Lamenting and Praying

This week, our passage (Jeremiah 11-16) has us focusing on lament.  Both Jeremiah and God lament, and we by faith join in.  We do not grow bitter or weary or disillusioned when we join God in this lament.  Rather we join Him in His perspective, we view this fallen world as He does.  If we lament with Him, we can pray more earnestly for the renewal and restoration He is working towards!  We join Him, rather than going astray.  

2 Chronicles 35 shows us the end of Josiah’s life.  He had loved God when his father hadn’t; he reinstituted worship, Passover, and reading of God’s Word.  He dies at the hands of Pharaoh Neco and is mourned.  “Then Jeremiah changed a lament for Josiah.  And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day…”  Our longings are not properly fulfilled in this land of sojourning.  So we too long, hope, lament, and wait–for our true glory and our true home.  

Here in Jeremiah 11-16, the prophet will lament much, and God will reassure him, yet God will also confront Jeremiah when his attitude turns sinful.  (Yes, lament can be good, but can also be sinful.  God judges the heart (11:20), He knows.  He listens.  He is patient and gentle and faithful, and may also correct us when our lament turns bitter or selfish or otherwise contrary to God’s goodness).  

Covenant Reiterated

Chapter 11 reiterated the covenant that Israel and Judah had broken, boiling much of it down to each one refusing to listen to God and instead “each one walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart.”  Notice that phrase in bold? Remember hearing it in earlier chapters? Notice how many times it is repeated–and yet the people still continue to ask ‘but why?’ We will focus on that next week as we dive into chapter 17.

Here in Chapter 11, when Jeremiah prophecies of the consequences foretold since Deuteronomy, and by many other prophets between, the people plot to kill Jeremiah.  The LORD who planted them is describing how He will uproot (verse 17, also chapter 1).  

Chapter 12  Jeremiah pleads his case.  Are we ever able to do so rightly?  Yes (see Isaiah 1:18-19), but we walk a fine line often between pleading, praying, reasoning together–and defiance, obstinance, demanding and lip service (12:2). God answers Jeremiah’s lament, reminding Jeremiah that this people was His inheritance, the beloved of His soul.  But no man lays it to heart, they devour one another.  Yet, He invites them to repentance once more.  

Chapter 13 A word picture, the waistband (or loincloth, commentaries differ).  Either way, Jeremiah enacts a journey, buries a beautiful piece of clothing, returns home.  Waits.  Journeys back (journey, not a trifling walk) and finds a ruined waistband.  This is a picture of God’s people who go astray, wicked people who refuse to listen.

Listen.  Cling.  

Rather than listen, they “walk in the stubbornness of their hearts” and serve false gods and are now like this band, totally worthless.  “For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,” declares the LORD, “that they might be for Me a people for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.”  

We hear echos of this in John 13-17 and Ephesians, and the rest of Scripture.  God has always wanted the mutual, loving, abiding relationship with His people.  We were created for glory, but when we seek glory elsewhere (see John 5) we abandon Him who calls us into His own kingdom and glory! (see 1 Thessalonians 2:12)  

Captivity announced, again.

And so, God calls “give glory to the LORD” or slip into gloom and deep darkness.  Life apart from Him does not work.  And Judah is being told that “the magnitude of your iniquity” results in this. They cannot change their hearts, following after their hearts led to no good thing.  (PLEASE, do not ‘follow your heart’ or ‘follow your dreams’ or keep on with ‘you do you.’) 

“This is your lot,” you have rejected the offer of life and will receive your wages.  “That your shame may be seen.”  For a fabulous discussion of shame culture, and how not to overlook the importance of this–I recommend this book, recommended to me by a friend, it has blessed me immensely:

Chapter 14  Drought comes, no water.  A physical reminder that God’s people have forsaken the Fountain of Living Waters!  God’s people have “loved to wander” and therefore Jeremiah is instructed not to pray that He would change His mind concerning the upcoming exile.  This is not a verse we ought to apply to our lives, it is spoken directly to Jeremiah for this specific situation; rather, we pray as Jesus taught.  Yet we learn to trust that God’s good purposes will happen through the exile, rather than by Him overlooking sin.  Jeremiah closes in prayer, to the One who is our true hope.  Does hope shape your prayers?

Chapter 15  What is their lot?  They have “forsaken Me” declares the LORD, [they] “keep going backward…they did not repent of their ways…”  So their lot will be hard, they will be chastened.  Jeremiah laments once more as he hears and bears this prophecy.  It will not be the first time he wishes he were never born (vs. 10ff).  Yet, as he despairs of life, the LORD promises to “set you free for purposes of good.”  He hears, He is compassionate.  Jeremiah prays again, confident of the LORD’s patience (vs. 15).  He knows he must continue, claiming God’s word is a joy and delight.  Jeremiah asks if God is deceiving him, and complaining about his lot in life.

God responds, not as we would with the “oh, life is tough, of course you feel that way, please continue to complain–what else could you do?!”  But with “If you return, then I will restore you.”  God promises to continue to use him as spokesman, to make him as strong as a bronze wall, promises that those seeking his harm will not prevail, and reiterating the beautiful promises.  

“For I am with you to save you and deliver you,” declares the LORD.  So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.”  

Chapter 16 Another telling of the impending distress in consequence of their sin.  Though the LORD has been sending prophets for a long time, calling His people to repent, out of His compassion (2 Chronicles 36), His compassions are withdrawn.  When they forsake Him, they walk away from His compassion.  God tells Jeremiah that the people will wonder why, and he is to tell them it is due to their forsaking God, forsaking His law, and “walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart without listening to Me.”  

The Promise to Restore

Days will come, when God will restore His people to the land, and upon hearing this (again) Jeremiah prays similarly to Nahum.  “O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of distress…”  We too can claim He is our refuge, our strength, our stronghold.  Though our situation be different, our God is the same!   Pray confidently, beloved!

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