August 26 Lamentations 1:1-3:36
August 27 Lamentations 3:37-5:22
We’ve finished the little book of the Lamentations. It’s Hebrew title is ‘ekah, which translates to How? The English title comes from the Latin Vulgate lamentia, or funeral dirges. Tradition says that Jeremiah wrote these five poems of lament, but we can’t be sure. The language is similar to the book of Jeremiah, and it seems the author was an eyewitness to the disaster. What we do know is that this book was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BC. If Jeremiah wrote the book, he must have wondered why God bothered to have him warn the people for the past 40 or so years! For ease of reading, I will attribute the book to Jeremiah.
The theme of the book is the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem. This event is recorded four times in the Old Testament (2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36, Jeremiah 39 and Jeremiah 52). King Nebuchadnezzar was allowed to invade in 605 BC to punish evil King Jehoiakim. Daniel and his friends, and many others, were deported to Babylon. Jerusalem was invaded again in 597, and the final siege began in 588. In 586 the walls were breached and the city was set on fire. Jews recall this event on August 14 every year when the Lamentations are read in the synagogues.
Jeremiah wrestled with God over why this happened. He wondered how a loving God could allow such destruction – and at the same time realized that God was punishing the people for longstanding sins,
Those Jews were holding on to false hopes. First, they though that they had a free ticket to do whatever they wanted because God promised that David’s house would never perish and that there would always be a ruler on David’s throne. They thought that God meant nothing would ever happen, but God isn’t in the business of giving a free ride. The covenant was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:26-33 (ESV)
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:29-36 (ESV)
Second, the Jews thought that God would always protect His temple. Jeremiah delivered an entire message on the false hope (Jeremiah 26:1-11).
Finally, the Jews looked to Egypt for protection instead of looking to God. Abraham tried the same thing (Genesis 12) and it got him into trouble. Even though God had miraculously saved the people at the Red Sea and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, they wanted to go back (Exodus 14:11-12, 16:1-3; 17:3; Numbers 14:1-5). God wanted them – and us – to place full faith in His grace and mercy. When they – and we – look away from God and look to people for our salvation, bad things happen!
Matthew tells us who some of the people thought Jesus was:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Matt 16:13-14 (ESV)
Jeremiah, while obviously not God, shared many similarities of ministry with Jesus.
Both were rejected by their people.
Both wept over the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem. (Luke 19:41)
Both were hated without cause (Lamentations 3:52; John 15:25)
Both were rejected by their family (Jeremiah 11:18-23; John 7:3-5)
Both taught that religion should be from the heart and not by ritual. Both used common activities and things to instruct the people. The leaders of the day rejected both. Jeremiah was exiled to Egypt and Jesus was hung on the cross.
Both were considered failures in their day. Both have been proven right in the intervening years.
We aren’t much different than the people of Jeremiah’s day. Some Christians think that they have a “ticket to heaven” and so can continually remain in sins that God clearly calls abominations. Some Christians lie, steal and cheat in the name of God. Some abuse their power. Some pervert the Scriptures for their own gain. But some, like Jeremiah, are calling us to repent, pray, turn, share, and weep over our world.
Through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Egyptian captivity, God shows us many things.
Privilege brings responsibility. Responsibility must have accountability.
God is gracious, loving and longsuffering, but continual sin requires punishment.
God gives blessings, but if we take them for granted, He will take them from us.
God is faithful to the terms of His covenant. If we obey, we are blessed. If we sin, we are punished.
If your pastor isn’t listening to and obeying God, he will lead the flock into sin.
You can do God’s work for years (Jeremiah worked more than 40) and never see the fruits of your labor.
Success can’t be measured in earthly terms. We need to strive to become more like Jesus and not concern ourselves with what the world thinks.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-21 (ESV)
We learn many lessons from the Lamentations that apply to us in 2012 and beyond. I pray that you will take these lessons to heart and apply them to your life.
What did you take away from both Jeremiah and his Lamentations? What areas in your life need improvement? Are you worshiping from the heart? Acknowledging God’s blessings in your life? Striving to be more Christlike every day? Working for God even when you don’t see results?
Let me know what you see and think! I will post the rest of the week’s readings on Saturday.