Hope in Despair, Lamentations 3:1-25

The Weeping Prophet

I’d like us to look at some words of the prophet Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations.  But before we look at these words, I want you to know that Jeremiah wrote these words when he was experiencing a lot of pain, heartache, and hardship.  Some of us have experienced some pretty miserable times and still are.  Some of us have had health problem after health problem for years, or have been in physical discomfort and weariness and constantly in and out of doctor offices, getting poked and prodded and medicated.  Some of you have lost your beloved spouse in death.  Some of you feel like you are slowly watching a loved one be taken from you because of a health problem or a drug addiction, etc.  Some of you have been through the turmoil of a divorce and the breaking apart of your family.  Some of you have kids that have left home, whom you’re very worried about and you feel helpless to protect them anymore.  Some of you have pleaded with God in prayer for His help in certain ways and you feel like He’s not listening.  Some of you feel trapped in a job that you hate and you dread going to work every morning but you feel you have to earn a living for your family.  Some of you are suffering loneliness and financial problems and other problems that nobody else knows about.  Jeremiah was there and his world was even bleaker when he wrote the words that we’re going to look at.

Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet because he did a lot of weeping during his 40-50 years of ministry.  He was called by God as a young man (maybe between 17-20 years old) to be a prophet to the sinful and stubborn people of Judah.  His job basically was to expose their sinfulness and give them their last warning before God gave them over to the Babylonians.  Not only did God lay on Jeremiah that difficult task of preaching a message that his countrymen wouldn’t want to hear, but God also laid on him some difficult prohibitions.  God forbid Jeremiah to get married or have children.  This was to reinforce his message that the kids and moms and dads of this place are going to die by disease or sword or famine.  This is what he was to explain to people when they asked him why he wouldn’t take a wife; it’s because he would lose her and he wouldn’t want to bring kids into this place because of what was coming.  God also forbid Jeremiah from attending funerals and from attending parties.  These social restrictions in addition to his unpopular message made him a social outcast, a loner.  He had few, if any, friends.  Jeremiah 12:6 says that even his own family despised him.  In 20:7 he says, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me”.  In 20:10 he says “I have heard the whispering of many”.  He heard a lot of people whispering, but knew they were talking about him and not saying good things.  Have you ever had anybody do that to you?  It’s miserable to be despised by people around you.  Jeremiah was often told to shut up and often threatened.  In 11:21, Jeremiah’s hometown folks of Anathoth (the people he grew up with) actually told him “Quit preaching or we’re going kill you”.  Later in his ministry (chapter 36), God told Jeremiah to write out, on a scroll, all the words that he’d been preaching.  And so Jeremiah called a scribe and one of the few good men left named Baruch and dictated the words to him and he wrote them out.  Then, because Jeremiah wasn’t allowed in the temple area, he sent Baruch to go read the scroll at the temple to the people on a big assembly day.  Eventually the scroll was taken and read to the king Jehoiakim.  It was winter time. The king was sitting by a fire and as 3 or 4 columns of the scroll were read to him, he would take his knife, cut off that section of the scroll and throw it in the fire.  Three or four more columns were read and he’d slice it off and throw in the fire until he’d cut up and burned the entire scroll.  That’s is what he thought of Jeremiah’s preaching.  That’d be pretty rough on a preacher if they took your sermon outlines, and, as they read them, wadded them up and threw them in the fire.  Jeremiah suffered on multiple occasions during the course of his ministry, beating and imprisonment.  In 20:2, the high priest had Jeremiah beaten and then put in (what our versions translate as) stocks (it’s literally translated “that which distorts”).  It was some instrument of punishment that held his body in a bent crooked, very uncomfortable position.  And he was put in that thing in a very public place so that people could also mock and insult him while he endured the pain.  And multiple times people made attempts to kill him.  The most memorable was when a group of government officials took him to an empty cistern: a deep well shaped like a flask with a narrow neck at the surface so that the water didn’t evaporate.  At the bottom were several feet of mud or silt and slim.  And they dropped him in and he sunk down in the mud and they left him there to die.  It was a foreigner that came and eventually saved him (chapter 38).

Can you imagine preaching for some forty years or so and suffering all of that and not seeing any visible results from your work?  Nobody complimenting you on your lessons, let alone ever responding to the invitation.  Can you imagine dedicating your life to trying to prevent a devastation and watching that devastation happen?

And the horrible things Jeremiah had to watch…  It wouldn’t be surprising if he had what we call ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.  He watched the wrath of God be poured out on his countrymen.  He had to watch the Babylonians slaughter thousands.  And when they laid siege to Jerusalem he had to watch thousands of people and little kids starve.  He watched mothers boiling their children and eating them.  A woman gave birth and he saw people eat the afterbirth.  He saw the Babylonians finally break down the walls of Jerusalem and slaughter thousands more and capture many and put them in chains and then, before the eyes of the captives, take all of their possessions, burn their homes to the ground, destroy the gorgeous temple, and then march them off to a foreign land.

The Book of Lamentations 

The book of Lamentations is a book of five poems written by Jeremiah that lament the destruction of Jerusalem.  Tradition has it that Jeremiah was sitting in a cave on the hill of Golgotha overlooking the rubble of the once glorious city and smelling the stench of decaying bodies, seeing a few poor starving people poking through the rubble, and there he wrote these poems.  They are brilliantly composed.  The first 4 poems are acrostics, which means the first letters of each line correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  So in 3 of the poems v1 starts with A, v2 B, v3 C and so on but of course he used the Hebrew letters.  In one of the poems the first 3 lines start with A, the second 3 lines start with B, the third 3 lines start with C and so on.  It would make these poems much easier for Hebrew speaking people to commit them to memory.  The 1st poem, chapter 1, is primarily about Jerusalem and what happened to her and why.  The 2nd poem, chapter 2, is primarily about God and what He did to His people and why.  The 3rd poem, chapter 3, where we’re going to be, is primarily about Jeremiah himself and his suffering and response.  He uses himself as an example to follow for the surviving remnant of the people of Judah (those in exile) who would read it.

Lamentations 3:1-21

Let’s first read Lamentations 3:1-20: “I am the man who has seen affliction Because of the rod of His wrath.  2 He has driven me and made me walk In darkness and not in light.  3 Surely against me He has turned His hand Repeatedly all the day.  4 He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away, He has broken my bones.  5 He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.  6 In dark places He has made me dwell, Like those who have long been dead.  7 He has walled me in so that I cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy.  [He feels like God has trapped him in a dark prison of bitterness and hardship.] 8 Even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer.  [He feels like God doesn’t even listen to his prayers.] 9 He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.  [He won’t let me escape this misery.] 10 He is to me like a bear lying in wait, Like a lion in secret places.  11 He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces; He has made me desolate.  [Do you feel like God has been a bear or lion to you?] 12 He bent His bow And set me as a target for the arrow.  13 He made the arrows of His quiver To enter into my inward parts.  [Do you feel God has set you on his earth as a target to shoot at?] 14 I have become a laughingstock to all my people, Their mocking song all the day.  15 He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunk with wormwood.  16 He has broken my teeth with gravel [The idea may be that he feels like he’s asked God for bread and God has given him stones to eat]; He has made me cower in the dust.  17 My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness.  [He can’t even remember what it’s like to be happy.] 18 So I say, “My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the Lord”.  [He feels hopeless.] 19 Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. 20 Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me”.  That is dark.  That is depression.  And notice again that last verse, “Surely my soul remembers [that is: he remembers all the bad things he’s been through and seen and still has to deal with…] And is bowed down within me”.  When he was thinking about all the bad stuff, his soul was bowed under the weight of depression.

At verse 21 Jeremiah turns to speak of what he brings to his mind that lifts him out of the darkness and fills him with hope.  And this, my brothers and sisters is what you must realize.  Verse 21 says, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope”.  I think he’s referring to what he says next.  The thoughts of these truths brighten his world with hope.

Great is His Faithfulness

Let’s read it, verse 22-25, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him”.  25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him”.

To those people with whom God is pleased, to those people who wait for Him, to those people who seek Him, the prophet knows that God loves them, God is filled with compassion for them, God feels pain at the sight of their pain, and everyday God is at work in His lovingkindness and compassion for them. Every single day His lovingkindness and compassion for those people is great and He is at work for them, shaping their character, preparing them for greater blessing, preparing for their future. He will deliver on every promise He has made to them.  Great is His faithfulness.  He is 100% reliable, 100% of the time.  He will not fail to save His people from the darkness and gloom and pain.  He will not let them down.

It’s like the father in this story I read.  It was 1988 in the country of Armenia, and parents Samuel and Danielle were sending their boy, Armand, off to school in the morning.  Samuel squatted down in front of his son and looked him in the eye and said, “Have a good day at school, and remember, no matter what, I’ll always be there for you”.  They hugged and the boy ran off to school.  Hours later, a massive earthquake rocked and devastated the area.  In the midst of the chaos, Samuel and Danielle tried to discover what happened to their son but couldn’t get any information.  The radio announced that there were thousands of casualties.  Samuel grabbed his coat and headed for the schoolyard.  When he reached the area, Armand’s school was a pile of debris.  Other parents were standing around crying.  Samuel found the place where Armand’s classroom used to be and began pulling a broken beam off the pile of rubble.  Then he grabbed a rock and put it to the side, and then grabbed another one.  One of the other parents said, “What are you doing?  It’s no use.  You’re just going to make things worse,” and he tried to pull Samuel away from his work.  Samuel paid no attention to him and kept working.  As time wore on, one by one, the other parents left.  A firefighter came and tried to pull Samuel away from the rubble.  Samuel looked at him and said, “Won’t you help me?”  The firefighter left and Samuel kept digging.  All through the night and into the next day, he kept digging.  Parents came and placed flowers and pictures of their children on the ruins.  Samuel just kept working.  He picked up another beam and pushed it out of the way and heard a faint cry.  “Help!  Help!” Samuel listened but didn’t hear anything again.  He began to dig furiously.  Then he heard a muffled voice, “Papa?” And he kept digging.  Finally he could see his son.  Fourteen children actually were alive down there and were saved that day because of that faithful father.

Our God is a faithful Father.  If you are a child of God, though you may be in darkness, feel trapped and buried in rubble, He will not leave you there.  Great is His faithfulness. He’s coming for you. He’s not leaving you there. He’s coming! He will bring you out of the darkness!

The Lord is my portion

Jeremiah says, “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.'”  He’s using language that goes back to when the people of Israel conquered the land of Canaan in the days of Joshua and they divided up the land and each tribe of Israel got a portion of land, except for one tribe, the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe.  The tribe from which came the priests and the assistants of the priests.  They were the ones privileged to minister in the sacred things at the tabernacle.  They had a special access and relationship with God.  God said to the tribe of Levi, “You don’t have a portion or an inheritance of land.  But I am your portion.  I am your inheritance.  A special relationship with Me is what you get.” Jeremiah discovered that was true about Him.  He realized “While I don’t get money or property or possessions or even a home, while I don’t get family or friends, while I have pretty much nothing in this world, I get the Lord.  I have a faithful and almighty heavenly Father who will never ever cease to love me and will fulfill everyone of His wonderful promises to me.”  As Jeremiah called that to mind and thought on its implications, he realized his portion was greater than anybody else’s portion.  It lifted him out of the depths of hopelessness and despair.

No matter what you have in this world or don’t have, if you have the Lord, you have the greatest portion.  You have hope; you have a bright and glorious future ahead of you.  Those whose portion is merely of this world, this is all they have, and soon the meter will expire, the ride will be over, and they don’t have any more tickets. How wonderful to be able to exclaim, “the Lord is my portion, therefore I have hope”.

Wait for Him / Seek Him

What does God require of us?  Verse 25 says, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him”.  What does that mean, to wait for God and to seek God?  They seem like two very different or even contradictory things.  We may envision waiting as staying put somewhere and looking for God to come to you, while we may picture seeking as not staying put but moving toward God.  But they’re really just different metaphors of the same way of life.  Let me explain…

To wait is to keep yourself from things that you may desire at the moment in order to obtain a greater desire later on.  It’s like sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office.  Nobody likes to sit in the waiting room.  You’d rather go for a walk or go get ice cream or go get something productive done, but you don’t do that, you stay there in order to obtain the greater desire you have of getting your teeth fixed.  It’s like at ‘Casa Mexico’ for lunch when they bring out the chips and salsa, and if you have a few, it creates in you a desire to eat the entire basket and then another, because they’ll keep them coming if you want.  But the problem is you could fill up on chips and salsa, then not be able to eat all the better stuff that’s coming.  So you might want to wait, you might want to not fill up on the chips, keep yourself from that desire so that you have the greater desire. To wait on God is to so conduct your life, keeping yourself from things you might desire at the moment, from the passing pleasures of sin,  from unkindness to others, from escaping our troubles in wrong ways, from compromising your faith, from things that would prevent you from being ready if God were to come today. It is to so live that if you meet God today you will have His grace  and salvation. It is to walk in His ways, to do things His way in your life.

And I think that’s also what it is to seek God. To seek something is to have the obtaining of that thing as your goal, your objective, your ambition. It keeps you from going after lesser desires and distractions. To seek God is when you make having His favor and His salvation the goal of your life, the thing that you are after in life.

It may be dark, it may be painful, you may feel that you have been buried in the rubble a long time, it may seem hopeless, but those who wait on God, those who seek, who have His favor and salvation as what their living for, God will not leave them there.  He has too much lovingkindness and compassion for them. He is too faithful to leave them in the rubble. God will come through for them.

-James Williams

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