LAMENTATIONS 1:1 – 5:22 and 2 JOHN 1–13
The Book of Lamentation is a collection of 5 poems that were written after the Babylonian invasion and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem. These poems capture the grief and sorrow of the priestly prophet as he now bears witness to all that he had been prophesying about through his many years of ministry. Why are these laments included in the canon of scripture? One of the points that has been made on numerous occasions is how the life and ministry of Jeremiah so parallel the days we are currently living in. Perhaps it is to serve, among other things as a warning to the church of the last days. These poems give a raw reflection of how Jeremiah felt as took note of this new reality.
Before going into a brief review of this Book, it is good to remember that Moses spoke earlier that their captivity was going to happen. In spite of the record, that Israel had and all the warnings in the lead up to the captivity Israel never gave heed. What does it take for a people to respond to God’s Word in the midst of overwhelming evidence? What will it take for the church and people of our day? The church of the last days is far more accountable with all of the historical evidence that we have at our disposal. It is hoped that these laments apprehend us and help to reprioritize our lives; to apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Deu 32:15-18, Psa 90:12).
Israel had the promises, they experienced the glories of David and Solomon’s kingdom as well as several other godly kings yet they continued in their rebellion. They had the finest of prophets sounding forth consistent prophesies yet they persisted in their idolatry. Jeremiah is now consumed with the consequence and fulfilment of all that was spoken through the generations. Israel, the glory of the nations has now been reduced to rubble. Is it any wonder that Jeremiah is in deep lamentation?
Jeremiah’s lamentation is expressed in verse 1 as he beholds the desolation of Zion that was once full of people and glory. In verse 2, we see so called friends turning on him. This is the fruit of disobedience when we put reliance on people or things other than God. They may be the means of temporary relief but in the end, they will betray those who have rebelled against God. As the verses continue, we see the judgements as pertaining to Zion. There are no more of the 7 feasts to celebrate; there are no priests to give direction and guidance resulting in a lamentable condition. The beauty of Zion (Psa 50:2) and all of its spiritual splendour has departed. When doing our summary through the Book of Isaiah we took note of Isa 2:3 where it spoke of people coming up the hill of the Lord to receive his law, to be taught His ways while learning to walk in His paths. What happened, why did Israel fail in the end? The truth is that Jerusalem and the Holy City has grievously sinned in every imaginable abomination. It is clear why they are being judged so severely yet it is hard for Jeremiah to believe all that it is now taking place.
In verse 10, there is the pillaging of the temple and of its relics in open defiance and mockery of the people of Israel. Truth has fully fallen in the sanctuary and now lawlessness has been unleashed. In verse 13, we see the sad reality of what happens when a nation has fully turned from God. Everything that used to come easy is now burdensome and even worse it is the Lord who is fighting against them. God would answer in times past but no more. They came to the place of taking the goodness of God for granted. The heritage of the leaders is affected as the children rebel against authority and fall prey to the wiles of the enemy. This is a great concern today as we see children who embody the entitlement mind-set. They live as if they are owed everything that life has to offer. They take strong issue with anyone who seeks to bring correction into their lives. The educational systems in many countries have proven to be breeding grounds for inculcating these values or lack of them. The end result is a hopeless situation with no one to provide any relief which now includes God. Take a look around today and notice how self-absorbed people are. People are losing touch with reality by becoming desensitized to the warning signs that can be seen everywhere.
In verses 18-20 Jeremiah prays a priestly prayer by identifying on behalf of the people. He acknowledges their sin and accepts the fact that the judgement of God is warranted. This is something that will be seen by others as well after Israel is taken into Babylon. Daniel, Nehemiah and Ezra all pray similarly in taking responsibility on behalf of the people. This is a true priestly function and it moves the heart of God as part of the Restoration process.
The sovereignty of God is one of the features of this 2nd lament. It is God who rules in the affairs of men (Dan 4:35). It would be good to bear this in mind in our walk with God. It was God who was allowing the enemy to be stirred up against Israel due to their sins. If Israel would try fighting against Babylon they would be actually fighting against God. It is essential that we have the mind of the Lord before engaging in any kind of warfare since we do not want to be coming up against the Lord. Zion is again mentioned and it refers to all that was lost. It was the perfection of beauty seeing that the presence of the Lord dwelt their under the stewardship of David. The beauty of the Lord also speaks of the holiness and wisdom of God both of which are now long gone. Jeremiah can only weep and lament over what was once theirs. The people had nothing to lay hold of, as all was lost. The city of Jerusalem was once thought to be impregnable but now the walls have been cast down.
In verses, 13-14 there is the danger of allowing the Lord to speak to uncircumcised hearts. This is a significant judgement and one that will be seen in greater measure in the days to come. Ezekiel elaborates on this truth in Eze 14:4. Can we fully appreciate what this means? If our heart is beholden to idols there may come a time when God will answer and affirm in that area of our life. This will be one of the primary mediums in how the church will divide in the last days. We have the opportunity to meet God in the hidden areas of the heart now and we want to take full advantage. There will be prophets as there are today who will be false and used of God to speak to that which is in people’s heart. Jeremiah was well experienced in having to deal with these contradictory prophetic voices which further added to his woe. What a price he paid!
Another devastating judgement is the reproach that comes after such a fall. People pass by and shake their heads as they take note of a former glorious city being brought to ruins without remedy. How difficult it would be to endure such a time especially if you had witnessed the former glory. What’s worse are ministers who once knew the way falling into everlasting damnation due to their continual rejection of truth (2:15-16). This truth coincides with what Jesus declared in Math 7:20-23. He mentioned that one would know a person by their fruit. There will be those who once knew God who will call upon God only to discover the rebuke of the Lord and to be told to depart from Him. Can we grasp the eternal lament of such a statement after thinking that we were ok? Oh God, have mercy on each of us and let the Fear of the Lord be the foundation of our walk.
One of the keys in being preserved in the midst of judgement is to be among those who are marked by the Lord as one who cries out for the sins of the land (Eze 9:4). This is a priestly posture and it reinforces the importance of the true emerging priesthood that is needed today. When we think of Jeremiah, we merely think of him as being only a prophet. Let us not forget he was also a priest and it is this aspect of Jeremiah that comes forth in the five laments of this book. The quality of a holy mourning is something that God highly esteems; it brings a cleansing and a blessing. The Lord takes note of our tears and cries (Psa 56:8).
In this 3rd lament we see the faithfulness of God as worked out in the life of Jeremiah. This chapter is full of rich insights and could never be done justice in a short summary. To fully appreciate the magnitude of the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah we need to understand his background and preparation. There is no way someone can just become a prophet and convey God’s heart the way Jeremiah did without first becoming the message himself. One of the familiar verses in the Book of Jeremiah is found in chapter 15 ( Jer 15:19). It is here where Jeremiah is given the opportunity to know the reality of having the precious separated from the vile. This will be his message and he accomplishes it by the faithful declaration of God’s Word to Israel. To be the messenger that God was calling Him to be he had to first come to know the message on a personal basis. Jeremiah was struggling at this time due to the weighty message he was called to bear. The Lord was extending an invitation to draw near unto Him and in doing so; he would have that separation first realized in his life. This is how a true priest is prepared for ministry; he first comes to know the message before he proclaims the message. Many refuse the accomplishing of this work in their lives opting for a more palatable alternative. Jeremiah declares the faithfulness of God in how he was prepared throughout the verses of Lamentations 3.
Take a look at verses 1-4 and see if it does not resemble the descriptions of the Lord. This is a picture of Jesus as the great high priest. Jeremiah was truly able to identify with many of the future sufferings that Jesus would endure. There are others who endured similar trials such as Job (Job 16:13) Ezekiel and Hosea to name a few. Paul wrote in Hebrews that the Lord Himself learned obedience as the Son of man through times of suffering (Heb 5:8). It is painful and it is real but the eternal work that comes forth is priceless. This whole chapter speaks on the dealings of God within the life of a faithful servant. If one were to view this from a casual viewpoint, it would appear to be cruel and unwarranted punishment against chosen men who were innocent. One could never rationalize the workings of God from a human perspective. At the same time, a human perspective will never be able to grasp the eternal weight of glory that such a work produces. Paul was able to see it and speak of it.
2Co 4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
It certainly was no light affliction that Jeremiah and others experienced but when seen through the lenses of God it is glorious. In verse 14, we see another reproach the great men and women of God would endure. It is the scorn and ridicule of men. It is one thing to lament and mourn over a city and nation that has been stripped of its former glory but it is not helped any by people who mock and jeer the prophet’s plight. King David also came to know this manner of suffering (Psa 69:12).
The center point verses of Lamentations 3 would have to be verses 22-23 where the prophet speaks of the mercies of God which are new every morning. It is here where he magnifies the faithfulness of God. This is coming from a man who has endured many years of faithful testimony on behalf of God to a people who rejected the message. This man is now seeing and living through the fruits of his prophetic words having come to pass. In spite of his misery, sadness and lament he can still declare the faithfulness of God. We see that well-known hymn “Great is thy faithfulness” but do we know its context? We sing that well-known song “The steadfast love of the Lord” but do we really know its context? The greatness of Jeremiah is seen in these Lamentations as he assumes the priestly role of crying out on behalf of his people. In the midst of all the fallout from the judgements that have come upon them, he can still declare the faithfulness and never ending mercies of Almighty God. What a great man he is!
Let’s consider another familiar verse from chapter 3. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth (vs 27). If a young person takes to the intentional study of God’s Word and applies himself at a young age he will reap the fruits in his later years. Faith can be exercised in the day to day affairs of life; it is tested and has potential to be enlarged. Remember, many of the leaders in the pre and post Restoration era were young and yet note the impact that they made. If we are older we should then be investing in young people, seeking to provide a bridge in working alongside them. Jeremiah is a model man for both young and old alike.
The 4th lament depicts the judgements that came upon Judah and upon the nations that were used of God to judge Israel. It opens by remembering the former glories of Zion which was the beauty of Jerusalem. The treasures that were once part of the sanctuary of Zion have now been taken and the city destroyed. A Bible School teacher of repute likened these verses to what he experienced in the teaching in a Bible School over a number of years. He lamented that many of the students that had such great promise and opportunity amounted to nothing in their later years. What a tragedy this is! I have seen many examples myself having been involved in Bible Schools over a number of years. It is very sad in contemplating some of the wasted lives of people who once had great potential and opportunity. One can start so well but it is how we finish. This is why the exhortation to Israel was to always uphold and keep the laws of God. It was also the instruction for kings as they progressed in their reign (Deu 17:18-20). Their failure in being able to do this is why you find Jeremiah in deep lamentation. There are many instructional lessons in this book for us today.
Jeremiah presents a contrast of two different kinds of animals to characterize where Israel was at. The sea monsters care for their young and look after them while the ostriches neglect them. The nature of the ostriches can apply to Zion in Jeremiahs day. They have no concern for the future generations. This was a problem that was seen in some of the godly kings of Israel. We take special note of King Hezekiah who was happy that judgement would not be seen in his day but in the days of his sons. It is an issue today as well. There are many nations that are running up astronomical debts which will saddle future generations. Is this right, is it fair? Of course not but it speaks to a “me first” mentality that is becoming more apparent. Is it any wonder that the up and coming generation is pushing the issue of entitlement? It is because the earlier generation “baby boomers” grew up the same way. Now that many baby boomers are in places of authority and leadership there is the nurturing and sowing of entitlement thought.
It is amazing to think that Israel suffered on a larger scale that those who were judged in Sodom over the sin of homosexuality. It was a painful slow death due to hunger, disease and other maladies. It must be noted that Israel had much more light than did Sodom. They also had Sodom as an example of what happens when a people disobey God. What does this mean for us who have been enlightened beyond measure? How accountable are we? The subject of foundations is addressed in verse 11. The foundation of Zion was built on truth. It was now in shambles due to the erosion of Truth through the years. The truth of God’s Word is under assault today. It starts with a subtle chipping away of doctrinal issues which increases over time. It is the adherence to God’s Law that helps to keep the foundation strong and secure. The psalmist writes that if the foundations be destroyed what then can the righteous do (Psa 11:3)? This is insightful and helps us in our understanding of spiritual warfare. It is vitally important that we as church leaders endeavour to uphold God’s Laws and statutes. A good meditational read of Psa 119 helps to reinforce this truth.
It is because of the sins of the prophets and priests that Israel is in this state. It is the responsibility of leadership to uphold God’s standard and show the way. Jeremiah spoke to this subject earlier in Jer 5:31 where he mentions the prophets speaking falsely while the priest bear rule on their own terms. As this chapter comes to an end the enemies who were once united against Israel is now being broken up in opposition to one another. The bond that held them together was their hatred for Israel and now that Israel has been destroyed they have no means of unity to hold them. Looking at our world today, we can safely conclude that there is nothing new under the sun.
This final lament is a plea that Jeremiah makes on behalf of the people. They are in great distress and hunger as a result of the judgements that have come upon them. In reading this lament let’s consider the spiritual depravity of today’s church seeing that we are not suffering physically as this group was; at least for now. Throughout this lament, Jeremiah gives an accurate account of their depravity likening the people to spiritual orphans and widows. (Many were actual orphans and widows) He recalls the sins of their forefathers in verse 5, which would speak of Manasseh and his transgressions. Jeremiah speaks of their great hunger in verses 10, which causes Israel to resort to many atrocities in seeking to fill that void. Have we ever been hungry with no means of food in sight? It may not seem like much when we are full and reading of events like this because we have never been through such suffering.
In the last days there will be a spiritual hunger (Amos 8:11) as well as worldwide famines. Israel was now going through a desperate crisis due to their disobedience to the Word of God. Later in verse 15, we see that all the joy has been removed and taken away. The prophet Joel spoke concerning the fact that joy would be withered from the sons of men (Joel 1:12). The priestly prayer of Jeremiah again comes forth in verse 16 where he confesses the sin of the land. In true priestly fashion, he assumes responsibility by saying “we have sinned”. This is what a true priest does, he identifies with the sins of a nation. Thus is why God takes note of those who sigh over the transgressions of the land as seen in Eze 9.
They have become servants to foreigners in their own land. The description given is being like orphans and widows. The fornication and adultery that Judah had been guilty of now comes back to haunt the exiles as their women are raped and abused (vs 11). The resultant destruction has taken the heart and resolve out of the people. They have no vision or hope to sustain them. The habitation of Zion that once was the glory and splendour of God is now inhabited by foxes. How apt when you consider what Solomon wrote in SOS 2:15 concerning the little foxes that spoil the vine. This is what happens when sin and compromise are not addressed; when deaf ears are given to the correction and exhortation of God’s Word.
Through all of this Jeremiah speaks of the unchanging God. He knows in the short term there will be continued devastation and misery. In the long term there is the hope of future Restoration. This is why vision is so important; it holds a people like an anchor and has them looking forward to a better day. The children of Israel had no vision; they lived for the day and are now paying the consequences. When reflecting on this event how would you rate the vision of the worldwide church today? How about for our own individual lives? One cannot help but see the striking parallels of Jeremiah’s day with ours.
The final exhortation of the prophet is that God would turn again towards the people so that they would turn again unto Him. He also realizes that God is just in judging His people for their sin. It is with the hope that this captivity and period of judgement would do a work of cleansing so that a people would be restored into right fellowship with God. All of this could have been avoided and can be avoided today if we would just learn to live and obey by His Laws. If we would allow God to work deep within our lives as we learn to walk in the light as He is in the light daily (1 John 1:7). When He speaks, when He touches issues in our lives we need to respond. This is why obedience is far better than sacrifice (1 Sam 5:22). It is an immediate response to the spoken Word of God and it allows God to work His pleasure in our lives. If we turn a deaf ear to His Word or hide and evade the Truth it will one day catch up with us. There is so much more that can be said about this great man Jeremiah. Let’s try to summarize his ministry in this way. In Jeremiah 5:31 he speaks of the prophets speaking falsely and the priest bearing rule by their own means. The Book of Jeremiah is the portrait of a true prophet while the Book of Lamentation is a portrait of the true priest. In other words, the life of Jeremiah is a counter to what is described in Jer 5:31. It is hoped that we learn and benefit from his example.
John opens this brief letter by greeting “the elect and her children”. Is the lady a reference to the church like we see in other places or is it a person? The consensus seems to be that it was to a recognized godly woman in the church community. It looks like it was some sort of a house church where the people would gather. Perhaps it can be likened to Lydia whose house was open to the early believers of what later became the Philippian church. He places immediate emphasis on Truth in verse 2 even before he gets into the standardized greeting you see in other letters. There was considerable false teaching that surrounded these regions as seen in the writings of Paul and Peter. The traditional church greeting is given in verse 3. When reading any of the letters of the early church fathers always take note of these standard introductions. They were not just words but had real meaning due to the challenges that confronted them. The subjects of peace and grace need to be understood in their true nature in the days that are set before us.
John is encouraged in seeing that his followers are walking in both Truth and Love (vs 4-6). Jesus Christ is the embodiment of Truth and in Him there is no darkness. To be men and women of the Truth require that we walk in obedience to the light. This then leads to a greater revelation of His love. John covered the theme of love in his first letter and picks it up again here. As we come to have a fresh revelation of God’s love, we have a greater ability to love others. To know the love of God we must know and love the Truth. When we walk in this measure of love we find the ability to keep His commandments. It is in the keeping of His commandments where we demonstrate our love for God.
John picks up on the theme of false teachers and their doctrines that were in the world (vs 7-11). John recorded what Jesus said concerning the Truth in his Gospel. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free (John 8:32). The reverse of this is also true. If we make allowance for false doctrine or teaching, it can lead us astray into the paths of unrighteousness. Many people who err in false doctrines are those who once knew the Truth. It is usually because they have not allowed their heart to be circumcised by the Word of God, allowing for an open the door to eventual deception. There is the sobering warning in verse 8 that wrong teaching can cause us to lose the things that have been gained. In fact such teaching can do eternal harm in the life of a believer. We need to pray to be aligned with a church and doctrine that is pure and sound. The key is to have a heart that seeks after purity.
There is a strong warning to pastors in verses 10-11 as to who is invited to speak behind the pulpit. There are many false teachers who go about sowing tares in subtle fashion which subvert many unstable souls. It is also important that we do not bless or condone those who propagate such teachings. The Apostle Paul speaks in 1st Timothy 5:22 that we are not to lay hands suddenly upon a person that we become a partaker of their sins. As pastors and leaders, we need to be careful as to how we pray for certain people. For example, let’s say someone comes forward and asks for prayer regarding a relationship they are involved in. It is important to ask the person to be more specific; is it a developing dating relationship, is it a relationship that involves divorce etc? By praying, for God’s blessing on something that is doctrinally not pure is in essence condoning sin.
John closes this brief letter with a benediction where he expresses his desire to visit this house group one day. It is far better to convey teaching and truth in person as opposed to a letter. This house group should encourage us as we see Christianity becoming more marginalised in these last days. There is nothing like sweet fellowship and communion with the body of Christ in a family type atmosphere. I get the sense that this will become more prominent and need in the days to come.