Day 17: Hardness of Heart

Lamentations 3:58-66 :

Lord, you have pleaded the causes of my soul.
You have redeemed my life.
Yahweh, you have seen my wrong.
Judge my cause.
You have seen all their vengeance
and all their plans against me.

You have heard their reproach, Yahweh,
and all their plans against me,
the lips of those that rose up against me,
and their plots against me all day long.
You see their sitting down and their rising up.
I am their song.

You will pay them back, Yahweh,
according to the work of their hands.
You will give them hardness of heart,
your curse to them.
You will pursue them in anger,
and destroy them from under the heavens of Yahweh.

At the end of this third lamentation, we are told that God not only sees Israel but that He has redeemed them. We also learn that God has seen the evil done by Israel’s enemies. God had already prophesied this through Jeremiah, but here in this lamentation, Israel recognizes the truth that God intends to pay their enemies back for what they had done. The thing that really caught my attention is the way in which God chose to curse Israel’s enemies.

It says here that God chose to curse Israel’s enemies by giving them “hardness of heart.” That may not seem like much of a curse, but it’s important to understand where we have seen this curse before. Hardness of heart is what God cursed Pharaoh with back when the Israelis were enslaved by Egypt. This gives us a great example. Every time that Moses would ask Pharaoh to let his people go, Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened and he would refuse to do it, and every time he did that, there would be a horrible plague that would do damage to him and his country. That shows us just how the hardness of heart is a curse. It causes a person to destroy himself by stubbornly refusing to obey God. Through disobedience, God merely punishes the hard-hearted one until he is completely destroyed. The hardness of heart is what God uses to “pursue them in anger, and destroy them from under the heavens.”

A hardness of heart is quite evident in my world at the time of this writing. It’s as if people cannot see the harm that our disobedience to God is doing. Against all reason, some are choosing to refuse to allow the goodness of God to guide our country as a whole. They are abandoning God’s word and replacing it with disorder and confusion. Instead of going back to God as things deteriorate, they run farther from God. This lack of sense causes me to think that these people may be experiencing the curse of a hard heart. Pharaoh ended up dying, along with his entire army. Babylon was also destroyed. In the same way, I don’t believe that things will go well for those whose hearts are hardened by God today.

Day 16: Complicating Things

Lamentations 3:52-57 :

They have chased me relentlessly like a bird,
those who are my enemies without cause.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon,
and have cast a stone on me.
Waters flowed over my head.
I said, “I am cut off.”

I called on your name, Yahweh,
out of the lowest dungeon.
You heard my voice:
“Don’t hide your ear from my sighing,
and my cry.”

You came near in the day that I called on you.
You said, “Don’t be afraid.”

As I read this passage again, I realized that enemies of Israel walk a very thin line. There’s only one good reason to be Israel’s enemy, and that’s if the God of Israel tells you that you must. Any other reason is not a good one. This passage tells us that Israel had “enemies without cause.” That tells me that they were attacking Israel for their own reasons without regard to God’s will. I’ve talked about this quite a bit as we have read the prophesies against Israel’s enemies, but it is very revealing that God tells us that they were taking advantage of God’s will to do their own, rather than simply being obedient to God in the matter. That’s something that we should also avoid. Our flesh can deceive us and make us think because something is good to do, that we are doing it for the right reasons. Even when we do something good, we must continue to rely on God’s power to do those things, otherwise we may fail to actually be doing those things with the right attitude.

The most wonderful thing about this passage is the fact that God was listening to the cry of His people. It clearly says here that “You came near in the day that I called on you.” Obviously, God wasn’t ignoring His people as was written just a few lines earlier. It just felt that way.

One of the most common messages that God brings to man is repeated here. It is: “Don’t be afraid.” Rarely a day goes by that I’m not afraid of something. The fact that God says this to us so often, tells me that fear is a serious problem for all of us. That’s one of the interesting things about sheep. They are pretty easily spooked. We are like sheep to God and He kindly reminds us to not be afraid, even after we have done wrong. In a sense, Lamentations has been an expression of fear that culminates in this wonderful three words. When we worry, we can really make life complicated but God shows us that the way forward is to simply keep trusting in Him.

Day 15: Getting Real with God

Lamentations 3:40-51 :

Let us search and try our ways,
and turn again to Yahweh.
Let’s lift up our heart with our hands to God in the heavens.
“We have transgressed and have rebelled.
You have not pardoned.

“You have covered us with anger and pursued us.
You have killed.
You have not pitied.
You have covered yourself with a cloud,
so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us an off-scouring and refuse
in the middle of the peoples.

“All our enemies have opened their mouth wide against us.
Terror and the pit have come on us,
devastation and destruction.”

My eye runs down with streams of water,
for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
My eye pours down
and doesn’t cease,
without any intermission,
until Yahweh looks down,
and sees from heaven.
My eye affects my soul,
because of all the daughters of my city.

It appears that, at this point, Jeremiah realizes that the only right thing for Israel to do is to take a good look at their ways and come clean before God about the reality that they have sinned. The problem is that it doesn’t appear that God is forgiving them right now, so Jeremiah is in torment. He knows that they should be admitting that they are wrong, but he feels as if God isn’t listening to them. His people are still getting devastated by His anger.

Do I believe that God isn’t really seeing the confession of His people? No, I believe God was seeing it. I don’t believe that just because Jeremiah wrote about waiting until God happens to notice their confession, that God hadn’t noticed. I think that this is just evidence that this as an honest lamentation. It’s not a record of truth about God’s behavior. It’s an honest record of man’s emotions about the torment of God’s punishment. It’s man’s feelings about what God might be doing right now, even though He wasn’t. This should be comforting to us.

God expects us to be honest with Him about our feelings, even when they are wrong! Have you ever considered the fact that God already knows what you are feeling before you express it? Just because you don’t express your feelings to God, doesn’t mean that He can’t see exactly how silly they are right now. These lamentations are yet another evidence that God wants us to pour out the truth about what we feel to Him, even when we are wrong. God is a real person and He cares more than any other person we know. He wants our emotions even though they are imperfect. If you think about it, this makes sense. If we want our emotions to improve, we must bring them, as imperfect as they are, to God so that He can change them. God is able to deal with our wrong feelings and help us walk back into the light.

Day 14: Remembering the Multitude of his Loving Kindnesses

Lamentations 3:28-39 :

Let him sit alone and keep silence,
because he has laid it on him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust,
if it is so that there may be hope.
Let him give his cheek to him who strikes him.
Let him be filled full of reproach.

For the Lord will not cast off forever.
For though he causes grief,
yet he will have compassion according to the multitude of his loving kindnesses.
For he does not afflict willingly,
nor grieve the children of men.

To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth,
to turn away the right of a man before the face of the Most High,
to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord doesn’t approve.

Who is he who says, and it comes to pass,
when the Lord doesn’t command it?
Doesn’t evil and good come out of the mouth of the Most High?
Why should a living man complain,
a man for the punishment of his sins?

It may be that man’s most significant problem is that He keeps trying to supplant God. An amazing thing that Lamentations shows us is that we can do this even while undergoing suffering. God Himself may be disciplining us, and we will still try to do something to make things better for ourselves. Jeremiah reminds us, here, that the best thing we can do is to “sit alone and keep silence.” He isn’t saying this because all is lost. In fact, the exact opposite is true. “For the Lord will not cast off forever.” Instead of trying and trying to solve our own problem, it’s time to return to simple faith.

So what is the fact that we should consider as we keep our silence in our suffering? Here it is: God “does not afflict willingly.” Eventually, He will save us. Besides, “Why should a living man complain… for the punishment of his sins?” That’s what we are really doing when we get all upset about our suffering for our sin. We are complaining about our punishment, all the while failing to remember that God doesn’t want to be punishing us in the first place! I do recognize that there are times when we suffer when we did not sin, like Job did, but even then, we can trust that God has something good in mind, like Job came to understand.

The simple fact that we can rest our faith on, is that God intends to “have compassion according to the multitude of his loving kindnesses.” May we remember this when we suffer.

Day 13: The Greatness of God’s Faithfulness

Lamentations 3:19-27 :

Remember my affliction and my misery,
the wormwood and the bitterness.
My soul still remembers them,
and is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind;
therefore I have hope.

It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed,
because his mercies don’t fail.
They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.
“Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul.
“Therefore I will hope in him.”

Yahweh is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that a man should hope
and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

If you are still breathing, there is hope for you. That’s the wonderful thing about Hell on earth. As long as we are still alive, we can hope in God because God has clearly promised that anyone who calls on Him will be saved. Those who die in their sins will have no hope. At this point in our study, the sun rises on this lamentation. If I’m not mistaken, this is in the very center of all five lamentations. It would appear that the structure of the poetry points to this by placing it in a prominent place.

When we are weighed down in our sins, it’s important for us remember this: we still have hope. As Christians, we can never lose our hope because we have been given eternal life, not based on our good works, but on Christ. Our sin as Christians, no matter how horrible it is, still cannot keep us from our destiny. It may land us in jail. It could even mean that we must die, but it can’t keep us from our eternal hope. Those who are not Christians, still have hope too. If they haven’t died yet, they can use the breath that they are borrowing to cry out to God. God’s “mercies don’t fail. They are new every morning. Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

The last paragraph, here, reminds us of the importance of waiting for God. Our salvation often isn’t immediate. I sometimes wonder why, but I believe that one reason may be that it causes us to value it more. In the last statement, it says: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” The best time to get punished is when you are still young and have enough time to live life the right way. It’s horrible to have wasted your whole life in sin without an opportunity to live for God for very long. I’m so glad that my parents disciplined me as a youth. What an amazing opportunity it has been to live for God, but I also see areas where I wasted vast amounts of time. All of us fall short of the glory of God, but we know the way out. To God we all can say: “Great is your faithfulness.”

Day 12: God’s Enemy

Lamentations 3:10-18 :

He is to me as a bear lying in wait,
as a lion in hiding.
He has turned away my path,
and pulled me in pieces.
He has made me desolate.
He has bent his bow,
and set me as a mark for the arrow.

He has caused the shafts of his quiver to enter into my kidneys.
I have become a derision to all my people,
and their song all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness.
He has stuffed me with wormwood.

He has also broken my teeth with gravel.
He has covered me with ashes.
You have removed my soul far away from peace.
I forgot prosperity.
I said, “My strength has perished,
along with my expectation from Yahweh.”

It’s bad enough for God to turn his back on you. It’s even worse for Him to go on the offensive and attack you. That’s what these verses describe. When we become an enemy of God, He will attack and He will obviously win.

In this passage, God’s attack is compared to a bear and a lion. Mankind doesn’t have much of a chance against these beasts, but the passage also describes God as having weapons. If a bear had a weapon and you had none, then you can pretty much assume that you are dead. God will win when He chooses to attack you and this passage tells us that God does attack people. It’s important that we are honest about these things with each other. It may not be popular to talk about in our culture, but it is the truth and as I mentioned before, it’s here for a reason. Hell is real and it is an attack by God on those that refuse to accept His provision for sin.

This passage also talks about the fact that other humans join in and put down a person that God doesn’t like. That’s pretty easy to understand. We know that when someone is unpopular, it’s pretty common for there to be people who enjoy the process of making a person feel like dirt. We read here that God uses this as a part of His punishment too. This reminds me that Hell is not a party. Your friends won’t be friends there.

This passage also says that God removes peace from a man that He despises. I think that another way to look at this is that God can cause a person to be under constant stress. It’s good to remember that this is a part of God’s wrath. As Christians, we don’t have God’s wrath anymore and we shouldn’t be under constant stress. We need to remember that God saves us from that and that we should expect His peace in our lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, hope is one of the most important mental states in this life. In battle, it is obvious. Troops without hope are not likely to succeed. Ultimately, that’s what is taken away when God becomes an enemy. Thankfully, God was not leaving Israel for good.

Day 11: When God Turns Away from Man

Lamentations 3:1-9 :

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.
He has led me and caused me to walk in darkness,
and not in light.
Surely he turns his hand against me
again and again all day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin old.
He has broken my bones.
He has built against me,
and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in dark places,
as those who have been long dead.

He has walled me about, so that I can’t go out.
He has made my chain heavy.
Yes, when I cry, and call for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has walled up my ways with cut stone.
He has made my paths crooked.

This part of the Bible teaches us that it is important to consider what it is like when God is against you. It’s important that we not think of God as a big Santa Clause in the sky. God isn’t just there for us. We were made by Him and for Him. God is there for us in a sense that He loves us and wants to help us, but He isn’t a tool in our hands to be used for our own desire. Our will was intended to be subjected to His. When we consider the true nature of God, we must consider His wrath and anger because it is real. His wrath is what we get when we choose to make ourselves greater than He is.

There are several things that a man experiences when God turns against him that are represented in this passage. One is that they walk in darkness. I take that to mean that his life becomes hopeless in that he can’t see around him anymore. Another thing mentioned here is that he becomes unhealthy. God is always involved in the processes of our body that keep us well. He also mentions that God surrounds him with “bitterness and hardship.” He says that it’s like having a heavy chain on him. He mentions that God puts up walls in his path and makes his paths crooked. This reminds me to thank God when my day is going smoothly. It is God who holds the power to change our smooth days into difficult ones.

I think that the worst thing in this passage is that God no longer listens to prayer when a man is in this condition. This is a place that none of us should ever be in, but it’s good for us to consider what it is like. If a man chooses to ignore God and His mercy, all that is left is to suffer alone and without hope. God hasn’t provided a way for man to walk independently of Him and end up well. Those who choose to rebel against God, are choosing to not have their prayers answered and that very well may be the very worst part of going to Hell. In this life, hope is always in the back of our minds, but when God finally turns His back on you, all hope is gone.