Tuesday, 11 November 2014

(316) November 12: Lamentations 3-5 & Hebrews 8

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what the response to the exile the writer is commending.

To ponder:
The writer seems to continue personifying the afflictions of the nation of Judah itself. In all this, we must see a foreshadowing of Christ’s sufferings, in which he represents his people – suffering the afflictions they should suffer in punishment for their sin.
            The author begins declaring his affliction is to be beaten with the rod of God’s wrath, walking in the darkness of grief and despair away from the land, rather than in the light of hope and joy (3v1-3). 3v4-6 use the language of death. The writer describes the people’s bitterness, and inability to rise up and escape, all by God’s intent, as he will not even hear the people’s prayer (3v7-9). So Judah is without help, like the person dragged away by a wild beast (3v10-11). What follows describes the people’s suffering as being targeted, made a laughing stock, given bitter food, trampled on the ground, and deprived of peace, prosperity and splendour. The sense is of the nation brought low in numerous ways (3v12-18). From 3v19 the writer seems to speak as himself. He remembers all this and is downcast, but also remembers there is hope. It is in God’s daily compassion and faithfulness to his promises, which mean that the people haven’t been totally consumed. So the writer models what the people should do. They should say God is their portion – ie. the inheritance they treasure, and wait quietly for him to act, confident that he is good to those who seek his mercy and hope for his salvation (3v19-26). It’s a model for how we should respond as we suffer the afflictions that accompany humanity’s exile from Eden.
            3v27 even claims that it is good to be burdened with suffering like a yoke when young – no doubt because it brings the things of 3v22-26 to mind. So the writer urges the young person to sit in silence, not complaining, but accepting the sufferings of the exile are from the LORD. To bury his face in the dust may be a sign of bowing low in submission, or of extreme repentance in which dust was put on the head. Offering one’s cheek to those who strike and being filled with disgrace, imply a person accepting the right punishment for their sin. The point is that when someone sins, they need to accept the consequences from God. And they can do this, remembering that men are not cast off by him forever. Indeed, God will show compassion as he doesn’t take pleasure in bringing affliction.
            3v34-36 may refer to God seeing and so punishing Judah for her oppression of the needy. Alternatively, it may refer to how he sees and will bring to account those who oppress others as Babylon have oppressed the people. Whatever the case, what follows is an affirmation that Judah’s sufferings were decreed by him just as he decrees all things. This means that none can complain at their punishment, because it is just (3v27-39). But it also means, that the punishment can be removed, if the sinner repents. So the writer urges the people to examine themselves with him, return to God, confess their sin, and pour out to the LORD the sufferings they are enduring at his hand (3v40-48). He declares he will keep crying until God sees from heaven. And he grieves particularly over the women of Jerusalem, perhaps because they are amongst the most vulnerable (3v49-51). 3v52-66 may refer to the writer as representing the people, speaking in past tense of a future deliverance. But it seems more likely to be the writer (possibly Jeremiah) recounting his own experience as proof of what God might do for the nation if they call upon him. It tells of how his enemies sought his life, and how God then heard his plea, reassuring him not to fear. He notes that God subsequently redeemed his life, before praying for vengeance on his enemies for their plotting and mocking. The point is that God can likewise redeem his people’s life in Babylon, and judge the Babylonians for what they’ve done.
            In what follows the sons of Zion are likened to gold that has lost its worth, being considered like clay pots. The heartlessness of the people in refusing bread to their children is also likened to the ostrich which was considered harsh in its treatment of their young. The loss of the richness of what the people experience is then stressed, and their punishment said to be worse than that of Sodom, in part because famine is worse than sudden death. But the real depth of suffering is seen in the fact that once compassionate women were being reduced to eating their own children to stave of hunger (4v1-10). This all refers to the siege of Jerusalem. And we then read that it was a manifestation of God’s wrath. Although kings didn’t believe Jerusalem could be taken, it was because of the sin and violence of its religious leaders, who now grope through the streets in a lost state and are ostracised by the people for the evil they did (4v11-16). It is very hard to consider such extreme suffering as a just punishment, but it all highlights just how serious evil and idolatry is, and how terrible hell will be also.
            The writer recalls how the people looked for help from a nation (Egypt) who could not save them, whilst having their movements restricted by the Babylonians. They were then pursued and captured, with king Zedekiah (the LORD’s anointed), under whose protection they expected to survive, taken also (4v17-20). To all this, the writer mockingly urges Edom on her rejoicing at the fall of Judah, but adds that the cup of God’s wrath will then be passed to them, and they will lose all they have, whereas Zion’s punishment and exile will end (4v22). It’s a reminder that although the world may laugh at the struggles and sufferings of God’s people, they will one day be judged with no hope of deliverance.
            Chapter 5 again calls God to “see” and so remember all that has happened. A vivid lament details what has happened and the lost it entailed (5v1-14). So joy has turned to mourning, the crown of being the LORD’s people has fallen, their hearts are faint – and all because Zion lies desolate (5v1-18). But the book ends affirming God reigns forever, asking why he has forsaken them so long, and praying that he would restore and renew them (5v19-22). After the relative lack of hope found in the book of Jeremiah, amidst the despair of Lamentations, our eyes are therefore set again on God’s compassion and mercy that is ready to hear and forgive those who persist in calling upon him.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he displays grace every morning in giving you life and so much good. Pray that you would live repentantly before him.

Thinking further:
None today.

If you receive this post by email, visit bible2014.blogspot.co.uk and make a comment.


Post a Comment