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Great Is Your Faithfulness

3:1   I am the man who has seen affliction
    under the rod of his wrath;
  he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
  surely against me he turns his hand
    again and again the whole day long.
  He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
    he has broken my bones;
  he has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
  he has made me dwell in darkness
    like the dead of long ago.
  He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
  though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
  he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.
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 bow 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 happiness1 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;2
    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?
40   Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the LORD!
41   Let us lift up our hearts and hands
    to God in heaven:
42   “We have transgressed and rebelled,
    and you have not forgiven.
43   “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
    killing without pity;
44   you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can pass through.
45   You have made us scum and garbage
    among the peoples.
46   “All our enemies
    open their mouths against us;
47   panic and pitfall have come upon us,
    devastation and destruction;
48   my eyes flow with rivers of tears
    because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
49   “My eyes will flow without ceasing,
    without respite,
50   until the LORD from heaven
    looks down and sees;
51   my eyes cause me grief
    at the fate of all the daughters of my city.
52   “I have been hunted like a bird
    by those who were my enemies without cause;
53   they flung me alive into the pit
    and cast stones on me;
54   water closed over my head;
    I said, ‘I am lost.’
55   “I called on your name, O LORD,
    from the depths of the pit;
56   you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
    your ear to my cry for help!’
57   You came near when I called on you;
    you said, ‘Do not fear!’
58   “You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
    you have redeemed my life.
59   You have seen the wrong done to me, O LORD;
    judge my cause.
60   You have seen all their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.
61   “You have heard their taunts, O LORD,
    all their plots against me.
62   The lips and thoughts of my assailants
    are against me all the day long.
63   Behold their sitting and their rising;
    I am the object of their taunts.
64   “You will repay them,3 O LORD,
    according to the work of their hands.
65   You will give them4 dullness of heart;
    your curse will be5 on them.
66   You will pursue them6 in anger and destroy them
    from under your heavens, O LORD.”7

Footnotes

[1] 3:17 Hebrew good
[2] 3:22 Syriac, Targum; Hebrew Because of the steadfast love of the Lord, we are not cut off
[3] 3:64 Or Repay them
[4] 3:65 Or Give them
[5] 3:65 Or place your curse
[6] 3:66 Or Pursue them
[7] 3:66 Syriac (compare Septuagint, Vulgate); Hebrew the heavens of the Lord

(ESV)

Overview

Knowing how to handle discouragement is a key to sustaining a lifetime of ministry. Unrealistic expectations usually lead to deep disappointment, and the Bible reminds us that there are no instant formulas for success in God’s work. Ministry often advances through tears and learning that principle will help you when you face discouragement.

Remember that God values the tears of a person who cares about His kingdom. He often brings the most fruitful ministry out of a broken heart. God is faithful. And one day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17).

This is God’s world, but it is not as He made it. It has been spoiled by an intruder, and that is why God will not allow this world to remain as it is forever. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and when He does, cancer, war, terrorism, pain, and death will all pass away. God promises that He will make everything new (Revelation 21:5).

In the meantime, God calls us to serve in this world as it is, and that means we will shed tears. Lamentations was written in tears. It is the cry of a broken heart over the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Most Blessed City on Earth
Jerusalem was the city where God met with His people. Solomon built a temple there, and when he did, the cloud of God’s glory came down. This was the high-water mark of the Old Testament story. God’s people were united, and God’s purpose was being realized, as kings and queens from surrounding nations came to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Jerusalem was the envy of the world, the most blessed city on earth.

But all of this changed very quickly. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom divided, and one king after another led God’s people down the wrong track. They worshiped other gods and ended up being little different from the surrounding nations. Instead of true worship, there was only hollow ritual in the temple. Instead of obedience among God’s people, God’s law was flouted. Instead of God’s blessing, it became increasingly clear that the clouds of God’s judgment were beginning to gather.

Time after time, God sent His prophets to call His people back to paths of obedience, but there was little response. So finally, God drew a line in the sand and judgment began.

Jeremiah had the unenviable task of being God’s mouthpiece at this desperate time. His ministry began during the reign of Josiah, the young king who led a personal crusade of religious and moral reform. Josiah threw out the idols and personally supervised the destruction of pagan altars. This was a good thing, so far as it went, but it was short lived.

When Josiah’s son Jehoiakim came to the throne, he asked for the Word of God to be read to him, and then slashed the scroll with a knife and threw the Scriptures into the fire. It was during the reign of this king who burned the Bible that God’s judgment on His people began.

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, laid siege to Jerusalem, and when the people were too weak to defend their city, the Babylonian force rounded up the most talented people, including a young man called Daniel, whose story we will come to later.

The King with the Chin
When the best leaders are taken out of a community, people of lesser ability are promoted to take their place, and after the siege, Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin (also known as Jeconiah) came to the throne. I have a caricature of him in my mind with a huge protruding chin! It’s a good way to remember Jehoiachin’s name.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he came to power, and it is hardly surprising that Nebuchadnezzar seized the opportunity to send another expeditionary force. Jehoiachin’s reign lasted only three months. He was taken to Babylon, and since he didn’t have a son to succeed him, his uncle Zedekiah became king in his place. The royal family was running out of members.

The Darkest Hour Before the Dawn
Zedekiah had to decide on a policy for protecting and defending the increasingly desperate city of Jerusalem. Should he form an alliance with other countries and stand up to Nebuchadnezzar? Or should he accept that Nebuchadnezzar’s power was in the plan of God and submit to it?

The prophet Jeremiah was in no doubt about the answer. Jerusalem would fall; it was time to surrender to the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 38:17). But Zedekiah didn’t like that message, so he ignored the Word of God.

With encouragement from Egypt, Zedekiah decided that he would rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, and when he did, the armies of Babylon came and laid yet another siege against the city. What happened then was just about as bad as it gets.

The commander of Nebuchadnezzar’s army set fire to the temple, the royal palace, and the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building was burned, and the walls of the city were destroyed.

In an unspeakable act of cruelty, Zedekiah’s sons were killed in his presence. Then Zedekiah’s eyes were put out, and he was taken in chains to Babylon where he died a short time later (2 Kings 25:7).

This was the lowest point in the entire Old Testament story. The temple, where God’s presence had been known, was destroyed. All of the king’s sons had been killed. The city where God met with His people lay in ruins. What hope could there be now for the great purpose of God to bring blessing to the world?

The Tears of One Who Cares
It was at this darkest hour that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations. The smoke was still rising from the ashes as Jeremiah picked his way through the rubble of the once great city of God, and what he saw broke his heart: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” he says (Lamentations 1:1).

The city that had once thrived under the blessing of God now seemed like a ghost town. With the temple destroyed, there was no place for the sacrifices to be made. The place where God had met with His people was gone.

Jeremiah’s tears began to flow: “My eyes are spent with weeping,” he said, “my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city” (2:11). These were the tears of a godly man whose heart was broken over the state of God’s work in the world.

If you set out in ministry with the idea that strong faith mixed with hard work and prayer will lead to unbroken success and blessing, you will be in for some big disappointments. God’s work often advances through tears.

A heart that cares will break over squandered opportunities, sin in the church, souls that are lost, the suffering of those who are persecuted, and the hardness of an unbelieving world. These are good tears, because they are the tears of a person who cares.

Perhaps you have thrown yourself into some venture for Christ. You expected His blessing, but you have faced overwhelming difficulties. It breaks your heart and causes you to cry out to God. You are weeping over “Jerusalem,” and you need to know that God values your tears.

David once asked the Lord to collect his tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). That is a beautiful picture. The tears of God’s people are of great value to Him, because they are the tears of people who care.

God’s Purpose Will Finally Prevail
If the people God had chosen to bless were scattered, and the place where God had met with His people was destroyed, what hope could there be of God fulfilling His promise and bringing blessing to the world?

God had promised that His kingdom would be established through a royal person born into the line of David. But Zedekiah was the last Davidic king to reign in Jerusalem, and all his sons were killed, so what future could there be for the royal line of David?

The answer lay in the man with the chin, Jehoiachin, the eighteen-year-old king who only lasted three months before he surrendered and was taken off into exile in Babylon. But his life was spared. He “put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table” (Jeremiah 52:33). So the royal line continued.

When Matthew lists the line of David into which Jesus Christ was born, Jehoiachin (or Jeconiah) has an honored place (Matthew 1:11). The king who lasted three months and did nothing but surrender to the enemy became a link in the chain that led to the birth of Jesus Christ!

Jeremiah could not have known how God’s blessing would come, but he staked his trust on the faithfulness of God: “But this I call to mind,” he said, “and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23).

The New Jerusalem
Seventy years after the destruction of Jerusalem, a small group of people returned to the ruins and rebuilt the city. Five hundred years after that, Jesus Christ came to Jerusalem, and like Jeremiah, He wept over it. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

On another visit to Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41–42).

The city where God had placed His name did not want to receive His Son. When God came to His own city, He was herded out of it and nailed to a cross. But through His death and resurrection, Christ became the channel by which the blessing of God will come to the nations of the world.

People with a sensitive heart still weep over Jerusalem today. But at the end of the Bible, God gave the apostle John a vision of Jerusalem as God intended it to be: the Holy City, the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2).

This Jerusalem will come “down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). And a loud voice from God’s throne will announce: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And the one seated on the throne will say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:3–5).

  1. When did you last shed tears because of the state of God’s work in the world?
  2. Was there a time in your life, like the city of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, when you did not want to receive God’s Son?
  3. Have you thrown yourself into some venture for Christ, and although you thought you would be blessed, you’ve experienced difficulty instead?
  4. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through the New Jerusalem? What would you see? What would you feel? What would you say?
  5. React to this: “God often brings the most fruitful ministry out of a broken heart.” Can you think of any other biblical examples? Any examples that you’ve seen?
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