January 7, 2012

A Happy Funeral Dirge: Part I

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." ~Lamentations 3:21-23

The Book of Lamentations is a somber postscript to the Book of Jeremiah. It was Jeremiah who was called by God as a child to reveal sins of the people & the coming consequences. He was the proverbial Prophet of Doom. The book of Lamentations is literally laments over God’s severe penalties for a stiff-necked people…God’s people who had turned their back on the Him. Jeremiah mourns the fate of an apostate & backslidden Jerusalem. A fate that is parallel/similar to a backslidden Christian or Christianity also as we slowly see the church, including evangelicals slowly drifting away from the center of God’s will in terms of obedience. This is a parallel that has lessons to teach disobedient believers and to teach obedient believers.

God had faithfully satisfied every aspect of the covenant He had made with Israel but like a cheating spouse…Israel had been unfaithful in nearly every aspect. Instead of being obedient & receiving blessing Israel would be accursed. They’d be punished for their disobedience. Israel would be punished according to the stipulations of covenant given to Moses.

As stated in Deuteronomy 28:

(v.15) “…if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you…

(v. 25 & 26) “defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away.”

(v.36 & 37) The LORD will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror…

(v.45-47) All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you.

(v.49-52) The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away…they will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land

(v.53) Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you.

Having read these depressing passages from the Law of Moses, we jump ahead in time to the reality of Lamentations again and we see the curses for disobedience played out in Jeremiah’s laments…

God’s judgment has finally taken place. The date is now August 14, 586 B.C. The Babylonians have steamrolled every city in route to Jerusalem in a trail of destruction. The Babylonians then siege Jerusalem for 2 years. As the Babylonians tighten the noose around Jerusalem’s collective neck, Lamentations Ch. 2 & 4 tell us things became so bad that…mothers cooked and ate their children. When the siege of Jerusalem has ended Nebuchadnezzar & the Babylonians have annihilated Jerusalem, they’ve desecrated and leveled Solomon’s temple and carried the Israelites into captivity.

Jeremiah, after being abused, mocked, ignored and even thrown in a well…has been vindicated…but he isn’t celebrating. Everything he had prophesied had come true. He obeyed God and survives the onslaught but…

It comes at the cost of personal persecution & shame
It comes at the cost of “friends” in his own church
It comes at the loss of his beloved city
…and it comes at the loss of his beloved temple

Everything Jeremiah has known has been leveled to dust. The city is now smoldering ruin & only a silent reminder. A reminder that sin, in spite of all its allure and attraction…carries with it sorrow, grief, misery, pain and death. Jerusalem is an image of punishment which lies in the future for all that disobey God and do not follow His Word. God warned of severe judgment for disobedience but was ignored in Jeremiah’s time. These same warnings hold true for today and I fear many are doing the same thing Jerusalem did, even many with the Church and those that believe they have God’s favor.

Had the Israelites simply obeyed, they would’ve received blessings. Instead they experienced Hell firsthand. In Lamentations, Jeremiah shows curses of Deuteronomy 28 are real and have come true. Prophecies of Moses from 900 years earlier have come to fruition.

As such Lamentations reads like a funeral dirge played at half speed…because it is a funeral dirge! Lamentations is laid out in 5 dirges in one large chiastic the center and main point of Hebrew poetry is where the main point resides. In the case of Lamentations this is the center of Chapter 3. The first 2 and last 2 chapters a real desperate and hopeless drone. We see personal pain, misery and affliction, no one is throwing a party in these chapters. Performing cannibalism? Yes. Throwing parties and celebrating? No…unless of course you are the Babylonians.

Even with Chapter 3 we see gloom just as dark…

(v.1) “I am the man who has seen affliction”
(v.2) “made me walk in darkness”
(v.3) “He has turned his hand against me again and again”
(v.4) “made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones”
(v.4) “broken bones”
(v.5) “bitterness and hardship”
(v. 15) “filled with bitter herbs”
(v.16) “broken teeth”
(v.19) “bitterness and gall”… on and on it goes.

It is literally like listening to a broken record of torment skipping over and over.

…but Moses’ prophesied something else in Deuteronomy also…

The same covenant that promised severe judgment for disobedience also promised something else. What was it….?

[Continued in Part II]

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