Truth-Tellers Vs Ear-Ticklers

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. – Micah 3:5-8 ESV

In these verses, you can almost sense Micah’s anger as he addresses his adversaries – those individuals who had chosen to deliver a different message to the people of Judah. Micah’s job was hard enough without having to deal with the constant presence of those who contradicted his words by offering the people false promises of hope. These men were responsible for the attitude of arrogant pride that pervaded the nation of Judah. They were willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear– in return for personal gain and popularity. But their attempts to paint a rosy picture of the future was in direct conflict with the message God had given Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets.

And while their message that all would be well in Judah won them plenty of friends and made Micah persona non grata in the community, they were not speaking for God.

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

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
14 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

These men were using their perceived position as prophets of God for personal gain. Micah accuses them of telling people what they wanted to hear as long as they got something in return.

You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. – Micah 3:5 NLT

They didn’t care about the well-being of the people and they didn’t speak for God. They were fabricating tales designed to make people feel good. Rather than calling the people to repentance, they were encouraging them to continue doing the very things that God had promised to judge. And the people were drawn to these false prophets with their pleasant-sounding, ear-tickling lies disguised as messages from God.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy to expect this same kind of behavior in his day. Wherever and whenever the people of God gather, they will attract charlatans and frauds posing as pastors, teachers, and prophets of God.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

And the primary danger of these posers and fakers is that their message is always designed to appeal to the sinful nature of men. Rather than convict of sin, they will encourage compromise with the world. Instead of calling God’s people to repentance, they will lead them into further sin, by promoting and condoning behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will.

But while these false prophets will always find a ready and willing audience, they will also discover that God stands opposed to all that they do. Deeming themselves to be shepherds of God’s sheep, the Great Shepherd was going to repay them for the damage they had done to His flock.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD.

Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.” – Jeremiah 23:1-12 NLT

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. – Ezekiel 34:9-10 NLT

Micah has strong words for those who were misleading the sheep of Judah. And, addressing their claim to be speaking on behalf of God, he warns that their days of prophecy and divination were coming to an end. Micah knew that he was speaking for God and that all the judgments he had been warning about were going to take place. When they did, these false prophets would themselves plunged into the darkness of ignorance, unable to explain away the suffering and sorrow taking place all around them.

When the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem finally came, these false prophets would be exposed for what they really were: Liars. Their 15-minutes of fame would come to an abrupt and painful end. It will be difficult to sell a message of “peace” and “all will be well” when the Babylonians are destroying your city and taking your friends and neighbors captive.

Anyone can claim to speak for God but, ultimately, they will have to answer to Him for all that they have said on His behalf and in His name. No matter how attractive their message may have been and despite the number of people it may have fooled, God will be the one who repays them for the lies they have spread in His name.

The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God. – Micah 3:6-7 NLT

But Micah boldly proclaims his confidence in who he is and in all that he has said.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

As a messenger of God, Micah had the full backing and support of the Spirit God. His message, while unappealing and unpopular, was true. When Micah spoke, he did so with God’s blessing. His message was just and right because it came from the lips of God Himself. He could speak confidently and powerfully, boldly declaring the sins of the people of Judah, even when they rejected his words and resisted his efforts.

They didn’t have to listen to him, but it would be in their best interest if they did. They could continue to pay the false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, but it would prove to be a poor investment. They could deny the warnings of Micah and refuse to believe that judgment was coming, but it wouldn’t change a thing. The truth of God is not always easy to hear. His condemnation of our sin and His call to repentance is intended to bring about conviction and to promote confession. But our sin natures inflate our pride by encouraging a belief in our own self-righteousness. We refuse to believe we’re as bad as God says we are. And so, we seek out teachers, preachers, authors, and speakers who will promote and encourage our sense of self-worth and assuage any feelings of guilt or conviction we may be feeling.

But self-deceit and false teaching will never produce fruit in keeping with true repentance (Matthew 3:8). Trying to convince yourself that you’re inherently good and surrounding yourself with those who will support that conclusion will only lead to disappointment. That’s why the people of God need to seek out those who will speak the truth of God boldly and unapologetically – men and women who share the conviction of Micah and who stand side-by-side with the apostle Paul in his conviction to preach the gospel faithfully, regardless of the cost.

Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 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

Remember, Restore, and Renew!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Daughters. Two Destinies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denial Won’t Stop the Inevitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Is Ready When You Are

41 Let us lift up our hearts and hands
    to God in heaven:
42 “We have transgressed and rebelled,
    and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
    killing without pity;
44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can pass through.
45 You have made us scum and garbage
    among the peoples.

46 “All our enemies
    open their mouths against us;
47 panic and pitfall have come upon us,
    devastation and destruction;
48 my eyes flow with rivers of tears
    because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.

49 “My eyes will flow without ceasing,
    without respite,
50 until the Lord from heaven
    looks down and sees;
51 my eyes cause me grief
    at the fate of all the daughters of my city.

52 “I have been hunted like a bird
    by those who were my enemies without cause;
53 they flung me alive into the pit
    and cast stones on me;
54 water closed over my head;
    I said, ‘I am lost.’

55 “I called on your name, O Lord,
    from the depths of the pit;
56 you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
    your ear to my cry for help!’
57 You came near when I called on you;
    you said, ‘Do not fear!’”Lamentations 3:41-57 ESV

In these verses, we have recorded a powerful prayer of intercession, as the prophet of God models for the suffering citizens of Judah what true repentance must look like. He begs them to take stock of their circumstances and learn the lesson God is attempting to teach them. It is not too late. But they are going to have to take ownership for their actions. Complaining over their condition must be replaced with confession for their sins. And Jeremiah walks them through the painful, yet necessary process of returning to the Lord with humble and contrite hearts.

First, they must admit their guilt.

We have transgressed and rebelled,
    and you have not forgiven. – Lamentations 3:42 ESV

They were in the midst of the furnace of God’s judgment and there was no sign of relief in sight. It was as if God had vacated the premises and left them to fend for themselves. Even their prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling and return to them unheard and unanswered. Their conditions were abysmal and any hope of rescue seemed unlikely. Things were so bad in Judah that their neighbors considered to be “scum and garbage.” Those two words are very graphic, comparing the condition of the people of God to dung or refuse. Nobody had it as bad as the people of Judah.

And Jeremiah puts their feelings of despair into words: “We are filled with fear, for we are trapped, devastated, and ruined” (Lamentations 3:47 NLT). This brutal assessment of their condition was a vital part of the repentance process. They could not afford to treat their circumstances lightly or to wrongly assume that “this too shall pass.” It was essential that they come to grips with the devastating reality of their condition and the true cause behind it: Their sin.

Their suffering was directly tied to their willful rebellion against God. And all the innocent lives that had been lost in Judah could be laid at their doorstep. And Jeremiah expresses his deep sorrow and regret over all those who had died unnecessarily as a result of Judah’s stubborn resistance to God’s call to repentance.

My tears flow endlessly;
    they will not stop
until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
My heart is breaking
    over the fate of all the women of Jerusalem. – Lamentations 3:49-51 NLT

Jeremiah’s grief is not self-centered or focused on his own pain and suffering. He expresses his deep heartache over all those whose lives have been dragged down the path of sin and forced to suffer its consequences.

As a prophet of God, Jeremiah was well-acquainted with suffering. He knew from first-hand experience what it was like to confront the prospect of death, even while innocent of any wrong-doing. He describes a point in time in which he had been thrown in a pit by his enemies and left to consider an untimely end.

My enemies, whom I have never harmed,
    hunted me down like a bird.
They threw me into a pit
    and dropped stones on me.
The water rose over my head,
    and I cried out, “This is the end!” – Lamentations 3:52-54 NLT

This event is recorded in Jeremiah 38:6.

So the officials took Jeremiah and put him in the cistern of Malkijah, one of the royal princes, that was in the courtyard of the guardhouse. There was no water in the cistern, only mud. So when they lowered Jeremiah into the cistern with ropes he sank in the mud.

This personal experience had left a lasting impact on Jeremiah. He describes how he had prayed from the bottom of that cistern, begging God to rescue him.

But I called on your name, Lord,
    from deep within the pit.
You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading!
    Hear my cry for help!”
Yes, you came when I called;
    you told me, “Do not fear.” – Lamentations 3:55-57 NLT

During one of the darkest moments of his life, Jeremiah had called out to God from the pit and God had graciously answered, telling His servant, “Do not fear.” Trapped in darkness, mired in the mud, and left for dead, Jeremiah called on His God. And that is exactly what he wants the people of Judah to do. Yes, their circumstances were bleak. Things couldn’t have been any worse for them. But all they had to do was call on the name of the Lord.

The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
    he is filled with kindness.
The Lord is close to all who call on him,
    yes, to all who call on him in truth. – Psalm 145:17-18 NLT

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. – Psalm 46:1 NLT

But did the people of Judah believe that truth? Were they willing to trust in the righteousness of God and place their hope in His goodness and grace? They were in trouble, but their God was bigger than their greatest problem. He had brought judgment upon them, but He was more than willing to restore them if they would only confess their sin and cry out for His help.

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

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

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

The Good, the Bad, and God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Will Hope In Him

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men. – Lamentations 3:19-33 ESV

Jeremiah was not afraid to tell God how he was feeling. And one of the reasons he felt comfortable sharing his heart with God is because he knew how much God cared for him. He could dare to bare his soul because he believed that his Heavenly Father was already aware of his plight and was the only source of hope he had left. There was no king in Israel he could turn to for help. The army had been destroyed. The capital lay in ruins. Even the temple of God was nothing but a smoldering pile of rubble. And as Jeremiah surveyed his surroundings and evaluated his circumstances, the only thing he had left was his relationship with God.

Jeremiah’s mood was dark and he was having a difficult time accepting all that had happened. When he looked around him he saw nothing that could put a positive spin on his circumstances. Happy thoughts were hard to come by. Perseverance was in short supply. And his hope was dwindling fast.

I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.”  – Lamentations 3:17-18 ESV

He was beginning to doubt God. The pressing problems of life were taking a toll on his faith. This prophet of God was allowing the circumstances of life to determine his perspective about God. But he caught himself. He realigned his thoughts and refocused his attention on what he knew to be true about God, and his hope was restored.

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope… – Lamentations 3:21 ESV

And what was it that Jeremiah called to mind? The unwavering, never-ceasing love of the Lord.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

In the midst of all the uncertainty surrounding him, Jeremiah found hope in the certainty of God’s love. With all the change that had happened in Judah, Jeremiah forced himself to focus on the one thing that would consistently remain the same: The faithful love of the Lord.

All that had happened in Judah was not to be taken as a sign that God no longer loved them. The judgment they had experienced had been an expression of God’s love for them. He had been lovingly correcting them.

“My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:6-7 NLT

Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good. – Deuteronomy 8:5 NLT

But when you’re on the receiving end of God’s judgment, it is difficult to see it as loving and good. It is painful and unpleasant. It appears to be unkind and unnecessary. But the author of Hebrews would have us remember that even human fathers lovingly discipline their children. So, how much more so must our Heavenly Father discipline those whom He calls His own?

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

For Jeremiah, his hope was based on the unchanging nature of God. The love of God never ceases. His capacity to show mercy is endless. His mercies show up every day just like the morning sun. His faithfulness is great – which means it is beyond measure, limitless, totally sufficient and will never run out. The presence of problems was not to be seen as proof of the absence of God’s faithfulness. He was the covenant-keeping God who always fulfills His promises. And while things looked bleak in Judah, God had not abandoned His people or His prophet.

And Jeremiah, as much to himself as to the people around him, points out the key to thriving under the loving discipline of God.

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.
And it is good for people to submit at an early age
    to the yoke of his discipline… – Lamentations 3:25-27 NLT

Yes, the days were dark. The conditions in Judah were bleak and unpleasant. But God was loving, gracious, kind, and compassionate. He had a purpose behind all the pain. Their suffering was intended to act as a divine wakeup call, alerting the people of Judah to the seriousness of their sin and their need for God’s salvation.

God had removed every prop upon which they had built their lives. Their human king and his earthly kingdom had been destroyed. Their prophets and priests, intended to be the spokesmen for God, had been silenced. The sacrificial system, meant to provide atonement for sin, had been eliminated. Their economy was shot. Their homes had been demolished. Their neighbors had been taken captive. And their prospects for the future were bleak. But God was still there. And that’s why Jeremiah said, “there may yet be hope” (Lamentations 3:29 ESV).

But before they could hope to be rescued by God, they were going to have to accept the discipline of God. They were going to have to willingly submit to His loving instruction. To stubbornly resist His discipline would do little more than prolong the pain. They had a lesson to learn and God would patiently persist until they were as willing to accept His instruction as they were His salvation.

And Jeremiah reminds his people that God’s steadfast love and unwavering faithfulness will one day result in their restoration to a right relationship with Him.

For no one is abandoned
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
    because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people
    or causing them sorrow. – Lamentations 3:31-33 NLT

Despite the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the nation of Judah, God was not done with them. He had plans in place that would result in their future blessing. His love had not run out. His mercies had not been tapped out. This whole state of affairs was all part of God’s divine plan and He had already told them how it was going to work out.

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” – Jeremiah 29:10-13 NLT

And this is what led Jeremiah to say, “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”

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

Running On Empty

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
    under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
    again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
    he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
    like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
    a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
    he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
    as a target for his arrow.

13 He drove into my kidneys
    the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
    the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
    he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
    and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:1-18 ESV

The life of a prophet of God was not an easy one. These men had been hand-selected by God and given the unenviable task of delivering His message of pending judgment to His people. From a human perspective, it would appear that each of the prophets failed at their job – if success is measured by the number of people who heard their message and repented. The sad reality is that while everyone heard the message of the prophets, no one heeded their call. And God had warned Jeremiah that his experience would be the same as every other prophet of God. He was just the latest in a long line of men who had been tasked with delivering God’s call to repent or suffer the consequences.

“From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:25-27 NLT

And Jeremiah knew what it was like to be the social pariah, unwelcome and even despised for his role as God’s messenger.

“What sorrow is mine, my mother.
    Oh, that I had died at birth!
    I am hated everywhere I go.
I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

Jeremiah was in a no-win situation. His message of doom and gloom was unpopular with the people, but as a prophet of God, he was obligated to speak the truth of God. And it certainly didn’t help his cause that there were plenty of others who claimed to be prophets whose messages were much more positive and appealing. They were contradicting Jeremiah’s gloomy forecast, telling the people that all would be well. There had nothing to worry about. But God would have the last say in the matter.

“These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! – Jeremiah 14:14-15 NLT

And God had fulfilled that promise. But here was Jeremiah, the faithful prophet, expressing his deep sorrow over his lot in life. Not only had he been required to spend years delivering God’s message of the judgment to come, but he had also been forced to live through it just like everyone else. He had not been spared the pain and suffering. He had not been given an exemption from God or been removed to a safe place while all the devastation and destruction took place. He had been right in the middle of it.

“I am the one who has seen the afflictions
    that come from the rod of the Lord’s anger.” – Lamentations 3:1 NLT

And all that he had witnessed had left a lasting impression on him. He describes himself as being besieged by “bitterness and tribulation.” His body was wasting away. His appetite was shot. He even felt like his prayers never made it past the ceiling. All in all, Jeremiah was in a dark place. Everything he had predicted had come to pass, but he found no satisfaction in knowing he had been right. He grieved over the state of his people. He mourned the loss of so many lives.

But the people had no love-loss for Jeremiah. In fact, they found a sort of perverse joy in knowing that the high-and-mighty prophet was suffering right alongside them. The one who had warned them of God’s judgment was experiencing it too. And they found time to mock Jeremiah for his condition.

“My own people laugh at me.
    All day long they sing their mocking songs.” – Lamentations 3:14 NLT

Jeremiah was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. And he could see no light at the end of the tunnel. His depression was so intense that he claimed, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). He was at a loss as to what to do. His job of delivering God’s message was complete. He had finished what he had been tasked to do. But now he had to sit back and watch the sad plight of his people and wonder what was going to happen next. Where was God in all of this? How could this be His divine will? Was this how it was going to end?

There is something refreshing about Jeremiah’s bluntness. He is not afraid to say what he is thinking or to express his doubts and concerns. In doing so, he is not showing disrespect to God, he is simply sharing his heart. He is being honest. And this tendency toward transparency and honesty can be found elsewhere in Scripture. David, the man after God’s own heart, was particularly adept at expressing his feelings to God. He was not afraid to share his feelings with God because he knew that God was already aware of them.

You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:2-4 NLT

As a result, David had no problem sharing his innermost thoughts with God.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble? – Psalm 10:1 NLT

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way? – Psalm 13:1 NLT

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. – Psalm 22:1-2 NLT

Jeremiah was in good company. Like David, he knew God could handle his complaints. Refusing to say what he was thinking would not fool God because God knew his thoughts before he did. Failing to express his feelings would be nothing less than dishonesty toward God. So, he vented. He complained. He shared his pain and expressed his confusion over his lot in life. But while his hope was at an all-time low, we will see that his faith remained firmly fixed on the character 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

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