Our text – Lamentations 3:19-33
Our theme – “The Lord provides hope for His people in the most hopeless times”
The title of the book, “Lamentations”, comes from a Greek word meaning to “cry out”. There aren’t any explicit statements in the book identifying the author. However, it has by tradition been ascribed to Jeremiah and does share with his prophecy a number of similarities in style, subject matter, and tone. It’s clearly the work of an eye-witness who understood the connections between Jerusalem’s fate and Israel’s sinful and rebellious behavior. Fresh from the awful experience of Jerusalem’s devastation by the fierce Babylonians the prophet Jeremiah composes a funeral dirge expressing the sorrow, loneliness, and despair into which the nation had fallen as a result of Yahweh’s terrible action against them. Yet, his lament was not without hope as he pauses at mid-point to focus on the mercy and compassion of the Lord that was still available even while in the crucible of deserved suffering. Though this affliction was deserved there was still the possibility of repentance and restoration because Yahweh’s faithfulness is great. The book of Lamentations draws a graphic picture of defeat and despair within the heart of Jeremiah. In the first eighteen verses of this chapter, Jeremiah even pictured the Lord as his enemy, concluding that his strength was gone and so was any hope for help from the Lord. However, in verses 19 to 21 Jeremiah hoped against hope for God’s mercy. Even though he felt that God refused to listen to his prayers ( 3:8 ), he turned to Him anyway.
Lamentations 3:19-21, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope”
(A) Remembrance and Hope. Jeremiah pleaded with the Lord to remember his deplorable condition. He didn’t doubt God’s knowledge or memory, but rather, was asking the Lord to take notice of his affliction and misery and to actively intervene to help him. Jeremiah’s painful ministry during the fall of Jerusalem had sapped his strength. In his intense pain he turned for help to the God Who had brought the catastrophe. The experience was so dreadful that Jeremiah couldn’t get it out of his mind (v. 20). Jeremiah did not look on as others suffered but shared the horrible experience himself. Though he had not joined in Judah’s rebellion against God, Jeremiah fully shared in the judgment the Lord brought. This suffering humiliated both Judah and the prophet Jeremiah. But somehow, remembering the painful destruction of his homeland helped Jeremiah find hope for the future. Jeremiah had to see beyond his pain to reach the source of hope, for his hope did not spring from his situation or his feelings. Instead, his hope came from contemplating Who God is and what He is like. Although his circumstances and emotions seemed dark, by faith, Jeremiah could catch sight of a faint ray of light. By faith Jeremiah hoped against hope and found strength to keep going on.
(B) Hope in the LORD. Verses 22-24 forms the high point of the book of Lamentations. In the midst of calamity, Jeremiah found HOPE by focusing on the Lord’s COMPASSIONATE character. Hope cannot rest on human achievements, for people are bound to fail. Hope must be built on what is permanent and perfect, the character of God. What does the word hope mean to you? Many times, we hope for a promotion, or we hope that everything will turn out all right; or if you are in school or college, you hope for good grades. We hope for this and we hope for that. The dictionary defines hope this way:
(1) To cherish a desire with expectation of fulfillment;
(2) To hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment;
(3) Someone or something on which hopes are centered.
Several years ago, millionaire Eugene Lang was asked to speak to a class of sixth graders from East Harlem, New York. What could he say to inspire these young students, most of who would drop out of school? Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. Stay in school, he admonished, and I will help pay the college tuitions for every one of you. That was a turning point in their lives because for the first time these students had hope. One student said this, “I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling. Nearly 90 percent of the class went on to graduate from high school. However, there is another side to this. No matter how tragic our lives may be, no matter if we are given to depression and despair rather than happiness and joy, we are never left hopeless. Life isn’t a string of accidental circumstances. God is in control and is waiting with His love, mercy and grace, which are never ending. The misery of the people of Jerusalem amid the details of wholesale slaughter and devastation as the city was overrun, the author inserted mankind’s best hope and for a reason to go on, God’s great Love. To counter the affliction and sadness, the writer spoke of God’s compassion, His faithfulness, His goodness, and His salvation (Lamentations 3:22-26). No matter what we might be suffering, we can be sure that God will never leave us hopeless.
Lamentations 3:22-23a, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning”
(C) God’s Compassion. The dictionary defines compassion as a powerful deep awareness of someone else’s suffering. It is more than a mere desire to help; it creates a determination, a decision to actually help, even if only in some small way. In our hectic and busy lives, we tend to be so caught up with our own concerns and problems that we lose all sense of compassion for others. As believers in Christ we should see people through the eyes of Jesus and then we will be moved to respond to individuals, whether little children, unsaved friends, parents, or believers of like faith. God is compassionate; He loves people and continually reaches out to minister to them, even during the worst crisis. “His compassions fail not” (v. 22). Thus, His compassions never grow stale or cold and are continually new, vibrant and available (v. 23). Just as each day starts out as a new creation from God’s good hand, so His compassion is ever fresh. Every morning should be an object lesson to us of the Lord’s love to us.
A story has been told of a woman who wasn’t well dressed that often came late to an adult Sunday class. She seemed tense and unfriendly, and each week she left as soon as the teacher began the closing prayer. It wasn’t long before the teacher began hearing others make judgmental remarks about her. Then one Sunday the teacher had someone else close the class in prayer so that he could talk with the newcomer as she walked out. He found out that her physically abusive husband had abandoned her and their two children. He had left an enormous debt and no forwarding address. She was desperate, and she was searching for God. The teacher began to see her through new eyes, eyes of mercy and compassion, and he alerted the class to her plight. Some of them opened their hearts to her in personal and practical ways. In time she began to relax and become friendlier. She soon turned to Jesus; the One she needed the most. Let’s ask God to help us see others as He does. When we look at people through our own eyes, we can be insensitive, prejudiced, and harshly judgmental! However, we need to ask God for a heart of mercy and compassion, the kind of heart God has for each one of us. When we do, we will see people through His eyes of mercy and compassion.
(D) God’s Faithfulness. Every so often we should set aside time to review the previous months and record God’s faithfulness to us. On a piece of paper labeled God’s Faithfulness, we should write everything that comes to mind as evidence of God’s love and care. It’s a wonderful way to look back and look forward to a fresh beginning. Our list would most certainly include instances of God’s grace and provision. It will also chronicle God’s presence during times of difficulty and disappointment. And it must include our failures and sins, which He has been “faithful and just” to forgive (1 John 1:9). Here the prophet Jeremiah found that God’s trustworthiness appeared as a light during the darkness of desperate circumstances. In his lament over the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah wrote, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; (3:23b, “great is your faithfulness”). God’s compassion is constant because His faithfulness is great. Judah had been unfaithful to Him and had broken His laws, worshipped other gods and rejected His authority. Judah was disobedient in her actions because she was unfaithful in her character. Similarly, the Lord does what He does because He is what He is. He reaches out with compassion, for in His character He is faithful. He is not hot and cold, like people. He is always the same – just, holy, true to His promises and His purposes. Today, why not take time to record God’s faithfulness to you and thank Him for it.
Lamentations 3:24, “I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him”
(E) God’s Provision. Even as Jerusalem was being demolished and the people deported from their homeland, Jeremiah stated confidently that the Lord was his portion. The term he used spoke of God’s gracious provision for His people. He had given the land of Canaan to Israel, but Jeremiah had something better than land. His hope was not in what the Lord had given, but in the Lord Himself. Just as the priests had received a spiritual inheritance from the Lord (Numbers 18:20) and the psalmist declared that the Lord was His satisfaction (Psalm 73:25, 26), so Jeremiah placed his hope and confidence in the Lord. To find hope in the face of hopelessness required Jeremiah to look beyond his immediate circumstances. All he could see was defeat, disaster, and despair. Jeremiah must have felt afraid, abandoned, and powerless. However, Jeremiah chose to focus on the Lord rather than on the situation or on himself.
Lamentations 3:25, “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him”
(F) Wait and Seek. Jeremiah wrote that the Lord is good to them who “wait for him” Waiting on the Lord requires that a person place his confidence in the Lord, trusting Him to do what’s best in His time and in His way. Waiting on the Lord is the opposite of rushing Him or trying to tell Him what is best. It means being content with what God is doing and when He is doing it. At the same time, the person who trusts the Lord seeks Him. Faith is not just a passive resignation to whatever happens, but an active search for God and His will. Faith reaches out to grasp what the Lord gives us, rather than just effortlessly floating through life. Faith involves putting our whole lives and energy at God’s disposal.
Lamentations 3:26, “it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD”
(G) Patience. Jeremiah also wrote that it is good for “a man [to] both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” The people of Judah needed to remember that God’s ultimate salvation and restoration of His people was certain. God would be faithful on His part; they needed to patiently trust him. We are invariably impatient, especially during times of discomfort or pain. But as Hebrews 11 teaches, faith means living today in the light of God’s promises for tomorrow. The Lord’s plan encompasses all of time and eternity, and God will work together all the details to produce an end result that perfectly suits Him. However, from our narrow perspective, God’s action doesn’t seem to make sense. We may be tempted to think He is working too slowly or not working at all, because things don’t get resolved as quickly as we would like. Jeremiah learned from his experience that it is “good” to trust the Lord’s timing. He knows what He is doing and can be trusted to do what is right at the right time and in the right way. Our part is not to question Him or try to rush Him, but just to trust Him.
Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young”
(H) Endurance. It is also good for people to “bear the yoke” in their youth. Youth is the time to prepare for life’s challenges. Endurance comes as we face greater and greater challenges. Just as an athlete must train over a long period of time, so we train for the great struggles in life by working through lesser trials. Few experiences match the challenge and exhilaration of mountain climbing. Those who participate in this exercise of endurance and skill like to compare peaks and share experiences. When European climbers get together to swap stories, they often tell of passing a certain grave along the trail to a famous peak. On the marker is a man’s name and this inscription, He Died Climbing. Mountain climbing is a picture of the life of faith. Throughout our lives we are to continue moving upward, learning more about God, growing in our relationship with Christ, becoming stronger in our battle with temptation, pushing ahead in telling the lost about Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews put it this way, “Let us run with endurance.” (Hebrews 12:1). The words with endurance may be translated “with perseverance,” or more commonly, “to the end.” Joshua was just such a man of God. His “climb” began in Egypt and ended in the Promised Land. He won great battles. We are told that “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua” (Joshua 24:31). At the close of his life, Joshua was still urging Israel to serve God faithfully (v. 23). In this context, “bearing the yoke” refers to submission to God’s plan, particularly suffering. We usually try to avoid suffering, but suffering teaches us many things. It teaches us to submit to God’s will, to rely on His strength and to trust in His plan for our lives.
Lamentations 3:28, 29, “Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope”) . . . These verses describe in practical terms the general principles of verses 25 to 27. It is one thing to say we are waiting quietly and submissively for God, but quite another to actually do so.
(I) Silence. Waiting quietly for the salvation of the Lord means accepting His yoke without complaint (v. 28). Suffering people frequently misunderstand what God is doing in their lives. They may follow their instincts and try to flee the pain or even fight back. But the faithful Christian waits quietly, humbly, and submissively before the Lord, waiting for Him to make things right in His own time and way. Suffering people are sometimes prone to speak carelessly – to make rash promises that they’ll find hard to keep or to criticize others harshly, even the Lord. In the ancient world, the sign of extreme repentance or sorrow was to sit in sackcloth and ashes. Jeremiah used this custom to picture humble speech (v. 29). During times of trial, we must not stubbornly insist on our rights, but quietly listen to God. We may not know whether relief is ahead or not, but we must remain humble to God’s will.
Lamentations 3:30, “Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace”
(J) Submission. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus instructed His followers to turn the other cheek to those who mistreat them. Jeremiah used a similar expression to describe how God’s children should respond to suffering. A slap in the face is humiliating. The natural impulse is to strike back, to get even. But it is better to swallow our pride, accept the humiliation, and hand the problem over to God. The godly person does not need to defend himself from God’s disciplining hand. Instead, he must humbly submit to the suffering, trust God to take care of him, and anticipate with hope that He is in control. A perfect definition of submission is found in Proverbs 3:5-6. Submission in the Bible’s understanding occurs when we allow God to be our guide, trusting that He knows best and will take us to what He knows is the best place for us to be. There are three areas that submission requires us to do. These areas are”
(1) Trusting – we can trust that in all ways He seeks our good so that we can become what He has designed us to be. In the letter to the Roman Christians we find these words in Romans 5:6-10, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” If God was willing to do this great thing of salvation while we were still His enemies how much more will He do for us now that we are His children? If God could be trusted to love us when we hated Him, how much more can He be trusted to love us now that we love Him?
(2) Permitting – we must permit God to be our guide. Proverbs 16:1-3, “To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue. All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed”. If you are being driven somewhere by someone the only way you will get there is to let them drive. God has a goal for us that can only be found by letting Him lead us to it.
(3) Yielding – we must yield to God’s control. Many of us go through our lives as though we are free agents. We carry the concept of a loving God around with us in our back pocket as a comforting presence but in reality we have bought into our society’s lie that we can make it on our own. God is not a back pocket God. He is not a convenient power that we can pull out when we mess up and need Daddy to fix it. He asks us to trust Him and let Him be our guide. Psalms 32:8 puts it this way, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”
The following illustration speaks of submission. A church organist was practicing a piece by Felix Mendelssohn and not doing too well. Frustrated, he gathered up his music and started to leave. He had not noticed a stranger come in and sit in a rear pew. As the organist turned to go, the stranger came forward and asked if he could play the piece. “I never let anyone touch this organ!” came the blunt reply. Finally, after two more polite requests, the grumpy musician reluctantly gave his permission. The stranger sat down and filled the sanctuary with beautiful, flawless music. When he finished, the organist asked, “Who are you?” The man replied, “I am Felix Mendelssohn.” The organist had almost prevented the song’s creator from playing his own music! There are times when we also try to play the chords of our lives and prevent our Creator from making beautiful music, and like the stubborn frustrated organist, we only reluctantly take our hands off the keys. As His people, we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10). However, our lives won’t produce beautiful music unless we let Him work through us. God has a symphony written for our lives and we must allow Him to have His way in us, because He can do more with it than we can.
Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” is perhaps the best test of whether or not we are submitting to God: Are we acknowledging Him in all our ways? Is there any part of our life where God is not allowed, any area where we are unwilling to experience communion with God? Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection our broken communion with God has been restored. Once we are able to have fellowship with God and enjoy it we will no longer treat God as a map lying closed on the seat beside us but He will become our guide, active in every aspect of our lives. We have His promise that He will guide us to where He would have us be, that place will draw us to ever closer fellowship with Him. My friend, God is waiting; He is willing, turn your lives over to Him and let Him fix your broken parts. He will do it, you can trust Him.
Lamentations 3:31-33, “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone”) . . . These verses close on a positive note. Jeremiah encouraged them by considering the Lord’s compassion once again.
(K) Justice and Tempered Grief. For Jeremiah, God’s character was a firm foundation for comfort during suffering. Because the Lord is faithful, He will not cast off His people forever (v. 31). In His justice the Lord had to punish His sinful people. But that is not the end of the story, for the punishment was part of God’s larger plan. In that plan, the Lord determined to bring blessing after the judgment was completed. Suffering – whether due to personal sin, as in the case of Judah, or when unrelated to personal sin – is only temporary. God is accomplishing His eternal purpose, which goes well beyond the pain of the moment. God’s plan may well include an element of grief (v. 32), but His actions are always governed by His compassion and mercy. The Lord never becomes arbitrary or out of control, never loses His temper, never loses sight of His ultimate plan. What He does always grow out of Who He is, and He is ever the compassionate, merciful Lord. In fact, God doesn’t want to cause His people pain and suffering. He finds no joy in inflicting judgment on sinners (v. 33). When we suffer, it may seem as though the suffering will never end. We are tempted to give up, for we can’t see an end to the pain. However, we must remember that God cares deeply for us, and in the most hopeless times, He provides Hope for His people
It’s one of the saddest stories of the Bible, yet it inspired one of the most hopeful hymns of the 20th century. The prophet Jeremiah witnessed unimaginable horrors when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in 586 BC. Solomon’s temple was reduced to ruins, and with it went not only the center of worship but also the heart of the community. The people were left with no food, no rest, no peace, and no leader. However, in the midst of suffering and grief, one of their prophets found a reason for hope. “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,” wrote Jeremiah, “because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Jeremiah’s hope came from his personal experience of the Lord’s faithfulness and from his knowledge of God’s promises in the past. Without these, he would have been unable to comfort his people. This hope of Lamentations 3 is echoed in a hymn by Thomas Chisholm (1866-1960). Although suffering sickness and setbacks throughout his life, he wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It assures us that even in time of great fear, tragic loss, and intense suffering we can find comfort and confidence as we trust in God’s great faithfulness and as His child we can say “God is my portion I hope in Him in hopeless times!”
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be – Chisholm
The best reason for Hope is God’s faithfulness.