He Will Reign

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 ESV

Guided by the Spirit of God, Micah provides the people of Judah with a prophetic glimpse into the future of their nation. Yet, the events he describes remain unfulfilled even in our day. They entail a period of time that he refers to as the “latter days” or what is oftentimes called the end times. Jesus spoke to His disciples about this future event, warning them that it would include a time of great tribulation, to be followed by His own return to earth at the Second Coming.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” – Matthew 24:21-22 ESV

The Tribulation will last seven long years but will be “cut short” by Christ’s return. And Jesus describes the momentous nature of His return.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

There are a great number of events that will take place when Christ returns, including the Battle of Armageddon and the Great White Throne Judgment. And all of these things will be tied to Christ’s role as the victorious King who returns to claim His throne.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:31-34 ESV

And Micah adds another vital detail to the future narrative that portrays Christ gathering His scattered flock from the four corners of the earth. Along with His role as the conquering King who defeats the enemies of God, He will serve as the Good Shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of Israel and restores them to a right relationship with God.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also wrote about this coming day, recording the promise made by God that He would one day seek for and save His scattered sheep. This promise would be fulfilled through His Son, the Shepherd and Savior of Israel.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:11-16 NLT

Ezekiel also records God’s plan to fulfill the promise He had made to David to raise up one of his sons and establish his kingdom and throne forever (1 Chronicles 17:11-12).

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23 NLT

God is not promising to resurrect King David himself but is revealing His intention to raise up a descendant of David, another man after His own heart, who will rule and reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. This is a clear reference to Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of David, the God-man who will rule in perfect, sinless righteousness over the regathered and restored nation of Israel.

Ezekiel goes on to describe how this “offspring” of David will lead the people of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and perfect obedience to God during His 1,000-year reign on earth, what is often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom.

“Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:21-27 ESV

And Micah makes it clear that these events will all take place in city of Jerusalem, the very same city that was fated to suffer defeat and destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God was going to judge the nation and its capital city for the centuries of rebellion and unfaithfulness that had taken place within its walls. Ever since the days of Solomon, the kings of Israel had proven to be unreliable leaders who failed to follow the righteous example of King David. They had led the people astray, seeking to serve other gods and placing their hope in the alliances they made with foreign powers. But while God had plans to put a temporary end to David’s dynasty, He also had a plan to restore it. And though He intended to destroy the city of David, He would one day reestablish it as the home of Israel’s King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

The prophet, Isaiah, predicted the two-fold nature of Christ’s advent. He came to earth the first time, born as an innocent baby in a manger, in order to die for the sins of mankind. But in His second advent, He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His reign will bring righteousness and justice to the world.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

God predicted the fall of Jerusalem and its occurrence is a historical fact. But God also predicted the Second Coming of His Son and the restoration of the people of Israel. He has yet to break a single promise He has made. So, we can rest assured that these events, while still unfulfilled, will take place. God has a plan and we can trust Him to bring it to pass – down to the last detail.

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

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Back to the Future

1 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.
– Micah 4:1-5 ESV

While the current state of affairs in Judah was marked by injustice, immorality, unfaithfulness, and a dearth of godly leadership, Micah now reports the good news: God has a bright future in store for His chosen people. In spite of their sin, rebellion, and stubborn refusal to repent, God had plans to restore and, once again, bless them. But this period of divine blessing was going to take place in the distant future, long after Micah and his peers were dead and gone. And long after God had fulfilled His promise to bring His divine judgment upon them.

As with all prophecies found in Scripture, it is essential to determine whether what is being prophesied has already been fulfilled or remains as-yet unfulfilled. When the prophets of God wrote regarding the “latter days,” it was most often a reference to the end times, the eschatological future of Israel and the world. Virtually all of the prophets of God wrote about these distant and yet-unfulfilled events. In fact, Isaiah used almost the same very same wording as Micah when he wrote:

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
   and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV

The latter or last days about which the prophets wrote refer to God’s future and final plans for His chosen people, Israel, but also include all that He has in store for the rest of mankind and all that He has created. There are some biblical scholars who believe the end times began with Christ’s ascension and the beginning of the church at Pentecost. Others conclude that the actual end times will not commence until the Rapture when Christ returns for the church. With the removal of all believers from the face of the earth, God will turn His focus to Israel.

The Rapture will usher in the seven-year period known as the Tribulation, a time when God will pour out His wrath on the world in a series of judgments. This dark and deadly time will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ when He will defeat all those who stand opposed to God, including Satan himself. Then the victorious Christ will establish His Millennial Kingdom in Jerusalem where He will reign in righteousness for 1,000 years. And during this time, Israel, the chosen people of God, will enjoy a renewed and restored relationship with God, made possible by His grace and the Messiah’s victory over evil.

Micah’s words focus on the final days of the “latter days.” His emphasis is on what God plans to do for His chosen people. He describes a day when “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it” (Micah 4:1 ESV).

This is a reference to Mount Zion, the elevated region in Israel upon which the city of Jerusalem and the temple are located. Micah is indicating that God has something great in store for the city of David. While Micah has been warning of God’s more immediate plans for Jerusalem’s fall and destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, this will not mark its end. Even today, after centuries filled with enemy invasions and occupations, countless wars, and many attempts to wipe Israel off the map, Jerusalem remains intact and occupied by the Jewish people. But they have no temple. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., and the temple mount is currently controlled by the Muslims and crowned by the al-Aqsa Mosque. As a result, the people of Israel have had no place to offer sacrifices to God for more nearly 2,000 years. 

But Micah describes a day when Mount Zion will be restored to its former glory and prominence. He even refers to the nations of the world making their way to the Jerusalem and the temple mount in order to worship God.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Micah 4:2 ESV

And don’t miss his reference to “the house of the God of Jacob.” He is speaking of the temple. But in order for the nations to go up to the house of God, it will have to be restored at some point. And the end times chronology includes the rebuilding of the temple by the Antichrist. The apostle Paul describes this end-times world leader setting himself up as a replacement for God, taking his place in the newly constructed temple, which he will build in order to win the favor of the Jewish people.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

The Antichrist will order the construction of the temple as part of his peace agreement with the people of Israel. This one-world leader will broker a treaty with Israel, somehow convincing the Muslim nations to allow the Jews to rebuild their temple on the top of Mount Zion. And yet, three years later, he will break his agreement, putting an end to all sacrifices and setting up an idol of himself within the Holy of Holies of the temple (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:4). Jesus Himself warned of this coming day.

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:15-21 ESV

Three years into the seven-year period of Tribulation, the Antichrist, under the direction and power of Satan, will turn his wrath against the chosen people of God. And, as Jesus describes, it will be a time of unprecedented tribulation, like nothing the world has ever seen before. But Micah’s emphasis is on what takes place after those troubling days.  He speaks of a time when “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2 ESV). This is a reference to Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, when He will reign from the city of Jerusalem, seated on the throne of David, in fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

“Moreover, I declare to you that the Lord will build you a house. When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:10-14 ESV

While this prophecy was partially fulfilled by the reign of Solomon and his construction of the original temple, it will be fully fulfilled by Christ when He returns to earth a second time and establishes His everlasting, unending kingdom on earth. And Micah describes that kingdom as being marked by righteousness, peace, fruitfulness, and faithfulness. All due to the presence of Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore – Micah 4:3 ESV

All of this stands in stark contrast to the days in which Micah lived and the state of affairs that dominated the nation of Israel. The days were filled with apostasy and idolatry. The people of Israel were guilty of unfaithfulness and spiritual adultery. They had embraced the false gods of the nations around them and this was the reason Micah had been commissioned to bring warnings of God’s righteous judgment. But the future was going to be remarkably different.

For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever. – Micah 4:5 ESV

In the midst of all the news of pending judgment, God allowed Micah to deliver a message of tremendous joy based on His covenant faithfulness. God was not done with His rebellious people. Yes, He would punish them for their sins, but He wanted them to know that His promise to restore and bless them was unwavering.

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

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
    a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
    and uncover her foundations.
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
    all her wages shall be burned with fire,
    and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
    and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. Micah 1:2-7 ESV

Like a prosecutor in a court case, Micah is going to present damning evidence against the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. These two nations came into existence after God divided Israel as punishment for the idolatry of King Solomon.

Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did.”’ – 1 Kings 11:31-33 NLT

Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s officials and he would be used by God to lead a rebellion against the king, convincing 10 of the 12 tribes to align with him and form the northern kingdom of Israel. Solomon would maintain control over his own tribe, Judah, as well as the tribe of Benjamin. Both Solomon and Jeroboam would be followed by a succession of different kings who would rule over the two kingdoms. And the majority of these men would continue to lead the chosen people of God to serve the false gods of the Canaanite nations. This idolatry and apostasy is the basis of Micah’s message.

So, he calls all the nations of the earth to act as jurors in the trial of God’s people.

Let all the people of the world listen!
    Let the earth and everything in it hear. – Micah 1:2 NLT

And the star witness in this divine courtroom drama will be God Himself.

The Sovereign Lord is making accusations against you;
    the Lord speaks from his holy Temple. – Micah 1:2 NLT

Interestingly enough, God had predicted this moment in time. Even before the people of Israel had ever set foot in the land of promise, God had warned that they would be unfaithful to Him and worship other gods. So, He dictated the words of a song to Moses and instructed him to teach it to the people of Israel in order that they might never forget what would happen if they disobeyed and deserted Him.

“So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them. For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.” – Deuteronomy 31:19-21 NLT

Since Moses had been warned by God that his time on earth was drawing to a close, He took this lengthy “song” and gave it to Joshua, with instructions to keep it in a safe place.

“Take this Book of Instruction and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, so it may remain there as a witness against the people of Israel. – Deuteronomy 31:26 NLT

And the “Book of Instruction” had remained beside the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies of God’s temple all during the reigns of David and Solomon. Even as Micah penned the words of this book, the “song” God had given to Moses was safely ensconced in the inner sanctum of the temple, its words acting as a witness against both Israel and Judah.

Micah describes God leaving His heavenly throne room and making His way to earth, where He will provide personal testimony against His ungrateful and unfaithful people. Isaiah used similar imagery to describe God’s divine judgment of His people.

The Lord takes his place in court
    and presents his case against his people.
The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment
    on the elders and rulers of his people… – Isaiah 3:13-14 NLT

And Micah warns that God’s arrival will be anything but ordinary.

…the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place. – Micah 1:4 ESV

This imagery is intended to get the attention of the residents of Judah and Israel. Their all-powerful God, the one they had abandoned for false gods, was about to make Himself known in ways that would prove His power and guarantee their destruction. For generations, they had acted as if God did not exist or as if He was unconcerned with their behavior. They had flagrantly flaunted their idolatry in His face and gotten away with it. They had repeatedly committed spiritual adultery with no ill effects. But Micah wanted them to know that their God had run out of patience. He was leaving His throne room in heaven and descending to earth to pronounce judgment against them.

And just in case the people might wonder why God would bother to leave heaven and come all the way to earth, Micah provides them with the answer.

All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
– Micah 1:5 ESV

Micah’s reference to Israel as “Jacob” was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder of the rebellious background of the patriarch for whom they were named. The book of Genesis records the early years of Jacob, portraying him as a manipulative, scheming individual who spent years trying to do things his way, rather than trust in God’s will for his life. And it was only when Jacob came to an end of himself and decided to submit his life to God, that he received a new name and a divine promise of fruitfulness.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

By referring to the northern kingdom of Israel as “Jacob,” Micah is linking them to the rebellious years of their patriarch’s life. They had more in common with the earlier version of Jacob than they did with his post-name-change behavior.

And Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had become the epicenter of idolatry and unfaithfulness for the entire nation. The same thing was true for Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. In spite of the presence of the temple of God, the city of Jerusalem had become home to shrines and high places for a pantheon of false gods. Both of these cities had become icons for the wickedness of their respective nations.

For the people of Judah and Israel, these capital cities were representative of their wealth, power, and prestige. They were filled with gold, precious gems, beautiful buildings, and the trappings of their own success. But God was about to turn these man-made symbols of self-importance into piles of rubble and ashes.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” –
Micah 1:6-7 NLT

God wasn’t just coming down from heaven to offer testimony against Judah and Israel, He was showing up as their judge, jury, and executioner. Their fate was already sealed. God had already told them what would happen if they failed to worship Him alone. He had dictated the words of the song to Moses and they cried out from the Holy of Holies, condemning the people of God for their unfaithfulness. The Israelites may have forgotten the lyrics, but God had not.

All the symbols of Samaria’s success were about to be destroyed. The walls of the city would be toppled. Its streets would be plowed up and turned into fields. All the statues and idols erected to her many false gods would be smashed and burned. And the wealth amassed through their use of temple prostitutes cleverly disguised as “priestesses,” would become loot for the invading forces of the Assyrians.

Judgment was coming. And the Judge of the universe was leaving His judgment seat in heaven to ensure that their crimes receive the condemnation they deserve.

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

They Do Not Know

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations
    are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
    and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
12 But they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
13 Arise and thresh,
    O daughter of Zion,
for I will make your horn iron,
    and I will make your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples;
    and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. Micah 4:6-13 ESV

As we have seen, this chapter is all about the good news concerning Israel. Micah is delivering an addendum to his message that is remarkably positive when compared to all that he has told them up to this point. He is not altering God’s message of pending judgment in any way, he is simply adding a very important detail concerning God’s long-term plans for His people.

In the “latter days” of which Micah is speaking, God will gather a remnant of the people of Israel from exile all over the world and return them to the promised land. Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem sits, will become the center of the geopolitical landscape of the world. People from all over the world will make their way to Israel and its capital city, in order to learn the ways of the God of Israel.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Micah 4:2 ESV

A God-appointed ruler will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem, where he “shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away” (Micah 4:3 ESV). This king will usher in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Micah 4:3 ESV

But who is this king? And when will he arrive on the scene? We know that the nation of Israel has had no king, ever since the fall of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. To this day, they remain without a king. So, when will these latter days be fulfilled and who will be the one whom God chooses to sit on the throne of David and bring about these auspicious events?

The prophet, Zechariah gives us some insight into these last days.

Watch, for the day of the Lord is coming… – Zechariah 14:1 NLT

He warns that those days will be accompanied by yet another war waged against the people of Israel. And, as before, God will be the instigator behind that conflict.

“I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city.” – Zechariah 14:2 NLT

But Zechariah explains that this time, God will intervene on Israel’s behalf. He will send a representative to fight on behalf of His people.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:3-4 NLT

God will send His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ, back to earth a second time, but this time He will come as a conquering King, not a helpless baby in a manger. The apostle John was given a glimpse of Jesus as He returns to earth at His second coming.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

He will return to do battle with the nations of the earth and to deal with Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet. And with Christ’s arrival, He will establish Himself as the King of all the earth. Which is exactly how Zechariah describes that day.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

The prophet, Jeremiah, also provides a stirring image of this last-days event.

“In that day Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Throne of the Lord.’ All nations will come there to honor the Lord. They will no longer stubbornly follow their own evil desires. In those days the people of Judah and Israel will return together from exile in the north. They will return to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance forever.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT

And, not to be left out, Micah adds his divinely inspired insights into the latter days.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6-7 NLT

It seems quite obvious that this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be. It is a promise of God that has been recorded by the prophets of God. And whatever God says He will do, He will do.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

And God has promised to restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, reestablishing it as a formidable city but, more importantly, as the capital of His Son, the King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

But in the midst of all the good news concerning the latter days, Micah addresses those living in a less-distant time period. Verse 9 is prophetic in nature, in that it addresses a future day, but one that is much close in proximity than the end times events described in verses 1-8. Micah turns his attention to those who will be living in exile as a result of the Babylonian invasion and the fall of Jerusalem. And he addresses the desperate nature of their circumstances. Notice the stark contrast between verses 1-8 and what follows.

But why are you now screaming in terror?
    Have you no king to lead you?
Have your wise people all died?
    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth. – Micah 4:9 NLT

He goes on to describe Jerusalem’s fall and the long march of the people as they make their way to Babylon where they will live as slaves for 70 years. But he also provides a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the gloom.

But the Lord will rescue you there;
    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies. – Micah 4:10 NLT

Even this part of their story has a silver lining. The nation will fall, but God will not abandon them. He fully realizes the state of affairs in Judah.

Now many nations have gathered against you.
    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.
    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:11 NLT

God knows what is going on because He is the one behind it all. But Micah adds an important note that we often overlook. These very same nations that He will use to punish His own people have no idea that they are nothing more than tools in His hands. They are oblivious to His sovereign control over all their actions.

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan.
These nations don’t know
    that he is gathering them together
to be beaten and trampled
    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. – Micah 4:12 NLT

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had no idea that God was behind his success. And He was totally unaware that God had plans in place for his ultimate demise. The nations of the earth operate as if God does not exist, but that does not change the reality that He is in complete control of all things. The psalmist paints a vivid picture of God’s mastery over the nations and His plan to bring all mankind under the righteous rule of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:1-6 NLT

Yes, Judah was going to fall and many of its citizens would be exiled to Babylon. While there, they would have no king and they would suffer under the hand of the Babylonians. But God would one day restore them to the land of promise. And the story does not end there. Because God will also send His Son to earth a second time, with the express purpose of defeating the nations of the earth and establishing His Kingdom in Jerusalem. And with the close of chapter four, Micah returns to his message concerning those end-times events.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:12 NLT

The nations of the world do not know what God has planned. They act as if they are the ones who are in control. But God has given us a glimpse into the future. He has provided us with an outline of His plans for the latter days. And all mankind will state shocked and amazed when they see what God has in store for His chosen people and for His creation.

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

A God Worth Worshiping

1 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.
Micah 4:1-5 ESV

Chapter four features a dramatic shift in the tone and language of Micah’s prophetic message. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he moves from speaking about the coming judgment of God to the future restoration of the kingdom. It’s as if Micah was saying, “I have bad news and I have good news.” He delivered the bad news first and is now letting his audience know that there is a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over their heads.

As with all prophecies, it will be essential to establish the timing involved in Micah’s message. Has what he predicted already happened or does it remain as yet unfulfilled. It is interesting to note that the prophet Jeremiah penned an almost identical message in the book that bears his name.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
   and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

The glaring similarity between the messages of these two prophets has left commentators and scholars debating the original source of their prophetic word. Did Isaiah borrow it from Micah or was it the other way around? But if you look at Isaiah’s own words, he makes it clear that he derived his message from God.

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem – Isaiah 2:1 ESV

And Isaiah opened his book with the following explanation:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. – Isaiah 1:1 ESV

The same thing could be said of Micah. He opened his book with these words:

This is the Lord’s message that came to Micah of Moresheth during the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. – Micah 1:1 ESV

Both of these men received their messages from the same divine source, so why should we be surprised when what they have to say sounds similar. They were prophesying during the same period of time to the same generation of people living in Judah and Israel. And God’s message was consistent and cohesive.

But the primary focus of our attention should be on the content of their message. They were predicting a vastly different future for the people of God that seemed to contradict all they had been saying up until this point. For three chapters, Micah has had nothing but bad news to share. The days ahead were dark and foreboding. The coming judgment of God was going to be devastating and inescapable. And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he says, “And now for the good news!”

Micah refers to this future time period as “the latter days.” In Hebrew, it is ‘achariyth yowm and it can be translated “last days” or “end times.” This is what is often described as an eschatological reference. It has to do with the eschaton or end times and deals with those days in the distant future when God finalizes His plans for the world He has made. Virtually all of the prophets of God included messages concerning the “end times” in their writings.

“In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 38:16 ESV

Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” – Daniel 10:13-14 ESV

Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. – Hosea 3:5 ESV

Notice was the Daniel passage states: “For the vision is for days yet to come.” Now, that could be said about all prophetic messages since they all deal with future events. But what we have to understand is that some of those predictions have already taken place, while others remain as yet unfulfilled. When reading the prophetic books, we can look back over history and connect certain prophecies with actual events. We know that the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and their capital of Samaria was destroyed. We also know that the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, ransacking the capital of Jerusalem and taking tens of thousands of its citizens captive.

These events were prophesied by God and He sovereignly orchestrated their fulfillment. But what about this particular message recorded by both Micah and Isaiah? Has it taken place yet? Has it already been fulfilled? To answer those questions, we have to examine the content of the message and search the history of Israel to see if any past event accurately fulfills the prophetic promise it contains.

First of all, Micah refers to “the mountain of the house of the Lord.” This is a reference to Mount Zion, the outcropping upon which the city of Jerusalem still resides, and where the temple dedicated to God had been built. Micah describes a day when Mount Zion will be “the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship” (Micah 4:1 NLT).

At this point, one must ask the question, “Has this prophecy been fulfilled?” Is there a time in Israel’s distant or recent past when this promise of God has taken place? And the answer would be an emphatic, “No.” And the next part of the prophecy substantiates that conclusion.

People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
 – Micah 4:2 NLT

There has been no fulfillment of this prophecy. At no time in Israel’s past have we seen any such event take place. That means it remains as yet unfulfilled. So, the “latter days” must pertain to a time that lies in the future. And, as if to support that notion, Micah adds some aspects about this future time period that prove its eschatological nature.

For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between peoples
    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Micah 4:2-3 NLT

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to determine that this promise remains unfulfilled. At no time in Israel’s distant or more recent history has any part of this message taken place. Even after the people of Judah were allowed to return to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity, they never experienced anything like what is described in these verses. When Israel declared its independence as a nation on May 14, 1948, it did not see anything happen that remotely fulfilled this prophecy. In fact, the succeeding years have been filled with war, open hostility, and a growing animosity for the nation of Israel by its geographic neighbors.

We know, from our own experience, that nations have not hammered their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Wars have continued unabated since this message was first delivered to the people of Israel, and the animosity between nations has not diminished in any way, share, or form.

Yet, Micah predicts a future day when…

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,
    enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,
    for there will be nothing to fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has made this promise! – Micah 4:4 NLT

This is a divine promise guaranteed by the “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” the Lord of hosts. Which means it will take place. But the question remains: “When?” When will we see everyone living in peace and prosperity? Surely, that time is not now. But according to God’s promise, it will take place.

These verses describe a future day when everything on this planet will be radically and unalterably changed for the good. God will bring about a miraculous alteration to the geopolitical landscape of the world. It will be a time when all the world will recognize Him as the one true God. Israel will be returned to a place of prominence and power, with the Messiah, the Son of God, reigning from the throne of David and ruling over the nations of the world. And Micah uses this good news to encourage his audience to refocus their attention on the one who was going to make it happen. If this is to be Israel’s preferred future, then Micah begs them to start experiencing it now.

For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever. – Micah 4:5 ESV

God is going to one day make Israel great again. So, why not worship Him now? Micah wants his contemporaries to understand that their God is great and He has incredible plans in store for them as a nation. But they must begin to walk in His name now. They must live according to His will, behaving in ways that reflect their calling as His chosen people. For Micah, it made no sense to reject a God who was so gracious and great and who had such a remarkable future planned for them. And he is going to continue to paint a vivid portrait of Israel’s future as promised by the gracious hand of God.

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

If God Is For Us…

58 “You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
    you have redeemed my life.
59 You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
    judge my cause.
60 You have seen all their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

61 “You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
    all their plots against me.
62 The lips and thoughts of my assailants
    are against me all the day long.
63 Behold their sitting and their rising;
    I am the object of their taunts.

64 “You will repay them, O Lord,
    according to the work of their hands.
65 You will give them dullness of heart;
    your curse will be on them.
66 You will pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under your heavens, O Lord.” – Lamentations 3:58-66 ESV

Jeremiah had lived a called life, having been commissioned by God Almighty to deliver His message of repentance to the people of Judah. But Jeremiah lived what few us would consider having been a charmed life. He was a social outcast whose persistent warnings about God’s pending judgment had produced more enemies than friends.  He knew what it was like to face opposition. In fact, his entire ministry as God’s prophet had been met by hostility and hatred from the very people he had been trying to save.

He was speaking the truth of God and his own people despised him for it. They didn’t just hate the message, they loathed the messenger. And their growing animosity for Jeremiah showed up regularly and from the highest offices of the land.

At one point, God had ordered Jeremiah to make a permanent record of his messages.

“Get a scroll. Write on it everything I have told you to say about Israel, Judah, and all the other nations since I began to speak to you in the reign of Josiah until now.  Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about all the disaster I intend to bring on them, they will all stop doing the evil things they have been doing. If they do, I will forgive their sins and the wicked things they have done.” – Jeremiah 36:2-3 NLT

Once the scroll had been completed, Jeremiah instructed his secretary, Baruch, to read it aloud to the people in the temple courtyard. Eventually, the royal officials heard about the scroll and had it confiscated. The king, curious to know what it contained, had it read out loud to him. And his response speaks volumes.

As soon as Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them on the fire in the firepot. He kept doing so until the whole scroll was burned up in the fire.  Neither he nor any of his attendants showed any alarm when they heard all that had been read. Nor did they tear their clothes to show any grief or sorrow. – Jeremiah 36:23-24 NLT

No repentance. No change of heart. Instead, they decided to punish the messenger.

The officials were very angry with Jeremiah. They had him flogged and put in prison in the house of Jonathan, the royal secretary, which they had converted into a place for confining prisoners.

So Jeremiah was put in prison in a cell in the dungeon in Jonathan’s house. He was kept there for a long time. – Jeremiah 37:15-16 NLT

And this animosity toward Jeremiah did not stop with the fall of Jerusalem. While his official duties as God’s spokesman had been completed, the people of Judah saw him as the cause of all their pain and suffering. From their perspective, Jeremiah had prophesied doom and gloom and it had all taken place just as he had said. So, he was to blame.

But Jeremiah knew that God was aware of his circumstances.

“You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord…” – Lamentations 3:59 ESV

“You have seen all their vengeance, all their plots against me.” – Lamentations 3:60 ESV

“You have heard their taunts, O Lord…” – Lamentations 3:61 ESV

Jeremiah had an advocate in God. He had a powerful ally in his ongoing battle with his enemies. The opposition Jeremiah faced was real and intense. Their threats against him were constant and he found comfort in knowing that God was fully aware of all that was going on around him.

But this chapter ends on a rather surprisingly vindictive note. Jeremiah calls on God to pay back all his enemies for their treatment of him. He wants divine vengeance meted out on all those who opposed him and sought to harm him. But there is far more going on here than just the pleas of a disgruntled prophet demanding divine payback against his enemies. Jeremiah recognizes that his lot in life is directly tied to his calling as God’s prophet. His enemies are actually God’s enemies. They stand opposed to God, not Jeremiah. He was simply God’s messenger.

So, Jeremiah’s words are less a personal plea for revenge than they are a confident knowledge that God will do the right and just thing. These people could attack the messenger, but Jeremiah knew that they would one day have to answer to the one who had sent him. God would repay them for their actions.

“You will repay them, O Lord,
    according to the work of their hands.
You will give them dullness of heart;
    your curse will be on them.
You will pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under your heavens, O Lord.” – Lamentations 3:64-66 ESV

Jeremiah was living in the dark days following the destruction of Jerusalem. He was experiencing the same pain and suffering like everyone else. But his suffering was intensified by the hatred of those who held him responsible for their plight. Yet, Jeremiah placed his hope in his God. He found solace in the fact that God had his back. God had rescued him from the pit. He had freed him from the prison. He had protected him all during the days of the siege. And God was still by his side even in the darkest days of his life. Things on earth looked bleak, but God was still on His throne in heaven.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? – Romans 8:31 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

Don’t Count God Out

20 Look, O Lord, and see!

    With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb,
    the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed
    in the sanctuary of the Lord?

21 In the dust of the streets
    lie the young and the old;
my young women and my young men
    have fallen by the sword;
you have killed them in the day of your anger,
    slaughtering without pity.

22 You summoned as if to a festival day
    my terrors on every side,
and on the day of the anger of the Lord
    no one escaped or survived;
those whom I held and raised
    my enemy destroyed. – Lamentations 2:20-22 ESV

One of the things that make reading this book so difficult is trying to keep up with who is speaking at any given time. It can get confusing. We have already seen how Jeremiah allows the city of Jerusalem to voice its concerns, personifying the feelings of the people of Judah. But just as quickly, Jeremiah introduces his own perspective on the state of affairs. He is not an indifferent or disinterested party to all that is going on. He cared deeply about the people of Judah and had spent years begging them to repent and return to the Lord. On more than one occasion, Jeremiah had seen his task as a prophet of God to be overwhelming and disheartening. His words had fallen on deaf ears, with no one responding to his message.

My grief is beyond healing;
    my heart is broken.
Listen to the weeping of my people;
    it can be heard all across the land.
“Has the Lord abandoned Jerusalem?” the people ask.
    “Is her King no longer there?” – Jeremiah 8:18-19 NLT

I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief.
Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people? – Jeremiah 8:21-22 NLT

And earlier in chapter two of Lamentations, Jeremiah had given voice to his sorrow over Judah’s sorrowful condition.

What can I say for you, to what compare you,
    O daughter of Jerusalem?
What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you,
    O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea;
    who can heal you? – Lamentations 2:13 ESV

But in verse 20, there is a noticeable shift in the tone. In the previous three verses, Jeremiah had told the people that the fall of Judah had been the work of God. He had finally fulfilled His promise to bring judgment upon them for their rebellion against Him. And, as a result, Jeremiah begged the people of Judah to call out to God in repentance.

Cry aloud before the Lord,
    O walls of beautiful Jerusalem!
Let your tears flow like a river
    day and night.
Give yourselves no rest;
    give your eyes no relief. – Lamentations 2:18 NLT

But in verse 20 the dialogue takes on a more accusatory tone. The city of Jerusalem is once again pointing its finger at God and demanding answers to a series of condemning questions:

With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?

These words are filled with incredulity. The people of Judah can’t believe that their God would allow these kinds of atrocities to happen. Things had gotten so bad in Jerusalem that the people had been relegated to eating their own children just to survive. How could God allow His chosen people to suffer such degradation? Why would He permit the Babylonians to slaughter priests and prophets in His very own sanctuary? This was all inconceivable and unacceptable. Or was it?

God had told the people of Judah that their sinful behavior was going to result in judgment. There would be serious consequences if they continued to resist His calls to repentance. And not even the temple would save them from the wrath of God.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 NLT

But Jerusalem remains unbowed and unbroken. The people of Judah have learned nothing from their suffering. In fact, they cast all the blame on God and refuse to take any responsibility for their role in their own demise. The “innocents” lie in the streets – the young and the old, the young women and the young men. And the city points its finger in the face of God, shouting, “…you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity” (Lamentations 2:21 ESV).

This is a dangerous accusation. In essence, they are declaring God to be without compassion. He responded with unmitigated and uncontrolled anger. He was uncaring and unsympathetic, displaying a perverse sense of pleasure from the senseless slaughter of the young and the old. But this conclusion displays a woefully inaccurate understanding of God. God takes no delight in the punishment of the wicked. In fact, the prophet Ezekiel records God’s thoughts on the matter.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT

God cared about the people of Judah and longed to restore them to a right relationship with Himself. But He could not overlook their rebellion forever. As a holy and righteous God, He was obligated by His own nature to deal with the rampant wickedness of His chosen people. But He had been extremely patient, holding off His judgment for generations, and providing His people with ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. Why? Because He is a compassionate and merciful God.

The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. – Psalm 103:8

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. – Psalm 116:5 BSB

Yes, the people of Judah had suffered greatly. Their capital city had been destroyed. Many of their fellow citizens had been slaughtered or taken captive. Those who remained were left to endure lives of abject poverty and persecution. But God had not forgotten them. He had not abandoned them. And in the very next chapter, Jeremiah will speak up again, declaring the unwavering faithfulness of God even in the midst of pain and sorrow.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:22-24 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

Who Can Heal You?

10 The elders of the daughter of Zion
    sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
    and put on sackcloth;
the young women of Jerusalem
    have bowed their heads to the ground.

11 My eyes are spent with weeping;
    my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out to the ground
    because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
because infants and babies faint
    in the streets of the city.

12 They cry to their mothers,
    “Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like a wounded man
    in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out
    on their mothers’ bosom.

13 What can I say for you, to what compare you,
    O daughter of Jerusalem?
What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you,
    O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea;
    who can heal you?

14 Your prophets have seen for you
    false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
    to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
    that are false and misleading.

15 All who pass along the way
    clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
    at the daughter of Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
    the perfection of beauty,
    the joy of all the earth?”

16 All your enemies
    rail against you;
they hiss, they gnash their teeth,
    they cry: “We have swallowed her!
Ah, this is the day we longed for;
    now we have it; we see it!”

17 The Lord has done what he purposed;
    he has carried out his word,
which he commanded long ago;
    he has thrown down without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you
    and exalted the might of your foes.

18 Their heart cried to the Lord.
    O wall of the daughter of Zion,
let tears stream down like a torrent
    day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
    your eyes no respite!

19 “Arise, cry out in the night,
    at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
    before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
    for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
    at the head of every street.” – Lamentations 2:10-19 ESV

The defeat and destruction of Jerusalem had left those who remained behind in a state of disbelief and despair. The few elders of the city who had not been taken captive were left to deal with the devastation, trying to restore some sense of order in the midst of the chaos.

But, according to Jeremiah, all they could do was “sit on the ground in silence” (Lamentations 2:10 ESV). They were stunned and staggered by the size of the task ahead of them. They had no king. And because their entire army had been demolished and disbanded by the Babylonians, they had no source of protection. The city was in shambles and the economy was in a hopeless state of ruin. So, these men did the only thing they could do: They mourned.

But these senior statesmen were not alone in their despair. Jeremiah describes the young women of the city as having “bowed their heads to the ground” (Lamentations 2:10 ESV). They express shame over their condition. It is likely that many of them had been widowed as a result of the way. Their husbands had been slaughtered by the Babylonians or taken captive. The unmarried women would have also felt the shame of knowing they might never find a husband. The number of eligible bachelors had dropped precipitously as a result of the war.

But there was another group of women whose shame was related to the treatment they had received at the hands of the Babylonian soldiers. Thousands of women had been raped and ravaged by the invading forces of Nebuchadnezzar. And those not taken captive were left to mourn the loss of their virginity and any hope of having a husband and a family.

And in the midst of this dark and depressing scene, the prophet Jeremiah speaks up, revealing the state of his own heart as he observes the pain and suffering all around him.

I have cried until the tears no longer come;
    my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony
    as I see the desperate plight of my people.
Little children and tiny babies
    are fainting and dying in the streets. – Lamentations 2:11 NLT

It would have been easy for Jeremiah to gloat over the plight of the people of Judah. After all, he had spent years of his life attempting to warn them that all of this was going to happen. But they had repeatedly refused to listen to him. In fact, they had treated Jeremiah like a social pariah, rejecting his message and ridiculing his calling as a prophet of God. And now that they were experiencing the judgment Jeremiah had warned about, he was probably tempted to tell them, “I told you so!” But instead, he wept until he had no more tears to shed.

Jeremiah took no delight in Judah’s destruction. He found no joy in watching children starve to death from a lack of food. The level of suffering among the people was incomparable and far beyond Jeremiah’s capacity to do anything about it. He despairingly asks, “how can I comfort you? For your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” (Lamentations 2:13 NLT).

You can sense his anguish and desperation. Even as a prophet of God, he was having a difficult time seeing any silver lining on this dark cloud. And that’s because the message he had been given by God to deliver to the people of Judah had been limited in scope. It only dealt with the coming judgment of God, but did not reveal what would happen afterwards.

“Yes,” the Lord said, “for terror from the north will boil out on the people of this land. Listen! I am calling the armies of the kingdoms of the north to come to Jerusalem. I, the Lord, have spoken!

“They will set their thrones
    at the gates of the city.
They will attack its walls
    and all the other towns of Judah.
I will pronounce judgment
    on my people for all their evil—
for deserting me and burning incense to other gods.
    Yes, they worship idols made with their own hands!” – Jeremiah 1:14-16 NLT

And now that the words he had spoken had come to pass, Jeremiah was left to ponder what was to happen next. He recalled with a sense of sadness and frustration, the role the false prophets had played during the days leading up to the fall of Judah. These men had chosen to contradict his words, offering the people their own version of the truth.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

They had lied, telling the people what they wanted to hear rather than supporting Jeremiah’s message of repentance. And what made matters worse is that the people chose to listen to the wrong messengers.

A horrible and shocking thing
    has happened in this land—
the prophets give false prophecies,
    and the priests rule with an iron hand.
Worse yet, my people like it that way!
    But what will you do when the end comes? – Jeremiah 5:30-31 NLT

All the while Jeremiah had been warning of God’s pending judgment, the leaders of Judah had been painting a rosy picture, fueled by their own selfish interests and designed to maintain the status quo. These men didn’t want the people to repent or reform because it would have impacted their bottom line.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

And suddenly, Jeremiah turns his attention to the enemies of Judah, all those surrounding nations who were gloating over their demise. He portrays Judah’s enemies as a bunch of bragging bullies who are each claiming to have played a part in their fall.

“We have destroyed her at last!
    We have long waited for this day,
    and it is finally here!” – Lamentations 2:16 NLT

But Jeremiah makes it clear that no one can take credit for Judah’s destruction except God.

But it is the Lord who did just as he planned.
    He has fulfilled the promises of disaster
    he made long ago.
He has destroyed Jerusalem without mercy.
    He has caused her enemies to gloat over her
    and has given them power over her. – Lamentations 2:17 NLT

Not even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, could boast over his role in Judah’s demise. He had been nothing more than an instrument in the hands of God. And Jeremiah had prophesied that this “great army” would one day show up and bring the judgment of God against Judah and the city of Jerusalem.

This is what the Lord says:
“Look! A great army coming from the north!
    A great nation is rising against you from far-off lands.
They are armed with bows and spears.
    They are cruel and show no mercy.
They sound like a roaring sea
    as they ride forward on horses.
They are coming in battle formation,
    planning to destroy you, beautiful Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 6:22-23 NLT

And now that the damage had been done, Jeremiah calls the people of Judah to “Cry aloud before the Lord” and to “Let your tears flow like a river day and night” (Lamentations 2:18 NLT). He called on them to show true signs of repentance, lifting up their voices God and pleading with Him to show mercy.

Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him in prayer,
    pleading for your children – Lamentations 2:19 NLT

The days were dark. The circumstances were bleak. But the same God who had brought judgment could bring restoration. When Jeremiah had asked, “who can heal you?”, it had been a rhetorical question. And the answer was, “God.” He alone could heal them. He could fully restore them. But it was going to take a change of heart among the people of Judah. They were going to have to change their ways.

“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
    But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ – Jeremiah 6:16 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

The Blame Game

1 How the Lord in his anger
    has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!
He has cast down from heaven to earth
    the splendor of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.

The Lord has swallowed up without mercy
    all the habitations of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
    the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
    the kingdom and its rulers.

He has cut down in fierce anger
    all the might of Israel;
he has withdrawn from them his right hand
    in the face of the enemy;
he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob,
    consuming all around.

He has bent his bow like an enemy,
    with his right hand set like a foe;
and he has killed all who were delightful in our eyes
    in the tent of the daughter of Zion;
he has poured out his fury like fire.

The Lord has become like an enemy;
    he has swallowed up Israel;
he has swallowed up all its palaces;
    he has laid in ruins its strongholds,
and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah
    mourning and lamentation.” – Lamentations 2:1-5 ESV

Chapter one ended with the admission, “my groans are many, and my heart is faint” (Lamentations 1:22 ESV). The nation of Judah is portrayed as weak, demoralized, and helpless. The city of Jerusalem, serving as a representative for the entire nation, lies in a state of ruins, a victim of the years-long Babylonian siege that had ended with the city’s complete destruction.

Jeremiah, penning the words of this dirge-like poem, expresses the nation’s acknowledgment of God’s role in their fall.

“…you have punished me for all my sins.” – Lamentations 1:11 NLT

But their admission of guilt is missing something: A willingness to repent. At no point have we heard them express their desire to return to the Lord and renew their covenant commitment to Him. In fact, chapter two opens up with the nation pointing a finger of blame on God, casting Him as an angry deity who they view as an enemy and not as their Heavenly Father.

“How the Lord in his anger
    has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!
He has cast down from heaven to earth
    the splendor of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.” – Lamentations 2:1 ESV

This verse is filled with accusations against God. In His anger, He destroyed the once-beautiful city of Jerusalem. In essence, they are saying that God let His emotions get away with Him and in a fit of uncontrolled rage, He destroyed the very temple Solomon had built as a dwelling place for the Almighty.

But this portrayal of God as a deity with anger-control issues is inaccurate. It is a one-sided view of God based on the perspective of those who had been on the receiving end of His judgment. Unhappy with their circumstances, they attempted to blame their predicament on the anger of God.

Yet, God had warned them that this would happen. When Solomon had held a ceremony to dedicate the newly completed temple, God had responded with the following words of warning:

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’” – 1 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

Was God angry with Judah? Yes, but His anger was justified and His actions were not the result of uncontrolled rage. He was doing exactly what He said He would do if the people of Judah abandoned Him. And they had.

God’s destruction of the temple was symbolic. It was to have been the place where His glory dwelt. It was intended to symbolize His honor and to be a reminder of His presence among them. But through their persistent pursuit of idolatry, they had relegated the temple to second-class status, having replaced the glory of God with golden statues of false gods. The kings of Judah had been so arrogant that they had set up idols in the temple that was intended to honor the name of Yahweh.

But from the perspective of the people of Judah, God’s anger appeared unjustified and over-the-top. And then, they accuse Him of acting without mercy.

The Lord has swallowed up without mercy
    all the habitations of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
    the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
    the kingdom and its rulers.”
– Lamentations 2:2 ESV

They are much more concerned about the former glory of their kingdom than they are about the damage they had done to the glory of God. They accuse God of being merciless in His destruction of their land and its inhabitants. But the question is, did they deserve His mercy? What had they done that would have justified God showing them compassion or sparing them for their sins against Him?

God had been merciful and compassionate to the people of Judah for centuries. In the face of their persistent rebellion against them, He had repeatedly spared them from destruction. He had replaced their bad kings with good kings. He had given them victories they did not deserve over enemies greater in strength and numbers. He had repeatedly spared them from harm. But God will not allow His people to treat Him as the proverbial doormat, trampling His glory while at the same time demanding His grace. The prophet, Nahum, describes God as being incredibly patient and slow to anger, but He will not tolerate sin forever.

The Lord is a jealous God,
    filled with vengeance and rage.
He takes revenge on all who oppose him
    and continues to rage against his enemies!
The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great,
    and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. – Nahum 1:2-3 NLT

But once again, notice how Jeremiah portrays the people of Judah as a disgruntled, finger-pointing mob who refuse to admit their culpability in all that they have suffered. They describe God as an all-consuming fire, an enemy with a bow, and a mass murderer who “has killed all who were delightful in our eyes” (Lamentations 2:4 ESV).

They view God as having “swallowed up” Israel and its palaces. The Hebrew word is bala` and it conjures the image of someone who devours his food greedily and eagerly. It portrays God as a glutton who can’t control himself. But nothing could be further from the truth. God’s destruction of Judah, the capital city of Jerusalem, and the temple that bore His name were all part of the judgment He had warned would come. His response had not been a knee-jerk reaction or out-of-control response to an unexpected turn of events. As the sovereign, omniscient God of the universe, He had known about this day from before the foundation of the world. And while their perspective of God was less-than-flattering, He stands as fully justified and completely righteous in all that He does to punish them for their sins.

The people of Judah were devastated by their circumstances and rightfully so. Their losses had been great. The destruction of their cities and their nation had been substantial and would leave them in a state of poverty and weakness for generations to come. They would never experience the glory days of David and Solomon again. They would go centuries without a king or an army to protect them. For 70 long years, many of their fellow citizens would languish in captivity in Babylon. And those who remained in Judah would suffer the constant harassment of their enemies, the blight of poverty, the stigma of defeat, and the absence of God’s presence.

But God will not always be angry with His people. The mercy they longed for would day come. But it would be on God’s terms and according to His timing. It will require a spirit of contrition and humility on the part of His people. It will demand that they repent of their sins and return to Him in faithfulness. As the prophet Isaiah predicted, the day would come when God restores His people, graciously and mercifully.

God says, “Rebuild the road!
Clear away the rocks and stones
so my people can return from captivity.”
The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.
For I will not fight against you forever;
I will not always be angry.” – Isaiah 57:14-16 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

Free to Choose

1 How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
    they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile because of affliction
    and hard servitude;
she dwells now among the nations,
    but finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
    in the midst of her distress. – Lamentations 1:1-3 ESV

Like the book of Job, Lamentations deals with the theology of suffering, but from a national, rather than a personal perspective. Written as poetry, Lamentations is a dirge, a song of mourning commemorating the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the desolation of Judah. But the book is far more than a reciting of the sad state of affairs in Judah. It is a theological treatise on God’s justice, love, and sovereignty.

The seeming contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are on display throughout the pages of Lamentations, and they are never fully resolved. Even at the close of the book, the unavoidable and inexplicable tension between these two truths remains.

The people of Israel had been given a choice by God. He had made a bilateral covenant with them that spelled out His expectations regarding their behavior. If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they chose to disobey, the would experience the consequences, in the form of curses. The blessings and the curses had been covered in detail in the book of Deuteronomy.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The choice had been theirs. But God had made sure that the logical choice would be a clear and compelling one. There should have been no confusion or debate. God had promised that obedience to His commands would be accompanied by the benefit of His blessings on their cities, fields, flocks, agriculture, families, military exploits, business ventures, physical health, and financial prospects. They would enjoy status as “a people holy to himself” (Deuteronomy 28:9 ESV). And God assured them that this unique distinction would be accompanied by some significant implications:

all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you.” – Deuteronomy 28:10 NLT

But what if they chose to disobey God? What would happen then? God had made that outcome painfully clear. Everything He had promised to bless would be cursed.

“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. – Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV

Their crops, cities, families, flocks, and fortunes would be cursed because God would remove His hand of protection and provision. If they chose to live in ways that were contrary and contradictory to God’s plans for His chosen people, they would experience the dire consequences. But again, the choice had been theirs to make. And we know from the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, that they ultimately chose to live in disobedience to God. They proved unfaithful to Him, regularly rejecting His will for their own. And while God had warned them repeatedly that destruction was coming unless they repented and returned to Him, they rejected the words of the prophets and followed the desires of their hearts.

A pattern of disobedience and unfaithfulness marked the history of God’s people. And it eventually resulted in the split of the kingdom, resulting in the nation of Israel in the north, and the nation of Judah in the south. And in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and destroyed by the Assyrians just as God had warned. And while the southern kingdom of Judah had watched the fall of its northern neighbor, they learned nothing from the experience. Because in 586 B.C., they would experience a similar fate, conquered by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

And here, in the opening verses of Lamentations, we read the somber words describing the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem, the once flourishing capital of Judah. Jeremiah describes the city as a veritable ghost town. Its once-bustling streets are empty, its houses and buildings destroyed. The former glory of the temple has been reduced to rubble and the gates and walls of the city have been demolished. The book of 2 Kings describes the extent of the devastation.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem.  And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. – 2 Kings 25:8-12 ESV

Jeremiah describes the fallen city of Jerusalem as a princess who has fallen on hard times. Formerly married and accustomed to great wealth and privilege, she finds herself widowed and reduced to a state of abject poverty. Her fortunes have been drastically and dramatically altered. Having formerly enjoyed the benefits of royal sovereignty, she is now reduced to a state of slavery.

But while her fate may leave us feeling sorry for her, it is not undeserved. Jeremiah goes on to describe Jerusalem as an unfaithful wife. She cries but finds no one to comfort her, in spite of her long list of lovers. Those whom she once considered her friends have ended up abandoning and turning against her. And in the book that bears his name, Jeremiah had warned Judah that all of this was going to happen, long before it did.

And you, Zion, city doomed to destruction,
you accomplish nothing by wearing a beautiful dress,
decking yourself out in jewels of gold,
and putting on eye shadow!
You are making yourself beautiful for nothing.
Your lovers spurn you.
They want to kill you. – Jeremiah 4:30 NET

Judah had made a habit of making alliances with other nations, seeking safety and security through treaties and military pacts, rather than trusting in God. When God had warned that the Babylonians were coming, the leaders of Judah had sought to stay off destruction through partnerships with pagan nations that were in direct violation of God’s will. But these “friends” would prove unfaithful and incapable of delivering Judah from the hands of the Babylonians.

Verse three paints a stark contrast between God’s preferred future for Judah and the reality of their current circumstances. As God’s chosen people, they had been given the land of Canaan as their inheritance. It was a rich and abundant land, filled with tangible expressions of God’s love in the form of orchards, vineyards, fields of grain, and abundant sources of water. They had lived in homes they had not built located in cities they had not constructed. They had enjoyed safety and security from their enemies provided by the hand of God. But now, Judah had “been led away into captivity, oppressed with cruel slavery” (Lamentations 1:3 NLT).

Instead of enjoying the peace and rest of the promised land, the people of God were experiencing the pain and suffering of exile in the land of Babylon. God had promised them that if they would only remain faithful to Him, He would ensure that they remained at the top of the food chain.

“…the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom.“ – Deuteronomy 28:13 NLT

But Jeremiah reveals that their choice to disobey God had produced a far different outcome.

She lives among foreign nations
    and has no place of rest.
Her enemies have chased her down,
    and she has nowhere to turn. – Lamentations 1:3 NLT

The people of Judah had made a choice, and now there were reaping the consequences of that choice. God had warned them, but they had refused to listen. He had pleaded with them repeatedly to repent, but they had rejected those calls. They had not acted out of ignorance, but out of pride and stubbornness. They had chosen to live according to their own ways, living in keeping with their own selfish agendas. And now, they were experiencing the error of their ways.

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