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Lamentations 1:1-4 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:50 mins 25 secs

Conclusion: God is Faithful. Lamentations 1:1-4

 

The question recently asked in the context of the war in Iraq: Where is God in all this? It is an interesting question. But we will shift the context of that question from the modern circumstance of warfare in Iraq to a question perhaps that a 6th century BC Jewish person would ask who had been physically removed from the land that God had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob while they had probably gone through the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem in 586. Now the family had been uprooted and perhaps they had seen some horrible things and now they had been physically taken to a land in east where they don't know anything and are captives in a foreign land. The question they would be asking is: why did God let this happen to us? How could God be in this? How could we believe in a God who allows this kind of suffering and horror to take place in the lives of people that He has sworn that He loves?

 

This is a common question that people ask, and not too many people seem to really be able to understand that question. So when we go to our study of Kings that is one of the questions that is being answered. Kings was written probably by Jeremiah, though we are not absolutely sure. There is no name or indication attached to the manuscripts but the themes, the key words of God's righteousness, His faithfulness to His covenant, the warnings again and again to the Israelites to be obedient so that God can bless them, are the same things that are in the prophecy of Jeremiah. The verbiage, the language, the themes are all pretty much the same. It was written by Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem, probably in the last years of his life, and so it was not written as a teaching instrument for the Israelites while they were still in the land. It was written to be read by those Jews who were in exile to answer the question: why did this happen, where is God in all of this, and what lessons should be learn as God's people so that this doesn't happen again.

 

First Kings begins at the high point in the history of Israel in the united kingdom. As David is in his final years we witness the transition of power from him to his son Solomon, and then Solomon expands the kingdom a little further and builds the temple. The opening of 1 Kings focuses on the glories of Israel, the wonderful blessings of God to obedient kings and obedient people. When we come to the end of 2 Kings what we find is that the kingdom has fragmented, the northern kingdom has been destroyed and decimated, its people deported and the southern kingdom has also been finally destroyed, and the final chapter focuses not on the kings of Israel but on the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. 1 Kings opens with Israel's obedience to the Torah and 2 Kings ends with Israel in disobedience. 1 Kings begins with the temple being built; 2 Kings ends with the temple destroyed and in ruins. 1 Kings traces the decline of the nation from its spiritual high point into apostasy; 2 Kings continues to trace that apostasy and shows the inevitable consequences when people are unfaithful to God. Finally, 1 Kings opens with all of the blessings that God pours out upon the nation as they had a rich, large, materially prosperous nation that had sent navies around the world and traded with all nations at the high point of its history, and then at the end of 2 Kings we see the nation under judgment.

In Lamentations Jeremiah describes what has taken place. Lamentations 1:3 NASB "Judah has gone into exile under affliction And under harsh servitude; She dwells among the nations…" No longer what God called her to be, a light to the nations but now a slave nation among the Gentiles. "… {But} she has found no rest; All her pursuers have overtaken her In the midst of distress." This is when we really begin to see some of the early stages of anti-Semitism in history.

Lamentations 1:5 NASB "Her adversaries have become her masters, Her enemies prosper; For the LORD has caused her grief Because of the multitude of her transgressions; Her little ones have gone away As captives before the adversary." Notice that Jeremiah puts the ultimate causation on the Lord. It is the result of the people's decisions but God in His righteousness and His sovereignty rules in the affairs of mankind, and He is faithful as Jeremiah will point out. He is faithful to what He had promised Israel at the very beginning, that: If you are obedient I will bless you beyond measure, but if you are disobedient then I will bring all of these calamities upon you, even to the point of removing you from the land and making you a slave of all the nations.

What this focuses our attention on are the three major covenants that God has made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. First is the Abrahamic covenant focusing on three aspects—the promise of a specific piece of real estate, the land promise, a promise that in Abraham's seed all the nations would be blessed. It is through Israel that all nations will ultimately be blessed. This ultimately, we believe, was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ and that Israel would be a blessing to all. Each of these aspects were developed in different covenants, the land promise in Deuteronomy 30, the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7, and the New covenant in Jeremiah 31. What we want to focus on first of all is what God promised in the Abrahamic covenant, that He would bless those who blessed Abraham. But those who treat him lightly or with disrespect He would curse or judge harshly. So God has preserved Israel even in disobedience as the apple of His eye. So down through the ages, because of the Abrahamic covenant, ultimately world history turns on God's plan for Abraham and the descendants of Abraham even when they are not in the land. So it is always a tragedy when we see Christians who turn against Israel because of their failure to properly interpret the Scriptures. Practically everything but a dispensational theology takes Israel to be in some sense a metaphorical term at some place in the Scriptures. Replacement theology has been a heresy or an errant viewpoint in Christianity since the Middle Ages and it is the idea that at some place the term Israel used in the Scripture no longer refers to the literal, physical seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but somehow to the church or to Christians. And that is the root of all Christian anti-Semitism down through the centuries.

The second significant covenant of the Old Testament is the Davidic covenant where God promised David an eternal house, an eternal kingdom, and an eternal throne. The outworking of Kings is really related in a much more detailed way to this covenant, because what happens in the history of the kings—as we read about the kings of Judah, we read about what happens to Solomon and the division of the kingdom, about the kings in the north and the kings in the south—what is absent when we come to the end of 2 Kings is the question of what has happened to mankind, to leadership. There are only a couple of wonderful examples of leaders who were positive to God—Hezekiah and Josiah, and one or two others in the south. There were only eight kings of twenty in the south who were not evil, and there were none in the north. It is the purpose of the writer to show that no human king will ever be the ideal king that God had promised through the prophets, and had promised to David, and that there is something flawed in the character of man, something that is constitutionally wrong with man. When we read through I & II Kings we see again and again and again that even though there are times when the nation turns to God and there are these moments of light, it always gets dark again, that the trajectory in human history is always against God, always towards darkness and evil. John in his Gospel said that men loved the darkness, and we see that trend again and again and again and we are left at the end of 2 Kings wondering whom is going to be able to fulfil the Davidic promise that there would be an eternal King of righteousness who would establish a righteous kingdom for Israel. Of course, that leaves open the reality that no human king can ever fulfil that. That is the message that we find in Isaiah, in Jeremiah, in Daniel, in Zechariah and other Old Testament prophets: that the only true King of Israel who will fulfil those promises is the King that is not merely human but is one who is also fully God.

In terms of the Mosaic covenant we have to go back to Deuteronomy. We could go to Leviticus 26 but Deuteronomy gives us a more succinct summary. Kings is actually a historical commentary by Jeremiah (if he was the one who wrote it) showing that God's promise to Israel through Moses in  the Torah was played out on the scenes of history in the history of the kingdom of Israel, the united kingdom, and then the divided kingdom. Because it is at the end of Deuteronomy that in summary God promised Israel a) that if you are obedient then I will bless you beyond all measure b) but if you are disobedient then I am going to remove you from the land, I will bring numerous judgments upon you.

In summary we see this mentioned in a couple of passages. Deuteronomy 28:1 NASB "Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth." This is illustrated for us in David, in Solomon in his early life in the first 20-30 years of his reign when he walked in obedience to God when the nation was blessed beyond measure. But when Solomon turned against God and began to lead the nation into idolatry that is when things began to fall apart. That was the high point spiritually for the nation Israel, the high point in terms of God's physical blessing on the nation, but it is the faithful fulfilment of His promise that He had made in Deuteronomy 28. At other times in the southern kingdom with kings such as Asa early on and later on under Hezekiah and Josiah and the other good kings when the kings were leading in obedience the nation was again blessed. But when they were disobedient God brought the nation under judgment.

The judgments were announced in Deuteronomy 28:15 NASB "But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you." Then there is this long list of various ways in which God would bring judgment upon the nation of Israel.

In verses 23-25 we have the statements: "The heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron." This we see fulfilled especially at the time of Elijah. When Elijah came on the scene as a prophet sent from God to the northern kingdom when Ahab was the king—the poster child for evil in the northern kingdom, the one who married Jezebel the daughter of the king and high priest of Baal worship in Phoenicia, the one who brought Baal worship and the whole fertility worship and prosperity cult into the northern kingdom—it was at that time that God brought this level of judgment upon the northern kingdom and brought a famine upon the land. And Elijah announced that: that it would not rain again until he said so. And specifically that must be understood in the light of this promise that God had made to the nation Israel. Deuteronomy 28:24 NASB "The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed."

Then the military aspect: Deuteronomy 28:25 NASB "The LORD shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be {an example of} terror to all the kingdoms of the earth." We saw that worked out in the history of the northern kingdom. Again and again and again they are in military conflicts.

The final stage of discipline was summarized in Deuteronomy 28:32, 33 NASB "Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and yearn for them continually; but there will be nothing you can do. A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually." When we read Lamentations we read much of it as Jeremiah details the rebelliousness of the northern kingdom, the horrors of the judgment, the terrors that they went through as they were destroyed by the Babylonian army. But it doesn't end there because God's plan never ends with just the announcement of judgment. Judgment is always accompanied in God's plan by His grace and always the offer of hope, always an opportunity to turn, to change, always that offer of grace from God to turn back in obedience.

And this is how Deuteronomy ends in 30:1-3 NASB "Deut 30:1 "So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call {them} to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return [shub] to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you." That return from captivity never happened completely. It happened partially in 538 BC with the first return under Zerubbabel and the return that led to the second temple period that ended in AD 70, but it wasn't a complete return, there was still half if not more of the Jewish people who were in the world at the time of Christ and still in the diaspora; they never returned to the land. So this promise to return all of them to the land was never fulfilled, but it will be fulfilled. If God fulfilled all of the other promises He must be a God who will fulfil this one also.

So 1 Kings gives us that framework for looking at history on the basis of what happened in the past. The first eleven chapter focus on the united kingdom: the death of David and the time of Solomon. Then the nation is split when God judges the nation because of Solomon's idolatry and disobedience, and we have the period of the divided kingdom and finally, after the destruction of the northern kingdom, the time of the single kingdom. This takes us from the period of 971 BC when Solomon ascends the throne to 586 when the southern kingdom is destroyed by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. The focal point is there in the center of those 28 chapters that focus on the divided section of the kingdom in fulfilling all the promises of God.

We have looked at each of these different sections. It is during the time of the united kingdom that there was primarily blessing, but from chapter eleven on there is the decline because of Solomon's disobedience. God blessed him so richly and gave him such prosperity, but then he failed the prosperity test. Like almost every one of us does and like every nation in the history of the world has done he failed the prosperity test, because when God blesses us and makes us prosperous we stop looking to God as the source of our blessing and happiness and we start looking to the blessings as the source of our happiness; and therein lies the path of destruction. Then in the period of the divided kingdom we see in 1 Kings the ninety-year period and thrust of this period is on the focus of the period of Ahab and Jezebel and the horrors of that time, and how God raises up first Elijah and then Elisha as instruments of grace to bring and to call the people back to obedience to God. Finally, in the period of the single kingdom, Judah, the 135 years of Hezekiah down to Zedekiah when we see the collapse of the nation there are two great periods of reform under Hezekiah and Josiah.

From 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 12 is the focal point of this book of Kings. It is on the horrors of apostasy and how it is the turning from God too the worship of idols. This is not just the idols made of wood and stone and metal, today we often worship the more abstract idols of the mind. We still worship the material things and prosperity that were at the core of the fertility religions in the ancient world. We worship many other things that come between us and God, we worship things in our lives that are more important to us than the study of God's Word, more important to us than our spiritual life because we are consumed with the details of life rather than with God.

What God promised was that there would be this suffering, this destruction of the nation; but that would not be the end. There was always the hope of a return, the promise that of they would turn back to God that God would restore them to the land. We should remember what He says in Deuteronomy 30:1, 3.

The key events that take place in Kings. The Old Testament provides a framework for thinking about the issues of life: that God didn't just reveal these things because they are interesting history, nice stories, that  people have interesting things happen to them and their flaws as well as their virtues revealed. God revealed these things to teach us about Him, to teach us that mankind is flawed. We are all sinners; we are all depraved; we cannot solve the problems on our own no matter what we do, the only solution is the divine solution. So as we go through the Old Testament we see that there are key events that occur historically and it is around those events that God communicates key packages of doctrine that cannot be separated from the reality of historical occurrence. If the historical event did not occur as the Bible says it did then the lesson has no foundation. If becomes no more significant and no more true than various mythologies and various other religions, it is just human thought that is fallible and can fall apart. But what we have in the Word of God is God's revelation to teach us how to think about the affairs of life.

The temple is the first key event. We have at the beginning of 1 Kings the death of David, the transfer of power to Solomon, but the focal point is on building the house for God. This is what David wanted to do but God sent Nathan the prophet to him in 1 Samuel chapter eight and said: "You are not going to build a house for me; instead I will build a house for you." That was the Davidic covenant. So that was the focal point, and finally Solomon was the one whom God said would build the house for Him and we have five chapters at the beginning of 1 Kings that focus on Solomon's construction of the temple, the dedication of the temple, all of the sacrifices all of which spoke of the fact that man is fundamentally unclean and cannot come into the presence of God unless a cleansing of sin takes place. Then in Solomon's dedicatory prayer he focuses on the failure of Israel. This foreshadows what is going to come in the rest of the two books. He focused on the promises that had been made by Moses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, that God had said they would disobey Him and would be taken out of the land. The focal point of Solomon's prayer is to call upon God to be faithful to that promise, that when the nation disobeys and is taken out of the land and the temple is destroyed that God would be true to His promises and would bring the nation back and re-establish a more glorious temple in the land.

God's answer to that prayer is given in 2 Chronicles 7:12-14, verses that are often yanked out of context. But when we understand the context in light of Deuteronomy then we understand that this can only apply to Israel. NASB "Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, 'I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn [shub] from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.'" The issue is: God rules in the affairs of men but He doesn't do so at the expense of human responsibility and human volition. So at the dedication of the temple there is this rumbling of a negative foreshadowing. Even in the midst of their glory there is a reminder that the people will turn, become disobedient, and God will be faithful to His promises, blessing them in their obedience and disciplining them in their disobedience.

The next major event is the division of the kingdom. Solomon turns in his older years away from God, he is influenced by the multitude of wives that he had to worship the gods that they brought with them from the other nations and he allows idolatry to grow and worships at their various high places. He allows even for human sacrifice with the worship of Chemosh, and when he dies the kingdom will be torn asunder. So the warning that is given in this whole section dealing with the disobedience of the nation and the apostasy of the nation is the warning that disobedience brings divine judgment. It brings national discipline on Israel based on God's promise in the Mosaic Law. In the northern kingdom there is Israel which constantly follows in the footsteps of its first king Jeroboam the son of Nebat. The first thing Jeroboam did when he became king was to set up two alternate and competing worship sites. He basically reinvented the Jewish law to fit his own agenda. So every king after him is described as doing evil in the sight of God because they follow in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. The result ultimately is that God judges the nation. Again and again they are defeated militarily and eventually destroyed by the Assyrians and deported.

In Judah there is a little hope. There are eight obedient kings out of twenty—only eight who focus on obeying God. When they are ruling and are obedient then God blesses the nation. There is military security and there is prosperity. But then their sons or their grandsons would turn against God, lead the people back into idolatry and disobedience, and the nation continued on a negative trajectory.

The third key event is the rise of two prophets, Elijah and the Elisha. This takes up the core of this whole narrative. At the end of 1 Kings and the beginning of 2 Kings there is this section from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 12 which focuses on the ministry of these two men over a period of approximately 60-70 years. Elijah and Elisha teach the principle of grace before judgment. They do three things. First of all, in their ministries they demonstrate the extent of evil in the northern kingdom. We see the horrors of Baal worship, of infant sacrifice, and of the horrors of what man does when he is divorced from God. The extent of evil in the northern kingdom is seen and it exposes the rejection of God in the north among the people. Even though they bring blessing, they bring healing, they do many miracles to validate their message; nevertheless what happens is the people, even though there are times when they are temporarily responding, they go right back into their rejection of God and are just hardened in their own desire to live their life on their own terms apart from God. Third, they provide convincing proof through the miracles that they perform—Elijah on Mount Carmel and Elisha in various other miracles—that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is real and that He can provide what Baal can't provide. It is only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that can provide rain and grain and prosperity and blessing, and it is only when they are obedient to God that God will bless the nation.

Fourth, we see the genuine revivals that take place under Hezekiah and Josiah. In each case those revivals are stimulated by the reading of the Law, the Word of God. Historically there is no reformation, there is no return to God, there is no renewal among the people if it is not led by a study of the Scriptures. There are all kinds of attempts to duplicate this through emotion and singing and worship but very little Bible teaching, but it is only when the teaching of the Word of God is at the core of the people of God's life that there is a true and genuine change and turn towards God. What we learn in those periods is that the word of God is the basis for genuine reform and renewal. But we also see that it exposes the trend of rebellion against the nation because the people eventually turn away from God's Word and turn back to the idols, and it is in this grace action that God provides the last and final opportunities for the nation to turn back to God and avoid the judgment that comes in 586 BC.

So Jeremiah concludes his lament. He reaches the focal point of it when He focuses on God in the Lamentations 3:21-24. He tells us what our focus should be when we think about what God is doing in history. After he has recalled all of the horrors that have recently taken place in his life—the three sieges of Nebuchadnezzar, the assaults on Jerusalem, the starvation, the episodes where mothers were killing their own children in order to eat them and survive, witnessing the deportation of tens of thousands of his fellow Jews to Babylon and all of the physical suffering and horrors that they went through. He says there is only one thing that gives us security. NASB "This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail." Even in the midst of judgment God has always extended grace and He sustains His people. "{They} are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."

Back to the question so many ask: Where is God in all this? God is not out there in those circumstances. We live in a fallen world the Scripture says. We live in a world that is dominated by human beings who make bad decisions bringing horrible consequences. Where God is is in the response of the believer to those circumstances. God is working in the lives of His people. He did in the Old Testament through Jeremiah, through Ezekiel, through numerous other believers who spoke truth in the midst of horrible circumstances, who gave real comfort to God's people as they were going through unbelievable suffering. The same thing is true for believers today. As we see the horrors that will take place in a fallen world, the devil's world, where there is terrible injustice because it is a fallen world, God is not in the injustice, He is not the cause of the suffering. But He is the one who is working in His people to speak the truth so that, like Jeremiah, we can recognize that God is faithful, His compassions fail not, His mercies are renewed every morning, and it is the believer who is the focal point for the world to understand d the grace of God and all that God has given us in solving the problem. We see in Kings as much as anywhere else in the Scripture the problem of sin.

The solution wasn't in a human king but it is in a divine King. That King came in that first Christmas as the angels announced, "Glory be to God in the highest," because the King was born in Bethlehem. But He was rejected, He was crucified, He rose from the dead, He ascended to heaven, and He will return again to establish the Jewish kingdom. That is a future when the only time in history there can be a real utopia of peace and stability, and only because there is a God-Man sitting on the throne in Jerusalem.

Illustrations