Theme: God-Given Grief
Lesson text: Lamentations 1:1, 10-18; 2:5-14, 17, 20-21
Supplemental texts: Leviticus 26:38-44; 1 Kings 8:33-36; Psalm 32:3-5; 1 John 1:9
Aim: Confess your sins and learn from the Lord when God wounds you.
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By Mark Scott
Some great writers have used metaphors to describe preaching. John R.W. Stott used bridge-building as a metaphor (in Between Two Worlds), while Ian Pitt-Watson used dancing (A Primer for Preaching). But Chris Erdman used bleeding (Countdown to Sunday). Consider that Jeremiah was a living metaphor for the people to whom he preached, for he bled as he prophesied to them. And that fits, for Isaiah said of the Messiah—the greatest preacher ever—that by his stripes we would be healed (Isaiah 53:5).
The book of Lamentations is a bit like reading the Song of Songs—i.e., it isn’t always clear who is speaking. In the case of Lamentations, is it the Lord? Is it the Lord through the prophet? Is it the people? Is it the people speaking through the prophet? In this early section of Lamentations, the people seem to be speaking (lamenting) through the prophet.
The Wounds of the Lord
Lamentations 1:1, 10-18; 2:10-14
Wounds hurt. The people confessed as much. One wound was that of feeling deserted (1:1). The deportation of people to Babylon depleted Jerusalem’s population. The city formerly was bursting with life. But this opening verse described it as a widow. (By the way, the Hebrew word for widow means deserted or silent.) At one point, Jerusalem was great among the nations on the order of a queen. But after its fall, it was more like a slave than a queen.
Another wound arose from the desecration of the city and temple (1:10). Babylon had stolen Jerusalem’s treasures. They had even entered the sanctuary (holy place in the temple). That place, of course, was reserved for specially designated priests. That incursion made the Jews feel violated at the point of their faith.
Another wound was starvation (1:11). Besiegement is a terrible way to die. The people searched for bread anywhere and everywhere. They sold valuable treasures to keep themselves alive. Food is a powerful motivator, and we can feel despised when we do not have it.
Another wound emerged from the rejection of God’s people (1:12-18). This is a long and involved section.
When we suffer (experience sorrow, grief, or pain), we feel rejected. It feels as if we are experiencing the fierce anger of God. Three metaphors—fire, hunting, and being yoked—drive home this feeling of sorrow. The people felt as if they had fire in their bones (cf. Jeremiah 20:9) and as if someone had set a trap for them. Their strength was sapped by having to wear an uncomfortable yoke from their enemies. These enemies made war against God’s people, crushed the young men, and caused the people to overflow with tears. The people, in fact, could not keep from weeping (2:11). God was using his enemies against his own people, and, worst of all, sending his people into exile.
Another wound was compromised leadership (2:10). The elders of the people could do nothing but sit on the ground in silence and be contrite. Young women bowed their heads in shame. Children and infants fainted. Mothers could not find food for their young. Prophets prophesied falsely. Face it, their wounds were as deep as the sea.
The Lord of the Wounds
Lamentations 2:5-9, 17, 20-21
The Lord acts like a physician who must hurt the patient to produce healing. He seems violent, but the Lord knows something about wounds, and he knows how redemptive they can be. It almost seemed that the Lord was the enemy (a national foe) of Israel. He swallowed them up, destroyed their strongholds, and multiplied their lamentation (2:5).
The Lord made the people into a tilled garden, messed with their religious ceremonies, and took out their leaders. He rejected the very altar he had consecrated. He exposed the people by allowing their walls (protection) to be taken away. The ramparts and walls were removed. The gates and the bars were taken out. The law of the Lord was no more, and the prophets were receiving no new visions from him.
The Lord of the wounds did exactly what he said he would do. Wrongdoing in his universe would be punished. He had no pity. He allowed enemies to gloat over Israel . . . he even exalted their power. Women were eating their young, leaders were being killed in the temple, and young and old were dying by the sword.
Jeremiah had one plea. “Look, Lord, and consider: Whom have you ever treated like this?” The only escape from the wounds of the Lord is to confess your sins to the Lord of the wounds.