What Shall I Do With You?

1 “Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. Hosea 6:1-10 ESV

In the opening verses of chapter six, Hosea envisions a highly unlikely scene: The humble and sincere repentance of the rebellious Israelites. It’s unclear what Hosea hoped to accomplish with this description of a contrite and penitent response on the part of the people. Was he attempting to illustrate how his stubborn audience ought to be responding to his messages, or were his words intended to mock their hard-hearted rejection of His message of warning?

From a historical perspective, there is no record of the Israelites ever uttering words of this nature. At no point did they cry out to God, acknowledging their guilt, confessing their sins, and asking for His forgiveness and healing. All the way back before God divided the nation of Israel into two kingdoms, He had allowed King Solomon to build a temple in His honor. This remarkable building in Jerusalem was meant to be the house of God, where the people would come to offer sacrifices and seek His forgiveness for the sins they had committed. And God made a series of promises to the people of Israel confirming His willingness to grace the temple with His name and honor their humble, heartfelt prayers with forgiveness and healing.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

Yet, by the time Hosea penned the words of his book, more than 150 years had passed since Solomon had dedicated the temple, and the people of Israel remained stubbornly unrepentant and unwilling to humble themselves before God. And exacerbating their problem was the fact that they no longer had access to the temple in Jerusalem. They had long ago forsaken Yahweh, choosing instead to worship at the shrines and temples dedicated to their false gods.

The scene of a repentant Israel calling out to God is meant to dramatize and accentuate the inexplicable hardness of their hearts. Hosea is portraying what their response ought to be when God brings His judgment against them. They will suffer greatly when God rains down His righteous indignation on them. But they will experience no healing because they will refuse to call out to Him in humble contrition.

Hosea even indicates that when the judgment of God comes, they will view it as short in duration and easily overcome.

In just a short time he will restore us,
    so that we may live in his presence. – Hosea 6:2 NLT

They won’t take His punishment seriously. They’ll end up underestimating the depth of their own depravity and mistakenly assume that any suffering they endure will be quickly remedied by God. Hosea seems to portray their repentance as a bit overconfident, and a bit too self-assured that God will quickly restore them.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring – Hosea 6:3 NLT

But none of this has ever happened. The people of Israel did not return to the Lord. They never did humble themselves before Him and confess their many sins against Him. Even their eventual defeat at the hands of the Assyrians did nothing to break their stubborn refusal to heed His call to repent. The prophet Amos delivered a sobering word from God concerning Israel’s inexplicable refusal to learn anything from the judgment they endured.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 NLT

And, in response, God asks the probing question, “What shall I do with you?” (Hosea 6:4 ESV). He has warned. He has threatened. He has disciples. Yet, they have not yet returned to Him. At no point has Israel or Judah lived out what Hosea described in the first three verses of this chapter.  In the face of all of God’s blessings and despite all of His warnings and past judgments, the people of Israel and Judah remain determined to live in disobedience to His commands. And their failure to faithfully observe His laws was nothing less than an expression of their lack of love for Him.

“…your love vanishes like the morning mist
    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.” – Hosea 6:4 NLT

He had repeatedly sent His prophets with words of warning, “to cut you to pieces—to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light” (Hosea 6:5 NLT), but the people had refused to listen. And God lets them know that what He wanted from them was love, not sacrifices. What He desired most was intimacy, not religious duplicity. He was sick of watching His people go through the motions, offering their meaningless, heartless sacrifices. He was no longer willing to put up with their sanctimonious and hypocritical displays of religious zeal. Mere obedience to His commands was never what God wanted. He desired faithfulness that emanated from the heart. That was something King David knew and understood.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

And the prophet Isaiah would communicate God’s displeasure with His peoples’ meaningless displays of ritualistic religious fervor. It has never been about the bulls and goats, the blood and smoke, or the pomp and circumstance. It had always been about the heart.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.

“When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:11-13, 16-17 NLT

But God’s people, following in the footsteps of Adam, had been guilty of breaking their covenant agreement with Him. When God had placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He had surrounded them with beauty and provided them with everything they needed for life, including intimate fellowship with Him. The only condition God placed on the first couple was that they obey one command.

But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT

God had given them every tree of the garden from which to eat. There was only one tree that was off-limits, and that happens to be the one tree they decided they had to have. They disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing so, they displayed their lack of trust in God. They decided that they knew better than God. He had denied them that one tree and now, they had determined it was the tree they needed most. By eating the fruit of that tree Adam and Eve displayed their doubt of God’s love for them. He was denying them something they deserved and desired. He was withholding what they wanted.

And the Israelites were guilty of the very same thing. They had rejected God’s love and determined to live according to their own rules and standards. So, God described the unflattering outcome of their self-determination and blatant disregard for His love as expressed in His law.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.
Yes, I have seen something horrible in Ephraim and Israel:
    My people are defiled by prostituting themselves with other gods! – Hosea 6:8-10 NLT

It was not a pretty picture. Sin had spread like cancer throughout the nation. No city was remained untouched. Every level of society had been infected, including the priesthood. God describes the people of Israel as practicing every kind of sin. Nothing was left to the imagination. Their idolatry had turned to gross immorality, and the entire land was now diseased and in need of God’s cleansing.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord Gave Israel a Savior

1 In the twenty-third year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned seventeen years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael. Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the Lord, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them. (Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly. Nevertheless, they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them; and the Asherah also remained in Samaria.) For there was not left to Jehoahaz an army of more than fifty horsemen and ten chariots and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Syria had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing. Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz and all that he did, and his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? So Jehoahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria, and Joash his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 13:1-9 ESV

God had used the Syrians to inflict judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah. Because of the rebellion of His people, God had given King Hazael and his Syrian troops a resounding victory over the much larger and more powerful army of King Jehoash. Having been wounded in battle against the Syrians, Jehoash became an easy target for some of his disgruntled officials. They had strongly opposed his murder of Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, and saw the nation’s recent defeat by a much smaller Syrian force as a sign of God’s judgment. So, these two men took it upon themselves to assassinate the king while he lying in bed recovering from his injuries. He was then replaced by his son, Amaziah.

In the meantime, the northern kingdom of Israel was having its own set of struggles with the Syrians. Jehoahaz had ascended to the throne of his father, Jehu, and had managed to keep Israel’s legacy of apostasy alive and well.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. – 2 Kings 13:2 ESV

In other words, it was business as usual in Israel. But, God had grown weary of watching each successive royal administration try to outdo the sins of their predecessors. Fed up by their stubbornness and blatant unfaithfulness, He unleashed His righteous indignation against Israel and “gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael” (2 Kings 13:3 ESV).

The Syrians became the proverbial thorn in the side of the disobedient Israelites. This imagery was in keeping with God’s earlier warnings against Israel compromising with the pagan nations that occupied the promised land.

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. – Numbers 33:55 ESV

God would later provide the Israelites with another warning, meant to encourage them from intermarrying with the pagan nations that occupied the land of Canaan.

…know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the LORD your God has given you. – Joshua 23:13 ESV

And when the Israelites failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land, God announced that they were on their own. They would have to deal with the consequences of their disobedience.

“So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” – Judges 2:3 ESV

Yet, when God sent the Syrians to plague and provoke the unfaithful people of Israel, King Jehoahaz “sought the favor of the Lord” (2 Kings 13:4 ESV). The constant pain inflicted by this divinely-ordained “thorn” was more than Jehoahaz could bear, so he did something none of his predecessors had ever done: He humbled himself and cried out to God. And his cry was heard and answered. The author states that God, the very nne who had sent the Syrians, “saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them” (2 Kings 13:4 ESV). This statement makes it sound like God was surprised by what He saw. But it would be better interpreted as a declaration of God’s recognition of the suffering His chosen people were having to endure. His judgment, while fully just and well-deserved, had produced its intended results, and He felt compassion for the plight of His people. His discipline of His children was not an indication that He had fallen out of love with them. In fact, the book of Proverbs reminds us, “the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs3:12 NLT). And the author of Hebrews quotes this very proverb, then adds a further point of clarification.

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. – Hebrews 12:7-8 NLT

God had lovingly disciplined them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. But, as the text reveals, He heard the humbled cry of their king and responded in love and compassion. He did for them what they couldn’t do for themselves. He rescued them from the very plight they had brought upon themselves.

Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly… – 2 Kings 13:5 ESV

This scene brings to mind the book of Judges, which chronicles the period of Israelite history long before they had a king. They had managed to enter Canaan, but had failed to completely eliminate the pagan nations that had occupied the land before them. As a result, they ended up intermarrying with these nations and worshiping their false false gods. Which led God to punish them.

…the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.  So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. – Judges 2:11-14 ESV

But in time, God would raise up a deliverer who rescued His wayward people and restored them to a right relationship with Him.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. – Judges 2:17 ESV

Sadly, this cycle would repeat itself over and over again. The people would sin, so God would send a plunderer, Then, when the suffering became unbearable, the people would cry out, and another deliverer would show up to rescue them.

Now, hundreds of years later, the people of Israel would reveal that little had changed. They cried out and God sent them a savior. We have no way of knowing the identity of this individual. Some have speculated that it was King Adad-Nirari III of Assyria. The Assyrians were the new kids on the block, an up-and-coming nation that was beginning to flex its military muscle in the region. In order to access the Mediterranean Sea and the fertile valleys located in Canaan, they would have to pass through the land belonging to Syria. It could be that God used this rapidly expanding world power to harass and distract the Syrians, buying King Jehoahaz and the Israelites a much-needed respite.

But regardless of the identity of this God-appointed “savior,” the people of Israel proved to be far from grateful for their rescue. In time, they fell back into their old habits.

But they continued to sin, following the evil example of Jeroboam. They also allowed the Asherah pole in Samaria to remain standing. – 2 Kings 13:6 NLT

Nothing had changed. Jehoahaz remained just as stubborn and unrepentant as always. Even the fact that God had allowed the Syrians to drastically reduce the fighting capacity of Israel’s army failed to elicit a change in Jehoahaz. The oppression of the Syrians had gotten his attention and forced him to cry out to God. But, once rescued, he continued to pursue the same ungodly agenda as before. The loving discipline and gracious deliverance of God failed to make a lasting impression on Jehoahaz. He was allowed to complete his reign but, with his decimated army,  he was a king in name only. He would die and his son would inherit his throne and diminished kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Lord’s Anointed

1 Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, “Tie up your garments, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi. And go in and have him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head and say, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee; do not linger.”

So the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were in council. And he said, “I have a word for you, O commander.” And Jehu said, “To which of us all?” And he said, “To you, O commander.” So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” Then he opened the door and fled.

11 When Jehu came out to the servants of his master, they said to him, “Is all well? Why did this mad fellow come to you?” And he said to them, “You know the fellow and his talk.” 12 And they said, “That is not true; tell us now.” And he said, “Thus and so he spoke to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.’” 13 Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.” 2 Kings 9:1-13 ESV

In 1 Kings 19:15-16, we have the record of God’s final commission to Elijah. He had given the prophet three tasks to accomplish. One of them was to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Syria. A second was to anoint Jehu to be the king of Israel. And the third was to anoint Elisha as his own successor.

It’s clear that Elijah followed God’s instructions regarding Elisha. At this point in the story, the new prophet has fully established himself as Elijah’s God-ordained replacement. It would also appear that Elijah kept God’s command concerning the anointing of Hazael. In 2 Kings 8, the author revealed the morbid details concerning Hazael’s ascension to the throne of Syria. While King Ben-hadad was weak and recovering from a recent illness, Hazael murdered him by suffocating him to death with a wet sheet. And the prophet Elisha had wept when he realized the deadly consequences for Israel that would accompany this man’s rise to power.

“Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” – 2 Kings 8:12 ESV

But as 2 Kings 9 opens up, it becomes apparent that there was one aspect of Elijah’s assignment he had neglected to complete. Either that, or he had chosen to pass on the responsibility to his successor. Jehu had not yet been anointed King of Israel. Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, still occupied the throne and was continuing his parents’ legacy of apostasy and unfaithfulness. But the time had come for God’s prophecy concerning Ahab and his descendants to be fulfilled. He had warned Ahab that his stubborn determination to lead the people of Israel into idolatry would not go unpunished.

“So now the Lord says, ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’” – 1 Kings 21:21-22 NLT

God had used the prophet, Elijah, to deliver this message of pending destruction. He was not going to allow Ahab and Jezebel to go unpunished for their blatant disregard for His law or their arrogant dismissal of His sovereignty over Israel. God would do to them what He had done to Jeroboam and Baasha. He would completely wipe out their hopes for establishing a dynasty by destroying all their male descendants.  When considering this curse that God leveled against Ahab, it is important to compare it with the promise God had made to King David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV

While Ahab, Jeroboam, and Baasha would all see their dreams of establishing long-lasting dynasties come to an end, God had promised David that his house and throne would be established forever. And God was going to fulfill this promise through the southern kingdom of Judah. Despite the fact that most of the kings who eventually ruled over Judah proved to be just as godless and wicked as the northern kings, God would keep His promise to secure the Davidic dynasty. And He would do so through Jesus Christ, the descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel.

But God had something far less glorious in store for King Jehoram of Israel. As he sat in his summer palace in Jezreel, he had no idea that God was about to remove him from power and bring his father’s wicked legacy to an abrupt and permanent end.

Once again, it would appear that Elijah had never completed his assignment to anoint Jehu as the next king of Israel. So, Elisha was left with the responsibility of completing God’s three-part anointing plan. But even Elisha seems to have delegated this final job to an underling. He selected one of the prophets and gave him very specific instructions: “take this flask of olive oil with you. Go to Ramoth-gilead, and find Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi. Call him into a private room away from his friends, and pour the oil over his head. Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you to be the king over Israel.’ Then open the door and run for your life!” (2 Kings 9:1-3 NLT). That last sentence could not have left the young prophet feeling confident and encouraged as he made his way to Ramoth-gilead.

But despite the fact that Elijah had passed the buck to Elisha and Elisha had reassigned the responsibility to someone else, God’s will was going to be done. This young prophet, flask in hand, was going to be used to anoint Jehu as the divine instrument of God’s wrath against Ahab and his descendants.

When the prophet arrived in Ramoth-gilead, he found Jehu in a meeting with his fellow generals. He summoned Jehu into a private room, where he poured the oil on his head and informed the surprised general of his new position and commission.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel.” – 2 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

All of this was unexpected news to Jehu. There is no indication that he had been plotting Jehoram’s death and his own ascension to the throne. But the shocking news of his kingship had to have been overshadowed by the clear conditions associated with it. He was to completely wipe out every last male descendant of Ahab. Not only that, he was to see to it that Jezebel met her end as well.

Dogs will eat Ahab’s wife Jezebel at the plot of land in Jezreel, and no one will bury her.” – 2 Kings 9:10 NLT

God was commanding Jehu to launch an insurrection against the king and his family. And as Jehu sat with oil running down his head and the prophet’s words racing through his brain, the king’s generals waited with curiosity on the other side of the door. Having completed his assignment, the prophet fled for his life, leaving Jehu to rejoin his fellow generals and face their questions about what had just happened. He attempted to downplay his encounter with the prophet, but they sensed he was hiding something and pressed him for details.

Jehu wisely chose not to divulge all the specifics of his conversation with the prophet. He simply stated, “He said to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I have anointed you to be king over Israel’” (2 Kings 9:12 NLT). And, must to his relief and surprise, the reaction he received from his peers was positive and encouraging. 

Then they quickly spread out their cloaks on the bare steps and blew the ram’s horn, shouting, “Jehu is king!” – 2 Kings 9:13 NLT

His fellow generals declared their overwhelming support of his anointing as the next king of Israel. Of course, they weren’t aware of the second half of the prophet’s message concerning the complete annihilation of Ahab’s family. But at this point, they were fully on board with Jehoram’s removal and Jehu’s rise to power. Some of their enthusiasm could have been the result of the king’s recent defeat against the Syrians at Ramoth-gilead. Jehoram had been wounded in the battle and was recuperating at Jezreel. These generals could have lost confidence in Jehoram’s leadership ability and welcomed the idea of having a king with a military background. The Syrians remained a threat to the nation and Jehoram had proven himself to be a less-than-reliable commander-in-chief.

But, as always, this was the sovereign hand of God orchestrating every single detail of the storyline so that His divine will might be accomplished. He had pledged to destroy Ahab’s dynasty and now He was about to implement His plan to make it happen. And that plan was going to include Jehu, who found himself in the unexpected but highly important role of the Lord’s anointed.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Lessons From the Past

1 Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. 1 Kings 1:1-4 ESV

It would be easy to assume that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings are nothing more than historical accounts that provide a chronological record of the kings of Israel and Judah. They read like a two-volume ancient history textbook, providing detailed accounts of the reigns of 40 different kings who eventually ruled over the people of God. But these two books are far more than a retelling of past historical events. They were written to tell a story and to provide an explanation for Israel’s sorry state of affairs after their return from exile.

While we don’t know the identity of the author of these two books, we do know to whom they were written. In their original form, they comprised one book that was addressed to the people of Israel who survived captivity in Babylon and were part of the remnant who returned to the land. As they made their way back to the land after 70 years of subjugation to the Babylonians, they discovered the city of Jerusalem in an abysmal state of disrepair and the beautiful temple built by King Solomon to be nothing but a pile of rubble. The gates of the city had been destroyed. The once-formidable walls were lying in ruins. The former capital of Israel was a virtual ghost town. And while the people would eventually restore the city and rebuild the temple, the nation would never enjoy a return to its glory days.

But how did this happen? What caused the fall of one of the greatest nations on earth? Why did God abandon His people and allow them to undergo such devastating destruction at the hands of their enemies?

Those are the kinds of questions that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings attempt to answer. They retell the sad story of Israel’s demise. 1st Kings begins with the coronation of King Solomon and his dedication of the temple. 2nd Kings ends with the capture of King Zedekiah and the destruction of the temple. And in between, we are given a detailed accounting of Israel’s serial unfaithfulness to God. The author provides his audience with a no-holds-barred retelling of Israel’s fall from the heights of glory to the depths of despair and devastation. And it is not a pretty picture. But it is intended to be a memorable one, providing those who read it with a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of what happens to those who forsake the Lord.

But these two books are not all doom and gloom. Yes, they paint a not-so-attractive picture of the people of God, portraying them as unfaithful and fully deserving of God’s judgment. But they also provide undeniable evidence of God’s unwavering faithfulness. After all, those who ended up reading these two books were living on the other side of the exile. They were fortunate to be among those who had been restored to the land of promise because God had kept His word. He had told them they would go into captivity for 70 years, but He had also promised that a remnant would be allowed to return. And He had been faithful to do exactly what He said He would do.

It was George Santayana who wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And God wanted His people to know and understand every sordid and sorry detail concerning their past relationship with Him. Their current state of affairs had historical precedence. For the people of God, sin will always have consequences. Unfaithfulness will not go unpunished. Disobedience will not go undisciplined. And these two books were not just intended to be a simple retelling of ancient history, but they were designed to prevent its repetition. Even today, there is much we modern westerners can learn from the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. They contain timeless lessons that bear repeating and offer the unflattering portraits of men whose examples we should avoid.

And the very first portrait we are given is of the aging King David. We are told he was “old and advanced in years” (1 Kings 1:1 ESV). The once-powerful king of Israel is shown to be a shadow of his former self. The warrior-king who helped establish Israel as one of the greatest nations on earth has been relegated from the battlefield to the bedroom. Rather than fighting the enemies of Israel, he is waging a hopeless battle with the effects of old-age and senility. The one of whom they used to sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7 ESV), is now portrayed as a feeble old man, covered in blankets and fighting to stay warm.

His body suffering the ravages of time, David is unable to produce enough body heat to keep himself warm. In his old age, the slayer of Goliath finds himself so weak that he has to rely on the body heat of a young slave girl to keep him alive. In his prime, David suffered from an inordinate attraction to beautiful women that often got him into trouble. And because David is still the king, his advisors seek out the most beautiful woman they can find. But at this point in his life, the only pleasure David can derive from Abishag the Shunammite is the warmth her body can produce.

The author makes it quite clear that David received no sexual pleasure from this arrangement. It was totally utilitarian in nature.

The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her. – 1 Kings 1:4 NLT

As the book opens up, we are given a less-than-flattering glimpse of King David, confined to bed and constricted to mere survival. The great king of Israel is portrayed with diminished capacities and at the end of his life. His amazing rise to power and the record of his many accomplishments are found in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel. But David’s days of glory are over. His reign is coming to an end. And his death will usher in an important point of transition for the nation of Israel. The stability the nation has enjoyed under his leadership will be put to the test. The peoples’ dedication and commitment to God will be exposed for what it really is: Lacking.

In some ways, the description of David’s physical condition provides a subtle portrayal of the spiritual condition of the nation. Over time, they have grown spiritually cold and incapable of rekindling the fire they once had for God. It won’t be long until they find themselves sharing their beds with the “young women” of the pagan nations in an attempt to “heat up” their languishing spiritual lives.

David had been a good king. He was the “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). but even his godly leadership had failed to produce faithfulness among the people of Israel. And, as we will see, his influence over his own children will prove to have been lacking. Even before he breathes his final breath, David will find his kingdom under siege by his own family. From the king’s palace to the peasant’s hut, the unfaithfulness of Israel will soon be on full display.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Repentance or Regret

For this I will lament and wail;
    I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
    and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem.

10 Tell it not in Gath;
    weep not at all;
in Beth-le-aphrah
    roll yourselves in the dust.
11 Pass on your way,
    inhabitants of Shaphir,
    in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaanan
    do not come out;
the lamentation of Beth-ezel
    shall take away from you its standing place.
12 For the inhabitants of Maroth
    wait anxiously for good,
because disaster has come down from the Lord
    to the gate of Jerusalem.
13 Harness the steeds to the chariots,
    inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
    to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found
    the transgressions of Israel.
14 Therefore you shall give parting gifts
    to Moresheth-gath;
the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing
    to the kings of Israel.
15 I will again bring a conqueror to you,
    inhabitants of Mareshah;
the glory of Israel
    shall come to Adullam.
16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
    for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
    for they shall go from you into exile. Micah 1:8-16 ESV

After describing the coming judgment of God against the kingdom of Israel and its capital city of Samaria, Micah’s reaction is one of deep sorrow. He doesn’t rejoice over the pending fall of Judah’s northern neighbor, even though they had sided with the Syrians and attacked the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5). Micah mourned over the fate of the northern kingdom because it was comprised of ten of the tribes of the sons of Jacob. Their fall would leave only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining in the land of promise. And Micah knew that the same fate awaited the southern kingdom because they had been just as unfaithful.

The book of 2 Kings recounts the rise of Ahaz to the throne of Judah, describing his reign in less-than-flattering terms.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. – 2 Kings 16:2-3 NLT

So, Micah declares his intent to mourn over the fall of Israel because he knows it is only a matter of time before Judah finds itself suffering under the righteous wrath of God Almighty. He compares Israel’s spiritual and moral condition to a deadly disease, totally incurable and highly infectious.

her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem. – Micah 1:9 ESV

Sin, like cancer, never remains localized but has a way of metastasizing and spreading, and Micah knew that Judah had already been negatively influenced by its neighbor to the north. But Micah also knew that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease. Judah’s sin was going to bring the judgment of God and His punishment was going to be severe, leaving the nation in a state of physical, emotional, and mental devastation. The prophet Isaiah could not imagine why the people of Judah would refuse to repent, choosing instead to suffer the ongoing and merciless anger of God.

Why do you continue to invite punishment?
    Must you rebel forever?
Your head is injured,
    and your heart is sick.
You are battered from head to foot—
    covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—
    without any soothing ointments or bandages. – Isaiah 1:5-6 NLT

In an attempt to personalize the coming judgment of God, Micah uses his hometown of Moresheth-gath as the epicenter of all that is going to happen. He mentions the names of various cities in Judah that encircle his hometown, including Gath, Beth-le-aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, Maroth, and Lachish. Each of these towns seem to have been chosen for their location as well as the meaning of their names. Micah is using a not-so-subtle play on words to drive home the extreme nature of God’s coming judgment.

Gath means “winepress” and the residents of this city were going to experience “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). Beth-le-aphrah means “house of Aphrah” but Aphrah can be translated as “dust.” So, Micah states that the citizens of “the house of dust” will soon find themselves rolling in the dust as a form of mourning. Shaphir means “fair” or “beautiful” but it would soon be marked by “nakedness and shame” (Micah 1:11). The name Zaanan is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “come out” and Micah informs these people that they will not be able to escape the coming judgment of God. Zanaan actually means “place of flocks” and sadly, Micah lets them know that they will be trapped like sheep in the fold when God pours out His wrath.

Beth-ezel means “house of firm root.” Yet Micah delivers the bad news that their “house has no support” (Micah 1:11 NLT) and God will level it in His anger. The name of the city of Maroth is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “bitterness.” Like a thirsty person seeking for refreshing water, they will “anxiously wait for relief, but only bitterness awaits them” (Micah 1:12 NLT). The name of the city of Lachish, which means “invincible,” sounds very similar to the Hebrew word rekesh, which means “steeds.” Micah warns this “invincible” town to “Harness your chariot horses and flee” (Micah 1:13 NLT). He accuses them of being “the first city in Judah to follow Israel in her rebellion” and of leading Jerusalem into sin (Micah 1:13 NLT).

Achzib, which means “deceit,” would end up deceiving the kings of Israel by failing to resist the coming invaders. Every single town would fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Even Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-gath, which means “possession of Gath” would become the possession of the Babylonians.

Marashesh (“crest of a hill”) will not be high enough to escape the coming judgment of God. Adullam (“justice of the people”) will experience the justice of God as He forces “the glory of Israel” (its kings and leaders) to run there in a vain attempt to escape His wrath.

Over and over again, Micah uses these plays or words to drive home the message of God’s pending judgment and the devastating impact it is going to have on the entire nation of Judah. It will be unavoidable and its consequences, inescapable. From the streets of the smallest village to the gates of Jerusalem, the story will be the same: The people of Judah will find themselves mourning just like Micah.

Oh, people of Judah, shave your heads in sorrow,
    for the children you love will be snatched away.
Make yourselves as bald as a vulture,
    for your little ones will be exiled to distant lands. – Micah 1:16 NLT

They had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it. But God still longed for His rebellious people to return to Him in repentance. He greatly desired to bless them and restore them to their place of honor as His chosen people. But the prophet Isaiah declared God’s requirements for judgment to be avoided.

“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT

God wasn’t interested in watching them through the motions, perfunctorily performing their religious rituals like mindless robots. He wanted true heart change and legitimate repentance.

“Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

The choice was up to them. They could obey and experience God’s blessings, or they could continue to rebel and endure His wrath. He was ready to forgive and cleanse them. But it was going to require obedience and submission to His will for them.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
    I will make them as white as wool.
If you will only obey me,
    you will have plenty to eat.
But if you turn away and refuse to listen,
    you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 1:18-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Be Sure Your Sins…

The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
    and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:
“Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!
10 Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
    and the scant measure that is accursed?
11 Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights?
12 Your rich men are full of violence;
    your inhabitants speak lies,
    and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
13 Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
    making you desolate because of your sins.
14 You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
    and there shall be hunger within you;
you shall put away, but not preserve,
    and what you preserve I will give to the sword.
15 You shall sow, but not reap;
    you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
    you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
16 For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels,
that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing;
    so you shall bear the scorn of my people.” Micah 6:9-16 ESV

Verse 8 records Micah’s sober reminder of God’s expectations for His people.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The criteria for doing what was good was not subjective or left up to the peoples’ imaginations. God had made Himself perfectly clear and the essence of His behavioral goals for His people had been outlined in the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue, as handed down to Moses by God, contained a summary of the entire Mosaic Law, and was intended to provide divine principles for life, ethics, and worship. By keeping the Ten Commandments (doing what the Lord required), the people of Israel would end up doing what is good. Their lives would be marked by justice, kindness, and a humble attitude of obedience to and love for God.

But in the courtroom scene that opened up chapter 6, God, acting as the prosecuting attorney, levels His charges against the people of Israel. And He warns them that their “bad” behavior, marked by injustice, greed, violence, and deceit, was going to bring about their conviction and their well-deserved condemnation.

And Micah demands that the inhabitants of the royal city of Jerusalem pay special heed to what God is about to say.

The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
    and it is sound wisdom to fear your name.
– Micah 6:9 ESV

God was about to deliver His stinging indictment against His disobedient and rebellious people, and Micah warns them that if they are wise, they will listen to what God has to say. His words echo those found in the book of Proverbs.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! – Proverbs 110:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

For Micah, it was clear that the people of Israel were marked by a lack of wisdom and it was all a result of their failure to fear the Lord. Their lives had displayed no reverence for His name. As His children, they had been given the privilege of bearing His name and were to have been His representatives on earth. But instead, they had ended up defaming and profaning His holy name through their actions.

And the prophet Ezekiel had warned the people of Israel that God would not tolerate their disrespectful treatment of His name forever.

“As for you, O people of Israel, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Go right ahead and worship your idols, but sooner or later you will obey me and will stop bringing shame on my holy name by worshiping idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 NLT

Just a few chapters later, God adds His assessment of Israel’s behavior.

“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by the evil way they lived. To me their conduct was as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth. They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them. – Ezekiel 36:17-18 NLT

Rather than displaying a fear of God that translated into wisdom that resulted in good behavior,  the people of Israel had displayed conduct that reflected their ignoring of God’s laws and their ignorance of God Himself.

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
– Proverbs 30:2-3 ESV

It is interesting to note that the primary evidence God brings against His people has to do with their behavior toward one another. He doesn’t begin with a diatribe against their idolatry and spiritual adultery. He exposes the extent of their dishonest and deceitful treatment of their fellow Israelites. They had failed to do justice and to love kindness.

Their homes were filled with “treasures of wickedness” gained through deceptive and unethical business transactions. God accuses them of “the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures” (Micah 6:10 NLT). Jerusalem’s merchants had used “dishonest scales and weights” (Micah 6:11 NLT). The prosperous in the city had “become wealthy through extortion and violence” (Micah 6:12 NLT). And, in general, the population of Jerusalem had grown “so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth” (Micah 6:12 NLT).

Not exactly a flattering portrait of God’s chosen people. But it was accurate. One of the commandments found in the Decalogue was a prohibition against stealing. And it is quite evident by God’s description of their behavior, that this law had been disregarded by the people of Israel – for generations. And they had also broken God’s command against coveting. Their lives were marked by an insatiable desire for that which was not theirs. They used deceit and dishonest practices to turn their covetous desires into tangible results.

And in all of this, they displayed a lack of trust in God. Their actions gave evidence that they doubted in His ability to provide for all their needs. They were dissatisfied with God’s blessings and so they used unjust and ungodly means to steal from one another. But God warns that their behavior was going to bring His judgment.

“Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
    making you desolate because of your sins. – Micah 6:13 ESV

Their suffering would not be the result of random chance. Their destruction would not be because they were in the wrong place and the wrong time. It was going to be the sovereign act of God Almighty and in direct response to their sins. And God’s pending punishment would have direct ties to their behavior.

Those who had greedily filled their houses with “treasures of wickedness” were going to find themselves struggling with unsatisfied hunger and unrelenting poverty.

“You will eat but never have enough.
    Your hunger pangs and emptiness will remain.
And though you try to save your money,
    it will come to nothing in the end.
You will save a little,
    but I will give it to those who conquer you.” – Micah 6:14 NLT

They had made a habit out of mistreating and deceiving one another, now God was going to show them what injustice and a lack of kindness felt like when they found themselves on the receiving end.

You will plant crops
    but not harvest them.
You will press your olives
    but not get enough oil to anoint yourselves.
You will trample the grapes
    but get no juice to make your wine. – Micah 6:15 NLT

None of this should have been a surprise to them. Because long before they entered the land of promised, God had warned them that this would happen. If they failed to obey His commands, they would eventually suffer the consequences. And God had been very specific as to the nature of those consequences.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 NLT

Now, the inevitable and seemingly unavoidable was about to happen. God tells them, “I will make an example of you, bringing you to complete ruin. You will be treated with contempt, mocked by all who see you” (Micah 6:16 NLT). But He also tells them why.

For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels… – Micah 6:16 ESV

Omri and Ahab were two kings who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel. And they both hold the unflattering distinction of having been more wicked than all the other kings who had come before them.

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:25 ESV

But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. – 1 Kings 16:30 ESV

They were the poster boys for spiritual adultery and godless conduct. And their unrighteous reigns had a deleterious influence over the nation of Israel, causing the people to follow their example by walking in their counsels. These two men became the icons for idolatry and immoral behavior. And sadly, their decision to do evil in the sight of the Lord had led an entire nation to follow their lead and walk according to their ungodly counsel. Now, the time had come to pay for Israel to pay for their sins.

“Therefore, I will make an example of you,
    bringing you to complete ruin.
You will be treated with contempt,
    mocked by all who see you.” – Micah 6:16 NLT

Omri and Ahab had set a bad example for the people under their care, and the Israelites had eagerly and willingly followed their lead. So, now God would make the Israelites an example before the nations of the earth. Those who bore His name but had profaned it by their behavior would learn the painful but invaluable lesson that disobedience brings the discipline of God. Dishonoring the integrity and holiness of His name will always result in the display of judgment.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Remember, Restore, and Renew!

1 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
    look, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
    our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
    the wood we get must be bought.
Our pursuers are at our necks;
    we are weary; we are given no rest.
We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria,
    to get bread enough.
Our fathers sinned, and are no more;
    and we bear their iniquities.
Slaves rule over us;
    there is none to deliver us from their hand.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
    because of the sword in the wilderness.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven
    with the burning heat of famine.
11 Women are raped in Zion,
    young women in the towns of Judah.
12 Princes are hung up by their hands;
    no respect is shown to the elders.
13 Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
    and boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The old men have left the city gate,
    the young men their music.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
    our dancing has been turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head;
    woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 For this our heart has become sick,
    for these things our eyes have grown dim,
18 for Mount Zion which lies desolate;
    jackals prowl over it.
19 But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations.
20 Why do you forget us forever,
    why do you forsake us for so many days?
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
    Renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and you remain exceedingly angry with us.
Lamentations 5:1-22 ESV

The state of affairs in Judah could not have been any worse. And Jeremiah had an up-close and personal perspective on every aspect of the suffering and pain. He had been there for the days of the Babylonian siege. He had lived through the fall of Jerusalem. And he had watched as the enemies of Judah had leveled the royal capital, destroyed the temple, and murdered vast numbers its citizens. Jeremiah had been forced to watch as thousands of his fellow Jews had been placed in chains and forced to march all the way back the Babylonian capital as slaves.

For those who remained behind in Judah, the prospects were grim. Their nation had been destroyed. Their homes had been reduced to rubble and the national economy was non-existent. They had no king, no army, and, therefore, no means of protection from the enemies. They were weak, defenseless, and hopeless. Their army had not protected them. Their allies had abandoned them. And every one of their false gods had failed to come through for them.

But while everyone around him was wringing their hands in fear and dismay, Jeremiah was taking his concerns to the one source who could do anything about it. He was pleading his case directly to God Almighty. And the first thing he asks God to do is remember.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
    look, and see our disgrace! – Lamentations 5:1 ESV

Jeremiah is not afraid that God will somehow forget what has happened to Judah. He is calling on God to reflect upon their current circumstances and to consider them soberly and circumspectly. Jeremiah had his perspective on things, but he knew that only one viewpoint mattered and that was God’s.

And Jeremiah appeals to God as to a Father, describing the devastated condition of His children.

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
    our mothers are like widows. – Lamentations 5:2-3 ESV

The land of Judah had been part of the inheritance provided by God to the people of Israel when they had arrived in the land of Canaan. It had been His gift to them, in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham centuries earlier.

“And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:8 ESV

But Jeremiah reminds God that the land was no longer controlled by the descendants of Abraham. It was being ruled by the Babylonians. The Judahites who had been left in the land were nothing more than caretakers for their Babylonian overlords. And without any army, the people of Judah would find themselves incapable of defending the land from incursions from foreign raiding parties. Before long, what little remained of the former inheritance given by God to the descendants of Abraham would be lost.

And Jeremiah appeals to God’s sense of justice by describing the people of Judah as fatherless orphans and widows. They are like children who have lost their fathers and have no one to protect them. Their status is no better than that of a recently widowed woman who, upon the death of her husband, finds herself without a home and without access to any legal rights to ensure her future. And as a prophet of God, Jeremiah was very familiar with God’s stance on widows and orphans.

Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:17 NLT

Jeremiah knew that God had strong feelings for the helpless and the defenseless, and took exception to those who abused them.

Your leaders are rebels,
    the companions of thieves.
All of them love bribes
    and demand payoffs,
but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans
   or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

And Jeremiah had repeatedly conveyed God’s message of concern for the helpless and hopeless to the people of Judah.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 NLT

But no one had listened. No one had cared. They had refused to take God’s commands seriously. And, as a result, the entire nation had become widows and orphans. They had gone from being the abusers to being abused. Before the fall of Jerusalem, when it was business-as-usual in Judah, the people had practiced injustice by taking advantage of the helpless and hopeless. Everybody had been out for themselves. But now, the table had turned. And Jeremiah describes just how radical the shift in circumstances had been.

Clean drinking water, which used to be readily available and free, was now exorbitantly expensive. Firewood had become a not commodity as well. And food had become virtually non-existent because of famine and the constant presence of foreign raiding parties. Children were dying of starvation. Women were being raped. Young men and boys were being forced to do manual labor like slaves. Civil society had fallen apart, with village elders being shown no respect, former princes being treated like common thieves, and the general population left in a state of abject despair.

Joy has left our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning. – Lamentations 5:15 NLT

Jeremiah is sharing his heart with his God. He is telling the King of Judah the sorrowful state of His citizens. He is appealing to the loving Father of the children of Israel and asking Him to consider their fate and intervene on their behalf. Not because they deserve it, but because He is God.

The garlands have fallen from our heads.
    Weep for us because we have sinned.
Our hearts are sick and weary,
    and our eyes grow dim with tears. – Lamentations 5:16-17 NLT

Jeremiah knew full well that this fate had long been coming. It had been the inevitable outcome of generations of unfaithfulness.

Our ancestors sinned, but they have died—
    and we are suffering the punishment they deserved! – Lamentations 5:7 NLT

But now, Jeremiah calls on His faithful God to intervene. Jerusalem may have been destroyed, but the God of Jerusalem was alive and well, sitting on His throne in heaven.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations. – Lamentations 5:19 ESV

Nothing that had happened on earth had changed anything about God’s rule and reign in heaven. The current conditions in Judah were no indictment on the power and sovereignty of God. He had not lost a step. He had not diminished in His authority or power. That is why Jeremiah knew that any delay in the reversal of their affairs was up to God. He was obviously not out of control, so He must have had a reason for postponing His deliverance.

So, Jeremiah begs God to act now! No more delay. If there was no reason for delaying His deliverance, then why not bring it now?

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
    Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and you remain exceedingly angry with us. – Lamentations 5:21-22 ESV

Remember, restore, and renew. That is what Jeremiah longed for God to do. He was counting on the fact that God had not utterly rejected them. His knowledge of God would not allow him to go there. He knew that God was faithful and would not abandon His children forever. He had punished them, but He would also restore them. This was the God Jeremiah knew and believed in. It was the God he had served with his life and in whom He relied upon for salvation.

Like his fellow prophets, Jeremiah continued to place his hope in the trustworthiness of God.

Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Two Daughters. Two Destinies.

17 Our eyes failed, ever watching
    vainly for help;
in our watching we watched
    for a nation which could not save.

18 They dogged our steps
    so that we could not walk in our streets;
our end drew near; our days were numbered,
    for our end had come.

19 Our pursuers were swifter
    than the eagles in the heavens;
they chased us on the mountains;
    they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.

20 The breath of our nostrils, the Lord’s anointed,
    was captured in their pits,
of whom we said, “Under his shadow
    we shall live among the nations.”

21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
    you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

22 The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
    he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
   he will uncover your sins. – Lamentations 4:17-22 ESV

During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the people of Judah had fully expected their allies, the Egyptians, to step up and rescue them. After the death of King Josiah, his son Jehoahaz had ascended to the throne, but his reign lasted a scant three months. He was imprisoned by Pharaoh and replaced on the throne by his younger brother, who agreed to pay the exorbitant tribute levied against them by the Egyptians.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah, from Libnah. He did evil in the sight of the Lord as his ancestors had done. Pharaoh Necho imprisoned him in Riblah in the land of Hamath and prevented him from ruling in Jerusalem. He imposed on the land a special tax of 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold. Pharaoh Necho made Josiah’s son Eliakim king in Josiah’s place, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. He took Jehoahaz to Egypt, where he died. Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh the required amount of silver and gold, but to meet Pharaoh’s demands Jehoiakim had to tax the land. He collected an assessed amount from each man among the people of the land in order to pay Pharaoh Necho. – 2 Kings 23:31-35 NLT

But this costly alliance with the Egyptians never produced the rescue they longed for. Pharaoh Necho was content to leave the people of Judah high and dry, having gladly taken their tribute money but never providing them the protection due to a vassal state. The Babylonians were the new bad boy on the block and the Egyptians chose to stay out of the fray altogether.

The king of Egypt did not march out from his land again, for the king of Babylon conquered all the territory that the king of Egypt had formerly controlled between the Stream of Egypt and the Euphrates River. – 2 Kings 24:7 NLT

Even back during the days when the Assyrians were making their way through the land of Canaan capturing city after city, Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians, warned Judah’s King Hezekiah not to put his trust in Egypt.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-22 NLT

And King Sennacherib proved to be right about Egypt. His assessment of Pharaoh’s reliability had been spot-on. But this was something God had known for some time. He had warned His people not to put their faith in military might – their own or that of their allies.

Those who go down to Egypt for help are as good as dead;
those who rely on war horses,
and trust in Egypt’s many chariots
and in their many, many horsemen.
But they do not rely on the Holy One of Israel
and do not seek help from the Lord.
Yet he too is wise and he will bring disaster;
he does not retract his decree.
He will attack the wicked nation,
and the nation that helps those who commit sin.
The Egyptians are mere humans, not God;
their horses are made of flesh, not spirit.
The Lord will strike with his hand;
the one who helps will stumble
and the one being helped will fall.
Together they will perish. – Isaiah 31:1-3 NLT

God’s people were never to have placed their hope and trust in other nations. King David himself wrote:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV

God was to have been their champion. He had promised to be their defender and their help against any and all adversaries. But their serial unfaithfulness to Him had left Him with no other choice but to bring judgment upon them. They had somehow decided that God was not enough. So, they put their hope in human saviors. They turned to kings and their armies when they had the King of kings on their side.

And because they chose to place their hope and trust in something other than God Almighty, they suffered the consequences. They had wrongly assumed that their king, the Lord’s anointed, would save them.

Our king—the Lord’s anointed, the very life of our nation—
    was caught in their snares.
We had thought that his shadow
    would protect us against any nation on earth! – Lamentations 4:20 NLT

But a king who fails to honor God with his life will offer no hope in times of despair. A man who neglects the wisdom of God and turns His back on the ways of God will prove to be a lousy deliverer when times get tough.

But Jeremiah wraps up this dirge with a reminder to the daughters of Edom and the daughters of Zion.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
    you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
    he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
    he will uncover your sins. – Lamentations 4:21-22 ESV

These two daughters represent two different lands: The land of Judah and the land of Babylon. The daughters of Edom living in the land of Ur or Babylon have every reason to rejoice over their great victory. Their men have returned home victorious, with great spoil, tens of thousands of captives in two, and stories of their conquest of the nation of Judah.

But Jeremiah warns them to consider tapping the brake a bit. Their enthusiasm is going to be shortlived. Yes, they were the new bully on the block and their success was undeniable. But what they didn’t realize was that their victory had been the handiwork of God. And God has a habit of putting kings on thrones and removing them at His discretion. Their 15-minutes of fame was going to be over before they knew it and, as Jeremiah points out, they will be forced to “drink from the cup of the Lord’s anger” (Lamentations 4:21 NLT). 

In contrast, Jerusalem would see an end to its exile. After 70 years in captivity, God would return a remnant of His people from the land of Babylon and allow them to rebuild and reoccupy the city of Jerusalem. The gates and walls would be restored. The temple would be refurbished. The sacrificial system would be reinstituted. And the faithful God of Judah would shower His rebellious people with His undeserved grace and mercy.

While the story looked like it had a very unhappy ending, there was more to come that the people of Judah could not see. The Babylonians looked victorious. They had been on the winning end of the equation. But God was not done. His plan was not yet complete. And the circumstances of life do not always provide an accurate assessment of reality. God was still on His throne. He was still the covenant-keeping God of Judah. He was faithful and He was far from done with His chosen people.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Denial Won’t Stop the Inevitable

1 How the gold has grown dim,
    how the pure gold is changed!
The holy stones lie scattered
    at the head of every street.

The precious sons of Zion,
    worth their weight in fine gold,
how they are regarded as earthen pots,
    the work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer the breast;
    they nurse their young;
but the daughter of my people has become cruel,
    like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the nursing infant sticks
    to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
    but no one gives to them.

Those who once feasted on delicacies
    perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
    embrace ash heaps.

For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater
    than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
    and no hands were wrung for her.

Her princes were purer than snow,
    whiter than milk;
their bodies were more ruddy than coral,
    the beauty of their form was like sapphire.

Now their face is blacker than soot;
    they are not recognized in the streets;
their skin has shriveled on their bones;
    it has become as dry as wood.

Happier were the victims of the sword
    than the victims of hunger,
who wasted away, pierced
    by lack of the fruits of the field.

10 The hands of compassionate women
    have boiled their own children;
they became their food
    during the destruction of the daughter of my people.

11 The Lord gave full vent to his wrath;
    he poured out his hot anger,
and he kindled a fire in Zion
    that consumed its foundations.

12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
    nor any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
    the gates of Jerusalem.

13 This was for the sins of her prophets
    and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her
    the blood of the righteous.

14 They wandered, blind, through the streets;
    they were so defiled with blood
that no one was able to touch
    their garments.

15 “Away! Unclean!” people cried at them.
    “Away! Away! Do not touch!”
So they became fugitives and wanderers;
    people said among the nations,
    “They shall stay with us no longer.”

16 The Lord himself has scattered them;
    he will regard them no more;
no honor was shown to the priests,
    no favor to the elders. Lamentations 4:1-16 ESV

Chapter four begins another dirge or poem in which Jeremiah recounts the devastating nature of the destruction brought upon the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He begins by describing the gold that used to adorn the temple of God now lying in the streets. What used to be of great value is now worthless. Precious metals and expensive gems have become as common as rocks. The economy of the city is completely shot, making it impossible to purchase food and leaving countless people suffering from starvation.

The parched tongues of their little ones
    stick to the roofs of their mouths in thirst.
The children cry for bread,
    but no one has any to give them. – Lamentations 4:4 NLT

The entire atmosphere of the city has been turned upside down, leaving those who used to be considered princes and worthy of great honor, living as if their lives are worth nothing. They “are now treated like pots of clay made by a common potter” (Lamentations 4:3 NLT). The social hierarchy of Jerusalem has been completely eliminated, with everyone sharing the same abysmal fate. The rich have lost their social standing. The once-powerful suffer alongside the poor and destitute. Everyone is on equal terms, experiencing the same unpleasant outcome for their rebellion against God.

During the siege, food had become so scarce that mothers were refusing to feed their own children, choosing instead to feed themselves while their infants died. And it got so bad that some resorted to cannibalism, eating the bodies of their own children.

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:10 NLT

The callousness displayed by these actions is difficult for us to comprehend. But the people had lost all hope. Their despair had become so great that it had become every man for himself. All sense of community was gone. It was now a matter of the survival of the fittest.

And again, Jeremiah paints a stark picture of just how grim things had become. Those who used to enjoy rich foods prepared for them by servants were now relegated to begging in the streets. Their fine clothes had been replaced by rags scavenged from the local dump. There was no longer anyone in Jerusalem who suffered from pride or had any reason to think of themselves as better than anyone else. This event had been the great equalizer, reducing the entire population of the city to a state of abject poverty and brokenness.

And Jeremiah compares the fall of Jerusalem to that of Sodom, the city that had been destroyed by God for its rampant wickedness. But Sodom had been a pagan city with no relationship to God Almighty. Their gross immorality had become a stench in the nostrils of God, forcing Him to bring down judgment upon them. But sadly, Jeremiah makes the wickedness of Jerusalem even more egregious than Sodom. It was the capital of Judah and the home of the temple that Solomon had built for God. And yet, Jeremiah declares that “The guilt of my people is greater than that of Sodom” (Lamentations 4:6 NLT). The chosen people of God stood condemned before Him and their guilt was greater than that of one of the most wicked cities that ever existed.

Like the citizens of Sodom, the people of Jerusalem had received the justice they deserved for their sins against God. And Jeremiah juxtaposes the former state of the people of Judah with their current conditions. At one time they had been rich, fat, and happy. They were used to having whatever their hearts desired. Food had been in abundance. Their clothes had been rich and sumptuous. Their houses had been filled with the latest pleasures, and their every need had been met by a host of servants. But now they were poor, disheveled, needy, and hungry.

And it had all been the result of God’s discipline and judgment.

But now the anger of the Lord is satisfied.
    His fierce anger has been poured out.
He started a fire in Jerusalem
    that burned the city to its foundations. – Lamentations 4:11 NLT

God had warned them repeatedly and had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. But they had refused. Their pride had gotten the best of them. They never dreamed that this could happen to them. After all, they were the chosen people of God, the descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to him. Jerusalem could never fall. The temple of God could never be destroyed. Their fate was secure – or so they thought.

Not a king in all the earth—
    no one in all the world—
would have believed that an enemy
    could march through the gates of Jerusalem.

Yet it happened because of the sins of her prophets
    and the sins of her priests,
who defiled the city
    by shedding innocent blood. – Lamentations 4:12-13 NLT

The inconceivable had happened. And it was all because the spiritual leaders of Judah had failed to live up to their God-ordained responsibilities. The priests had proved to be wicked and immoral. Prophets claimed to be speaking for God, but their words were nothing but lies intended to tell the people what they wanted to hear. And these men gave ungodly advice to Judah’s governmental leaders, resulting in kings who failed to shepherd the people of Judah as God had commanded them to do. Idolatry and immorality became commonplace. Unfaithfulness was widespread, from the top to the bottom of the society. And God had had enough.

Many of these priests and prophets were killed by the Babylonians or deported. They were removed from positions of power and their disobedience was dealt with severely and permanently.

The Lord himself has scattered them,
    and he no longer helps them.
People show no respect for the priests
    and no longer honor the leaders. – Lamentations 4:16 NLT

These men had forfeited their right to act as God’s spokesmen. They had failed to honor Him with their lives, choosing instead to enrich themselves by taking advantage of their position for personal gain. They had made a habit of telling the people what they wanted to hear, denying the prophecies of Jeremiah and ridiculing any thought that God was going to bring about the fall of Jerusalem. But they had proven to be painfully wrong. Their messages of good news had failed to bring about good outcomes. The city lay in ruins, the population was mired in poverty, and these men had all been killed or deported. The will of God had been accomplished.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Good, the Bad, and God

34 To crush underfoot
    all the prisoners of the earth,
35 to deny a man justice
    in the presence of the Most High,
36 to subvert a man in his lawsuit,
    the Lord does not approve.

37 Who has spoken and it came to pass,
    unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
39 Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins?

40 Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the Lord! – Lamentations 3:34-40 ESV

Jeremiah was painfully aware that the nation of Judah stood fully and justifiably condemned before God. They were guilty as charged and their fate had been ordained by the hand of God. It was the just and righteous punishment they so thoroughly deserved. And while God had graciously delayed His judgment for generations, He had not forgotten His promise to punish His chosen people for their rejection of Him. Their spiritual infidelity had become so pervasive that He could no longer allow them to defame His holy name through their unholy actions.

Jeremiah reminds his fellow citizens that God had not been blind to their behavior. He had seen it all. And He had grown tired of their blatant disregard for His holy law. They had long ago forgotten what it means to live in obedience to God’s law. The admonition delivered by Moses to the Israelites while they were still in the wilderness had been clear and compelling.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good. – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NLT

And yet, over the centuries, God’s people had failed to live in a way that pleased Him. They made it all about themselves. God became little more than a cosmic Genie in a bottle, whom the Israelites turned to when all else failed. They had long ago forgotten what it means to fear God, treating the Almighty as if He was just one more god in a long list of possible options. And over time, their outward behavior stood as evidence of their unbelief. Their actions condemned them.

And Jeremiah had spent years pointing out the glaring wickedness of their ways.

“Among my people are wicked men
who lie in wait for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind.
They continually set traps
to catch people.
Like a cage filled with birds,
their homes are filled with evil plots.
And now they are great and rich.
They are fat and sleek,
and there is no limit to their wicked deeds.
They refuse to provide justice to orphans
and deny the rights of the poor.
Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?” – Jeremiah 5:26-29 NLT

And now, Jeremiah reminds his fellow sufferers that they had received the just recompense for their sins against God.

If people crush underfoot
all the prisoners of the land,
if they deprive others of their rights
in defiance of the Most High,
if they twist justice in the courts—
doesn’t the Lord see all these things? – Lamentations 3:34-36 NLT

They had lived their lives as if God was blind or oblivious to their actions. But now they knew that He had seen it all and He had held them accountable. Everything that had happened to them was the direct result of God’s sovereign will. It had not been a mistake. It had not been the result of poor timing, bad luck, or the fickleness of fate. It had been the providential plan of God Almighty.

Who can command things to happen
without the Lord’s permission?
Does not the Most High
send both calamity and good?
Then why should we, mere humans, complain
when we are punished for our sins? – Lamentations 3:37-39 NLT

The people of Judah couldn’t blame Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians for their problems. They had been little more than instruments in the hands of God. They had been His chosen means for delivering His divine judgment against a stubborn rebellious people. The people of Judah had been punished by God for their sins against Him. And they had no cause to complain.

For years, they had lived in a state of overconfidence, basking in the goodness of God’s blessings, while regularly disobeying His commands. They thought they were immune from judgment. As God’s chosen people, they lived with a false sense of security, wrongly assuming that they were divinely protected from harm. But disobedience always leads to discipline. They were wrong to assume that their unique relationship with God made them untouchable by God. If anything, God was holding them to a higher standard. He had expected them to live lives that were distinctively different from all the other nations around them.

But their behavior had brought shame to the name of God. Their actions reflected poorly on His character. As His children, they bore God’s name, but they had failed to live up to their calling as His sons and daughters. Now, they were suffering the consequences for their blatant disregard for His holiness.

“For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 NLT

Their holiness was not an option. It had been God’s expectation from the moment He had chosen Abram out of Ur and promised to make of him a great nation. His descendants would be God’s chosen people, unique among all the nations of the earth. And their relationship with God, determined by His law and regulated by His sacrificial system, was to have set them apart as holy and wholly belonging to Him. But their lack of holiness had left a black eye on God’s character. And now they were suffering because of it.

So, Jeremiah calls them to examine their lives and to understand that their current circumstances were ordained by God and were for their own good.

…let us test and examine our ways.
Let us turn back to the Lord. – Lamentations 3:40 NLT

God had blessed them. Now, God was punishing them. But it was all for their good. And Jeremiah wanted them to learn the invaluable lesson that both the good and the bad come from the hand of God. And both are conditioned upon the love of God. He disciplines those whom He loves. But it is often difficult for us to recognize God’s love when it shows up as correction. It feels like anger. It comes across as rejection. But as Jeremiah stated earlier in this same chapter.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning. – Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

As God’s children, we must learn to recognize His love in all the circumstances of life. From the good to the bad, the enjoyable to the painful, the indescribable to the inexplicable, God never falls out of love with us. And, like Job, we must learn to see that God’s love never fails, whether we fail to understand it or not.

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson