A. Recap from last time:
The centre of the book of Lamentations. We often work towards a climax the end of a piece, but very often in the OT the centre is the high point, the heart of the message. So it is here. This chapter contains the best known verses in the book - 22-23.
Once again it is in the form of an acrostic - but this time in groups of three verses: aaa,bbb,ccc - for all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
v1-18: You Think You Have Problems!
What are you initial impressions of these verses? Do they remind you of any other passages of scripture?
Who it who says: "I am the man..."? Some think Jeremiah, or the King. We do not know for sure but we can say it was a male survivor, a believer. The first two Laments come with female voices - Lam 1 Jerusalem is 'She'. Lam 2 the focus is on the daughter of Zion, daughter of Judah, daughter of my people, daughter of Jerusalem v1, 2,4, 5, 8, 10, 13, 15, 18.
Note how many times he says: 'He has'. Although the destruction was brought about by the Babylonians they are the secondary cause, it is the Lord who is the first cause of the affliction.
Here is a believer who says in v1 that he is under the rod of his wrath. How do you reconcile this with the believer been loved by God?
God's love for his people be seen in three categories: (1) God's love of benevolence (big heartedness, giving out of generosity, kindness, grace,) seen in election and predestination. (2) God's love of beneficence (a gift that is not deserved or earned, but is generously and freely given). (3) God's love of delight or friendship in which he rewards his people for their holiness and obedience to his commandments - Hebrews 11:5-6; John 14:21; 16:26-27.
God loved our writer of Lamentations 3 with a love of benevolence and beneficence, but God did not delight in the sins of the City of Jerusalem and for a while his people were under his rod of wrath. This is the warning Jesus gave to some of the Churches in Rev 2-3:
v19-33: How To Find Hope When Hope Has Perished.
v18 hope has perished.....v21 I have hope.
v22-24: He calls to mind God's love of benevolence and beneficence.
v25-33: He sets about regaining God's love of delight and friendship. Pascal said: "All the miseries of mankind arise from his inability to sit still in his own room." Lloyd-Jones comments: "You have to be still, you must stop, you must be isolated, you must think. You cannot meet with the Lord in the midst of the noise and the bustle and the fury of life. Stillness is one of the great prerequisites."
B. Before we turn this week to the second half I want to make a further comment on v33 .."for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men."
God took no pleasure in the destruction of Jerusalem, the death and the exile of his people.
Yet, had he not warned them in the law of Moses:
Deuteronomy 28:63 And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
I looked up five leading modern commentaries on Deuteronomy on this verse, all ignored the reference to God taking delight in bringing ruin. John Calvin in Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy tackled it in a helpful way:
v63. And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you. The wonderful and inestimable love of God towards His people is here set forth, via, that He had rejoiced in heaping blessings upon them; wherefore their depravity was all the more base and intolerable, in that God, though voluntarily disposed to be bountiful, was obliged by it to lay aside His affection for them. But although it is only by a metaphor that God is said to rejoice in destroying the wicked, yet it is not without good reason that this expression is applied to him; that we may know that He can no more fail to be the defender of His Law, and the Avenger of its contempt, than deny Himself. He complains, indeed, by Isaiah, (10:24) that He is unwillingly forced to punish the Jews; but these two things are quite consistent, that He rejoices in His just judgement, and at the same time is mindful of His clemency and indulgence, so that He would rather pardon, if the wickedness of men would allow Him. But this expression of Moses, that God receives consolation from punishing the wicked, constantly occurs in the Prophets.
Matthew Henry: That is a terrible word (v. 63), As the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, so he will rejoice over you to destroy you. Behold here the goodness and severity of God: mercy here shines brightly in the pleasure God takes in doing good—he rejoices in it; yet justice here appears no less illustrious in the pleasure he takes in destroying the impenitent; not as it is the making of his creatures miserable, but as it is the asserting of his own honour and the securing of the ends of his government. See what a malignant mischievous thing sin is, which (as I may say) makes it necessary for the God of infinite goodness to rejoice in the destruction of his own creatures, even those that had been favourites.
Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Walter Chantry commenting on this:
I like the example that Robert Dabney gave on this subject in an essay. He tells of George Washington sentencing Major Andre to death. You will recall that Major Andre was the officer in the British army who had served as the British agent to receive traitorous information from Benedict Arnold. Major Andre was captured with information about American forts. George Washington had a genuine admiration, love and compassion for Andre and did not want to sign his death warrant. Yet he did sign it. Why? Because of the complexity of the general's motives. Not because he lacked the power to excuse Andre. He had that authority. Not because he failed to love Andre. He did love him. But because the good of his country and the good to all men were involved, he made the decision that Andre must die.
Some no doubt said, 'Washington is a hypocrite to say he loves Andre and then condemn him'. Others no doubt said, 'His hands must have been tied. He really loved the man, so he must have lacked the authority to release him.' Neither is true. Washington could have forgiven Andre and wished to do so. Yet he felt at ease in sending him to the gallows, because of higher considerations. That is just an earthly illustration to warn you away from oversimplified logic when you come to heavenly truths. Remember that God's ways are higher than your ways and his thoughts than your thoughts. We can see reasons or avenues along which the mind of God might travel in loving and condemning at the same time, but unless the Word of God gives us the answers, we dare not make our mind the source of truth by coming to firm conclusions.
C. The second half of the 3rd Lament:
v34-48: Evil In The World:
v34-36: Here is evil as God sees it. (v36 the Lord does not approve - should read the Lord does not see according to Hetty Lalleman in her excellent commentary.)
He sees every injustice. The author of this 3rd Lamentation has seen many such injustices in the fall of Jerusalem. It was not just the most wicked who suffered, but all. (God was alter to punish the Babylonians for their excesses of violence and injustice.)
v37-39: God's punishment is fair. He is not pleading that they are all innocent victims of injustice. Excesses there may have been, but he acknowledges they were guilty and deserving of punishment.
Job 2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
v40-42: He calls on the people to repent. He includes himself - "let us..let us...we have..".
v43-45: Once again we see God's anger. He had hid himself. No prayer can get through. No words of his can be heard.
Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
v46-48: All our enemies are against us.
The writer weeps. Our minds leap forward to Jesus approaching Jerusalem:
Luke 19:41-44 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
v49-66: When The LORD Hides Himself Call to Him!
v49-51: He will weep until the Lord sees. He has a sense of expectation that the Lord will see and act. Why? Because the Lord had not only warned of destruction and exile he had also promised restoration.
Jer 29:10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
v52-54: The danger he faces. Some believe that this suggests that the author was Jeremiah who was thrown into the cisterns - see Jeremiah 38:5-13. That may be the case, but the Psalms uses similar language - see Psalms 42:7; 69:1-2, 14-15; 88:6-7; 35:7-8
v55-57: Persistent calling on the Lord - and now the Lord answers.
v58-60: God redeems him - enemies beware! God is his kinsman redeemer - see the Book of Ruth, Boaz the kinsman redeemer. How wonderful to have a redeemer!
v61-63: God hears and sees all. He has said "Do not fear" but he has not yet delivered him.
v64-66: Romans 12:19 Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. So we must wait and be patient until it is God's time.