This short book paints a horrifying picture of Judah’s last days and Israel’s destruction. It seems like it was written after Jeremiah finished the book that bears his name (most believe the author is Jeremiah although it doesn’t say so.) He starts with this lament in chapter 1:
How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.
Throughout the book of Jeremiah, the Lord warned Judah to repent and turn from their sins, but they wouldn’t. Over and over Jeremiah says Babylon is coming, but the leaders call him a liar and try to kill him. When that doesn’t work they put him in prison. In fact when the Babylonians enter the city they are the ones who free him.
Why is there such a negativity in the Bible? We know that the whole OT is about Jesus (i.e., our redemption in Christ), so what do the book of Jeremiah and Lamentations tell us about Jesus? A consistent theme running in Jeremiah, and reiterated in this book is judgement and hope. We know why such horrible things happened to Judah (and Israel before her):
8 Jerusalem has sinned greatly
and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
and turns away.
Because of her sin the Lord is angry. This is a God many people can’t accept (from chapter 2):
How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.
In fierce anger he has cut off
every horn of Israel.
he has poured out his wrath like fire
on the tent of Daughter Zion.
in his fierce anger he has spurned
both king and priest.
He stretched out a measuring line
and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
The Lord’s punishment of sin is not some passive getting out of the way so people can destroy themselves. It is active punishment. The Lord wants us to know that sin is very serious business. Not only is the wages of sin death, it is all the misery and suffering that precede death. Why is this?
Sin is a violation of God’s being, and he must hate and judge and punish it. What Christ did in effect was to save us from God himself! Wrath and anger is his natural response to sin. What he poured out on Israel and Judah, the destruction of his holy city, he had to pour out on Christ that we might be saved from that wrath.
As Fallen creatures we are steeped in sin, our being is contrary to his being. It’s all about ontology. When Christ had paid the penalty, the curtain separating us from God, from the holiness of the Creator, was torn in two. Now our judge, jury, and executioner has become our Father. As I’ve called it, a radical, relational, reversal. And it’s all on God’s side. He is no longer against us because of our sin.
We get a hint that judgment and punishment will not be the end of the story in chapter 3. He starts the chapter complaining about all the things God in his wrath has done to him. But as he’s recalling all his suffering he says:
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Ultimately like Job he will trust the Lord, even when that’s very hard to do. He, and we, stand with Moses who says of the Lord:
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
Our assessment of life will always center on us, and what circumstances do to us, but God always has bigger things in mind which are both temporal (thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven) and eternal. We have something, though, Jeremiah couldn’t have foreseen, the death and resurrection of Christ. The whole of history, redemptive and otherwise, turns on those events. We know God’s compassions through Christ’s sufferings, and we claim that mercy and grace every morning.
Lastly, one of the clearest expressions of God’s providence in the Bible is in this chapter:
37 Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
No Deist God here. Skeptics, if they allow a God of providence might exist, see his actions in history as whimsical and arbitrary, but they are anything but. We who belong to the Lord are with Paul on this:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
P.S. A little Bible trivia question: Is there cannibalism depicted in the Bible? Yep, right here in chapter 4:
10 With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.
Like I said above, horrifying.