October 3, 2014.
“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?
Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.”
The book of Lamentations is a truly heart wrenching book. I encourage you to read it if you have not. To put it in context of Jewish history, this book was written by the prophet Jeremiah in a time of turmoil for the children of Israel. The people had turned their backs on God and followed the Kings into idol worship, influenced by the cultures around them. The book primarily laments the fall of Jerusalem and the devastation therein, which Jeremiah attributes to God’s righteous punishment of the people for turning to other gods. This must have been a truly terrible time in Jerusalem’s history as many of the scenes depicted in the book are vivid and heart breaking. Overall, the lament is from a prophet of God who sees the sins of the people and is weeping over the consequences that their actions have brought to the children of God. I think there are three (though there are probably more) important lessons we can learn from this lament.
1. False teaching, even when it feels good, is detrimental.
I opened with one of the verses that stands out to me the most. This motif of spiritual leaders who were leading giving the people a false hope is found in other places in Jeremiah’s writings. They were telling the people that everything was alright, or that everyone was just fine in the sight of the Lord. The prophets (that is, false prophets) were not willing to reveal the sin of the people or call anything that was wrong, wrong. This is actually very similar to the situation that Isaiah found himself in as we discussed in yesterday’s post, except here it was the spiritual leaders who were speaking mistruth, not necessarily the society as a whole. The society was more deceived by these false prophets.
But what was the problem? So what if some people taught some wrong things, did that really matter? Is the correct teaching that important, so long as God was being remembered? It obviously was a big deal. If we fast forward to the New Testament, we find that James warns not many of us to be teachers (ref. James 3:1), for they will receive the stricter judgement. Why? I think the reason is displayed through the false teachings of the prophets in Jeremiah’s time. False teaching not only led the people astray, but it made it so they could not see that they needed to come back. This false teaching effectively sealed the people in a constant state of deception, so that they did not know that they needed to return to the Lord.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? If your spiritual leader, say your preacher or your elders, tells you that everything is fine and that you should just keep on doing what you were doing because it is right in the sight of the Lord, you would believe them, right? I think we all would have a tendency to do such, because we often look for this “okay” from those around us, especially those who we look up to in the faith. Thus, it is understandable how these false prophets led the people astray and sealed their fate. Now, does that mean the people were not held accountable for their transgression because they had been deceived? No. They most certainly were. After all, did they not have the written word to go back to to see the error that was being taught? Did they not have true prophets, such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, who were sent from God to plead with the people? Yet they didn’t listen, for the false prophets preached an easier message. Do you think this happens today?
2. God is righteous and sin will not be tolerated.
A recurring theme that unfolds over and over again in the Old Testament is God’s righteous judgment of His people. The children of Israel seemed to follow a pattern of falling away from God when times were good and then crawling back when His punishment came. It seems that they did not learn from history (and really, are we any better at this?), for the cycle repeated over and over until the coming of the Messiah to do away with the Old Covenant and establish His kingdom forever. When the people would fall away, they would be separated from their holy God, and would be punished out of His righteousness. This judgment is seen in many of the prophets. The book of Lamentations is a good study of His punishment from the perspective of a weeping prophet. Jeremiah knows that the people brought this on themselves, but he is in dreadful tears as he looks out at his city and his people.
Many people do not like to see this side of God. They look only to the passages that teach the love of God, but they skip the ones that discuss His righteousness. You cannot have one without the other. It simply wouldn’t work. But we must not assume that in this punishment, God had lost the love for His people. He hadn’t. Rather, He was punishing them so that they would see the error of their way and return to Him. He had sent prophets, but the people weren’t listening. The book of Hosea shows this concept much more clearly in my opinion. God loves His people, though they stray from Him. Their sins and iniquities were what separated them from Him, not a loss of His love. However, this story, and many other similar stories in the Old Testament show that God is a righteous God, and sin will not be tolerated. That is the whole reason that Jesus had to come and sacrifice Himself for us, so that we would be washed clean through His blood.
3. There is always hope.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing that comes out of the book of Lamentations is this light of hope that is seen in the third chapter and somewhat in the last. In the midst of this heartbreaking lament, Jeremiah has this to say:
“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers itand is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Wow. How powerful.The weeping prophet looks out and sees the destruction of his people and the devastation that lies close at hand, and he turns around and praises the Lord for His steadfast love. The love of the Lord had not left. The people had left. Yet Jeremiah still had hope in the Lord.
There is always hope. No matter how bad things get, no matter how bleak the out look is, hope remains. And in this we should rejoice. The Lord is our hope and our stay. He is our rock and our guide. If the weeping prophet could see hope though such devastation, so should we be able to see hope in our age, if not even more so. Our hope is on better promises and in a better covenant (ref. Heb. 8:6). The glory of the second is much greater than the glory of the first. Thus we should hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ no matter how bad things seem. This is very comforting to me.
When I read through Jeremiah’s lament, I can almost feel some of the emotion that he pours into his plea. I can almost see the children of Israel being destroyed as if I am looking at the destruction of my own people. I feel the despair in the situation and am torn by Jeremiah’s words. Yet I can also see his hope, though it may seem dim. The prophet’s words draw me in and connect me to the story. I hope they can do the same for you. The bible is truly amazing, and I pray that we all can read it in such a way that makes it come alive to us so that it is not just words on a page. The word of God is living and active. I encourage you to spend time in it.
Suggested Daily Reading: Lamentations 1-5.
The Lord bless you and keep you.