not forsake you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant of your fathers, which he swore to them." And so Paul asked the question in Romans, chapter 11, "Has God cast away his people forever?" God forbid, or certainly not. And today, we have to look over at Israel and through the lens of world history and say God has a plan, a restoration, where Paul says, "And all Israel shall be saved."
So Lamentations ends with a note of hope that, in spite of suffering, because of sin, God's people will not be abandoned. And so through the tears, Jeremiah weeping for the city, in the midst of it, he has hope. "Great is thy faithfulness. Lord, your mercies are new every morning."
Now this is what I think we should leave with tonight. As you travel through life, AND the road can get pretty bumpy, what do you look at? Do you notice all the bumps in the road? Oh, there's another bump. I hate this road. Should've never turned down this road. Hate it. Or do you think about where it's taking you, where the Lord will take you on the other side? Just as Jeremiah, our outlook is determined by our up-look. Look up. God's in control. Oh, but I'm an affliction.
Over in Spain, on Montserrat, was a monastery. In this monastery, it was required that the monks maintain the vow of silence, except for every two years, they could utter two words before only one person, their superior. A young man joined, said nothing for two years. After two years, he was brought before his higher-up. And the man said, you're allowed to speak your two words. The young monk said, "Food crummy."
That's all he said. Those were his two words. He went back to the monastery for two more years. Two years later, he stood before his superior, and he said, you're allowed to say your two words. He said, "Bed lumpy."
He went back to the monastery for two more years. Now after six years, he was allowed to say two more words to his superior, and he said, "I quit."
And his superior looked at him, and he said, "You know, I'm not surprised. All you've done since you've come here is complain, complain, complain."
Sometimes God's people can be like that-- complain, complain, complain. Jeremiah had a lot to complain about, and sometimes he did. But they're in the midst, right in the middle of that horrible funeral dirge, "Because of the Lord's mercies, we're not consumed. Great is your faithfulness." Let's end on that note.
Heavenly Father, we choose to look up to a great and awesome, merciful, compassionate God. And we have seen your character and your nature, even in this prophet, Jeremiah. In a book that would drive most people away just by its title, we have gleaned some wonderful lessons in the last two weeks. And we thank you, Lord, that this is your nature, your character. And we pray, Father, right now for your people who are suffering, experiencing affliction. Let them know, Lord, deep in their heart how much you love them, how important they are to you.