Great is thy faithfulness
The Bible’s description of exile sometimes sounds like it is at a distance. It happens to those people who deserved it for having committed those sins. Lamentations feels very different. Here the anonymous author (traditionally thought of as Jeremiah), lays bare the horror of Jerusalem’s destruction. It’s a first person lament. Jeremiah identifies fully with both the sin and the sorrow of his people.
This is an arresting combination. We have a category for sin and a category for sorrow but find it difficult to unite the two. A sinner deserves judgement without pity. A poor wretch receives sympathy but not censure. Yet Lamentations holds both things together – the people are wicked and pitiable.
Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death. (Lamentations 1:20)
The author pleads with the LORD to “behold” with kindness. Yet for much of the book, the LORD is described as an enemy of the people.
He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire. The LORD was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation. (Lamentations 2:4-5)
Behind the enemy forces of Babylon stands the God who has ordained their brutalities. He is justly punishing His people for their sins. And this punishment seems to be falling uniquely on the author:
I AM the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day. (Lamentations 3:1-3)
One man seems to stand at the head of the people, bearing the brunt of God’s just judgement. And yet, his statement of faith is at the very heart of the book. One man, suffering in the place of the people, sees through the enmity of the LORD and hopes in His mercy and compassion:
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach. For the LORD will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:21-34)
In our writings we emphasize something by putting it at the beginning or the end. In Hebrew the important part is in the middle. These words are the centrepiece of Lamentations. Surrounded by suffering, death and judgement, they rise up like Mount Zion proclaiming the LORD’s great faithfulness.
How can the author trust in God when He seems to be the cause of their woes? How can he seek refuge in the very One who brings judgement?
This man has incredible faith. He takes the punishment at the head of his people, he bears the yoke, turns the other cheek and waits to be vindicated. In the morning he is certain that he shall see the great faithfulness of the LORD.
This man of sorrows is pointing us to Christ. Christ voices our laments before the Father and He takes responsibility for our sins. Christ entrusts Himself entirely to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). On the cross He is the true Temple that’s torn down. On the cross He endures the ultimate exile for sin. Nonetheless, He maintains an unshakeable faith in His merciful Father. He knows that God “will not cast off forever” and that the new morning will bring mercy.
On Easter Sunday, Jesus came through the judgement of God and He offers us refuge on the far side of destruction.
Whatever is lamentable in our own lives – whether sin or sorrow – we need to know that Christ has taken up our laments Himself. And He has come through to innumerable mercies. Know for certain that the cross gives way to resurrection and so allow Christ’s faith in the Father to be yours. Our songs of lament will turn to hymns of praise.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!