Four Thoughts from Lamentations 1 and 2

The Book of Lamentations is not often an easy book to read. The words are not hard, but the picture is so very sad. The people of Judah have sinned against God, and the Lord has, as he promised, brought judgment down on the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonians have come in, destroyed the city, and taken most of the people captive. And the prophet Jeremiah witnessed it all.

As I was reading through the first two chapters of Lamentations, a few individual verses got my attention. So, for this post, I decided that I would write a couple of brief thoughts on the verses that stood out to me, some verses which offer thoughts we want to remember.

Lamentations 1:9

Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter.
“O Lord, behold my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed!”

The first thought that grabbed my attention is that simple line, “She took no thought for her future.” The people of Jerusalem, by the time of its fall, had simply stopped caring about the future. The people were so into their sin against the Lord that considering the days to come was beyond their scope of thought. They lived for the now, and then they suffered the consequences.

Many of us know what this is like. Around us, we find many who will plan for their financial future. They will plan for retirement and buy insurance. But the same people have no consideration for the Day of the Lord. They are not concerned about what will happen when they meet God. They have not cared about the judgment to come. This is dangerous.

So, the first point I’ll make from Lamentations is the call for us to pay attention to the future. No, I’m not worried so much here about your retirement. Instead, I am suggesting that you take care not to ignore the fact that God has made you for an eternal existence. Think to your future. How will you stand before the Holy God who made you?

Lamentations 1:18

“The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
have gone into captivity.

The second line that got my attention is the simple phrase, “The Lord is in the right.” Jeremiah has seen the city fall. He has witnessed people going captive to Babylon. And Jeremiah declares that the Lord is in the right.

There are, of course, many reasons that Jeremiah will give us to explain why the Lord is in the right. But what I have on my mind is the simple fact that, regardless of those reasons, Jeremiah is starting from the right place. The assumption that we must make is always that the Lord is in the right. It is impossible for the Holy One to be in the wrong. God has no evil within him. The Lord cannot do evil. The Lord makes no mistakes and is never overpowered. Thus, we must always know that God is God, and that means that God is always in the right.

Lamentations 1:21

“They heard my groaning,
yet there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my trouble;
they are glad that you have done it.
You have brought the day you announced;
now let them be as I am.

The line that got my attention here is the phrase, “You have brought the day you announced.” Jeremiah is here saying that God has judged the people of Jerusalem as the enemies of God looked on and laughed. Now Jeremiah is asking that God also judge those evil men for taking joy in the city’s destruction.

But notice that this day that has brought upon Jeremiah is a day that the Lord had announced. God told the people this would come. God warned against it. But the people did not care. They chose to assume that the Lord would not bring his judgment upon them as he promised. They chose to think that God would not keep his word. And this was to their destruction.

May we learn from this. God keeps his promises. There are things that God has promised that may feel too far off to matter to us. But we dare not assume that God will not keep his word. What God has said, that he will do. Jesus will return. All humanity will stand before his seat of judgment. All in Christ will be rewarded. All apart from Christ will face judgment. These are eternal judgments. But let us not assume that, because they seem far removed from us, they will not come. God will do all he has said he would do.

Lamentations 2:14

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.

Here in the final verse I will include for this morning, we see Jeremiah lamenting the fact that the people have fallen for the lies of false prophets. The nation chose not to believe the clear word of God. They chose not to take the words of Holy Scripture to heart. Instead, they chose to believe their own modern teachers who contradicted Scripture with happy promises of prosperity.

Of course this is a danger for our world too. Many people are ignoring Scripture. Many people are preaching things the Bible never said. Many are telling us that God has changed his view on certain actions. But the Lord is unchanged. The word of God still stands. And we must be careful not to listen to those who say what our sinful hearts first want to hear. Instead, we need to hear those who speak to us the true, unchanging, unfettered, uncompromising word of God.

Two Ways to Handle Scripture

How do you respond to the word of God? There are really only two options. A person will either hear the word of the Lord, fear God, and obey, or they will turn their back on the Lord and face judgment.

In Jeremiah 36, watch the response of King Jehoiakim when the word of God is read to him. While sitting near a nice cozy fire, the king had a chance to hear God’s word and repent.

Jeremiah 36:22-24 – 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.

Depending on what one believes the word of God to be, this is either a non-event or a terrifying act of hubris.

While there are many different pieces of evidence for the accuracy, authority, and inspiration of Scripture, I’ll not go into them here. The truth is, the word of God is real. The God who made us has spoken to us. He has spoken through prophets and later apostles. He has recorded his word for us in holy Scripture, what we now call the Bible. And to mess with or ignore the Bible is a serious offense before the Lord.

The king heard God’s word, did not like what it said to him, and chose to cut it up and throw it into the fire. That was a terrible move for him. Eventually, King Jehoiakim died and his kingdom went captive to Babylon just as God had said in the words Jehoiakim cut up. But we are not super worried about Jehoiakim anyway. What we need to think about is our own response to the word of God.

Friends, may we be people who honor and respect the Lord by treasuring his word. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God tells us who God is and what God requires. The Bible tells us how to be forgiven by God and to live to please him once he has adopted us into his family. May we never ignore God’s word or dishonor God by disrespecting his word.

Two Types of Prophets

Examining the claims of those who claim faith, we find that the message is not consistent. This makes it hard for people from outside the church to understand our claims. After all, one group will say one thing and one another. Who is to say who is right? One group claims a gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Another proclaims a gospel of liberation, of financial prosperity, of throwing off of all restraints. Who is telling the truth? Or do we just get to pick and choose?

In Jeremiah’s day, not long before the fall of Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC, there were contradictory claims coming from the religious. And this is important for us to see. You see, God was only putting forth one message, no matter what multiple groups were claiming.

Jeremiah 14:13-16 – 13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” 14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.

Jeremiah was carrying the word of God to the people. He was warning against the coming judgment of God. He warned the people to turn from their sin. He warned them to prepare for the invasion to come and the captivity to follow.

But other prophets were assuring the people that there was no judgment they would face at all. These prophets told the nation that soon prosperity would overtake them. These men were gaining personal wealth and social status by telling the people things the people already believed and wanted to hear. They were preying on the people’s greed and lust and idolatry to gain influence. And God promised that these men and their followers were in big trouble.

But how do we know? How can we tell who is right? How can we know who speaks the real message of God and who is misleading us? Notice what Jeremiah tells us about himself.

Jeremiah 15:16

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah tells us that he has the words of God. But, in our world today, who now has the word of God? Who has a genuine message from God? Let me make it simple for you. The one who has a true message from God is not the one claiming personal, supernatural, spiritual revelation. The one who is talking to us from God is not the one who claims that the word of God and the ways of God have changed. The person with the message from God is not the person who is trying to shape Christianity according to the present culture or according to the modern intellectual theories of oppression and power playing. No, these are not and have never been the voice of God.

What is the voice of God? Scripture, Holy Scripture, the Bible is the word of God. The same Scripture that was completed in the first century, that has been preserved for generations, that has been translated for our ability to read it, that is the word of God. And the one who is bringing us the message of God is the one who loves the word, communicates to us the word, and is faithful to cleanly handle and interpret the word. The one bringing us the voice of God is the one not telling us new things, but the old, old story of the holy God who rescues sinners in Christ, God the Son. The one telling the truth is the one who lets Scripture speak for itself, who upholds God standards for justice, for faithful living, for kindness, for marriage, for sexuality, for honesty, for worship, and for all that God commands.

Do you want to know who is telling the truth? Do you want to hear the voice of God? Open the Bible. Study it faithfully and prayerfully. Do not look for hidden codes and secret mysteries. Do not look for ways to make it say the opposite of what it actually says. Just love the word and you will be loving the voice of God. Do not fall for those who claim to speak for God while ignoring or inverting the word of God. But follow the counsel of those who honestly, simply, clearly, and faithfully open the word to the people.

Stopping the Pendulum

Sometimes when I think of issues of error, I imagine a pendulum. What I mean is that there is often an overreaction to error that leads to a contrasting overreaction.

For example, imagine a group comes to a conclusion that their services of worship lack zeal and joy; they are too formal and stiff. What will the reaction be? Often, the response will be to throw off reverence and swing dramatically too far toward a service that is chaotic. Later, perhaps years later, that same group will recognize the disorder and chaos in their services and strive for reverence. But, in doing so, this group might in fac, sap the joy and zeal from the services. The pendulum swings.

Or, take as another example the issue of eschatology. For a time, a church might avoid all discussion of end times theology. Suddenly, the leaders recognize that they have been neglecting this doctrine. The swinging pendulum then leads to a group, if they are not wise, talking end-times non-stop so much so that the focus seems to be totally on the return of Jesus with little focus on living in faithfulness and hope in the present. Then, if the group corrects its course, it may again find itself putting the topic of eschatology away too much and acting as though prophecy simply is not a part of the New Testament.

The picture of a swinging pendulum is one that comes into my mind when I think of issues relating to legalism, especially the moralistic side of legalism. How does the Christian respond to the commands of God? We know God’s word is good. We know that his law is perfect, and his commands are always, absolutely right. But we probably have been in places where a focus on the commands of God has led to a moralistic religion.

I certainly have been among believers who focused so much on rules that they became quite similar to the Pharisees. These folks took simple commands of God and expanded them well beyond biblical intent to prescribe a particular code of conduct for believers that could not be found in the word. You will find such things in commands that appear arbitrary among groups—don’t play cards, don’t listen to music with a syncopated rhythm, don’t ever touch alcohol, here is the dress code for all people at all times, etc.

But what happens if we see a pendulum swing away from such moralism? We need to see that swing stop before it goes too far. Otherwise we end up with antinomianism, a throwing off of all law or commands. You will see this in groups that become so radically grace focused that they are unwilling to call anything sin. You see it in groups that so revel in being “real” and being “authentic” that they refuse to speak out against the actions of anyone in their group for fear that they will come off as not gracious, the only sin they seem to continue to acknowledge. You will see it in groups who claim to be Christians, but who completely ignore the word of God when it comes to social issues or modern morality.

How do we avoid a dangerous pendulum swing between legalism and lawlessness? The answer is in the word. Love the word.

Psalm 119:20, 24

20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Look here at how David speaks of God’s law, his rules. He longs for the law of God. He finds the law and testimony of God his delight. There is a genuine love of the word of God—yes, the rules and commands of God—that is present in the heart of a genuinely godly person.

So, if your pendulum is swinging away from Scripture, there is a big problem. If you look at the commands of the word as things about which to be embarrassed, you are headed toward lawlessness. If you see what God says about our lives, our marriages, our sexuality, our finances, our self-control, our eternities and you find it off-putting, you must recognize that there is a problem with your love of the Lord.

But how do we avoid a pendulum swing toward legalism? This is actually simple: love the word. When you genuinely love the word of God, you do not find any reason to think you need to improve upon it. You see God’s affirmation of modesty and his prohibitions against immorality, and you will govern how you dress and behave by that word. You will see God’s word speaking out against drunkenness, and you, when you are of age, will make your own decisions about whether or not drinking at all is wise for you. You will see God’s word speaking about the church being full of reverence, full of joy, living as a family and a body, and you will develop life in accord with biblical commands. As you love the word, you will watch the word counsel you to seek the counsel of other lovers of the word in your local church to help you make word-centered, godly decisions. The more you genuinely love the word, the more you let the word speak, the more that the word alone is your final standard, the more you will avoid both errors of moralism and legalism.

Love the word. Love the word so much that you deeply desire to obey the word. Love the word so much that you do not in any way want to add to it to try to improve it. Stop the pendulum from swinging toward moralism or toward antinomianism, toward legalism or lawlessness, by loving the word of God, all of it.

What We Renounce

I recently wrote a post on a dangerous pragmatism that tempts believers. Often with good motives—a desire for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, or the growth of the church—believers will face the temptation to compromise. Some of these compromises feel small. Some are obviously large. But no generation of Christians has ever been without the temptation to change this or that to achieve greater success or an easier life.

So, when I read Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4, I found myself very glad to see the clear, biblical affirmation of a commitment to avoid things that are easy for us to give in to.

2 Corinthians 4:2-3 – 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

Paul would not practice underhanded ways. Paul would not, ever, allow himself to tamper with Scripture. This must be the attitude and heart of any faithful believer.

Are we tempted to tamper with Scripture? Of course we are. Some are tempted to deny the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy. Some believe that the Bible is accurate to its day, but no longer applicable in its commands as we live in a more enlightened era. Some agree with Scripture completely, but wish to hide from view certain passages that we find embarrassing in a culture that would be offended by them.

What about practicing cunning? How much of that is going on? I think you need only look from organization to organization with the name “church” to see. There are all sorts of strategies being employed to get people to hear a message. Some strategies are not problems. Churches that attempt to reach out in honesty and kindness in their towns are not compromising anything. But what about those who use bait-and-switch tactics to attempt to sneak a message in on folks? Is there any evidence in Scripture of a Christian surprising someone with an unexpected gospel presentation? Certainly not. Nor is there any biblical pattern of Christians pretending to be interested in one area only to then shift and become gospel focused at a later time. This is just not how honest Christians operate. We need not be underhanded. We most certainly are not asked to be tricky. We are to be clear, plain, bold, and honest.

Like Paul, may we learn to be committed to the open proclamation of the gospel and the word of God. May we commend ourselves and our message with no form of deception whatsoever. May we trust that some will receive that message because of the working of God on the hearts of the elect. May we understand that those who are hostile to the clear gospel are not put off by our lack of trickery, but by their sin nature and the blinding influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. May we be able to say that we renounce all that is underhanded out of a clear love of and trust in the Lord and his word.

A Key to Fearing God

Christians, if we have been biblically taught, we know that we are supposed to be God-fearers. But we do struggle to know what that looks like. I have suggested in the past that fearing God for the believer is different than fearing God as a non-believer. We do not desire to run and hide from the Lord. We are not those who cry out to the mountains to fall on us and cover us from the sight of the Lord. While we are in awe of the Lord and we know that we cannot stand before him without his covering of grace, our fear of the Lord leads us to fall to our knees and cry, “Holy!”

What does fearing God look like in a Christian’s daily life? What will it change? I thought of those questions while reading through Psalm 112. Look at the parallel of the first verse, and see what the psalmist equates with fearing God.

Psalm 112:1

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!

How do we know who fears the Lord? The man fears God who greatly delights in God’s commandments. This is evidence of being a God-fearer.

How do you feel about the commandments of God? Are you one who constantly points out the fact that following God is not about rules and commandments? Are you one who looks for the minimum of what you might call mere Christianity? Or, as you know God, do you delight in his commands, all of them? Are you embarrassed by God’s standards when you talk with the lost? Do you wish you could hide God’s word from them? Or do you see that the word of God is perfect, his laws glorious? No, I’m not talking about any form of legalism here. But I am suggesting that a God-fearer loves even the commands of God.

A true God-fearer delights in God’s commandments. That means that, as we know and love the Lord, as we properly reverence and honor the Lord, we will also love his ways. God commanded nothing in history that was not perfect. If we allow ourselves to be ashamed of the commands of God, we show that we do not yet properly fear God. God’s rules for life are worth more than thousands of gold and silver pieces. God’s word is perfect, reviving our souls. God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. God’s word is precious in every way. And God’s standards, even those most hated and despised by the world around us, should bring us delight.

Christian, fear God. How? Delight in the word of God. Delight in the ways of God. Delight in the commands of God. And any time you feel yourself wanting to shrink back from the word of God, remember that God is holy, and God-fearers delight in his word and his ways.

Politically Correct or Biblical

I would love it if my nature had never been corrupted by the modern influence of secular political correctness. The funny thing is, most who are deeply concerned about such things would assume that I have never been influenced by that idea. Perhaps you also think that the unbiblical standards of our society have not influenced you. But I wonder.

When I was reading through Psalm 104, I came across the ending. Like the endings of several psalms, it says some things that do not sound, well, sensitive in a modern context.

The psalm opens with a great deal of praise to God. The author praises God for his power in creation and in how he sustains all of the universe. Such is pretty easy to read and not feel any tension. But then the ending comes.

Psalm 104:33-35

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!

The praising of God is generally socially acceptable, at least at the time of this writing, generally, perhaps, in some parts of the country, if you do it in a non-offensive way, well…. Either way, what I am saying is that verses 33-34 are not what most are going to notice.

Look at verse 35. It’s ending is all nice too. Bless the Lord is acceptable in our minds and does not cause us any discomfort. But how do you, Christian, deal with the beginning lines of verse 35? God’s word says, in a song, “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!” That, dear friends, is not socially acceptable.

But stop and ask a pair of questions. The first one is the bigger one. Are you going to sit in judgment of the word of God? God’s word is inspired and profitable. God’s word teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness. Are you going to dare suggest that his word, his revelation of himself and his ways, is not up to your standard? Be very careful. We are to be conformed to the image of God, not the other way around.

The second question involves the content itself. I think that many cringe at lines that suggest that it would be a good thing for God to wipe out the wicked. But what do you really want? Do you want the Lord to leave the world full of wickedness?

Have you ever considered the basic inconsistency of those who are upset by lines like the ones at the end of this psalm? Is it not interesting that the group which opposes the faith often does so for contradictory reasons? These folks express that they are mad that God allows evil people to do evil things—how can God not jump in and stop such people. They are also mad at the idea that God would ever judge the wicked so as to remove them from this world or to punish them for their deeds—I can’t believe in a God who would judge someone or violate their free will. But you cannot keep both of those objections and be logically consistent.

The world looks at lines like those in verse 35 and decries the hatred and violence of the faith. But this is an unfair criticism. Christians who are biblical do not attempt to spread the faith through physical force. Any who have attempted to use the threat of violence to force a supposed conversion are well beyond the warrant of Scripture. It is not hatred to look at actions that are opposing the standard of the word of God and call said actions sin. That is precisely what we are supposed to do. Jesus certainly did. The psalmist here has no qualms about calling wickedness wicked.

Christians, let’s be careful not to let ourselves be so shaped by the world around us that we try to explain away lines like those at the end of this psalm. Yes, we want to see people turn from sin and be saved. But we also should long for the Lord to do justice, including bringing his judgment on the wicked. This is not us thinking we are better than others. We have been the wicked ourselves. What makes us different is the saving grace of Jesus. So we do not look at anyone as if we are superior. We simply look to the Lord, see his standards, and pray, your kingdom come; your will be done.” And we who know the word know that such a prayer includes a call for his justice as well as his saving grace.