INTRODUCTION TO MAY LESSONS: Not all grief is bad. There are redemptive tears. Sometimes hurting helps. The first word in Lamentations is “How” (ekah). We often ask, “How did this happen?” when we are in pain. Lamentations is attributed to Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. It is a tightly woven poetic piece that is read by the Jews in Jerusalem at the Western Wall every week. It starts with lament (1:1-2) and ends with repentance (5:21-22). Students will learn of God’s discipline and punishment as well as how confession of sins and waiting on the Lord helps his people experience his mercy and faithfulness.
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Theme: God-Given Grief
Lesson text: Lamentations 4:1-22
Supplemental texts: Psalm 94:12-15; Proverbs 3:11-13; Jeremiah 5:30-31; Hebrews 12:4-11
Aim: Pay attention when God disciplines you.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the study by Mark Scott, the Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_May7_2023.
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By Mark Scott
The Hebrews writer echoed Proverbs 3:11-12 when he wrote, “For the moment all discipline seems painful” (Hebrews 12:11, English Standard Version). The people of Jeremiah’s day had a long stretch of discipline. The siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar took years; it ended in 586 BC when Jerusalem fell. The people of Jerusalem were still weeping in 571 BC when Jeremiah wrote Lamentations.
Reading Lamentations is like climbing a mountain. Chapters 1-2 walk up the mountain of God’s judgment. Chapters 4-5 walk down that same mountain of judgment. Chapter 3 (the peak of the mountain) celebrates the mercy and faithfulness of God in his judgment. Chapter 4 (the text we are studying this week) parallels chapter 2.
The Condition that Led to Discipline
The people’s heartlessness (the word in v. 3 means “cruel”) is the main condition that led to God’s discipline. They had lost their heart for God and his people. This heartlessness showed up in several ways.
First, they had lost any sense of value and esteem. Jeremiah described them once as fine gold and gems, but now their self-assigned view was as pots of clay.
Second, their heartlessness was evident in not caring for the needy among them. Jeremiah contrasted two animals to drive home this point. The jackals nurse their young, but Israel had behaved more like the ostriches who go off and leave their eggs. Hunger and thirst exist due to lack of diligent care for others. Infants and children need drink and food, but no one gives it to them. And this even applied to royal sons and daughters (v. 5). God’s people were selfish like the people of Sodom. God’s people were like bright snow, whiter than milk, and as lovely as lapis lazuli (sapphire). But due to their carelessness, they became blacker than soot and shriveled on their bones.
Finally, their heartlessness was evident in outright cannibalism. It would have been better for them to die in war than to die by starvation (v. 9). Israel reached a new low when mothers ate their babies (v. 10). This would happen again in Jerusalem in AD 70 to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy of the Romans’ invasion (Matthew 24:19-21; Josephus, Wars of the Jews). This heartlessness caused God to give full vent to his wrath and discipline his people by consuming their foundations.
The Nations Used in the Discipline
God did not hide Israel’s discipline from the nations. He did what he did for all to see. Sometimes Israel was unfaithful to God and made unholy alliances with the surrounding nations. God sometimes used those very nations to discipline Israel.
The nations were shocked at the ease with which they could enter fortified Jerusalem (v. 12). The main reason for their enemies’ success was the corruption of Israel’s prophets and priests. These leaders of Israel had shed innocent blood (v. 13). Their sin was so grievous that as these leaders traveled the streets of Jerusalem the people treated them like lepers (vv. 14-15). Upon seeing this, the nations realized Israel’s prophets and priests were no longer welcome among their own people (v. 16).
Instead of turning to the Lord, Israel looked for help from the nations. But even from high atop a watchtower, they could spot no one who would offer assistance (v. 17). Israel hoped that the nations would help them, but instead those nations became pursuers (like a dog pursuing its prey) who stalked the Israelites. Israel finally realized their days were numbered; their enemies were like eagles in the sky and were just waiting to strike in the mountains and the desert. And last of all, Zedekiah, the Lord’s anointed king and the one in whom the people had put their trust, had let the people down by trying to escape from Jerusalem to save his own skin (2 Kings 25:1-7).
The Vindication through the Discipline
Discipline does bear fruit. Edom (Daughter Edom) was a nation geographically close to Israel. Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through her land when God’s children were en route to the Promised Land (Numbers 20:14-21). The Edomites also chided Israel when it fell to the Babylonians (Psalm 137:7). God promised that Edom would “get” hers. She would be drunk and stripped naked, and her wickedness would be exposed. But Israel’s (Daughter Zion’s) punishment would end and her exile would not be prolonged. God’s discipline achieved his vindication.