A. Tragedy Theology
The tsunami tragedy of December 26, 2004, resulted in massive loss of life. So did the earth-quake on the Pakistan-India border of October 8,2005. Many organizations and nations responded by providing immediate and continuing aid for the ones who survived but who had lost homes, possessions, and their means of livelihood. Tragedies of such proportions affect everyone psychologically. The enduring question is Why? Accounts from the tsunami and earthquake tragedies tell of individuals or groups that were spared through various circumstances. Did that mean that God was with them more than He was with the ones who lost their lives?
God knows when tragedies occur, for He knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground(Matthew 10:29). The fact that death can come at any age or in any circumstance confirms that an individual must be prepared for that possibility at all times. Every day there are accidents and acts of terror. No one is guaranteed that he or she will be alive tomorrow.
Thousands around the world die each year be-cause of the fact that they are Christians. They lose their lives simply because they give expression to their faith by assembling together, distributing literature. or even using charitable acts as methods of evangelism. In many parts of the world it is just expected that a Christian will suffer. Yet the ultimate purpose of life for the Christian is to die in Christ. Family members who survive have a loss, but they are blessed with expectation of reunion. They also have examples of how a Christian handles the trials of life. God is with His people in both life and death.
B. Lesson Background
Nebuchadnezzar became the king of Babylon when his father died in the summer of 605 Scathe Babylonians had just defeated the Egyptians, and to demonstrate that there was a new power in the region, Nebuchadnezzar took captives from Jerusalem. They included the prophet Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar allowed Jehoiakim to remain on the throne of David.
Nebuchadnezzar returned in the summer of597 BC to put down a rebellion initiated by Jehoiakim. But Nebuchadnezzar found that Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, had been reigning for three months. Nebuchadnezzar therefore took Jehoiachin and 10,000 others captive. He then placed Zedekiah (Jehoiakim’s brother) on the throne (2 Kings 24:14-17). The prophet Ezekiel was among the captives taken to Babylon then. Zedekiah, Judah’s last king, was therefore a puppet king under Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was not a good puppet, however. At the beginning of his reign he sponsored a gathering of messengers from other nations. They came to Jerusalem to plan rebellion (Jeremiah 27:1-3).On that occasion Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to put a yoke on his neck and to announce to the delegates that Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant, and that all the lands were given by God into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (27:4-0). To prophesy this submission did not seem very patriotic, but it was in the best interests of the nations involved. Would Jerusalem obey?
I. Siege of Jerusalem(2 Kings 25:1, 2, 5-7)
King Zedekiah made a trip to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign (about 594 sc; Jeremiah51:59). It is sometimes thought that he and others who plotted against Babylon were compelled to make this journey in order to give personal expressions of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. A few years later. however, Zedekiah rebelled(2 Kings 24:20). Nebuchadnezzar then moved to subjugate the disloyal nations, and Judah was first on his list.
A. Dates Determined (vv. 1, 2)
1, 2. And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about.
The tenth month is in winter. This shows Nebuchadnezzar’s determination as he begins the military blockade of Jerusalem. Polite warfare (if there is such a thing) in ancient times waits until spring and the beginning of the dry season. To move an army and its equipment into position in the rainy, cold months of winter is a hardship.
The conditions inside Jerusalem are not pleas-ant during the long months of siege. There is the constant thought that the enemy outside is waiting for you to surrender or starve. In the mean-time the Babylonians patiently work to breakthrough the defenses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of “foxhole faith” inside Jerusalem at this time.
Jeremiah’s message is that the lives of the people and the city itself can be saved only by surrender (Jeremiah 38:17, 18). Some of the officials of the city attempt to have Jeremiah killed for discouraging the men of the city with these words. The food supply eventually becomes so critical that some women eat their children(Lamentations 2:20; 4:10).
This time there is not a miracle to save Jerusalem, unlike the threat by the Assyrians over100 years prior (see 2 Kings 19:34, 35). In July of586 BC, the Babylonians finally force their way into the city.
B. Disasters Described (vv. 5-7)
5.And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the king, and overtook hint in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were scattered from him.
Zedekiah and others attempt to flee from the wrath of the besieging army, but the tactic does not work. The Chaldees (Babylonians) capture the fleeing king on the plains of Jericho. The soldiers who are pledged to defend the king abandon him. It is every man for himself!
6.So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him.
Zedekiah is closely related to the three prior kings of Judah. But his royal pedigree is of no value. He is just a prisoner, walking many miles to the north to meet the king of Babylon, whom he has betrayed. Every step is difficult, and the anticipation of the outcome only increases the anxiety.
7. And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.
The last thing that Zedekiah is allowed to see is the death of his sons. (See question #3. page4221 Then he is blinded, perhaps with hot coals. He will never rebel again. Several years earlier, Ezekiel had made an interesting prophecy aboutZedekiah: he was to be brought to Babylon, but he was not to see it (Ezekiel 12:13). The judgment on him by Nebuchadnezzar fulfills the prophecy. Other leaders of Judah also experience death at Riblah (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jeremiah 39:6).
II. Statements of Jeremiah(Lamentations 3:25-33, 55-58)
Jeremiah is traditionally thought to be the author of the book of Lamentations. The theme of the book is the desolation that accompanies the destruction of Jerusalem.
It has now been some 40 years since Jeremiah was called to prophesy. In one sense Jeremiah probably considers himself a failure. His nation is gone, and the majority in Judah did not heed his message. In God’s sight, however, Jeremiah is a faithful prophet who preaches even when he does not wish to do so (Jeremiah 20:9). Future generations regard him highly. His is one of the eaters given to Jesus when He asked His disciples how others identified Him (Matthew 16:13, 14).The first four chapters of Lamentations are alphabetic acrostics: the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used consecutively to begin the verses. Here in chapter three there are three verses for each letter. In two places the letters are transposed, and no one knows why. Some think that this method of writing may increase the ability to remember, demonstrate the carefulness of the writer, or perhaps show that the subject is covered completely.
A. Reminders in Suffering (vv. 25-27)
25. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
This verse and the two following not only begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alpha-bet, but in the Hebrew they also begin with the same word—good. Its position as first in the sentence indicates its importance.
First, Jeremiah reminds the reader that the Lord really is good to the ones who have hope or expectations concerning God’s promises. God fulfills His word, whether it is the destruction of a sinful nation or the revival of a nation that is considered dead.
The careful student will also notice that the triad of verses immediately before this one pro-vides the background for one of the great hymns of the faith, namely, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”Most people who sing the words do not realize the depths of faith that Jeremiah was expressing wisest he wrote them. It is almost inconceivable that Jeremiah can say that God’s mercies are new every morning (v. 23). The experiences of Jerusalem’s siege are still vivid in his mind, but he can still see the blessings. He has confidence in the plan of God.
26.It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lorin. The latter part of this verse is difficult for many. Today’s generation wants immediate gratification. Action is thought to be much better than quietly wailing for anything. To quietly wait also means that complaining or murmuring is not pre-sent. It is good that faith and faithfulness combine to eliminate impatience with God’s timetable concerning the fulfillments of His promises (com-pare 2 Peter 3:4-9).
27.It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
To bear the yoke is a figure of speech that means someone has been placed under a burden, similar to an animal that wears a yoke. It is a forced place of service. It indicates humiliation. The person who experiences tough times later in life is usually better able to accept them if they were also part of his or her earlier years. Pain and suffering are never desirable, but there may be valuable lessons for the ones who endure them.
The exhortations of this verse and the previous one add a different dimension to the laments. These are positive expressions, and they say much about handling the traumas of life.
GAIN FROM PAIN
Some parents try to bring up their children in a “risk-free” world. They try to protect them from all emotional pain or hardship. Yet going through emotional pain can have a positive result. The same is true physically. Exposure to certain less-severe viruses can build immunity against those that are even worse.
The discipline of children is an area in which some parents have abandoned the responsibility of administering healthy doses of pain or hard-ship. The TV show Nanny 911 makes this all too clear: children run riot in the home as parents at-tempt to be their buddies rather than their, well, parents. Scripture reminds us that tough discipline, though not pleasant at the moment, has ultimate value (Hebrews 12:11).
In our spiritual lives, times of pain and trial may have a good ultimate result if we will allow God to use them for that purpose. Paul reminds us that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).None of us would make the request, “Bring on the pain, let the bad times roll.” Yet we do know that God can bring good out of our patient en-durance in times of trouble, hardship, and pain. The key is to allow Him to do so.
B. Reactions to Suffering (vv. 28-30)
28.He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he bath borne it upon him.
Jeremiah’s words in the next three verses seem to combine the thought of the previous verse(bearing a yoke) and the suffering that accompanied Jerusalem’s siege and destruction. There is no question this time about the source of the sorrows. The Lord is the one who has placed the burden on His people.
One of the frequent questions in negative experiences is, “What did I do to deserve this?” In many cases the answer is that nothing was done; some things just happen. Sometimes there are accidents, and no one is to blame. For Judah, however, the causes are known. It is therefore simply better to maintain silence. Asking questions only intensifies the sense of guilt and loss.
God uses the Babylonians to punish Judah, and the Babylonians are certainly not considered more righteous than Judah. Would that be a good question to raise with God? The prophet Habakkuk addressed that same issue approximately 20 years before Jerusalem fell: How could God use such a sinful nation to punish Judah?
God’s response is one of the outstanding verses of the Bible. Regardless of what happens, the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; see also Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). Oh, yes, God will also take care of the Babylonians. (See Lesson 7.)
29.He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
The figures of speech showing humiliation or abasement continue, and this one is distinctive. It is similar to “lick the dust,” as given in Micah7:17. It is also reminiscent of a conqueror’s putting his foot on the neck of the one conquered. (Joshua 10:24).
The one who is treated in this way, however, does not surrender hope. His or her spirit is not broken. Such a person anticipates that with God’s help there will be better days ahead.
30. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
The mistreatment moves from humiliation to physical violence. It is possible to view this verse figuratively. If that is the case, then it is a recognition that God is behind the abasement that takes place.
We must remember that many who read these laments are righteous survivors of the catastrophe of 586 BC. For them, Jeremiah’s words are spiritual encouragement. It is extremely difficult to accept punishment when you are innocent of wrongdoing, but sometimes it must be endured.
C. Reassurances in Suffering (vv. 31-33)
31.For the Lord will not cast off for ever. It is always easier to endure present suffering if one knows that it is only temporary. Here Jeremiah provides assurance that being cast off is not a permanent situation. Its real purpose is to purge and purify a sinful nation. Comparisons may be made to surgical procedures. These are painful for the present, but the promise of healing enables one to look past the pain and discomfort.
32.But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
The strong medicine of discipline may not taste good, but it is good for the recipient. The compassion of God leads Him to bring a restoration that is based on the qualities that a thoughtful person should expect God to have. God is holy, and sin must be punished; but He is also prompted by His abundant mercy to do what is best for those who serve Him. After all, “God so loved the world,” not just one person or nation.33. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.
The word willingly is interesting, for in the He-brew it literally says “from his heart.” This also says much about the character of our God. He is not a sadist who finds joy in torture. The writer of Hebrews expresses a parallel thought when he says, “for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”(Hebrews 12:6).
D. Responses by God (vv. 55-58)
55. I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon.
The verses immediately before this section show that Jeremiah is vividly recalling the time when he personally was the object of violence. See Jeremiah 38:6-13.
Low cotton being reared in an area where cotton was grown, I became familiar with the idea of some-one being in low cotton. This spoke of the person who had to pick cotton in a field where the stalks were not very high, thus he or she had to stoop way over to pick the cotton. The reason for the low cotton was that the field was not producing well. But the cotton would grow higher in a good growing season, therefore the picker did not have to stoop so low. Thus to be in high cot-ton meant that times were good, but to be in low cotton meant times were tough.
We all go through tough times—times when it seems we are about as low as we can get. God’s people are not exempt. Remember Daniel: he was in pretty lots cotton when lie was in the lion’s den. Joseph was not snuck better off when he was cast into a pit by his brothers then sold into slavery.
But no matter how low we may go, the good news is we can never go so low that God cannot hear us or see us. We know we have victory through Jesus in the low times. The words of that great Easter hymn help us to recall this: “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave He arose.” Jesus knows what it means to be in low cotton, and He knows how to lift us out of that state. —A. E. A.
56.Than host heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
This is Jeremiah’s testimony: the Lord heard his prayer and his cry for help. The old saving, “Where there’s life, there’s hope!” comes to mind. Jeremiah is almost saying that since he is able to pray, than he is confident that he is heard.
57.Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
Jeremiah recognizes answered prayer: Fearnot. The Christian today also has a blessed assurance in several ways. Centuries after Jeremiah, Jesus will promise to be with His followers la the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). The apostle Paul affirms that through Christ we conquer all things, no matter the peril (Romans 8:37-39).Take a look at those words again; they proclaim that there is hope even he pain.
58. 0 Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou host redeemed my life.
The final response that is expressed by Jeremiah is the joy that the Lord has redeemed his life. The word redeemed is a special word for the Hebrew. It is the word for the relative who can avenge a death (Numbers 35:19), redeem a kinsman from slavery (Leviticus 25:47-49), retrieve a family inheritance that had been sold, or marry a widow of a close relative who has no sons. In this case it is Jeremiah’s life that has been re-deemed. This is a source of joy!
One preacher testifies that in the past he often battled depression on Monday morning if things had not gone as he desired on Sunday. The cure was very simple: go to a local discount store! Merely being with and meeting people, many of whom he knew, would compel him to smile. Soon the depression would vanish. We are made for relationships!
To attempt to handle the trials of life alone is difficult for most people. One of the responsibilities of Christians is to help hear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2). Even the apostle Paul ex-pressed concern when he had to face his trials alone. When others deserted him, it was not pleasant (2 Timothy 4:16).
Some people will resist offers of help, but fellowship is important. If a person can conquer pride and actually ask for assistance, then every-one involved benefits. After all. it is not good for us to dwell alone!
Almighty God in Heaven, thank You for the blessings of redemption, daily bread, and friends in Christ. None of us seek trials and pain, but we can thank You for the steadfastness, character, and hope through the suffering that those trials and pain produce. In the name of the Son who suffered so much, amen.
C. Thought to Remember
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).