Day 18: What We See and What Will Be

Lamentations 4:1-6 :

How the gold has become dim!
The most pure gold has changed!
The stones of the sanctuary are poured out
at the head of every street.

The precious sons of Zion,
comparable to fine gold,
how they are esteemed as earthen pitchers,
the work of the hands of the potter!

Even the jackals offer their breast.
They nurse their young ones.
But the daughter of my people has become cruel,
like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the nursing child clings to the roof of his mouth for thirst.
The young children ask bread,
and no one breaks it for them.

Those who ate delicacies are desolate in the streets.
Those who were brought up in purple embrace dunghills.

For the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom,
which was overthrown as in a moment.
No hands were laid on her.

When I look at my world today, it appears that most popular entertainment assumes that God isn’t there. TV shows, movies and even the commercials promote things that go against God’s word. It’s as if there’s this assumption that Christianity is just a silly little pretend thing that some people like to do. At the same time, everyone seems to be getting and staying quite wealthy as if they are right in what they are thinking. What we read here in Lamentations, reminds us that what we see now, could disappear completely.

What Jeremiah witnessed was the fall of a great civilization and he lived to write about it. The expensive and great buildings of Jerusalem were turned into broken down slums. The children of this once great culture were lacking food and milk so badly that they were worse off than the wild animals around them. Those who used to live confidently in their wealth were now living in what I would probably call “crap” today. Jeremiah called it “dunghills.” It may have seemed, at one time, like the people were secure in their wealthy self-sufficient lives, but they weren’t.

Jeremiah writes, and God affirms, that “the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom.” Even though the people of Judah and Jerusalem appeared to be doing quite well without following God’s rules, they were actually setting themselves up for complete destruction. What we can learn from this is that what we see may not be even close to the reality of what is coming. It all depends on what God is preparing and that depends on how we treat His word. If a culture chooses to deny God’s word and follow their own way, they are building up wrath, but if they choose to repent and turn to God, they find His favor, even if they are poor. It’s important for us to not to assume that what we see here, represents the truth about a culture. In our current age, things can be turned upside down in a very short period of time.

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 7: A God Forsaken Place

Lamentations 2:5-10 :

The Lord has become as an enemy.
He has swallowed up Israel.
He has swallowed up all her palaces.
He has destroyed his strongholds.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation in the daughter of Judah.

He has violently taken away his tabernacle,
as if it were a garden.
He has destroyed his place of assembly.
Yahweh has caused solemn assembly and Sabbath to be forgotten in Zion.
In the indignation of his anger, he has despised the king and the priest.

The Lord has cast off his altar.
He has abhorred his sanctuary.
He has given the walls of her palaces into the hand of the enemy.
They have made a noise in Yahweh’s house,
as in the day of a solemn assembly.

Yahweh has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion.
He has stretched out the line.
He has not withdrawn his hand from destroying;
He has made the rampart and wall lament.
They languish together.

Her gates have sunk into the ground.
He has destroyed and broken her bars.
Her king and her princes are among the nations where the law is not.
Yes, her prophets find no vision from Yahweh.

The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground.
They keep silence.
They have cast up dust on their heads.
They have clothed themselves with sackcloth.
The virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.

One thing that the fall of Judah and Jerusalem shows us is what it is like to be forsaken by God. I’ve mentioned this before. It’s like experiencing a little bit of Hell. When God turns His back on you, you not only lose your access to God, as is expressed in the fact that Judah had no priests, but you also lose your government, which was expressed in the fact that Judah’s kings were taken into exile. Government may seem like a problem today, but let’s not forget that the absence of government is actually much worse. Government, even in its perverse form today, is still an extension of the hand of God. Even though justice is often poorly applied, it is still applied against many evil doers, even today. The same goes for religion. Because many are still allowed to live as Christians in peace, the 10 Commandments are still in operation among believers in the world. If God were to remove all government and all Christians, the world would experience the kind of Hell that Judah was experiencing here.

Another part of this horror was the fact that they stopped hearing the voice of God. His word was no longer being taught to the people. Proverbs reminds us of what this this is like. Let’s read that again:

Proverbs 20:20 :

Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in blackness of darkness.

It may not seem, like this proverb is talking about God’s word, but I believe that it is pretty clear. When you are cut off from your father and mother, you are cut off from the influence of God’s word in your life as a son or a daughter. The same thing happens when you are cut off from God. The worst thing that happens to you is that you lose your sense of direction. As rebellious human beings, we easily lose sight of the fact that God’s authority and God’s word are absolutely necessary for our well being. All God has to do is take those things away and it becomes painfully clear that we needed them all along.

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 154: Talking to God without Listening to Him

Jeremiah 37:1-10

Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned as king instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah. But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, listened to Yahweh’s words, which he spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.

Zedekiah the king sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Pray now to Yahweh our God for us.”

Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people, for they had not put him into prison. Pharaoh’s army had come out of Egypt; and when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news of them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.

Then Yahweh’s word came to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Yahweh, the God of Israel, says, ‘You shall tell the king of Judah, who sent you to me to inquire of me: “Behold, Pharaoh’s army, which has come out to help you, will return to Egypt into their own land. The Chaldeans will come again, and fight against this city. They will take it and burn it with fire.” ’

“Yahweh says, ‘Don’t deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely depart from us;” for they will not depart. For though you had struck the whole army of the Chaldeans who fight against you, and only wounded men remained among them, they would each rise up in his tent and burn this city with fire.’ ”

This piece of history records a very interesting situation. God tells us that neither the king, “nor his servants, nor the people of the land, listened to Yahweh’s words.” Even so, “the king sent… to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘Pray now to Yahweh our God for us.'” What we have here is one-way communication. Israel decided not to listen to God but expected God to listen to them when they were in trouble. It appears that “when the Chaldeans… were besieging Jerusalem,” the Israelis found it in their best interest to have the prophet that they ignore pray to get the war to stop. We get to read here about how that turned out.

At first, it appeared to work because when Egypt decided to move in, the Chaldeans “withdrew from Jerusalem.” Perhaps they thought that they could ignore God and get His blessing anyway by praying some magic words, but God made sure to have Jeremiah give them another message.

God not only didn’t choose to help them, He repeated His intention to have them be destroyed. He had the very same prophet that they had been ignoring, tell them that the Chaldeans would not only return, but that even if they were all wounded, they would still end up burning Jerusalem.

There’s one thing that appears to be very clear from this passage. You can’t expect to pray to God for His help if you have been ignoring Him. I believe that this passage demonstrates that not only will God not help you, He may get angry and hurt you. Some may say that God is being mean here, but that’s because they are still refusing to see the obvious. God is a real person and He can’t be boxed up in a man-made, man-focused religion. Just like you would expect of any person, God gets angry when He’s ignored and He doesn’t feel close to people who try to use and abuse Him. He’s also the most powerful person and can do something about it when He’s mistreated. It is a lesson to us to pay attention to God’s words, then we can expect that God will hear our prayers for help.

Day 129: In the Latter Days You Will Understand

Jeremiah 30:18-24

Yahweh says:
“Behold, I will reverse the captivity of Jacob’s tents,
and have compassion on his dwelling places.
The city will be built on its own hill,
and the palace will be inhabited in its own place.
Thanksgiving will proceed out of them
with the voice of those who make merry.
I will multiply them,
and they will not be few;
I will also glorify them,
and they will not be small.
Their children also will be as before,
and their congregation will be established before me.
I will punish all who oppress them.
Their prince will be one of them,
and their ruler will proceed from among them.
I will cause him to draw near,
and he will approach me;
for who is he who has had boldness to approach me?” says Yahweh.
“You shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
Behold, Yahweh’s storm, his wrath, has gone out,
a sweeping storm:
it will burst on the head of the wicked.
The fierce anger of Yahweh will not return until he has accomplished,
and until he has performed the intentions of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it.”

At the time that I make this, Israel is its own country and is in its own land, yet, I can’t say that it is ruled by a prince who has the boldness to approach God Himself. It’s clear to me that this passage is, once again, talking about the very last days when Jesus Himself rules in Israel. The Bible makes it clear all over, including Daniel, Jesus’ words about the end in Matthew and Luke, and in the book of Revelation, that a time of great distress will come at the very end. This is the time when Jesus will have vengeance on a world that has rejected God and Him as their savior. It’s the time of God’s “fierce anger.” It’s difficult to find a time in the Bible that is discussed more than this one. God doesn’t want people to go through this time and has given us all a way to escape it if we will believe Him.

The book of Revelation is especially clear about this time in history. In it we read that God will first build up the people who have rejected Him and then, suddenly, unleash His wrath against them all. In the process, Jesus will kill all of His enemies and free the group of His people, Israel, that believe in Him and are in hiding. The book of Revelation is very clear that there will be a world war against Israel at one point. Jesus will destroy an enormous army and their leader and usher in world peace, making Israel the world capitol. As we read back in Isaiah, Israelis will be shipped at the expense of the other nations, back to Israel to live and serve in this now great country.

I like how this passage tells us that we will understand it “in the latter days.” It’s difficult to imagine a day when God’s way is the only way that anyone wants to go. Rebellion against God is the rule of our time, but in that day we will understand.