video also available here
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,Lamentations 3:19-26
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
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.
New every morning
What would you expect when you come to read a book entitled ‘Lamentations’? Surely it will be nothing but doom and gloom? You would be partly right – there is much in the book about God’s judgment, but that is not the whole story. There is also light and gospel hope.
Lamentations was written during the lowest point in the history of Judah – when the nation had been destroyed by the Babylonians and many of the people taken into exile. The root cause of the disaster was the sin of the people and so they had no-one to blame but themselves. There are, however, precious words of hope in the midst of the darkness, words that still speak to us today. Let’s consider together Lamentations 3:19-26 New every morning.
1. The depths of despair
The tone of the first part of the chapter is one of unrelieved gloom. Here is a man in the depths: ‘made me walk in darkness’ (v2), ‘He has walled me in’ (v7). The description is vivid. Even prayer seems futile ‘he shuts out my prayer’ (v8). The writer (probably Jeremiah) speaks not only for himself, but for the people – ‘we’ (v22), ‘us’ (v40). The whole nation is passing through the darkness. Jerusalem has been destroyed and the land laid waste by the Babylonians. It was the worst time in the nation’s history, hence the reference to ‘the bitterness and the gall’ (v19).
The reason for this suffering is that ‘we have sinned and rebelled’ (v42). The people of Judah have broken covenant with the Lord and have been serving other gods, and so are now reaping the consequences. The Babylonians are God’s instruments of judgment.
How can this apply to us in our troubled world, especially in the midst of the coronavirus crisis? We know it is in God’s hands and is fulfilling his purpose. The situation is certainly a reminder that we live in a fallen world which is suffering the consequences of human sin. Surely the Lord is reminding the nations of the consequences of conducting their affairs without reference to him and his law. We must, however, not fall into the error of Job’s comforters and attribute suffering to God’s judgment on particular individuals. We are all called to look at our lives and ask if there are things amiss, sins that have crept in, which need to be repented of and forgiven. God is summoning us all to take stock in the light of his Word.
2. The reason for hope
The prayer of v19ff marks a profound change of mood. Note v21 ‘this I call to mind and therefore I have hope’. Light dawns as he focuses attention on the nature of God. This is what the psalmist does in Psalm 42:6 ‘My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you’. The danger is that when our soul is downcast, we turn away from the Lord.
When we recognise our sin, we need to focus not on ourselves but on the Lord. Looking inwards will never change the situation. All we will see is our sin. We need to meditate on what the Lord is like, otherwise we will simply go round in a depressing circle.
The key for Jeremiah is ‘great is your faithfulness’ (v23). That is the ground for his hope – solid ground because God does not change. He has taken his people into covenant with himself, a relationship not based on their worthiness or effort to be good. Although they have been unfaithful to their covenant commitment, he remains faithful to his promises ‘for he cannot disown himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13). We cannot fathom God’s amazing covenant love to us. Here is our hope, in the Lord alone, because he has not changed since Jeremiah’s day.
3. The answer we need
Note v22, where we read of ‘the Lord’s great love’. Here is the covenant love of God that forgives sinners when we are spiritually dead and helpless. His love provided the Substitute we need to bear the consequences of sin. God ‘gave his only begotten Son’ (John 3:16). This verse takes us forward to Christ who died ‘the righteous for the unrighteous’ (1 Peter 3:18), not waiting for us to be ‘good enough’ (which is an impossibility anyway). It was in love that Christ laid down his life for us, and so the Lord’s ‘compassions never fail’ (v22).
Here is sympathetic love and kindness for the helpless. The Lord Jesus Christ has felt the full power of temptation, without ever sinning. We have fresh evidence of that love daily – God’s compassions ‘are new every morning’ (v23). What wonderful reassurance. It is often in the darkness of the night that our troubles most weigh upon us and seem at their worst. Here is the encouragement that the dawn will come and bring fresh experiences of God’s love.
That is what we need to hear. There is still forgiving grace to be found in the Lord when we have failed him. Satan will try to convince us otherwise, telling us that God must have stopped loving us if we are enduring such a hard time. We have God’s assurance in a text such as 1 John 1:9 ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins’. He forgives the repentant. His promises will not fail, whatever our feelings tell us. We are to listen to God’s Word, not to our hearts, or to the lies of Satan.
4. The proper response
So what are we to do? As so often in the Bible, the proper response is described as waiting: ‘I will wait for him’ (v24), ‘it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord’ (v26). We wait for the Lord’s help and cleansing, the things that we really need. That does not imply that we are passive or inactive. There is to be repentance and confession – ‘We have sinned and rebelled’ (v42). We wait with a sense of anticipation, knowing that he will answer. We do not give in to despair, but we are to rely on the Lord for the grace we need. He alone is able to save and forgiveness must come from the God we have offended. That’s why Jeremiah can say, ‘The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him’ (v25). We must go to the place where the answer is to be found.
When we understand that he is a gracious, covenant-keeping God, that encourages us to make him ‘my portion’ (v24). He will never fail us, never betray our trust in him. The key question is – can you say with Jeremiah, ‘The Lord is my portion’?