February 15, 2016
This morning I decided to read the book of Lamentations and was once again reminded of the incredible mercy that God had for his people. There are many people who assume that the people of Israel were punished and taken into exile because God in the Old Testament was pure wrath and anger and took joy in seeing his people suffer. What many people believe (as I mentioned in a previous post) is that God evolved from the God of the Old Testament to the forgiving, merciful Jesus Christ of the New Testament. This simply isn’t true, God is just as merciful and forgiving in the Old Testament as he is in the New Testament and his message for mankind never changed. God wants our full obedience and he wants it through a heart and attitude of thanksgiving and praise, not one of obligation.
The people of Israel were constantly on a pendulum of extremes between serving the Lord wholeheartedly and rebelling against him wholeheartedly. God sent prophet after prophet to warn the people of their destruction should they choose not to reform their ways and follow God once again. The people knew what would be the consequence of their disobedience because it had been told to them over and over. They were not caught off guard when the destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 587 B.C. God, in his mercy, sent these prophets to the people in order to point them back to the path of deliverance. God sent the people into exile due to their own disobedience, not because he enjoyed seeing them suffer.
The book of Lamentations is filled with gruesome images and very sad struggles that Israel was going through during the exile. Virgins were being raped (L. 5:11), mothers were eating their own children (4:10), men were forced into hard labor (5:13), infants were fainting in the streets from starvation (2:11), and the people lived in perpetual fear of their captors (4:18). This short book is filled with the terrors and appears like an utterly hopeless situation. Lamentations 2:2 shows God as being “…without mercy…” and verse 4 speaks of his, “…fierce anger…” Gods wrath is being poured out upon the people for their rebellion. Their destruction is even described as being worse than the destruction of Sodom (4:6) because of the prolonged suffering they experience. There seems to be no room for God to act in mercy.
Thankfully, the book does not end with this and it is clear to see God’s hand at work in the lives of Israel even through their destruction. The people of Israel speak in 1:18 saying, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word.” Jerusalem sees the destruction around her and cries out for comfort, but will not receive any. Her own rebellion has brought this upon herself and she must live up to the consequence of repeated rebellion despite God’s repeated warnings.
God’s mercy is brought into focus when the author speaks of the hope he has in the Lord despite his sufferings. L. 3:19 – 25 says,”Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”The hope that is evident amid the destruction is inspiring. There is a clear shift in the author’s attitude as he chooses to continue his steadfast hope in the Lord. He does not deny the terrors going on around him, but understands why they are happening and trusts that God’s faithfulness with continue and will bring them through (3:31-33). The author also calls for the people to return to the Lord and examine their hearts (3:40-42). The author promises that by examining their hearts and returning to the Lord, he will redeem their life (3:58).
God had mercy on the people of Israel before the destruction as he warned them and instructed them on how to avoid their own demise. When they continued to rebel, he released the anger that they had caused in their sin. Following their destruction, the author of Lamentations indicates that the end of their suffering will be because of God’s great mercy on them.