When Defeat Strikes Pt 1: Remember that God is Righteous

Lamentations Chapter 1

Has there every been a time when you felt like your hopes and dreams have gone up in smoke like Hindenburg?  A moment when everything that you planned, all of your hopes and dreams suddenly went up in smoke?  A moment when you tasted the bitter agony of defeat in your life?

 As Jeremiah walked the streets of his beloved city of Jerusalem he must have been shocked by what he saw.  The once beautiful, majestic glorious city of Jerusalem was lying in ruins, its buildings burned to the grounds, its streets filled with rubble and it’s people in utter despair.  As if to add insult to injury, lying at the heart of city, perched upon the highest peak of the city was the smoldering ruins of the Temple, the visible symbol of God’s presence that had been looted and destroyed by the Babylonians.

He describes the feelings of defeat in chapter 1 of Lamentations.

He describes the condition of the city in the first five verses of the book:  v1-5
  • v.1 He describes the plight of the city in a series of horrible reversals of fortune:
    • The city was once full by now it is empty
    • Once was great among the nations but now is like a widow.
    • Once was a princess among the provinces but now has become like a slave.
  • v.2 She now weeps bitterly 
    • but has no one to comfort her
    • even her friends have dealt treacherously with her.
  • v. 3 She has been forced into exile and now dwells among the nations
  • v.4 She has lost faith— no one is coming to worship
    • The roads leading to the city mourn because no one comes to the festivals
    • Her gates are desolate
    • her priests groan
  • v.5 Her foes are now in charge and her children have gone into captivity.
As the Jewish people looked at the terrible devastation and defeat surrounding them, they naturally began to question what God was doing.  Some started to question His power, other began to question His faithfulness, all began to question His plan. In this first chapter, Jeremiah reminds us that when defeat strikes we need to remember that God is righteous.
  1. Why do bad things happen to God’s people?
    • Notice that I did not say good people – because there are no good people.
    • Sometimes bad things happen even to God’s people.
      • Being a Christian does not make us immune to life’s problems.
      • The Health and Wealth gospel that has become popular in America is self-defeating and Biblically wrong.
      • Every believer is at one time or another going to have to wrestle with the question, “Why is this happening to me?”
    • Short Answer – we live in a fallen world where bad things happen.
      • V. 3 the city sits in desolation because its residents have taken captive by the Babylonians
      • She once enjoyed great freedom and the blessings of God, but now she suffers in captivity.
      • This is the historical explanation for Judah’s current situation.
      • It is akin to recounting the history of how you got into a particular circumstance.
        • Remember when you were a kid and your mom or dad asked you how the window got broke, or how the dog ended up in the washing machine.
        • You gave them all of the historical details of the situation without ever really telling them that you had done something wrong.
        • Basically this is where Jeremiah starts.
        • Judah lies desolation because Babylon has taken its citizens captive.
        • But this answer does not get to the heart of the problem— so Jeremiah digs a little deeper.
    • Deeper answer- Judah has been taken captive as a result of her sin.
      • Notice how many ways Jeremiah mentions Judah’s sin in this chapter:
        • V. 5 “Her foes have become the head; her enemies prosper, because the Lord has affiliated her for the multitude of her transgressions;”
        • V. 8 – “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy…”
        • v. 9 – “Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future; therefore her fall is terrible…”
        • v.14 – “My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together…”
        • v.18 “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word….”
      • The disaster and devastation that had struck the nation was the result of their sin against God.
        • This is exactly what God had said would happen — Deuteronomy 21
          • V.1-17 Blessings for obedience
          • v.18-44 Curses that will come as the result of disobedience
          • v. 45-51  God announces that if they do not obey His commands that He will raise up a foreign nation who will take them captive.
            • ” Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.”
        • This is an Old Testament expression of God’s righteousness
        • In general the American church has weakened our teaching on God’s righteousness:
          • We are too quick to explain away problems as the result of sin.
          • But we need to realize that many of the problems that we face are the direct result of sin in our lives.
  2. What does it mean when we say that God is righteous? (v.18)
    • v. 18 “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word…”
      • We could literally translate this phrase “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his word.”
      • The word “righteous” refers the fact that God has not punished without cause. In other words, God is right in carrying out His judgement against the nation because they are guilty of sin.
      • God is simply doing what He said that He would do back in Deuteronomy 21
      • We might think of God’s righteousness as referring to the fact that He always does what He says that He is going to do.  
      • Same idea is expressed by David in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement.”
    • God’s righteousness is a two-sided coin:
      • It guarantees punishment when we sin.
        • God was righteous in punishing Judah for their sin.
        • Jeremiah closes this prayer by reminding God that the nations have also been unfaithful —  v.21-22
      • It guarantees God’s promises when we obey. 
        • As we go through this book we will see that God’s righteousness is the greatest source of hope for the nation because it is God’s righteousness that serves as the basis for His faithfulness

Introduction to Lamentations: When Defeat Strikes…

This Sunday morning I am going to begin a new series of messages from the book of Lamentations entitled “When Defeat Strikes…”  Since Lamentations is one of the most neglected books in all the Bible, I thought that I would share a little bit of background information to help you get ready.  I hope that in addition to reading this post you will read Lamentations chapter 1 several times this week, and pray for our servi
ces this Sunday.  Specifically, ask God to speak to your heart through His Word.

Lamentations: 
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In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Lamentations is titled Ekah (how) because of this is the first word in the book (1:1) and it is also used in 2:1 and 4:1.  The word Ekah was commonly used in ancient times as the opening word of a dirge.  This use is reinforced by the Talmudic and rabbinic writers who referred to this book as Qinot (dirges).  As you might expect, therefore, this book carries with it a rather somber tone as it reflects on the suffering of the city of Jerusalem just after it had been captured by the Babylonians and its people taken captive.
The author is never named in this book but traditionally it has been thought that Jeremiah is the writer.  This tradition is based on three primary pieces of evidence:
          1.) 2 Chronicles 35:25 says that Jeremiah “uttered a lament for Josiah.”
          2.) Jeremiah was an eyewitness to the fall of Jerusalem and its subsequent suffering.
          3.) There are several similarities between the themes and vocabulary between the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations.
This tradition has a long history and was not questioned until 1712.  Since that time, the book’s authorship has been questioned by a number of Biblical studies but no solid conclusion can be made.  The simple truth of the matter is that if God has wanted us to know He would have inspired the author to include his name in the sacred text.  Since He did not, we can only conclude that who wrote the book is not essential for our understanding.
Date and Historical Setting:
 
The emotional nature of this book indicates that the author was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Therefore, we can conclude that the book was written shortly after 587 B.C.  In order to properly understand the book we need to keep in mind how devastating it must have been for Judah to see the city of Jerusalem so utterly desolated.  The city itself had been no stranger to invasion and plundering (see 1 Kgs 14:25-26; 2 Kings 14:13-14, 23:33, 2 Chr 21:16-17; 2 Chron 25:22-24; 33:11), however, no previous enemy had so completely desolated the city and brought such destruction upon the Temple. The historical account of Jerusalem’s fall is recorded in 2 Kings 25:1-21, but the emotional and spiritual response is recorded here in Lamentations.  There is no doubt that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem was the most tragic and horrific event for the Jewish people in the Old Testament.  It must have felt to them like God had abandoned them, and this feeling is vividly captured in the language of this book.
Message of Lamentations:
 
Lamentations struggles with many of the same questions as the book of Job, however, Job describes deals primarily with the suffering of an individual, whereas, Lamentations deals with suffering on a corporate level.  The author of Lamentations understands Judah’s sufferings in light of Deuteronomy 28:15-68, where the Lord details the blessings that the people will receive for obedience and the punishment that God will bring for their disobedience.  This was an important message for the people because many had grown up thinking that Jerusalem was inviolable and that God’s temple could not possibly be destroyed because it was His dwelling place on earth.  To them the destruction of the city and the Temple must have seemed like God had abandoned them and thus they were experiencing a crisis of faith.  The book of Lamentations, therefore, serves the purpose of expressing these deep-seated emotions but also to turn the hearts of the people back towards God.
Outline of the Book: 
 
Lamentations has been carefully structured around five separate poems, which correspond to the five chapters that make up the English translation of the book.  These five poems use a variety of literary types including: lament, communal lament, funeral dirge, wisdom instruction, and song of thanksgiving.  Each of the chapters, however, share a common thread of pointing us towards a characteristic of God that can give us hope in times of defeat.  Therefore, the overall theme of the book deals with what to do when defeat strikes and the message is for us to remember God in the midst of our struggle with defeat.  Specifically, this books calls us to remember that:
1.)  God is righteous (Chapter 1)
2.) God is Accessible (Chapter 2)
3.) God is Faithful (Chapter 3)
4.) God is Just (Chapter 4)
5.) God is Eternal (Chapter 5)
We will explore each of these themes starting this Sunday in our series of messages entitled “When Defeat Strikes…”