Tuesday, September 22, 2009

God's Wrath Is Faithfulness to Himself and to His Word

Lamentations 3, verses 1-18, God's Judgment on the Apostasy of Judah

"I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; He has driven [me] and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; He has broken my bones; He has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; He has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about, so that I cannot escape; He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer; He has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; He has made my paths crooked.

"He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent his bow and set me as a target for His arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of His quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; He has sated me with wormwood.

"He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'"

Verses 19-33, The Faithfulness of God and the Restoration of His People

"Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.'

"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke [of the Lord] in his youth. Let him sit in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust - there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men."

It is a shame that Lamentations is such a forgotten book in today's church. Though it inspired such great hymns of history as "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," it doesn't otherwise appear in the mouths of the preachers of TV Christendom. Can you picture Joel Osteen talking about God's causing grief? I'm sure Osteen would puff into smoke at the thought!

Yet, look at the richness here. We see the righteousness of God in rebuking the apostasy of His covenant people. They had the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), yet persistently turned to idolatry (spoken especially forcefully in II Chronicles 7:19-22), and broke His Law (Ezekiel 5:6-7). When God sent His prophets to warn His people, those people punished the messengers (Matthew 5:12, Hebrews 11:36-37). Their temporal punishment reached its Old Testament peak in the destruction of Jerusalem, including the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC (the final destruction and excommunication occurred at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD). God certainly vindicated His self-description that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5).

Then, Jeremiah reminds us also of the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of our covenant God. His wrath is temporary, and He Himself restores His people. Ezekiel gives a more-direct prophecy of that restoration (chapter 37, especially verse 23). As Lamentations 3:38 of our text asks, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" and Job also asks (Job 2:10), "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" God brings suffering into our life to give us correction (Hebrews 12:7), but never simply to make us miserable (Lamentations 3:33).

Isn't God good?

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