First off, please read our text today, which is Lamentations 3: 43-45.
So, where are we in our text? Well, previously Jeremiah encouraged the people to “examine” all their ways (his included) and to confess their sins. That we must recognize that God wants nothing to do with sin and thus if his people sin against him and each other then there needs to be confession and repentance. But now? In these 3 short verses we quickly have this shift once more in the feeling of the text. Now – abandonment for sins is observed, experienced, and felt – and there are two ways we can read this. We can take this as an angry tirade in which Jeremiah is declaring the unfairness of God in “covering” himself with anger and pursuing them with righteous indignation as he preys upon them; or we can take this as Jeremiah declaring the nature of God and how sin, regardless of the sinner, is an attack upon Him and thus requiring God to act against that sin. So what is going on here? What is Jeremiah’s motivation and declaration? Is he declaring an angry God and this is an injustice that he is doing to us as he abandons us in our very times of need or, is he declaring a truth of God and the nature of oue own sins?
As a kid I remember being punished for things I did wrong and, in that punishment, wandering through a whole host of different emotions and feelings. There were times when I felt the punishment was too severe for the thing I did wrong. There were times when I thought I DIDN’T do anything wrong at all and it simply wasn’t “fair” – and there was even times when I played the, “How could you even love me for what I did!” card (to be honest, that last one was thrown out there when I was trying to get a lesser punishment from my parents so you pull out the water-works, bat the eyes, and “woe is me!” is played). But in all of these responses from punishment there was no real acknowledgement of my own wrongs. I was so focused on what was being handed down to me that I didn’t think about what I had done (even when I heard the dreaded, “Go to you room and THINK about what you have done!” from my parents). But that’s only part of it as I also failed to think about the hand I forced my parents to play. Never have I believed that my parents were just out there looking to punish me for fun as they responded TO my sin and not BEFORE it. And never did I feel that my parents enjoyed punishing me. My parents role was to lead, guide, love, and teach me to be a better person and there were rules and guidelines that I needed to follow – and breaking them came with consequences. Consequences that I knew even while in the midst of bedroom-isolation (which, to be honest, was the worst punishment I could receive from my parents as I simply hated being by myself…which is probably why that was the punishment I most often received).
If we were to go back and read the previous 42 verses of Lamentations 3 what would we find? What clues would we see that would help us understand what exactly Jeremiah is declaring of God?
- “Examine our ways…and lift up our hearts to God…declare and declare ‘we have sinned and rebelled’” (vs 40-42)
- “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” (vs 39)
- “No one is cast off by the Lord forever…for he brings compassion and unfailing love…and he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” (vs 31-33)
- “The Lord is good to those who wait…for salvation of the Lord comes.” (vs 25-27)
- “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail…and the Lord is my portion therefore I will wait for him.” (vs 22-24)
- “I will remember my affliction and wandering…and I will have hope” (vs 19-21)
Now clearly there is a lot that is ALSO said, and many of it (especially in verses 1-18) have to do with the suffering and punishment that has befallen the people of God, but let us still ask the question: Does this sound like a bitter man who feels that God is preying upon him? Does this sound like a man who is angry and that God has overreached, and overstepped, with his wrath? Or does it sound like a man, including verses 1-18, that is wrestling with what he has done against humanity and the God who demands goodness and walking in the light of his Word?
Once more we’re faced with the question of the “nature of God” (you can find that blog here) and understanding who he is. Once more if we declare that God is loving and merciful we must also understand, and declare, that God is full of justice. God cannot be merciful and not just at the same time. God cannot be full of grace and mercy towards the sinner and also not full of wrath and anger towards sinner as well. We must remember that God, in his goodness, is like a beautifully balanced scale where grace, forgiveness, love, compassion, and mercy are all stacked on the left side of the scale and yet wrath, anger and judgment are all stacked upon the right side. So what do we do with these 3 verses?
Jeremiah, in his sin and punishment, is declaring what he feels and sees and yet also what he knows of God as well. Because of sin God did cover himself with anger and he pursued his people. Why? Because they broke covenant with Him. They held a promise to God and they broke it time and time again. They created and worshiped idols, they abandoned the needs of the widow and the poor, they sought out themselves and their own desires instead of living and serving into the community and her needs. They, the promised people of God, had become just like all the other nations in the world all the while God had called them to the very opposite of that. So in response to their sins and destruction God’s hand was forced. Sin deserves punishment. Wronging others and wronging God deserves judgment. Sin, destruction, and brokenness are the very things that keep us away from God – so he “covered” himself with a cloud (vs 44) and allowed the people of God to become “scum and refuse among the nations.” (vs 45) He allowed them…to continue to be whom they desired to be…and it stung. It always stings. When we are punished we want to be restored and renewed immediately and not having to receive that which is due to us for the wrongs and harm we caused.
Now clearly we are stopping here in Lamentations at vs 45 and yet we are barely over half-way through this chapter! But there is more to be said and so we cannot just stop here. That in one sense it does us good TO just stop here and sit in our own mess. That in order to learn lessons and be better people we need to fully drink the cup of our own harm because it truly makes us reflect. But what it also does is make us fully realize what we SHOULD receive and yet do not get from God. That if that balanced scale of God is at play, in which it is, we not only receive judgment but we also receive compassion, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. And wouldn’t you know it there is a place in scripture where we see this and are reminded of just how balanced, and complete, God’s scale is.
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
When Jesus broke bread on that Passover night with his disciples he reminded them not only of that Passover meal long ago when God entered into Egypt and passed over the houses of those who believed thus sparing the first born of that house (Exodus 12) – but he was declaring that that same wrath that is poured out in judgment for sins will fall upon him. That Christ, while perfect in all nature and divineness, came down to earth to die for the sins of men and women who believe – so that the wrath of God would be fulfilled AS WELL AS the grace of God would be poured out and given to believers THROUGH Christ’s blood and sacrifice. A balanced scale of who God is that was on display in, and through, Jesus Christ.
We worship a God who is perfect and good and who loves us so much that he demands we act appropriately in this world. That his kingdom (world) has become so broken and corrupt that we are not to fall into its traps and preys but we are to rise above it and BE better. And if we don’t? We are punished. And not because God takes joy in it, and not because he’s so angry that he’s just sitting up there waiting for us to mess up – but he punishes because he loves us and wants us to not only BE better but EXPERIENCE what true joy is. But we can’t. We harm others, we break covenant, we live for ourselves, and our idol-worship runs rampant. So God, in his balanced-loving nature sent his Son to restore and redeem us from all those broken and corrupt things we do. God, in his wisdom, judgment, and love, knew that he had to punish sin…so he did. He asked his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to come and take on the complete punishment upon himself. And so in Christ, and through his work and sacrifice, became that balanced scale for God and you.
The challenge? The challenge for you and I is to not just jump to the forgiveness we have been given and long to experience when we mess up. Why? Because we need to be better and that only comes with “thinking about” what we have done, sitting with the harm we have caused, and understanding why we are punished. And it just so happens that in those moments of clarity we truly begin to understand the love of God and the sacrifice Christ made for us upon that cross.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- What punishment, for you, is the worst? Why is it? What is it about that punishment that makes it so hard?
- How would you go about explaining to a new believer, or no believer, the truth that God can be, and is, both full of wrath AND grace? How can two, seemingly polar opposite things, be of the same essence?