Sunday, August 31. Jeremiah 52. Lamentations 1 – 3

Jeremiah was the Old Testament suffering servant of the Lord. He witnessed the destruction of his own people, his home town, and watched the bodies stack up like so much cord wood. He knew his people deserved their punishment, but their suffering pained him to the depths of his being (which you see in several places in Jeremiah).

Lamentations is devoted in its entirety to the grief of Jeremiah (and therefore God, whose grief Jeremiah represents). Each of its five chapters is, in Hebrew, an acrostic. Each chapter but the third has 22 verses, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse begins with a succeeding letter. In chapter 3, because it has sixty six verses, the first three verses begin with the first Hebrew letter, the aleph, the next three the second letter (Hebrew “bet”) and so on.

The grief of the prophet is profound. Think about it like this: A piano player has only so many keys. Whatever he plays must be played with what he has. So a grieving poet has only 22 letters. He must write with what he has. But, as a troubled piano player might stumble through his performance, so the poet, twice, stumbles in his poem (you see it plainly in the Hebrew text), mixing the order of letters in the middle of chapter 2 and chapter 4. By chapter 5, his talent fails him. Though he sticks with 22 verses (for the 22 letters), he no longer follows the successive order of letters.

Jeremiah wrote: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1). The phrase is repeated somewhat in Lamentations 1:16, and Lamentations is Jeremiah’s suffering cry, a human reflection of the pain of God over His children who have decided to abandon the way of a blessing Father for the highway of fools.

Wednesday, September 4. Lamentations 4 – 5; Obadiah

There is no hope at the end of Lamentations. There is only the fear that God, in an anger that is beyond measure, has utterly rejected His people.

He has not, of course.

It just looks that way. And feels that way.

But if it looks and feels that way, how is Israel to know any better? How are we?

The key to hope when all seems lost is to know the story. It isn’t the first time God’s people have suffered – not even the first time God’s people have suffered for sin. Every time, God returns to His people. He does it because of His nature: He is faithful. He does it because of His love: it is forever. He will return to bless His people.

Likewise, when we find ourselves under the disciplining hand of God, He may seem away. Far away. But He will return. Our trust is not in what we see, for what we see can look fairly hopeless. Our trust has to be in what we know.

And that’s why it is so important to know the story, reading it in God’s word.

Tuesday, September 3. Lamentations 1 – 3

Lamentations begins with a mournful description of her condition. Jerusalem is not a ghost town, but a land-fill where the very poorest people scavenge for something of value. The glory days are gone and the people of neighboring nations consider Judah an “unclean” place. How ironic that the “unclean” should regard the “clean” and unclean!

Chapter one of Lamentations lays the blame for all this on the sin of Israel, and on God as her judge. It also calls for sympathy.

Chapter two, however, is even more pointed that this calamity is God’s doing. There is no acknowledgment of sin, and no call for retribution against those who have rejoiced in her downfall and no cry for sympathy.

Does God ever walk away from His people?

I think the lamentations indicate that he does. He just doesn’t walk far. I am reminded of Hagar and Ishmael. At her wits end, she placed her child under a bush and walked away – not able to bear the death of her son. But she doesn’t go far. Surely not far enough away to avoid the child’s cries. God was not so far away He could not hear the laments of those left in the land (note the cries of hungry children in verses 11 and 19) – but He was away.

Sin drives a wedge between us and God. The more persistent sin is, the further God gets. It cannot be otherwise, for holiness cannot abide with sin. No one need think that if we persist in our ways, God will begin to overlook them and “learn to live with them.” After all, because He loves us, He has no choice.

But God will not be manipulated. He will walk away, but not without sending the wrath of his own thunder at His people who so depreciate the value of His blessing and presence.

Sunday, September 2. Lamentations 2 – 5

    I am reminded today again how important it is to read all the Bible.  The Word of God reveals to us the nature of God, and that becomes important in understanding the will of God.  One Christian blogger wrote recently that the Bible should be understood “as the story of God and God’s interaction with the world. Through reading (and living!) this story we come to know the character of God, and are drawn into imitation of that God.”

    It sounds good, until you begin to understand that he means God doesn’t really have any specific will for us at all.  We read God’s word and come to conclusions that fit us in our time and place.

    If that sounds good to you too, it’s why today’s reading is so important.  Lamentations is full of the anger of God.  Just notice the repeated references to his anger and wrath in Lamentations 2.  Then, take a close look at the results of His anger in chapter three.  Who is this one whose bones have been broken, who has been surrounded with bitterness and hardship and whose teeth have been broken?  It is, of course, Jeremiah, the prophet of the Lord.  His life, however, is but a sample of the punishment God has meted out to His people.

    Why?

    Because they have been disobedient.

    Why does good guy Jeremiah suffer so?

    Because God’s people stand or fall as a community.  It is why Jeremiah, suffering with and because of his people, weeps not for himself, but for them – but I digress.

    God has a will.  That will is determined, specific, revealed, and knowable.  It’s not whatever you want it to be, or whatever suits you or your life situation.  It is what suits God.  And persistent disobedience has brought great ruin.  God is, to use an expression of an aunt now long passed, “mad as fire.”

    Can God get this way?  What makes Him this way?  The devotional reader who looks only for texts that will paint God as a doddering old grandfather who will let his grandchildren get away with murder will end up not knowing God at all, and likely suffering God’s wrath.

    On the other hand, God has another side: “Because of His great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.”

    Reading all the Bible gives us the balance we need to understand God.

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, September 2. Lamentations 4 – Ezekiel 1

    As I write this (August 10, 2011), riots are the news in England.  Civilized people are speaking out against the destruction and looting by their fellow countrymen.  Civilian brigades are being formed for protection and clean-up.  Everyone is asking: “Why is this happening?”

    Some reply: “It’s happening because of the displacement of the poor.  They have no where to go and no one to help and no hope for the future.  In their frustration, they are lashing out.”  Others reply: “These are just hooligans who, using social media to organize, are wrecking havoc wherever they can.”

    There’s a bit of both of these answers in Lamentations (though no social media).  Written from his observations of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, some used the occasion to serve their baser instincts – pointing out the sinfulness God knew was there.  Others simply gave in to the pressure and deprivation they felt and were trying to survive.  Either way, it wasn’t a pretty picture.

    Reading Lamentations 4, we are struck again by an incident mentioned already in chapter 2: the eating of children by their starving mothers.  It is a thought too repugnant to dwell on long.  Remember first: all this happened because of the punishment sent by God.  How could a just God cause all this?

    Remember second: It didn’t have to be this way.  God has been calling to His people for change for three centuries.  They have ignored Him.  What is happening now is that, under pressure, Jeremiah (and we, his readers), is seeing the true character of Judah.  God did not push them to this.  The events only reveal what has been developing all along.

    Pressure does that to us: it reveals who we really are.  Those whose hope is in the Lord will may not fare better in difficult times (Jeremiah certainly didn’t), but they will look better and act better and their reward will be better.