Lamentations 2:20-3

I don’t know anyone, anywhere, at any time who has described their suffering while hanging onto faith in God more eloquently and heartbreakingly than here. For all Job’s pain and suffering, he doesn’t come close in his 42 chapters to what Jeremiah writes here in these verses of Lamentations.

Because the text is so gripping, I’m afraid to write very much about it, afraid that I’ll keep you from reading the passage for yourself. In much the same way that biting off a hunk of tenderloin and chewing it before passing it along to someone else would be unwelcome, I’m afraid that biting off pieces of this passage and “pre-chewing” would be just as unsavory.

Jeremiah’s prose rises from his depths and reaches across time with words that drop deep. There’s not a fear or a feeling he doesn’t cover in the tender subject of human suffering-while-believing.

There’s also not anything here that needs explaining or summarizing, though I’ve added a simple outline that helps me transition between the different time periods that Jeremiah’s words reference. The marker shows where in the outline the verses beneath it fit. The entire reading for today is included.

20 “Look, Lord, and consider:
    Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
    the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
    in the sanctuary of the Lord?

21 “Young and old lie together
    in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
    have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger;
    you have slaughtered them without pity.

22 “As you summon to a feast day,
    so you summoned against me terrors on every side.
In the day of the Lord’s anger
    no one escaped or survived;
those I cared for and reared
    my enemy has destroyed.”

I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
    and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
    with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
    like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
    he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
    he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
    like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
    and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
    and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart
    with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
    they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
    and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
    he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.

21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot
    all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
    before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
    would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
    and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
    to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled
    and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
    you have slain without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can get through.
45 You have made us scum and refuse
    among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths
    wide against us.
47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
    ruin and destruction.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes
    because my people are destroyed.

49 My eyes will flow unceasingly,
    without relief,
50 until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul
    because of all the women of my city.

52 Those who were my enemies without cause
    hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
    and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

55 I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case;
    you redeemed my life.
59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
    Uphold my cause!
60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

61 Lord, you have heard their insults,
    all their plots against me—
62 what my enemies whisper and mutter
    against me all day long.
63 Look at them! Sitting or standing,
    they mock me in their songs.

64 Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
    for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
    and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the heavens of the Lord.

New International Version, Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Really, God?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the old proverb, “If this is how you treat your friends, who needs enemies?”

The suffering of Jerusalem makes sense, horrible as it is to think of a mother desperate enough to eat her own children. Jerusalem had held a low view of the sanctity of human life for a long time. They’d offered their children as sacrifices to the idol Molech for generations, just the way their pagan neighbors taught them. Maybe cannibalism wasn’t far behind.

But God allowed Jeremiah to suffer, his faithful prophet who always spoke God’s word, even when despised and rejected by his own friends and family. Even when he took the worst of what God brought and kept on believing, Jeremiah’s faith held. This is harder for me to understand.

And then I remember Jesus, God’s Son, God himself, who suffered far more. Jeremiah’s sufferings were like Jesus.’ Jeremiah was put into a deep pit, in complete darkness, and left for dead. God sent along a kind man who convinced the king to lift him out. He was given rags to wrap around himself so that he could be lifted out with ropes, Jer 38:7-13.

Jesus’ sufferings were very like Jeremiah’s, too, even down to strips of cloth. Jesus was wrapped in these after his death. A kind man came along and offered his tomb. In fact, some of the words of Jeremiah echo Jesus’ experience–the bitter gall Jeremiah mentions, Jesus drank on the cross. Jesus, too, was the laughingstock of his people, mocked with a purple robe and thorny crown, taunted with “He’s saved others; let him save himself…” Luke 23:35.

Jeremiah’s suffering begins to make more sense. He gave the people of his day a picture of what their Savior would be like, the Messiah who would come and suffer much worse at the hands of men, who would experience God’s angry back rather than his kind face.

I’m wondering if from verse 55 to 66, Jeremiah is speaking Jesus’ words right along with his own, as if God gives a peek inside Jesus’ experience at least 400 years before it happened. These words in particular comfort me for what Jesus suffered. God may have turned his back on Jesus, but he didn’t forsake him forever.

55 I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”

But why did he have to suffer at all?

I’ve had experience with being in a pit because of my own foolish choices. I’ve felt rejected by God and on my own. It’s frightening to be so alone. I tried to read the Bible for comfort, but I felt worse. None of the promises in it could be for me. I wouldn’t let go of my sin, so I didn’t deserve them. The words stung. I’d turned from God. Had he turned from me? It sure felt like it.

Well, I guess this is what life without God is like. I thought. I’d believed in Jesus ever since praying after Sunday school. I was afraid I might be walking away from him 45 years later. But I couldn’t untangle myself and climb out. I’d tried and failed too many times. I needed a rescue.

And I thought, what I need is a Savior. And then I thought, I have one! I have a Savior! And this is why I have one–because I need one. (Who knew? Certainly not me.)

It was a memorable day, the day I realized I needed Jesus. For some reason, I’d never believed that basic piece of faith, though I’d gone to church all my life.

I began to believe all over again–or maybe for the very first time–everything I thought I already knew about salvation and forgiveness. Maybe it was the first time I’d truly believed. Believing that Jesus died for me rather than just for everyone else sure felt different.

This is the reason Jeremiah suffered, to bring God’s words of repentance and forgiveness to his people. To give them an idea of what the Suffering Messiah would be like. To prepare them for him.

And this is why Jesus suffered, to bring God’s salvation to all people, even me. Jesus took what God dished out so that I would never have to. I needed the good news of Jesus to save me out of my pit. I couldn’t do it, but God reached in, gave me a robe for my rags, and a heart to believe I needed him.

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him,” Lam 3:25.

Hebrews 1

The writer of Hebrews picks up where Jeremiah leaves off. Lamentations echoes the sufferings of Jesus through Jeremiah. Hebrews helps me to see his glory.

God speaks to us “in these last days” by his Son, which implies that the days since Jesus are the “last days.” And then he tells us who Jesus is. He is…

-God’s “appointed heir of all things”

-the one “through whom God made the universe”

-“the radiance of God’s glory”

-“the exact representation of his being”

-the sustainer of “all things by his powerful word”

-the one who purified our sins

-the one seated at God’s right hand

-“superior to the angels”

-worthy of worship

-God himself

-enthroned forever

-rules a kingdom of righteousness

-“love[s] righteousness and hate[s] wickedness”

-exalted above all others

-anointed by God “with the oil of joy”

-the one who “laid the foundations of the earth” and made the heavens by hand

-eternally alive and remains the same

-the one whose enemies will be made a footstool,

This is Jesus-Doctrine, 101. I’m glad for this bigger picture of you than what I usually see, Jesus. In my mind’s eye, you’re usually the shepherd of your sheep or the one who ran the crooks out of the temple.

But you’re bigger and mightier than what those words show me. You’re the One who inherits everything that belongs to God. You’re exactly like God, because you are God, radiant with life because you’re the One who sustains it. You made heaven and earth, suffered death, give us worth, pull praises from angels’ words.

You said you were gentle and humble of heart, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” Mt 11:29.

But you’re also described this way in your word:

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  

“The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS,'” Rev 19:11-16.

You’ll ride in on that white horse, tattooed with “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” your robes bloody, your enemies cowering at your feet. You reign now and one day will be worshipped by every knee and tongue. The Good Guy has already won, and in that day, everyone will know it. All the suffering of life will pale in comparison to the fight you finished so that we would be yours.

I love your approachable, vulnerable description of yourself. But I have to admit, I also love this other side of you, too. I cannot imagine the joy and wonder there will be when you return.

It’s thrilling to know that Jesus, “gentle and humble in heart,” is also such a badass.

Psalm 102

[Verses 25-28 of today’s psalm were quoted word-for-word in Hebrews 1. Coincidence? I think God must have been on the committee that planned the One Year Bible.]

Psalm 102 is another lament. The subtext note under the title, Psalm 102, in my Bible says it is “the prayer of an afflicted man when he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.” Is it another coincidence that we’re already soggy with Jeremiah’s tears? Today, all roads point to crying out.

The psalmist brings his cry to God. He tells him he forgets to eat, he groans loudly, he’s become skin and bones, he can’t sleep. His enemies taunt him all day and use his name as a curse. His tears mingle with his drink, “because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside,” 102:10.

I hate that part. Does God throw us aside? I wonder.

The writer must wonder, too, because in the next verse, he encourages himself by remembering who God is: he’s the one “enthroned forever” whose reputation has been around “through all generations,” 102:12.

And what is that reputation? He tells us: God “arises” to have compassion, 13. He responds “to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea,” 17. He looks down from his sanctuary and watches the earth, “to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death,” 20. This is what God’s known for; he’s praised for these things, 21-22.

The writer answers the question he’s raised: does God throw us aside? Not a chance. It might feel that way, but God doesn’t just listen, he responds to us. He “arises.” He gets up off his throne to help us. He watches over us. He frees us. This is who God is. This is what God does.

The psalmist writes down what’s happened for the next generation, so they’ll know what God’s like and will worship him, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord,” 18. Because while the heavens and earth will one day perish, God remains the same and will never end, 27. We can count on him to be this way every single day–as in forever. He’s got a reputation, after all.

The writer writes so we’ll know God and his plan to give us and our offspring relationship with him, “The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you,” 28.

We don’t have to wait for one day. Living in God’s presence starts the moment we head his way. As soon as I said, “Help” in my pit, God was already running to meet me, (Luke 15:11-32).

But what about living in God’s presence on that day? We’ve already seen a little of Jesus on that day in Revelation. While the Bible tells us bits and pieces about heaven, we really have no idea how wonderful it will be.

I have to think of what feels wonderful to me now, and then imagine it more. So my very best day on earth, x infinity. Plus all the loves in my life, x way more. Add in the best food and comfort and friendships and trips and sights and sounds and pleasures, x eternity. And all of this, for each of us x happily-ever-after, x forever more, x ever after. You get the idea.

My take away today is the wonder of Jesus, the one who meets us in our suffering with comfort; the one who took God’s wrath, so that I didn’t have to. Jesus is the humble, High King; the gentle lamb who rode the donkey into town; the storm tamer who walked on water; the tattooed warrior who treads the wicked “in the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty,” Rev 19:15.

Who is Jesus?

He’s the one who created and celebrates us, who endures and cures us, who forgives and gives us all we need–and more than we can imagine. Thank you God for your Beautiful Son and all he’s done for me.

Anybody who can pull off both a donkey ride into his own death and a charge up the hill leading the armies of heaven on white horses, will certainly be a sight to see.

Glory be.

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