When God Turns His Back

Bible Readings for the day: Lamentations 2:7-3:39, Philemon 1-25, Psalm 119:121-128
Meditational Reading: Lamentations 3:10-39
10  He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;
11  he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;
12  he bent his bpsalm_9620ow and set me as a target for his arrow.
13  He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver;
14  I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long.
15  He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.
16  He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;
17  my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
18  so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
19  Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
21  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25  The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
26  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
27  It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
28  Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;
29  let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope;
30  let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.
31  For the Lord will not cast off forever,
32  but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33  for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
34  To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth,
35  to deny a man justice in the presence of the Most High,
36  to subvert a man in his lawsuit, the Lord does not approve.
37  Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?
38  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?
39  Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?

Lamentations is the great cry of bitterness, prayed by Jeremiah, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy Temple by the Babylonians in 587/586 BC.  Jeremiah, true prophet of God, proclaimed what would happen if the people did not repent and return to the Lord their God; he proclaimed God’s true message again and again, but the people did not want to listen (even after all the horror befell them, Jeremiah 42-43).  Judah was defeated, Jerusalem fell, the Temple destroyed, the people sent into exile because of their sin.  And Jeremiah laments their fate.

What happens when God turns his back on his people?  Well, the first thing to remember is that it was the people who first turned their backs upon God.  The Lord sent his prophets (including Jeremiah) to bring his people back to him, but the people persisted in their unbelief and sin.

As I read today’s mediational verses two things struck me: 1. The tenor of Jeremiah’s lament changes from despair to hope.  2. Jeremiah describes Jesus and his ministry (especially Holy Week) in a very real way.

First, the tenor of Jeremiah’s lament changes.  We see that transition take place in verses 19 through 21.  Jeremiah does not deny the reality of his situation; it is a bitter situation; it seems that God has abandoned him and his people.  Jeremiah is hurt and he despairs.  But, in the midst of the despair, Jeremiah finds hope.  Verse 22 brims with hope: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” In the bleakness of despair Jeremiah not only finds hope, but the has hope!  “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.” The phrase we translate as “the steadfast love” is one word in Hebrew, CHESED.  It tells of God’s love rooted in covenant with his people.  In his time of despair, God the Holy Spirit, reminded Jeremiah of God’s covenant love, a love rooted in God and his promise that he must keep.  And what is that promise?  The promise to send a Messiah and Savior, not only for Israel but for the whole world as well.  God must keep his promise and that promise is rooted in Israel; without Israel there is no Messiah and Savior!  And this brings us to my second insight.

Second, Jeremiah describes Jesus and his ministry (especially Holy Week) in a very real way.  Jesus gave his cheek to the one who struck; he received insult upon insult; his mouth was dry as dust (“I thirst”); he was crushed under foot; his trial was illegal as it took place at night and false witnesses were brought against him.  Edward Perronet caught the full impact of this when he wrote, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”.  In verse 3 he reminds us, “Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget The wormwood and the gall…”

As I read the meditational verses I was reminded that when bad things happen to us (and they do happen!), God has not turned his back upon us.  He made a covenant with us in baptism, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16).  God’s CHESED (covenant love) is for us.  And, in the midst of bad things, it is a strengthening comfort to know that we are not going through anything that God himself, in the person of Jesus our Savior, has not gone through.  God, in the person of Jesus, has gone through much worse by suffering the pains of damnation (our damnation) as he hung upon the cross — and he hung upon the cross to demonstrate his CHESED for us!

A prayer:  Lord God, Holy Trinity, out of your great love for us you have established a covenant of grace with us; when bad things happen to us, keep us in that covenant of grace, remind us of that covenant of grace, and strengthen us through that covenant of grace as we remember Jesus, who suffered the full pain of the “wormwood and the gall” for us.  Thank you for your love for us, a love that never fails and is new every morning.  Amen!

The Rev. Dr. Jim Kerner is a retired pastor of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.


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