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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lamentations



Lamentations

 
I’ll bet you haven’t heard many sermons in church taken from Lamentations.  Preachers seem to skip over this unpopular little book in the Bible with all of its doom and gloom.    The theme of Lamentations is human suffering and God’s punishment for sin and about more human suffering and more of God’s punishment for sin.    

 
Lamentations describes in poetic form how the Jewish people felt when they lost everything.   How they cried and mourned and despaired when in 587 B.C. the Babylonian army surrounded the walls of their beloved Jerusalem and kept them imprisoned inside the city for many weeks!  How the citizens of Jerusalem were unable to get outside to their farms and to their sources of food and how some of them resorted to cannibalism and many starved to death. 

 
The poetic laments describe the pitiful cries of little children dying in the streets from hunger!  And desperate parents not being able to do anything.  And later the soldiers breaking into the city and burning and sacking it.  And dragging the people still alive away to Babylon to be slaves.  And the neighboring tribes making jokes and laughing at them as it is happening.    .  

 Lamentations begins by describing the city of Jerusalem as a widow who has lost everything and like a princess who has been captured and forced into becoming a slave.  And Lamentations ends with: “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored: Renew our days as of old, unless You have utterly rejected us and are furious with us!”  (Lamentations 5: 21-22)  Their sin had led them to sorrow and suffering.  (Lam 1; 8) And their sorrow and suffering had led them to repentance (Lam 1:20) and hope (Lam 3:19-24) and then hope to prayer and prayer to faith for restoration. (Lam 5:21) 

 
As bad as the suffering was, it worked to change a whole generation.  A rebellious Jewish nation returned to faith in their God.  The Jewish people all knew that God was allowing them to suffer because they had disregarded Him and ignored his laws.  For centuries they had sinned and sinned with abandon.  And now it was finally catch up time!  Their sins were catching up on them!  Their God of justice would not wait forever! 

 
Lamentations is a book of poems written about how it feels when all has been lost. And poems about hopelessness and loss and shame.  Not very upbeat topics.  The poems seem to have been composed during and after the time in which all this was happening.  The first poem or chapter tells about how the Jewish people’s feelings were hurt because their neighbors didn’t care.  And it describes the defeat of Jerusalem in battle and the temple being destroyed.  The people know that God has allowed this because of their rejection of Him.  They know!

 
 The next four poems continue describing the homesickness of the people for their beloved homeland and their memories of what they used to be.  Briefly faith in God is rekindled when they remember God in all his love and mercy. (Lamentations 3:19-33)  But then the poet depicts defeat: death of loved ones, the loss of freedom, loss of land, loss of respect, rape and cruelty and forced labor.  And the knowledge that they brought it on themselves!

 
 The author of the book is unknown, but Bible scholars believe that Lamentations was probably written by Jeremiah.  God had made a covenant or a promise to the Jewish nation that He would bless them if they would follow Him and worship Him and that He would punish them if they refused to worship and follow Him.  (Leviticus 26)  It was a two way promise or covenant.  The Jewish people quickly forgot the promise that rejecting God would eventually have consequences.  And their God of justice would eventually punish them for their sins! 

 
The books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles describe the moral decline of the Jewish people over hundreds of years before finally God had had enough and allowed the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem.  The Jewish kings and religious leaders were mainly responsible for leading the Jewish people away from God.  Soon the people were worshipping idols and even killing and sacrificing their little children to these idols.  They believed that their idols would give them a good crop and help them win a battle. All of the other nations were worshipping idols and the Jewish people wanted to do what everyone else was doing, even if they had to disobey God!

 
Over the many years before this disaster God had sent prophet after prophet to the Jewish people to warn and plead with them to return to Him.  God wanted so badly for his people to trust Him and He begged them to be kind and fair to one another.  But sadly the Jewish people didn’t listen.  They had become a violent nation constantly fighting against one another.  And a greedy group, as they took advantage of the widow and the orphan and treated their slaves poorly.  Finally judgment was God’s righteous response to sin and rebellion.

 
What can the book of Lamentations teach us?  First of all that we are living under a different covenant than the Jews of 587 B.C.  They were living under the Law and we are living under Grace because since that time Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  Even unbelievers are not normally punished for their sins until the next life.  (2 Peter 2:4-10)  And we do not bear punishment for sin we commit, since Christ has suffered in our place. 

 
The book of Lamentations shows how weak people are when they try on their own to obey the Law, and how unable they are to serve God in their own strength.  This drives us to Christ.  (Romans 8:3)  Even in these poems in Lamentations, glimpses of Christ shine through.  He is our hope (Lamentations 3:21, 24,29)  He is the manifestation of God’s mercy and compassion. (Lam.3:22, 23,32).  And He is our redemption and vindication. (Lam.3:58, 59)  God had promised them a Messiah!

 
God’s judgment for sin is not a popular sermon topic in Christian churches today.  And it is not fashionable for Christian leaders to preach about hell even though Jesus spoke often about hell and hell is mentioned many times in the Bible.  One of the pastors of a mega church of 45,000 people here in Texas brags that he never preaches about God’s judgment for sin.  He says he wants to make his congregation “feel good”. It’s nice to feel good but in order to become followers of Christ we will need to look at our sins and try to turn away from them and come to God with a repentant heart.

 
The destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and the lessons God taught His people were so significant that the Jewish people started reading the book of Lamentations every year at an annual service.  They did not want to forget how easy it had been for their people long ago to slip away from God and go down the wrong path.   They did not want to have to learn those painful lessons all over again.

  Defeats as well as victories need to be remembered by all of us.  Sin is serious business.  It may not “feel good” to be sorry for our sins but repentance is at the heart of our Christian faith.  (1 John 1:9)  As followers of Christ we might take time often to prayerfully examine our lives asking God to show us where we are sinning against Him, so that we can repent.  And encourage our churches to do the same.

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