Day 10: An Optimistic Lamentation

Lamentations 2:18-22 :

Their heart cried to the Lord.
O wall of the daughter of Zion,
let tears run down like a river day and night.
Give yourself no relief.
Don’t let your eyes rest.

Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.
Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children,
who faint for hunger at the head of every street.

“Look, Yahweh, and see to whom you have done thus!
Should the women eat their offspring,
the children that they held and bounced on their knees?
Should the priest and the prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?

“The youth and the old man lie on the ground in the streets.
My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword.
You have killed them in the day of your anger.
You have slaughtered, and not pitied.

“You have called, as in the day of a solemn assembly, my terrors on every side.
There was no one that escaped or remained in the day of Yahweh’s anger.
My enemy has consumed those whom I have cared for and brought up.

This passage reminded me that there are always two ways for us to respond to God’s wrath. We can confess and mourn for our sins as Jeremiah describes here, or we can harden our hearts against God, like Pharaoh did and like everyone living on earth will do during The Great Tribulation. This tells us something about God that is good to remember.

God listens to sinners who confess their sins. If that were not the case, there would be no point in trying. Here Jeremiah tells the people to cry all day long. He’s not just telling them to be sad. He’s telling them: “Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children.” He’s saying that God is the kind of God who gives mercy to those who cry out to Him, even after they have sinned. This is why it makes sense to be an optimist. Our God is a God of mercy. Even those who sin may end up getting blessed! The mercy of God changes life in a fundamental way. Israel’s history is not just an example of God’s wrath against sin, it’s also an example of God’s mercy toward sinners.

Perhaps this is the fundamental purpose of Lamentations. Perhaps it is God’s intention for us to be sorry for our sins so that He might have pity on us and show His mercy toward us. We do know that this is God’s purpose for us today. God wants every one of us to first realize that we have sinned and understand that the wrath that God has against sinners will come against us unless we confess and seek His mercy. If we don’t lament, we not only fail to see our sin, but we also fail to see that God is a God of mercy.

Day 6: Cut Off

Lamentations 2:1-4 :

How has the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger!
He has cast the beauty of Israel down from heaven to the earth,
and hasn’t remembered his footstool in the day of his anger.

The Lord has swallowed up all the dwellings of Jacob
without pity.
He has thrown down in his wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah.
He has brought them down to the ground.
He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.

He has cut off all the horn of Israel in fierce anger.
He has drawn back his right hand from before the enemy.
He has burned up Jacob like a flaming fire,
which devours all around.

He has bent his bow like an enemy.
He has stood with his right hand as an adversary.
He has killed all that were pleasant to the eye.
In the tent of the daughter of Zion, he has poured out his wrath like fire.

It’s pretty obvious who the subject of this poem is. Eleven lines start with the word “He” and one starts with “The Lord.” God’s actions against Israel are clearly being contemplated in this lamentation. There are those who believe that God wouldn’t punish anyone. They refuse to talk about punishment or Hell, but as you can see, when you read the Bible for yourself, it’s impossible to ignore the wrath of God. If you are walking along with me as a devotional doing one episode a day, you have been reading about God’s wrath almost every day for over a year. That’s a small sample of how much the Bible talks about it. Those who choose to ignore it are doing it at the expense of telling the truth about what the Bible says. If they don’t believe that they need to be saved from it, they are at risk of experiencing it.

If we learn nothing else about the wrath of God as we read through these books of the Bible, I hope we all learn that it’s something to avoid. If God didn’t spare Israel, He definitely won’t spare the Gentiles. That’s not just an assumption. Here’s what Paul wrote into the Bible:

Romans 11:19-21 :

You will say then, “Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” True; by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Don’t be conceited, but fear; for if God didn’t spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you might lose your salvation if you sin. This means that if you don’t recognize your own sin, but instead believe that it was by your goodness that you are saved, you never had salvation. You are a dead branch because you aren’t taking life from Jesus. You are still trying to live independently. A branch has to live off of the tree to live. In the same way we must have faith in Jesus in order to live the Christian life. If we are to avoid the wrath of God, we must trust in Jesus for our salvation. This goes for the Jews and for the Gentiles.

Day 215: A Small but Important Example

Jeremiah 52:24-30

The captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the threshold, and out of the city he took an officer who was set over the men of war; and seven men of those who saw the king’s face, who were found in the city; and the scribe of the captain of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the middle of the city. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah. The king of Babylon struck them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath.

So Judah was carried away captive out of his land. This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive:

in the seventh year, three thousand twenty-three Jews;

in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, he carried away captive from Jerusalem eight hundred thirty-two persons;

in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Jews seven hundred forty-five people.

All the people numbered four thousand six hundred.

One thing I realized as I read this, this time, is that there were only 4,600 people who went into exile. That sure is a small number. It sounds to me like a lot of people must have been killed in the process. We also know that this only represented two tribes of Israel. The rest had been taken away many years earlier by Assyria. Even if the number was multiplied by 10 it would only be 46,000, though. It causes me to realize that God intends for us to focus our attention on Israel, even though they are small. The Bible also tells us why in the New Testament.

As we consider the history of this small nation up to this point, it may seem futile. Why would God save these people out of Egypt with such power and have them build a grand and beautiful Temple, only to have the temple destroyed and the people sent back into slavery? God told them that He already knew that this was going to happen. Doesn’t it seem strange that a God who knew it all ahead of time would do it anyway?

The Bible tells us in the New Testament, that Israel is an example to us. That means that instead of saying to ourselves: “Shame on Israel for the way that they acted,” we are supposed to be putting ourselves in their place. It tells us that Israel’s behavior is the same as that of everyone else. When we attempt to stand on our own righteousness before a Holy God, we all fail. We all end up being taken back into slavery because we can’t do the good that we think we can. Israel’s example is set up for all of us to watch. This is the low part of their story. It’s where we see the futility of mankind. The great part of the story was yet to come as Jesus brought Salvation to them and to the whole world. We get a little reminder of that in our last passage of Jeremiah.

Day 210: Epic Themes

Jeremiah 51:49-53

“As Babylon has caused the slain of Israel to fall,
so the slain of all the land will fall at Babylon.
You who have escaped the sword, go!
Don’t stand still!
Remember Yahweh from afar,
and let Jerusalem come into your mind.”

“We are confounded
because we have heard reproach.
Confusion has covered our faces,
for strangers have come into the sanctuaries of Yahweh’s house.”

“Therefore behold, the days come,” says Yahweh,
“that I will execute judgment on her engraved images;
and through all her land the wounded will groan.
Though Babylon should mount up to the sky,
and though she should fortify the height of her strength,
yet destroyers will come to her from me,” says Yahweh.

As I have studied the Bible, I have noticed that there is an epic theme that emerges. It could be called: “The Tale of Two Cities.” I’ve been told that Babylon is the most mentioned city in the Bible after Israel and that makes sense. These two are in conflict with one another. Babylon represents the world and Israel represents God. The world is involved in idolatry and God’s city isn’t supposed to do that. There was a time when God had Babylon destroy Israel, but these verses of Jeremiah help us to see that there is more going on here. God wasn’t done with Israel or Babylon yet.

The world “holy” means: separate. The Bible tells us that God is holy. In a sense, He is separate from both Israel and Babylon and verses like these remind me of that. God intended for Israel to be the city that demonstrated His holiness by showing the world who He is, but instead, they decided to practice idolatry. So, God had them destroyed, but that didn’t let Babylon off the hook for their idolatry. God was still planning to destroy Babylon too, as we read here. God’s holiness will not be disturbed by any city. If anyone chooses to worship another god, they will be destroyed no matter how they started out. In this sense, the two cities became the same for a while, but why would God allow that?

I believe that this shows us yet another epic theme and that is the theme of grace. God allowed Israel to fall into sin so that He could save them by grace. Their works were not allowed to save them. Instead, God’s city was to rise up out of the ashes as a city blessed by the grace of God, not by works, so that no one could boast. Those who trust in their own works cannot build a city strong enough to withstand Babylon, but those who have been saved by God’s grace, rest on the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus must first save Israel and when Israel rises up by grace, the Holy Spirit will make it unstoppable.

Day 203: Not Forsaken

Jeremiah 51:1-8

Yahweh says:
“Behold, I will raise up against Babylon,
and against those who dwell in Lebkamai, a destroying wind.
I will send to Babylon strangers, who will winnow her.
They will empty her land;
for in the day of trouble they will be against her all around.
Against him who bends, let the archer bend his bow,
also against him who lifts himself up in his coat of mail.
Don’t spare her young men!
Utterly destroy all her army!
They will fall down slain in the land of the Chaldeans,
and thrust through in her streets.
For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, by his God,
by Yahweh of Armies;
though their land is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel.

“Flee out of the middle of Babylon!
Everyone save his own life!
Don’t be cut off in her iniquity,
for it is the time of Yahweh’s vengeance.
He will render to her a recompense.
Babylon has been a golden cup in Yahweh’s hand,
who made all the earth drunk.
The nations have drunk of her wine;
therefore the nations have gone mad.
Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed!
Wail for her!
Take balm for her pain.
Perhaps she may be healed.

When I read this passage, I remember the words that Jesus said:

Matthew 7:2

For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you.

In this prophesy, God tells us that Babylon was to receive arrows just as they gave them out. They were also to receive battle against those who wear coats of mail, have their young men cut down, and be attacked by people from far away. God was going to give back to them what they gave to His people Israel, but the most amazing thing I read here is what God said after that.

God said: “For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, by his God, by Yahweh of Armies; though their land is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel.” This may be the most clear and obvious passage that directly opposes replacement theology. That’s the belief that the Church replaces Israel and has now obtained all of her promises. The typical argument that I hear is that the Church has been given Israel’s promises because Israel was unfaithful to God. That argument is directly refuted here. God doesn’t give to Israel according to her deeds. God’s promise to be faithful to Israel does not depend on Israel’s performance. The reason that I bring this up over and over again, is because this is a Gospel issue. If God’s faithfulness depended on man’s performance, then salvation is based on man. The true and only Gospel teaches us that it is not by man’s performance at all, but by God’s faithfulness alone that we are saved.

The last few verses here should sound pretty familiar. That’s because something very similar is written again in the last book of the Bible. Many prophesies in the Bible have an immediate application as well as a future one. A surprising fact about the Bible is that Babylon is one of the biggest subjects. For a city that doesn’t even exist today, that’s kind of peculiar. Obviously, the old city of Babylon was destroyed many years ago, but what that nation started in the world is still alive and well. Babylon loved idols and was proud against God and it was eventually destroyed. It stands as a symbol of what is about to happen to all who have followed her ways.

Day 198: Israel’s Future Innocence

Jeremiah 50:17-20

“Israel is a hunted sheep.
The lions have driven him away.
First, the king of Assyria devoured him,
and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones.”

Therefore Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says:
“Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land,
as I have punished the king of Assyria.
I will bring Israel again to his pasture,
and he will feed on Carmel and Bashan.
His soul will be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead.
In those days, and in that time,” says Yahweh,
“the iniquity of Israel will be sought for,
and there will be none,
also the sins of Judah,
and they won’t be found;
for I will pardon them whom I leave as a remnant.

The first verse in this passage sums up what happened to Israel as a nation. First the northern kingdom was taken by Assyria. Then, Babylon came and destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in the south. Although God used both countries to perform His punishments, God also intended to punish those other countries as well. From the human perspective bad was happening all over the place, but it’s important for us to see things from God’s perspective. Every single event that happened was purposed by God. He was always in control. That’s important for us today when things look bad to us. God is still in control and He is using all of the circumstances for His glory. He’s also using those circumstances to bless His people.

We read here that God promised a time, after Babylon is brought down, that the remaining Israelis would return to the land in innocence. God intended to bring some of them back and give them forgiveness. We read about that when we went through the books that Ezra wrote. Let’s look back and see:

Nehemiah 8:3,5-6

He read from it before the wide place that was in front of the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those who could understand. The ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law… Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people), and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God.

All the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with the lifting up of their hands. They bowed their heads, and worshiped Yahweh with their faces to the ground.

It’s pretty obvious that these people who returned to the land after Babylon was taken over by Persia, had a much different attitude than their relatives who had been taken captive many years ealier. Notice that these people chose to stand outside and listen to Ezra read the Bible for hours! Ultimately, the people agreed by saying “Amen” and bowed all the way down with their faces to the ground. If you go on reading, you learn that they were actually crying too. God’s truth made them sad. That’s because God’s word exposes sin as we see how bad we have been. These people weren’t perfect, but it is clear that many of them had their hearts in the right place. God was willing to forgive them and bless their efforts as they rebuilt Jerusalem. God’s intentions were good the whole time. He used these events to expose and remove sin, and then to provide forgiven to His people.

Day 187: Respecting Israel’s God

Jeremiah 48:18-28

“You daughter who dwells in Dibon,
come down from your glory,
and sit in thirst;
for the destroyer of Moab has come up against you.
He has destroyed your strongholds.
Inhabitant of Aroer, stand by the way and watch.
Ask him who flees, and her who escapes;
say, ‘What has been done?’
Moab is disappointed;
for it is broken down.
Wail and cry!
Tell it by the Arnon, that Moab is laid waste.
Judgment has come on the plain country—
on Holon, on Jahzah, on Mephaath,
on Dibon, on Nebo, on Beth Diblathaim,
on Kiriathaim, on Beth Gamul, on Beth Meon,
on Kerioth, on Bozrah,
and on all the cities of the land of Moab, far or near.
The horn of Moab is cut off,
and his arm is broken,” says Yahweh.

“Make him drunk,
for he magnified himself against Yahweh.
Moab will wallow in his vomit,
and he also will be in derision.
For wasn’t Israel a derision to you?
Was he found among thieves?
For as often as you speak of him,
you shake your head.
You inhabitants of Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock.
Be like the dove that makes her nest over the mouth of the abyss.

In this part of Jeremiah’s prophesy against Moab, God goes into detail and specifies some of the cities that will be destroyed. God said that “all the cities of the land of Moab, far or near” were going to experience His judgment. God also explains that the reason for all this is that Moab was acting proudly against God and God was taking revenge against them for how they treated Israel.

God accuses the Moabites of magnifying themselves against God. He also says that He saw them mocking the Jews. They treated the Jews as if they were theives. It’s interesting to me that this is being done by many today. They accuse the Jews of taking money out of the economy while ridiculing them for things that they haven’t actually done. God told Moab that in their day of judgment, they would be the ones being mocked. They would also be the ones that people shake their heads at in disgust. They will end up living in hiding places like wild animals.

This is a lesson to us about how to treat the nation of Israel. Obviously, Israel had been doing evil. In one sense, they didn’t deserve respect. It was so bad that they were in the process of being judged by God for their sin, yet, God still judged Moab for their their treatment of Israel. Just because Israel does evil, doesn’t mean that we are free to start mocking them. The reason is quite simple. God decided to attach His Name to a nation and a place on earth. Even when Israel is wicked, we are to respect God’s Name. In other words, we don’t mock Israel even when they deserve it, because God’s Name is attached to them. God will be the One to mock them and when He does, they will be purified. Our job is to continue to respect God’s will in the matter. If we don’t then we are also acting wickedly like Moab was here.