The Pursuit of God

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Learning from Lamentations

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Lamentations is a little known book of the Bible. Only five chapters long, it is found between the much longer books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel towards the end of the Old Testament. It’s quite appropriate for Lamentations to be where it is because it was written by the prophet Jeremiah (as was the book of Jeremiah). Jeremiah was an artistic fellow who had a flair for writing poetry. Lamentations is a long poem which he wrote as he witnessed Yahweh’s wrath being poured out on the Israelites around 586 BC.  That epic period of discipline included the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, and the violent devastation of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel).  Prior to Jeremiah’s time, the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by God with the fall of the capital city of Samaria in 722 BC.  Jeremiah lived in what was left of Israel–a region which included her famous capital city and Temple, both of which were considered to be indestructible in the minds of patriotic Jews.

Now there are many ways to write a poem. You can play around with rhyme and rhythm. You can count syllables. Or you can really challenge yourself and write an acrostic poem. An acrostic poem is one in which you go through the letters of the alphabet in order, writing one verse for each letter. An English acrostic poem would have 26 verses because there are 26 letters in the English alphabet. The first verse would start with a word beginning with A, the second verse would begin with B, the third with C, etc. Now if you’re going to take on a project like this, you’d want to keep each verse rather short since your goal is to get through the entire alphabet. Lamentations is an acrostic poem. So is Psalm 119. The ancient Hebrew alphabet had 22 letters (all consonants). So Psalm 119 has 22 short little stanzas and goes through the Hebrew alphabet one time. Lamentations cycles through the whole alphabet four times, and each of its stanzas are only about one or two sentences long. Each of the first four chapters of Lamentations is an acrostic poem, then in the last chapter Jeremiah wraps up with a shorter poem which is not acrostic.

So what can we learn from Lamentations? As is often the case with Scripture, the lessons we should be learning are very different than what we expect. The fact that Lamentations is a book in our much exalted Bible, and the fact that it was written by a famous prophet of God are enough to make many Christians assume that the book is filled with good, trustworthy theology. Yet in reality, the book is filled with many shocking and irreverent remarks which Jeremiah had no business making.

Now when you open up the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah transports you back in time to the horrific circumstances surrounding the fall of Jerusalem. When you think of ancient Jerusalem, think of a large sprawling city surrounded by high, thick, stone fortress walls. There was no simple way to take this massive monument down. The best plan was to surround her with a large army that could cut off all incoming supplies, then wait years for the inhabitants to starve into a weakened state.  This is called sieging, and this is what the Babylonians did to Jerusalem.

Now inside of the city was Yahweh’s magnificent Temple—the huge structure that had been built by King Solomon over 400 years earlier. The Temple has gone through a lot of wear and tear, much of its gold gilding has been stripped away by Jewish kings who were in desperate need of money, and many of its fine treasures have been taken away. But it is still a very impressive structure. Jerusalem plus the Temple were the ultimate symbols of Jewish pride. The Jews were a fiercely patriotic people. It’s hard for us to grasp just how psychologically and emotionally tied they felt to Jerusalem, especially if we live in a country like America which separates church and state. Today, if Americans saw the White House being burned to the ground, they would certainly feel shocked and horrified because the White House is such a powerful national symbol. But American Christians don’t view God as physically dwelling inside the White House. In the Old Testament, Yahweh taught His followers to view the Temple in Jerusalem as His literal House. Certainly Yahweh never said He was ONLY in the Temple—on the contrary, He taught that He was present everywhere. But the Temple was supposed to house His literal Presence. The Ark of the Covenant which was kept in the Temple’s most sacred inner chamber (the Most Holy Place) was considered to be Yahweh’s earthly throne. So then, to have the Temple assaulted was to have Yahweh assaulted. To have the Ark stolen was to have Yahweh stolen. Because sacred objects held such enormous significance to the ancient people, the destruction of those objects could ignite crippling theological crises. One of Israel’s most scarring moments was when the pagan Philistines broke into the Tabernacle and stole the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark was carried away, it seemed to the Jews that their God was intentionally walking out on them. They were deeply traumatized, and of course that was what Yahweh wanted because He was fed up with the little idolaters constantly defying Him.

Now because of Israel’s incessant rebellion, Yahweh was constantly dishing out Divine spankings, trying to get her to turn back to Him. Throughout the Old Testament, Jerusalem got attacked many times, and the Temple went through periods of stripping, but neither of them ever came close to being completely destroyed. Instead, they were viewed as invincible icons which could never be overcome. As long as Jerusalem and the Temple stood, Israel stood: haughty, wicked, and married to Satan. Long before Yahweh struck the deathblow to Jerusalem, the Jews had stuffed His holy Temple with all kinds of demonic idols. The House which had been built for the purpose of glorifying Yahweh was now glorifying everyone except Yahweh. It had been turned into a shrine for countless odious looking statues—many of which had very grotesque and pornographic features. Suppose you went to church one day only to find that the whole thing was crammed full of stations in which people were offering sacrifices to Satan, practicing sorcery, having sex with each other as a way of honoring “the gods”, and rubbing their hands all over statues of gross looking sexual organs. This was how foul the atmosphere inside Yahweh’s Temple had become. There was normal and homosexual prostitution happening. There were people weeping and prostrating themselves in front of disgusting looking idols. The place was so filled with evil that a sincere Yahweh worshiper couldn’t possibly focus. So not only was God’s House being abused, those who actually wanted to bring sacrifices to Him were prevented from doing so. Who was there to process their sacrifices anyway when all the priests were busy making sacrifices to their disgusting idols? Yahweh was outraged by all of this. And it was His CHOSEN people, not foreigners, who were doing it. That made it a hundred times worse.

Now you have to have the IQ of a turnip not to grasp why Yahweh finds it offensive that you’re worshiping demons in His special House and violating every Law He ever gave you. But because God is so gracious, He goes over and over Israel’s specific sins for CENTURIES through the mouths of His prophets. The records of the prophetic warnings we find in the Old Testament are only a teensy sampling of all the warnings Yahweh actually gave. We’re talking about countless prophets who were raised up to deliver the same message: “God is furious with Israel’s willful rebellion. Is she doesn’t knock it off, He’s going to destroy her.” Well, Israel didn’t knock it off. Instead, she murdered the prophets Yahweh sent her as a way of trying to shut Him up. The nation’s capital city of Jerusalem soon gained a reputation of being a slaughterhouse for God’s prophets. This is how the Jews responded to Yahweh’s gracious warnings.

Now today we like to say that God’s love is unconditional. No, it’s really not. The term “unconditional love” isn’t in the Bible, and God has always hammered the point that His love is extremely conditional. He starts off loving us, but if we don’t meet His requirements for keeping His love, He’ll start hating us instead. He’ll hate us, kill us, and throw us into Hell where He’ll get high off of torturing us for eternity. This is what He has always taught: there are horrific consequences for willfully defying God.

Okay, so we’ve got the nation Israel who Yahweh has set up a special Covenant with. If she obeys Him, He’ll bless her. If she defies Him, He’ll destroy her. These were the terms from the beginning and the Jews publicly agreed to these terms many times throughout the Old Testament. Then they went right out and defied Yahweh. Well, after CENTURIES of gracious waiting, Yahweh finally decides He’s done. He’s so disgusted with all the evil happening night and day in Jerusalem and His Temple that He’s going to level them both to the ground. He’s going to hand Israel over to the Babylonian Empire and let the Jews sit in exile for 70 long years as a punishment for what they’ve done. But before the Jews get carried off into exile, He’s going to massacre a bunch of them. He’ll chop some down with the sword, He’ll kill others off with diseases, He’ll starve others to death, and He’ll send wild animals like lions and bears in to maul still more. He wants the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple to be such a traumatic event that it will burn in people’s minds for centuries to come. So He’s going to have women raped, children beat to death on rocks, prisoners stripped naked and molested, body hair shaved—every degrading thing that humans can do to each other Yahweh will have done to the Jews by the Babylonians. He wants these people to SUFFER for their atrocious treatment of Him.

Now it’s not like Yahweh threw down His wrath without warning. Over and over and OVER AGAIN, He gave graphic descriptions of what He’d do to the Jews if they didn’t shape up. Jeremiah is one of the last prophets to preach warnings to Jerusalem before she goes down. In the book of Jeremiah, we find the prophet giving all kinds of detailed warnings of what Yahweh is planning to do. To properly interpret Lamentations, we have to understand that all of the nasty events Jeremiah is describing in his poem are precise fulfillments of prophecies Yahweh has made about what He’ll do to the Jews if they don’t shape up.

Suppose someone came up to you one day and recited Psalm 23 in your face 100 times in a row. How well do you think you’d know that psalm after that? VERY WELL. You’d know it so well, you’d probably be sick of hearing it. The Jews of Jeremiah’s day had heard Yahweh’s warnings so many times that they were also sick of hearing them. So when you think about the fall of Jerusalem, don’t think about a bunch of wide eyed innocents who had no idea why God was handing them over to their enemies. These people knew that everything that was happening to them was what Yahweh had said would happen to them if they didn’t shape up, and NO ONE understood this better than Jeremiah.

Who is going to do a better job of remembering a speech: the speaker or the audience? The speaker, of course. As a prophet, Jeremiah was one of God’s speakers. He had spent countless hours standing in public streets chewing the Jews out for their terrible sins. He knew what those sins were, because God had listed them off in such detail. He knew firsthand how furious Yahweh was with His people. He had had graphic visions of what Yahweh was going to do to Jerusalem. Jeremiah was living in Jerusalem at the time that it fell, and as he looked around at all the suffering and carnage, it was like he was having an epic flashback. Everything was happening exactly as Yahweh had said it would. No one understood this better than Jeremiah.

So given all of this, if Jeremiah wants to try and capture the carnage of Jerusalem falling, what should his emphasis be? He’s a prophet, not just some random passer-by. He has a very unique insight into why all of this is happening PLUS he is a prophet of God. Like preachers, prophets are held to a higher standard because they receive special insight from God. We can understand if some foreigner hears about Jerusalem under attack and wonders “Why is the God of the Jews treating His people so badly?” But is it okay for Jeremiah to ask such a question? Certainly not! For a man in Jeremiah’s position to question God’s motives or suggest that God is being unfair is utterly outrageous because Jeremiah understands God’s point of view. He has been shown. He’s been given a very special privilege. So when we open up Lamentations, we should expect the man to be writing a long poem that defends the rightness of Yahweh finally avenging Himself on a people who have utterly betrayed Him. We should expect to find God being exalted as the extremely gracious Judge that He is. We should find God’s prophet standing loyally by His side. But this isn’t at all what we find. Instead, we find a bunch of unfounded whining. Lamentations is one long wah-wah about the poor suffering Jews. Where is the loyalty? Where is the glorification of Yahweh? Jeremiah tosses out a few crumbs of “I guess we deserved this”, but his zeal for God is shockingly absent. After years of prophesying for God, Jeremiah runs to join the camp of His enemies when the hour of doom finally comes. It’s a revolting display of a prophet forgetting where his loyalties are supposed to lie, and it’s yet more evidence of how stupid Paul was to say that the entire Old Testament was “inspired” and “God-breathed.” It isn’t God breathing out the carnal groans of Lamentations. It isn’t the Holy Spirit who is inspiring Jeremiah to bag on Yahweh like this. Instead, Jeremiah is giving us a fine example of what NOT to do. Let’s take a look.

THE FIRST ACROSTIC

How she sits alone, the city once crowded with people! She who was great among the nations has become like a widow. The princess among the provinces has been put to forced labor. (Lam. 1:1)

Is this sympathy or mockery? As we read on, it becomes clear that it is sympathy. Throughout this whole book, Jeremiah is oozing with sympathy for a people who have done everything possible to spit in God’s face.

All the majesty of beautiful Zion has been stripped away. Her princes are like starving deer searching for pasture. They are too weak to run from the pursuing enemy. In the midst of her sadness and wandering, Jerusalem remembers her ancient splendor. But now she has fallen to her enemy, and there is no one to help her. Her enemy struck her down and laughed as she fell. (Lam. 1:6-7)

Well, yeah, this is SO what she gets for defying God. He told her over and over and over again. He gave her countless chances to repent. Where is the sympathy for GOD in all this? We don’t find any. Jeremiah is spending it all on God’s poor suffering enemies. Nice loyalty.

She defiled herself with immorality and gave no thought to her future. Now she lies in the gutter with no one to lift her out. “Yahweh, see my misery,” she cries. “The enemy has triumphed.” (Lam. 1:9)

We humans like to use personification and in Lamentations, Jeremiah often speaks on behalf of Jerusalem. Notice how here he finally acknowledges that Jerusalem sinned, yet he has her instantly whining to Yahweh for sympathy and help now that she’s been kicked in the head. But where is the repentance? It’s conspicuously absent.

The enemy has plundered her completely, taking every precious thing she owns. She has seen foreigners violate her sacred Temple, the place Yahweh had forbidden them to enter. (Lam. 1:10)

It’s more than a little obnoxious to talk about Yahweh’s sacred Temple after what the Jews have turned it into. The prophet Ezekiel lives at the same time as Jeremiah and in Ezekiel’s book, we find Yahweh giving His prophet some shocking visions of all the horrific activity that was happening inside the Temple before it was destroyed. But here it’s like Jeremiah is pretending none of that was going on as he talks about pagan foreigners plundering the Temple—“the place Yahweh had forbidden them to enter.” Yeah, right. As if the Jews care about what Yahweh forbids while they stuff His Temple full of idols.

“Look around and see if there is any suffering like mine, which Yahweh brought on me when He erupted in fierce anger. He has sent fire from heaven that burns in my bones. He has placed a trap in my path and turned me back. He has left me devastated, racked with sickness all day long.” (Lam. 1:12-14)

Still speaking as Jerusalem, Jeremiah really makes Yahweh sound like a monster here. He emphasizes Jerusalem’s suffering when he should be emphasizing how long overdue her discipline is.

“Yahweh is right,” Jerusalem says, “for I rebelled against Him. Listen, people everywhere; look upon my anguish and despair, for my sons and daughters have been taken captive to distant lands.” (Lam. 1:18)

At last we get some acknowledgement of Jerusalem’s guilt, although “rebelled” is putting it mildly.

People have heard me groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my misfortune; they are glad that You have caused it. Bring on the day You have announced, so that they may become like me. Let all their wickedness come before You, and deal with them as You have dealt with me because of all my transgressions. For my groans are many, and I am sick at heart. (Lam. 1:21-22)

Jeremiah now turns his focus onto revenge. If Jerusalem has to suffer, he wants everyone else to suffer as well. He calls on Yahweh to go judge the rest of the nations as harshly as He has judged Israel. This is the wrong focus. When God is disciplining us for our sins, we need to focus on repenting and getting back into a right place with Him, not in saying, “But what about those other guys, God? When are You going to beat on them like You’re beating on me?” What does it matter what other people are doing? Yahweh has made it very clear that Israel brought her punishment on herself.

THE SECOND ACROSTIC

The Lord is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel. He swallowed up all its palaces and destroyed its fortified cities. He has brought unending sorrow and tears upon Judah. (Lam. 2:5)

He has done violence to His Temple as if it were a garden booth, destroying His place of meeting. Yahweh has abolished appointed festivals and Sabbaths in Zion. He has despised king and priest in His fierce anger. The Lord has rejected His own altar; He despises His own sanctuary. He has given Jerusalem’s palaces to her enemies. They shout in the Lord’s Temple as though it were a day of celebration. (Lam. 2:6-7)

Reading through Lamentations is like reading through the testimony of an eye witness who is intentionally tainting an innocent man in a very negative light while whitewashing the guilty. Jeremiah emphasizes how harsh God is being. He compares Him to an enemy—a very derogatory metaphor. “God is like a righteous Judge” would have been more appropriate. And this baloney about God abolishing the festivals and Sabbaths—who is Jeremiah kidding? The Jews have made a complete mockery out of these things for decades and Jeremiah knows it. “He has despised the king and the priest,” Jeremiah says. The king at this time is a creep named Zedekiah who doesn’t care about God. The priests are the jerks who are in the Temple making sacrifices to Satan. “The Lord has rejected His own altar”—that’s right—the one the priests are using to make sacrifices to demons. “He despises His own sanctuary”—yeah, the same sanctuary the Jews are using to honor more gods than anyone can count. Why is Jeremiah emphasizing the negativity of God’s actions while intentionally leaving out so many critical details? Where does he get off painting God as some violent, indifferent Ogre while he then pours all of his compassion out on the little wretches who took such delight in spitting in God’s face? Whose side is Jeremiah on, anyway?

My eyes are worn out from weeping; I am churning within. My heart is poured out in grief because of the destruction of my dear people, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city. (Lam. 2:11)

What can I say about you? Who has ever seen such sorrow? O daughter of Jerusalem, to what can I compare your anguish? O virgin daughter of Zion, how can I comfort you? For your ruin is as vast as the sea. Who can heal you? (Lam. 2:13)

So Jeremiah can cry buckets for the people who hate his God but he can’t have any sympathy for God Himself? No, all he has for Yahweh are some condescending lectures:

“O Yahweh, think about this! Should You treat Your own people this way? Should mothers eat their own children, those they once bounced on their knees? Should priests and prophets be killed within the Lord’s Temple? See them lying in the streets—young and old, boys and girls, killed by the swords of the enemy. You have killed them in Your anger, slaughtering them without mercy. (Lam. 2:20-21)

WOW. So here’s this pipsqueak of a prophet thinking it’s his place to give God lessons on mercy. GOD, who waited CENTURIES for these little jerks to repent. Jeremiah is being such a little twerp in this poem.

THE THIRD ACROSTIC

I am the one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath. He has driven me away and forced me to walk in darkness instead of light. Yes, He repeatedly turns His hand against me all day long. (Lam. 3:1-3)

As Jeremiah begins his third acrostic poem, he once again speaks as the city, groaning on about her poor lot in life and painting God in the worst possible light.

He has walled me in, and I cannot escape. He has bound me in heavy chains. And though I cry and shout, He has shut out my prayers. He has blocked my way with a high stone wall; He has made my road crooked. (Lam. 3:7-9)

What prayers is God shutting out? This incessant whining about how unfair His judgment is? Why should God listen to any of this irreverent rot? After groaning on and on about how vicious Yahweh is being, Jeremiah suddenly switches gears and decides for God that He’s going to get over Himself and be merciful. Now at this point Yahweh has already said many times that the Jews are going to be dragged off to exile by the Babylonians. They will remain there for seventy long years before God brings them back. SEVENTY YEARS. No, God is not going to cut that time short—He makes this very clear as well. So Jeremiah is out of line to start this new theme of painting Yahweh out like He’s suddenly decided to be nice to the Jews again. No, He really hasn’t. And at the end of Jeremiah’s main book, we learn that the Jews living in Judah at this time still don’t care about Yahweh despite all of this horror. After Jerusalem falls, what is their response? “Our lives are going badly because we haven’t been paying the goddess Asherah enough mind. We’d better start sacrificing to her more regularly—then everything will be okay.” These people are not repentant. Jeremiah knows this because he is talking to these people and they are making no effort to hide their rebellion. So what is he thinking to write out such a twerpy little poem??

For the Lord will not reject us forever. Even if He causes suffering, He will show compassion according to His abundant, faithful love. For He does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind. (Lam. 3:31)

Notice how Jeremiah feels free to make up all these rules about how God must operate. Yes, God certainly is abundantly compassionate and merciful, but here it’s like Jeremiah’s taking that for granted. “He doesn’t enjoy bringing affliction or suffering”—since when? God very much enjoys punishing His enemies—that’s why He created Hell. Jeremiah is delusional. He can’t dictate who God is. How many times does Yahweh have to say He will kill His enemies and eternally destroy those who refuse to repent? No, we can’t just kick back and count on God to get over Himself. Hell is ETERNAL. When we push for too long, He decides that He will NEVER get over Himself and that we will suffer in Hell FOREVER for our defiance on earth.

Who can command things and make them happen unless Yahweh has willed it? Does not the Most High send both calamity and good? Why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins? (Lam. 3:37-39)

Jeremiah is really talking out of both sides of his face. Here he acknowledges Yahweh’s sovereignty, and His supremacy over both good and evil. That’s good. Then he says humans shouldn’t complain when they’re being punished for their sins. No, they shouldn’t. So why is Jeremiah spending so much time complaining in these five poems? What a rotten example he is being.

Let us examine and see what we have done and then return to Yahweh. Let us lift up our hands and pray from our hearts to God in Heaven: “We have sinned and turned against You, and You have not forgiven us. You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain without pity. You have covered Yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through. You have made us scum and refuse among the nations. All our enemies open their mouths against us. We have experienced panic and pitfall, devastation and destruction. My eyes flow with streams of tears because of the destruction of my dear people. (Lam. 3:40-48)

Just when it sounds like Jeremiah is finally getting his act together by calling on the people to repent, he goes back into “let’s rip on God” mode and makes Yahweh out to be some unforgivable Ogre. What is there to forgive? These people aren’t praying for repentance! It’s only in Jeremiah’s delusional mind that his fellow Jews are having some spiritual revival. Yet he himself provided us with records to prove that they were not. We find more records in Ezekiel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi which all prove how incredibly hard-hearted these people were before, during and after their period of exile from Judah. The nation of Israel NEVER repents for treating Yahweh with such contempt. When He finally brings them back to their precious homeland in the book of Ezra, they gripe about rebuilding His Temple and He has to dole out more discipline just to get their lazy behinds in motion. When He finally gets the Temple rebuilt, the people start right in with corrupting it again. The Old Testament ends with Yahweh complaining through the mouth of Malachi that no, He really doesn’t appreciate His people bringing Him a bunch of diseased, wheezing, half-dead carcasses for sacrifices (see Meaningless Vows). But according to Jeremiah, Yahweh has “slain without pity”. Yahweh has refused to forgive. Yahweh is being such a hard, unreasonable jerk to Jeremiah’s “dear people.” How nauseating.

THE FOURTH ACROSTIC

The pity party continues throughout Chapter 4 and Jeremiah throws in this ridiculous line:

Our king—Yahweh’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! (Lam. 4:20)

Once you read Jeremiah and learn how the prophet interfaced quite a bit with Judah’s last kings and knew firsthand what spiritual zeros they were, this line is very hard to swallow. Zedekiah was Jerusalem’s last king and he was a spineless weenie who disrespected Yahweh time and time again. Zedekiah is the guy who nearly killed Jeremiah twice: once by letting him rot for an eternity in some dungeon and a second time by letting him nearly drown in an underground mud hole (see Saving Jeremiah). How can Jeremiah possibly speak of Zedekiah in such lofty terms? “We had thought that his shadow would protect us against any nation on earth”? Zedekiah?? Yeah right!

The fourth chapter ends with Jeremiah eagerly anticipating the day when the hated nation of Edom will get spanked by God. Israel and Edom are neighbors and they have a very long history of warring with each other.  Once again, Jeremiah is proving to be a very poor spiritual leader by modeling an attitude of “Let’s talk about everyone else’s sin instead of dealing with our own.”

THE CONCLUDING POEM

The last chapter of Lamentations is short and no longer in acrostic form. It’s a bunch of yammering on about how hard life is in Judah, about how Jerusalem lies in ruins, and how everyone’s sobbing and missing the good old days. In the midst of it, Jeremiah throws out this outrageous accusation:

Our fathers sinned; they no longer exist, but we bear their punishment. (Lam. 5:7)

One of Yahweh’s pet peeves is when His people accuse Him of punishing them unjustly. The Jews did this A LOT. While the current generation spits in God’s face every possible way, they whine that they’re being punished for the sins of their ancestors. No, actually, they’re being punished for THEIR sins—Yahweh makes this very clear. Yahweh is very fair. He doesn’t punish people for other people’s sins. Many in the Church today believe He does—they promote garbage like generational curses to try and argue that Yahweh is going to curse you for the sins of your relatives. It is all such rot. When we say these things, we’re just imitating irreverent fools from the Bible. You can’t just read any passage and say “It must be truth because it’s in the Bible.” As we’re learning from studying Lamentations, a LOT of what is said in the Bible is dead wrong. Even God’s “good guys” make up all kinds of rubbish about who He is and how He operates. When we read their slanderous words without checking with the Holy Spirit and asking for HIS opinion, we end up going massively astray.

By the time we get to the end of Lamentations, we should be thoroughly annoyed with Jeremiah’s mouthy comments and his undying loyalty towards those who hate his God. After five very irritating chapters, Jeremiah ends on this sour note:

You, Yahweh, are enthroned forever; Your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do You forget us forever? Why do You forsake us so long? Bring us back to You, Yahweh, and we will return. Make our days as they were before, unless You have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lam. 5:19-22)

God has ALREADY SAID that His punishment of the Jews will be temporary. He has ALREADY SAID that He’ll bring the little jerks back to their homeland after 70 years in exile even though they will STILL be refusing to repent. Jeremiah knows all of this, so where does he get off accusing Yahweh of forgetting His people forever? How dare he complain that Yahweh has forsaken them for too long? How does he just leave out the fact that it is ISRAEL who has rejected God?

So what’s good about Lamentations? As far as theology goes, Jeremiah’s only really useful comment is that God is sovereign and that nothing happens in this world—good or bad—apart from His will. Apart from that, it’s a whole bunch of snark. What we do get is a very good picture of just how thoroughly Yahweh followed through on all of His threats to pound Israel into the ground for defying Him. That should certainly make us think twice about lipping off to God today. And we can learn positive lessons by watching Jeremiah in action, for the man’s attitude in Lamentations is atrocious. It’s not that we don’t understand why Jeremiah is whining on and on—he’s being human. We get that. But Jeremiah knows better and he is living in a particularly dark period of Israel’s history when Yahweh has VERY few friends among His chosen people. Jeremiah could have considered it a great privilege to side with his God. He was given the opportunity to be a shining star of whole-hearted devotion, and that would have put him in line for some pretty fantastic eternal commendation by Yahweh. But instead of hitting a homerun, it’s like he bunts.   First he tries to get out of being a prophet at all (Jer. 1:6). Then he tries not to speak, yet Yahweh forces the words out of him (Jer. 20:9). Then he starts polluting God’s messages with his own pro-Israel guff so Yahweh plagues him with misery in order to discipline him back into alignment (Jer. 15:19). Then he writes Lamentations. The man has some very positive moments. But he also has some very negative ones. Our job is to sort through the mess and learn the appropriate lessons.

Lamentations gives us a great example of what God does NOT want to hear from us when He is dishing out Divine discipline on our hometown, our nation, or our world. God wants people who are LOYAL to HIM, not people who are constantly telling Him to eat it, get over it, and rain down more blessings on their ungrateful little heads. What about you? Where do your loyalties lie? When bad things happen, how do you pray? “God make it go away” or “God help me respond to this situation in a way that honors You”? In your prayer life, are you always telling God what to do or are you asking Him to help you submit to HIS will for your life? We Christians owe God everything. He’s already promised us an eternity in Heaven, even though what we really deserve is to spend eternity in Hell. What have we ever done for God to deserve all of the abundant grace, mercy and love that He pours down on us? What have we ever done to pay Him back for the cross? We can never hope to give God as much honor, love, and praise as He deserves, but does that mean we shouldn’t even try? Does being saved by grace mean we get to spend our lives sucking up to His enemies and acting like the approval of fallen humans is more important than the approval of God? We don’t have to follow Jeremiah’s rotten example. When hard times come, we don’t have to join with the Christians who want to sit around whining about how unfair their lot is and pretending not to understand why God could possibly be upset with them. We can choose to treat God with honor in the hard times, and that begins by praying the right prayers today. “God, I want to stay faithful to You no matter what. I want to treat You with the honor You deserve at all times. I want You to really be my First Love in life. I want to be someone who truly blesses Your heart.” If we sincerely pray a prayer like this, the Holy Spirit will take us to some awesome places. God wants a people who are faithful to Him, and He is more than happy to give us the empowerment we need to please Him in life. All we have to do is ask. We don’t have to settle for Jeremiah’s lousy Lamentations.

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