THERE is no book in the Bible which so lays bare the heart of man as The Lamentations of Jeremiah. We find in it the expressions of grief which could only come from the heart of one who knows what it is to be greatly loved, yet is under rebuke. It is a cry from a faithful heart which has entered into the rebuke, and because it is a faithful heart and full of love, it is free to feel and weigh the sorrow, which the guilty under just sentence, confuse with their remorse. Sometimes the burden is too great for the poor faithful but human heart, and a note of personal complaint rises. The prophet, though sustained of God, felt his weakness under such a weight of sorrow and poured out his complaint into the ear of God.
The sacking of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 588 B.C. changed the whole course of the government of God amongst men. It did more. Jehovah loved Israel; Jerusalem was the object of His counsels of blessing on earth, it was to have been the joy of the whole earth. The fall of Jerusalem meant far more than the end of a petty kingdom which had been gradually reduced to a single city. The destruction of the beloved city, and the smiting of the altar of the LORD and all the holy things, broke all outward connecting links between God and His direct government in the world through Israel, and set Israel aside from the place of favour which God had shown to men. The stroke reached the inmost recesses of the heart of Jeremiah, the prophet of God, who loved what God loved.
This chastening judgment was the occasion for God to express by the mouth of a chosen vessel raised up for the purpose, the sentiments that a sensitive heart should experience in such a time of trouble. Faith acknowledges the hand of God in everything, and brings Him into all trials. Christians suffer in this day of grace, but their expressions of grief are modified by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who dwell’s in them, and by the revelation of grace made to them in a risen Christ. The Captain of their salvation has passed through this vale of tears, and now in the place of power on high He sits the Conqueror of death, and has broken the might of the adversary. In Christ the believer triumphs.
It was a solemn moment, and a sad one, for Israel and for man in the world. The grief of the prophet is unrestrained, save that his suffering is tempered by the knowledge that God entered into it all, and he turns to Him. His expressions of deep inward sorrow rose not merely from outward persecution, but from the wound to his love which he had for the guilty people, whom God loved, yet now had to smite. He found no consolation but in God Himself.
God often prepares the heart of man to receive His most blessed communications by passing him through deep sorrow. By this way of His wisdom, the heart is brought to know and confess its own guiltiness and weakness. Self-confidence vanishes, the heart learns patience, and in quiet submission to wait on God.
The Spirit of Christ was in the men of old who voiced the grief of those amongst whom they suffered. Christ, in the days of His flesh, knew fully every sorrow the human heart can experience, yet without sin. Perfect and apart from any taint of sin He was acquainted with all our grief. He knew suffering as only God as man could know it, and He is able to succour [assist] those who have to meet the trials and temptations which man has brought upon himself through sin, for He was wholly without sin, yet burdened Himself with our sorrows.
These prophets cried out under the afflictions which came upon them through the chastening of God. The people of God had failed to walk in His ways as they had covenanted to do, so brought themselves under His judgments. The prophets were men of God and they gave voice to the sentiments which the Spirit of God awoke in them as they entered into the circumstances of their day, and thought with God about the ruined state of His people. Their thoughts were governed by their understanding of what was due to the glory of God. They knew that His love was not a mere passing sentiment: He 1ovel the people with an everlasting love. The prophets knew it, and they knew that God had to smite that which E-le loved. God loved Jerusalem, but when it became filed with wickedness He had to level it with the ground, for He was dealing with a people responsible to maintain their part of the covenant. They have to reap the consequences of their failure, and the refusal of grace, before they through grace partake of God’s counsels of blessing for them.
In the New Testament we find a testimony of unmitigated judgment against the false and corrupt system which has grown up in the Church. The corruption is called Babylon the great, in the hook of Revelation. God offers no terms of repentance to the false thing, which, taking advantage of grace and having tasted of the good things of God, turns everything to corruption through idolatry and demon—worship), yet claims the relationship and privileges of a wedded wife (Rev. 18:7). To whom is she wedded? The Spirit of God has issued the warning which grows more insistent as the day-of-judgment approaches, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
Jerusalem also is warned to come out of and to have nothing to do with Babylon and all that savours of Babylonish idolatry. But the warning of judgment and of trials to come which God gives so faithfully to Israel, would have little meaning unless He at the same time gave to Israel a testimony of redemption. Jehovah will save Israel from all their enemies, but they need to know that through a perfect atoning work their sins are for given, and that Jehovah is their Saviour through the Messiah.
God provides a way of escape for those, whom He warns by a word of judgment. When His people are warned of a coming judgment, but have to submit to it, then the judgment is known for what it is—the chastening of God and not a total destruction, otherwise they would be told to fly from the scene of coming wrath. He saves in the judgment those who, feeling the solemnity of the warning, take heed to His word and submit to His hand. He preserves them in the trial and gives them a sense of His presence, or at least, the hope of deliverance. Those with ears to hear cast themselves upon the mercy and grace of God. They have to learn that the power to save is in God alone, and He is greater than the death they fear. Hope springs up in a state of hopelessness. God Himself remains the only hope of salvation when the sense of sin and distance from God, brought home to the heart tinder His chastening hand, has plunged the soul into despair. The Jews, like Jonah, will find God in their extremity.
The history of the times of Jeremiah is found in other books of the Old Testament. The lament of the prophet arose from the fact that God had set aside the whole system which He had established for Himself and which had its centre in Jerusalem. He had destroyed His own house. The knowledge that God still loved that which He had so severely to chasten firmly held the heart of the man of God, and he understood that the chastening was just. A sense of guilt and weakness rested upon his soul as he suffered with the people in the affliction common to them all, and because of this there are many expressions of personal complaint from the mouth of the prophet.
The sorrow goes so deep that hope of deliverance is lost, yet the sense of Jehovah’s presence remains, but this only strengthens and deepens the sorrow. The presence of the LORD is felt but not enjoyed. The godly man feels that the affliction is right, but the affliction is so much the more dreaded, when he realizes that wounded love cannot find any other way to reach the heart and the conscience of the people save by smiting. The tried heart of the faithful one, while it clings to God with feeble faith, can in such a case, only express despondency. The soul would plumb the depths of despair were not the presence of God known to sustain it in its dark hour. But because God is known to be perfect in goodness, the heart, though not enjoying communion with His blessed ness, can only interpret His chastening with fear. The heart in this state still hopes in God, but without a ray of light to brighten the thoughts.
The first awakening of a conscience often plunges the soul into these depths of anguish. The awakened remnant in Israel, the godly Jews who wait for the coming of the Messiah as their last and only hope, will be found in this state of mind, as the Psalms so clearly show.
God knows the pain which His people will suffer, and He has anticipated every troubled thought that will pts through their minds, when they are under His hand for chastening judgment. Were God to meet their iniquity with judicial and final judgment, not one would remain to experience and tell of His grace. Unless Jehovah, in the Person of the Messiah, had passed through the sorrows of Israel in sympathy with them, and known those sorrows in their deepest depths, so as to put words in the mouth of Israel, how could they find suitable words with which to express God-ward their anguish? The right expressions are given them that they may receive His answer in the terms of His grace suited to the day of their distress. He will deliver the godly in the day of His power when they cry to Him with the true sentiments of the Spirit of Christ, even though many expressions of utter hopelessness are mingled with them. Because the LORD knows their trials, having sounded their full depths Himself in the Person of the Messiah, He puts the true cry in their hearts, and is able to answer them with grace in a way they will have learned to appreciate, through suffering. He has given them the words which will awaken the right feelings and thoughts, and they will cry to Him with these words, and find an answer in His deliverance.
If in the wisdom of God suffering is necessary now that sin has entered the fair creation and spoilt man’s enjoyment of it, yet God takes account of man’s sorrow. Sorrow and suffering are the heritage of sin, but God is above all. His eye sees everything, and His spirit is active in the hearts of those in whom He dwells and they express the feelings which He produces in them. In the 01(1 Testament the feelings and thoughts expressed are those of souls not yet brought into the liberty of a known redemption through a finished work done for them to the glory of God, and a deliverance from the weakness of the flesh through the presence and power of the Spirit dwelling in them. The Holy Spirit had not yet conic. Now the man in Christ knows that for faith the old life is closed in death, and that he lives in the power of another life, even in Christ, and the Holy Spirit is given for power in that life.
The Christian suffers in his pathway here, but not with that hopelessness which is found in the Psalms. He may, by the Spirit, rise above the suffering of the moment, and speak to God front the midst of a groaning creation in which he shares its suffering, praying for those who do not know how to play about their own suffering. Speaking by the Spirit, he is fully conscious of a power that is working towards him, that frees him from the bondage of fear and weakness and hopelessness, such as is found in a soul undelivered from the power of sin and the world.
There are several principles which must be understood to grasp the real cause of Jeremiah’s sorrow. God had set aside Jerusalem as the centre of His direct government on earth, and substituted Babylon as the centre of ruling power and authority in the world, but not as His centre of direct world-government which has been for the time suspended. Israel was no longer the scene of God’s immediate governmental activity amongst men. The ways of God were known in Israel, but He had removed His throne from Jerusalem, for He could not allow His name to be any longer attached to a city of unrighteousness. God had given a Gentile monarch the right to rule over all peoples. The Gentiles were to rule and to own this authority as given of God. The king of Babylon was to sit in supreme authority and control the vi1l of man in the world, and he was responsible to acknowledge the God of heaven who gave him the power to rule.
This was in itself a most important change in the principle of governing the world. But there was a deeper thought behind this change of government - an even more fundamental principle. Man in the fall had departed from God, and after the flood he turned wholly away from the knowledge of God, and gave demons the place of God. Abraham was called out from amidst all this idolatry to walk before the Almighty God, and to command his house to keep the way of God. His descendants, the children of Israel, were redeemed from slavery in Egypt to bear testimony to the ways of God amongst men in an idolatrous world. God Himself dwelt amongst them after they were redeemed, and they bore witness to His name and presence on earth. Israel stood in relationship with God as a peculiar and most blessed people. As far as the truth was then revealed, it was a revelation of God’s special relationship with man in which man was placed under the most favoured conditions. God had wrought on behalf of men, redeemed them from bondage to the world, cared for them in a miraculous way, and brought them into the most blessed conditions of life. Jehovah Himself was their King and their Protector. A priesthood was provided for intercession and approach to God, to meet any question of sin that might arise in daily life, even their sins of omission, and to secure for the people the enjoyment of the privileges God had given them in His plan for their happiness.
But God had put the whole ground of His relationship to the test when He tried Israel under these conditions, and made the relationship, or rather its outward recognition, and its accompanying blessing rest on the responsibility of man. He gave Israel a law and priestly ritual, which, if they had followed and obeyed to the letter would have been the means of the greatest blessing. It would have brought God at all times into their life in manifested power. Often though Israel failed, God iii grace intervened to help His people, until they turned away and would have none of Him.
The result of this trial has been to prove that man completely fails, and the means to secure the blessing are inadequate, when the blessing rests upon his responsibility to maintain by his integrity and faithfulness, the ground of the relationship into which God has brought him. When that which was the very basis of the relationship was tried in the hands of man, the whole system had to be set aside; the ordinances, and all that per tamed to temple-worship and its glory as God’s centre had to go. Ordinances of themselves could not secure blessing nor safety for man, and God never meant them to do so, they were only a temporary means by which man could be tried; and failed in their purpose when man failed.
This deliberate setting aside of the whole economy established by God connected with ordinances as the means of blessing for man, had a far deeper significance than a mere change of His governmental order. It meant severing the link with Israel which He Himself had formed. In those ordinances there was a veiled revelation of heavenly things, a type of more blessed things to come for man and for this earth. The type served to try man in responsibility, but the revelation of the very things themselves rests upon the revelation of God Himself in Christ. But there was real and substantial blessing for man in the shadow of things to come if he remained faithful, and the total loss of the place and the blessing through the unfaithfulness of the people of God, was the cause of unspeakable sorrow to the heart of the man of God. He knew what was due to the glory of God, and he knew the blessedness of intercourse with God. He knew that God was the source of all blessing, and He was the God of Israel that broke the heart of the prophet when he saw that God had to discard, through the failure of His people all He had established in Israel for their good, and throw down His altar as that which could no longer be the link with His people and bring them divine favour.
Jeremiah felt personally humbled, and he entered into the sorrows of his people, who had S failed and had lost the high and glorious place and privilege of being the most blessed centre of the ways of God on earth. Who would now know that Israel was beloved of God?
Certain peculiarities in the composition are interesting. The verses of the first four chapters are written in alphabetical order. In chapters 1, 2 and 4 there are the same number of verses as there are letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each verse of these chapters begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verse 1 begins with ‘A’, verse 2 with ‘B’, and the remaining verses follow on in this way down through the alphabet. Some Psalms are written in this manner. Chapter 3 has twenty-two stanzas each containing three verses, making sixty-six verses in all, and each verse of the stanza begins with the same letter; verses 1, 2 and 3 begin with ‘A’; verses 4, 5, and 6 begin with ‘B’, and this order is continued down to the end. The last chapter (chapter 5) is a prayer, and although it contains twenty-two verses the alphabetical order is dropped. It is as though the Spirit of God would not be confined to any human arrangement of thought, but be free to pour forth the thoughts of a heart stricken and contrite and laid bare by sore affliction. There is an earnestness that could not be governed by ordered thought and must be wholly unswayed by any lesser consideration when placing its petition before God.
The first verse gives the key-note of the lamentation and describes the position of the prophet, who in turn reflects the state of Jerusalem, the beloved but now forsaken city.
Jeremiah had known solitude all his life and it weighed heavily on his mind. He sees the beautiful city sitting solitary as a widow; forsaken of her lovers, the nations that had courted her because of her mysterious charm: and her sabbaths mocked by the heathen who defiled the sanctuary with their presence (verses 1, 2, 7, 10). He reflects on her defilement, taking home to his own heart the vileness which he felt as his own. Though the great calamity which had befallen the city, once so full of majesty and glory, came from the hand of God, yet He shows the utmost compassion for the afflictions of His people. The words of Isaiah are here truly exemplified, “In all their afflictions he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). The Spirit of God was in the prophet producing the right feelings and thoughts, and we can see the effect on the vessel himself as a man in great trial. Sometimes the prophet speaks about Jerusalem as he sees her, the justly afflicted offender (verse 9). At other times his love and sympathy bring his heart so into the circumstances that he takes the place of the guilty city (verses 12, 13), acknowledging as his own guilt the sins which God had marked, and owning the judgment as just (verse 18). The stricken soul of Jeremiah can only call on the LORD to look upon its condition to see how shaken, broken and worthless the trials had made it (verse 11). Who could look upon the sorrows of the man of God and remain unmoved? The prophet alone among the people understood the governmental wrath of God which had fallen on that which He had made so beautiful with His favour, but which had despised His favour. No remedy could be found, no comforter, no hope, even after long patience. Feeling utterly forsaken in the midst of judgment the prophet could only feebly anticipate the One, even Christ, who would enter into that place in— finitely and perfectly to drink the cup of bitterness to the Last drop. Christ went on alone, not only to suffer the governmental wrath of God, but to stand alone in His suffering when, without sin in Himself, He suffered the judgment of God against sin that He might make atonement for the sins of His people.
The Spirit of God in the prophet caused him to con fess the sins of the beloved city, even as the Jews will be brought to own the wickedness of Jerusalem that she may receive God’s answer in grace and in power. Here the sorrowing man amidst an ocean of affliction, feeling deeply his vileness, forsaken of all, yet owning that the LORD is righteous (verses 14-19) is only able to call upon the LORD to consider the wickedness of those who were used as a rod of chastening. Sorrow has focused his thoughts upon himself. A sad but necessary step in the chastening discipline of God.
It was the LORD in His anger who covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud. The LORD had taken away the habitations of Jacob (verse 2). He it was who broke the pride of Israel (verse 3), and struck down all that was pleasant in Jerusalem (verse 4). More terrible still to contemplate, the LORD had destroyed the places of assembly, cast off His own altar, and turned everything over to the enemy (verses 6. 7). The LORD no longer respected that which He had established as the means of Israel’s approach to God and the ground of their relationship with Him.
The relationship of Jehovah with Israel and the blessings which they enjoyed depended on the faithful ness of the people and their obedience to the covenant made at Sinai. But after many appeals to the people, and while still leaving the door open for any to call upon Him, the LORD had to reject what had been called by His name.
Jehovah had either to reject Jerusalem or allow His name to be attached to all that falsified the testimony to His name on earth. The altar of the LORD was polluted by heathen worship which Israel had adopted; He had to throw down the altar. Though He had shown great patience to His people, if He had not So dealt with them and the whole system, false worship which at tempted to take cover under His name, would have rendered Israel’s testimony to the name of Jehovah and to His ways utterly false. The judgment for failure must be as complete as the truth of the testimony to the ways of God must be holy.
It is a peculiar gift of grace for a servant of God to be allowed to enter into the sorrows of the people of God. It is most blessed to enter by the Spirit into the thoughts of God about His people in His sympathy with them, as they pass through trial and temptation. God knows how to discipline His children for their good and at the same time try their faith that it may rest more firmly in Him.
A revival amongst the people of God has its beginning, not so much from an awakening to the understand in of the greatness of the power of God to do the work, Machine generated alternative text: nor in appreciating His goodness to bless His own, but in being able to enter with true feeling into the state of the people as God knows it, and in being able to raise a true cry of godly sorrow because the Spirit of God has been grieved. Gideon felt for Israel as the one man who had the sufferings of the people of God on his heart. The children of Israel were the beloved people of God, miracles had been wrought for their deliverance, but the power to relieve their distress seemed to have left them. They could not deliver themselves, and no man had found strength in the grace of God to deliver them from their oppressors. But there was one man suffering above all others. His sufferings came not merely from personal causes, though these were real enough to him, but they arose from the condition of Israel, the people whom he loved. Israel had grieved Jehovah by their sin of following the gods of the Canaanites and He could not prosper them in that state. God is not the author of evil, neither could He sanction it by blessing Israel in their dis obedience. But one heart was deeply concerned, and the moment the LORD in grace appeared to Gideon he poured out his complaint to One who could understand it. The presence of the LORD was not known in Israel, the loss of His power as active for them, and the sense of being chastened, weighed upon Gideon’s heart. He unburdened his heart to the LORD in whom his faith rested in spite of his trials and the LORD had in grace placed Himself so near that the feeble faith of His tried child could find Him.
A revival of God’s people finds its spring in the grace of God, which reaches a heart in which he has sustained faith that looks to Him beyond all difficulties. Grace is at work in a heart that realizes what God has been for ‘His people, and can speak to Him about their poor condition in the light of His goodness upon which the heart counts. The Spirit of God always contrasts the present low state with that which God Himself set up at the beginning; and then the question arises, why are things not so now? If God be sought with tears of godly repentance as understanding what is due to His name, He answers from the resources of His grace. He gives more than is asked. (In this latter connection see Psalm 132 and compare verses 8 with verses 13-15; verse 9 with verse 16.) God does not always answer with striking manifestation of power, but sometimes, and especially in a (lay of weakness, with a deeper understanding of Himself. This is most blessed in a day of weakness when He is not changing the character of the day, but sustaining faith by the word of truth. The revelation of what He is, keeps the soul in the light amidst the surrounding gloom.
The feelings of the prophet’s own heart are expressed in this chapter; his personal reaction to the trials that had come upon the people of God and the beloved city. Jeremiah was one of the people and he suffered with them. The Spirit of Christ in the prophet produced feelings that a godly man ought to feel amidst the evils of a godless generation. Christ alone could express these feelings with perfection. Jeremiah gave voice to his personal feelings of distress just as he felt them, and God has preserved these cries; He treasured them all. The prophet clung to the LORD in faith though so conscious of his weakness. His sorrow bad its source in the fact that God’s people were suffering because they would not hearken to the word of the LORD nor heed His warning.
Outward enemies may afflict us and cause suffering, but the prophet suffered even more acutely because his own people, and they were God’s chosen people, refused to receive the message he brought from the mouth of God, and their refusal after so long patience hastened the judgment. In speaking of his own suffering Jeremiah reveals the spirit that will characterize the remnant, lie speaks as they will speak in a yet future day of trial (verses 1, 2).
In this chapter there are several clearly defined experiences. Verses l-19 express the prophets’ personal humbling experiences as taking the burden of Jerusalem upon his heart. The effect of the affliction is to humble him before God and in his own sight. With his eyes on the trials he can only feel the hopelessness of everything. But in verse 21 we find him sustained in hope for it is the hand of the LORD that afflicts. When the LORD sends trial for the chastening of a soul He does not destroy hope that finds its rest in Him. When humbled and the causes of the chastening are judged, his feelings change. Remembering the mercies of the LORD, he is encouraged to hope in the LORD (verses 22-26). But he must wait the LORD’S time, meanwhile trial subdues his heart causing him to wait on the LORD, and then he sees the advantage of waiting on the LORD (verses 27-31). While waiting he begins to understand the ways of the LORD, for patience worketh experience (Romans 3-5), and the ways of God are learned in patience of heart (verses 32-36). Oft times God teaches by affliction, and strange though it may seem, the soul is quietened by affliction, as a calm follows a storm.
If the ways of God try man, then he learns to search and try his own way (verse 40) in the light of the wisdom of God, and confess his transgression. This leads him to hope for pardon. The man does not yet enjoy the light as being in the light as God is in the light, but the first steps to repentance and deliverance are taken which bring the soul into liberty where the light is enjoyed (verses 37-42).
Men are ashamed of their sorrow until they have hope in God. When they have tried their own way and confessed their iniquity they are able to look at their sorrow and weigh it before the LORD. Deep and humbling though the sorrow may be, there is an end to such grief for the children of God (verses 43-49). The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the sorrow of the afflicted and contrite heart, and He will not afflict for ever. The LORD hears the cry from the dungeon and in great mercy assures the heart with the word, “Fear not” (verses 50-57).
When the LORD pleads the cause of the downcast soul (verse 58) it takes courage and is able to put the unjust cruelty of its enemies before Him, and desires that when He deals with evil He will take account of the ways of the wicked and give them a just recompense (verses 59-66).
Having learned through chastening that evil must he dealt with in themselves, and having judged the evil, the afflicted people are set free in heart and conscience. Now they can call upon the LORD to mark the ways of their enemies, and wait to see the judgment of God destroy those who have no regard for the LORD and hate His People. This is the cry of the Jewish remnant for the judgment to come which will deliver them from their persecutors. Either the enemies must be destroyed or the remnant be entirely consumed. The LORD will not allow His poor afflicted flock to be totally extinguished or consumed by their enemies even though He uses the foes of Israel as the rod of His anger.
It is well for the heart to turn to the LORD though He cast down His altar and refuse the offerings. The effect of the discipline of God is the discovery of the mercies in God for a people overwhelmed by trial. They learn that to have the LORD in the heart, to reach Him by faith, is better than to be bound to Him by mere ordinances, God-ordained though they he. Jeremiah passes through all this experience and his words will be the words in the mouth of the remnant in the day to come.
Only a hardened heart could not be reached and greatly troubled, almost to the point of despair by the severing of the links which bound a people so near to Jehovah. That they should no longer remain in the favoured possession of the testimony to His name, ought indeed to be too much for the heart to bear as it reflects on the break with the LORD.
Christians should be thoroughly alive to the break that is about to take place between the Son of man and that which is addressed as the light-bearer in the world at the present time (Revelation 2 and 3). Is it no cause for sorrow that the days of Christianity on earth are numbered, and that the testimony of the Church ends in the failure of the candlestick to render a true testimony to the glorified Man in heaven?
The judgment which overtakes the vessel of testimony comes from the Lord. This was so in the day of Jerusalem’s downfall. The prophet felt the reproach. God’s centre of testimony and witness on earth was now the object of His judgments, and the soul of the prophet could find no comfort until God Himself was known in the calamity. When God is known, even in the greatest trial, the soul can find hope, for it has found God. Only when God is not known does despair so overcome the soul that it is entirely hopeless. When the sense of His presence or of His hand is absent, the heart sinks to the lowest depths of despair.
The remnant of Jews in the time of Jacob’s trouble will cry to God and be without the sense of His presence or favour in any way, and this will cast them into the deepest soul-distress and hopelessness. It will be terrible discipline and the consummation of all their trials. They will cry to God and their cry will be an indication that their faith is sustained when at the lowest level of human hope. There will be no consciousness that the hand of God is working towards them. They will hope without any grounds for hope. God will save them and they will know that He alone was their Deliverer. Every soul must learn this if it is to know sure and eternal blessing with God.
The Spirit of Christ spoke in these representative men of old who were delivered up to these experiences, that the Spirit of Him who was to come and know all their sorrows, should cry in them, putting the words in their mouth which God could answer according to 1-Jis wisdom and grace. The remnant will use the words of the prophets in their cry for deliverance.
Christ drank fully of this cup of sorrow that He might both sympathize with the godly remnant and succour [assist] the tempted in their trial. He, in the days of His flesh, knew every sorrow, passing through all in perfection, without sin. In perfect submission to the hand of the Father, He allowed nothing to come between His soul and God, and could say, at His own expense, “Father, glorify thy name”. Jeremiah was but a man capable of being distracted by sorrow, and sometimes he let it come between God and his soul. He had to be led on by the Spirit through the distractions until God became the only object of his soul, and then he could speak more calmly of the trial, and see clearly who were engaged in it. Even the enemies who were but rods in the hand of God are known for what they are, and their judgment is sought, for chastening must have an end. God must bless His people for His own name’s sake, though at the moment He afflict them for their good.
After bewailing her present state Zion is comforted. Here, as ever in the ways of God, before the soul experiences the comfort of God it must know its present state. When the people are in such a state that they need reviving, God begins by comparing the low state into which they have fallen with the days of first bright blessing. Jerusalem is here seen as God knew her, not merely as the subject of overwhelming calamities. The thoughts of the prophet are led back to brighter days when her Nazarites, those who wholly separated themselves to God from all that would make them unclean, were whiter than snow and as precious as jewels of delight. Now they were unrecognized and unknown (verse 8).
The kings of the earth had recognized Jerusalem’s exalted place in Jehovah’s protecting might (verse 12). The Sins of her prophets, priests and kings brought disaster on Jerusalem. The righteous were persecuted without mercy and slain in her streets (verse 13). They were hunted as prey (verses 18, 19). Help from others proved of no avail; none could help when Jehovah had departed from Jerusalem (verse 17). The anointed of the LORD, His servant, was taken by the pursuers. The people might have lived under his shadow hearing the word of the LORD and walking humbly by faith with the fear of the LORD in their hearts, although subject to Gentile rule. But the sin of the people was great and their rebel lion made it impossible to save them in the land by any means. The anointed of the LORD was taken away and the people left to their judgment. The details are not given in this book; the prophet is looking at the trials through the eyes of the LORD. But he felt the burden of this sorrow upon his heart, and he is with God looking at it all.
Jeremiah turns now to the enemies of Jerusalem, and cheers the daughter of Zion with the hope of her deliverance. The cup of God’s wrath shall be given to Edom who rejoiced in the ruin of Jerusalem. Zion had drunk to the dregs the cup of God’s anger. The time of her sorrow was over. Her confession was made. She has come to realize how much she deserved the chastening judgments. But Edom who was blinded by pride and hatred for Jerusalem, would not receive mercy, God would discover, in the coming day of trial, the wickedness of all the ways of Edom. All nations will be tried by their behaviour toward Israel when God again restores His people in the day of their repentance.
From the first verse of the book to the last verse of chapter 4 the grief of the prophet has been gradually transferred, as it were, from his own heart to the heart of God. Jeremiah is now in the presence of God and there is more tranquillity of spirit, and greater peace of heart. The personal misery which he felt as bearing the affliction, alone in solitude, is gone and he can plead with the LORD, place the affliction before Him, and look for His compassionate kindness.
To be able to speak to the LORD about the very chastening He has inflicted, is a great step forward. The soul has risen above the trial though not yet out of it, but God is brought into it. The affliction is better known in its true character. God would have us know what He is doing in the clay of trial without our losing confidence in Him. Confidence in God is greatly strengthened when He is brought into the trial, not because He removes it, but He strengthens the soul to endure it. The soul learns God in the wisdom of His ways when He deals with evil with which the soul has become connected. It is said of another day that men taught of God shall judge angels.
This last chapter is a prayer. Nothing is changed in the circumstances, but the heart of the prophet is free to speak to God about all the circumstances, terrible as they are. Now that full confession has been made, so that nothing is hidden in the heart which would affect communion, the servant of God is able to enter into the proper relations between God and His much loved people. He is the eternal (verse 19), He changes not, so then the prophet can speak of the affliction of the people knowing that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. The clay of blessing only waits until the trial has clone its Work, and the day of affliction has gone for ever. It is the most blessed privilege of the servant to feel all and place everything before God. The exercises of heart through which he passes from perplexity and consternation to the peace of God which passeth all understanding, prepare the heart to enter into the eternal relations into which God has called His people. His purposes of blessing cannot be altered, but God has to prepare the hearts of His children to receive them. Already the foundation of all blessing for Israel, as for all who believe, is laid in the perfect atoning work of Christ.
In the Old Testament there is a veil over the glory of God, and the children of Israel could not see to the end of the glory, hidden in the types which foreshadowed a coming day of manifested glory around the Messiah. The last verse of this chapter ends the lamentation without the knowledge of a present acceptance; Israel is not brought into the place of favour, though the heart of the prophet is comforted. It is not so with the Christian, who can say by the Spirit now that Christ is sitting down at the right hand of power on high, that the work of redemption is an accomplished work and he is perfectly accepted in Christ. Christ’s reception and acceptance by God on high, is the measure of the believer’s acceptance, and the ground of his assurance. The Christian has nothing less than this for the foundation of his security and eternal blessing. He need not now ask, “Or is it that thou hast utterly rejected us? Wouldest thou be exceeding wroth against us?” (verse 22 JND). God would have to reject the work of Christ to reject the Christian believer.
For present blessing in a day of ruin Christians can with true feeling and for present profit meditate on verse 21 but always with the understanding that the Church will not be renewed on earth as at the beginning. She will find her appointed place in glory with Christ according to the purpose of God, and will be manifested with Him when He appears in the display of His power and glory. In the meantime the believer may find grace to walk in a path apart from the prevailing evil and in communion with God. He will find others also leaning on grace, and the word will guide them into true blessing that they may taste the joy of walking together in the truth of God’s thoughts for His own.
The human heart is easily cast down. In the day of sorrow it can find no resources in itself. When men become aware that God is no longer to be found in the things which He Himself set up, they are thrown into confusion until they reach God in faith and by the revelation of His grace. ‘When everything is going wrong the sense of the presence of God is lost and the heart gives up hope: or if by the word, God is known in the conscience, the heart is seized with terror. When the ways of God are lightly regarded everything is out of joint; and when difficulties arise from such a state and become too great for the spirit of man, God is not known for support, the heart gives way before the trial. Where faith is sustained by grace, and God is still regarded and His favour valued even if not enjoyed, the way of peace is found in placing all before Him.
The awful discovery man makes when he first takes account of his sinful condition is that he is without God, and that all the old ways of approach to God by the law and ordinances are not now open to him. God does not put a new patch on an old garment, nor new wine into old bottles (see Luke 5:36-39). He would not do so in Israel. The very place in which the favoured people were set was irrecoverably lost, for it depended on the ordinances which God had given them to observe. Israel had failed; priests and kings had all gone astray, and the forms of worship could not maintain their relationship with God. There was no longer any hope of lasting blessing on the old ground of a religion of ordinances.
God is not without resource. His resources are in Himself, and the exercised soul may find them there. But first the soul exhausts every means in which the man in the flesh might hope to find God. Where blessing is made to rest on the stability of man, all breaks down. But when God is found and hope is grounded on His salvation, then the heart finds rest in Him and where He rests.
The Psalms give many experiences of these searchings of heart. Many sighs and groans there are mingled with the thoughts the Spirit of God produces, in the hearts of those whom He will bless. God brings everything in the heart to the surface, and we see the effect of His ways on man before he knows perfect deliverance. God hears and weighs every expression from the heart, and puts every tear into His bottle (Psalm 56 8).
In the New Testament the sighs are no less heavy nor the tears less copious (see Acts 20: 19, 31; 2 Corinthians 2:4), but the Spirit of God leads the thoughts out of obsession with the trial and the grief, and beyond the mere hope of deliverance, into the deliverance itself and the liberty of Christ. The Christian has not only a hope, but Christ is sitting down in the heavenlies and the believer is sitting down there in Him. He is not yet with Christ but he possesses and may enjoy by the Spirit every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. The purpose of God is all accomplished in Christ, and the knowledge of this carries the heart of the believer out of this valley of sorrows up into the joys of heaven.
The apostle Paul, amongst the wealthy Corinthians, was in fear and much trembling while preaching the power of the gospel and the liberty of the Spirit. He could cry out under the affliction of the thorn in the fle.sh, the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him, and yet glory in his infirmities, for then the power of Christ rested upon him and carried him over his difficult path way. All this experience and conflict was taking place in the earthen vessel, but God held the vessel, and Paul learned in the weakness of the vessel the all-sufficient grace and power of God.
All that has been tried in the hands of man in responsibility and has ended or will end in judgment, will be perfectly carried out according to the purpose of God. In Christ, the Man of God’s counsels, all will be made good. God will put all things under Christ and He will fill for God every position in which man has been tried and failed. It is not without sorrow of heart that we learn the utter rejection of all man’s efforts; the lesson is learned in ourselves, often with pain. To those who know their acceptance in God’s Beloved, the rejection of the efforts of man after Adam’s race is a most blessed discovery, for in Christ they know every blessing of God and perfect liberty. In Adam all has been lost, but in Christ there is everything for man untouched by sin.
The heart of man needs rest and it can rest nowhere but in God. When compelled to lay its complaint before God it finds rest in His grace, for nothing else will suit its case. The trial of man, the testing of his ability to maintain his place where God has put him, just proves his need of a power greater than his own to keep him. His heart is laid bare by chastening and suffering, but is then made ready to receive the balm which God only can administer.
Historians may record the valour of their heroes and excite interest, but what commands the interest of all is the story of man’s suffering, “Suffering is the chief burden of history.”
The language of Jeremiah is not that of a stern moralist or great teacher, but it is the out-pouring of a heart of a great sufferer. In the prophet we can see the deep concern God has for the sufferings of His people, even though they were so guilty and merited their chastening. It has been said that sorrows do not come as single spies but in battalions. God speaks oftentimes to men, and He can reach their hearts easier when they are softened by suffering for the ‘will is then subdued. At the same time He reveals His mercies, for men at their wit’s end need His mercies. Those who heed His instruction He saves from going down into the pit, and gives them the light of life (see Job 33).
Sorrow only hardens the heart of the selfish, they close the door against one of God’s ways to save men from destruction. If the heart does not faint under His discipline it learns to wait in patience for His salvation. The knowledge man gains of himself causes him sorrow, but the knowledge of God brings salvation.
The display of the glory of God calls forth the praise of all creation. The contemplation of His coming down in humiliation to suffer with men, and the manifestation of His love and grace in Christ who died for men, bows the heart in wondering adoration, which the enjoyment of eternal glory and everlasting pleasures in the presence of God will only deepen. The glory unfolds the grace of His stoop.
It is impossible for a believer to pass through this world without suffering and the Christian cannot escape sharing the reproach of Christ. “But rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13).
The words of Jeremiah have risen from the lips of many over-pressed souls who have been led along the road of affliction; and they have comforted many a heart in the day of trial. His words remain to do their work in future (lays of calamity. The Spirit of God produced these expressions in the hearts of men so that they would know the thoughts of God for them in their affliction, and be brought by them into the knowledge of Himself. Israel will yet learn to know the LORD through great trial and by these very words to which they will turn in their extremity. Jehovah alone can turn the heart of the daughter of Zion, and her cries will reach His throne in the future day of affliction. She will have exhausted every human source of help, and will then use the words the Spirit of God has drawn from the hearts of the suffering men of God. He will answer with His deliverance and comfort the cast down.
Marvellous indeed are the ways of God but it is most precious to see the way the Spirit of God enters into the sorrows felt by those whom God afflicts in judgment. It is His grace in their hearts that causes them to feel the trials according to the mind of God, and to be thus led up into His known presence where all is peace. Though our cries be mingled with imperfection and weakness, God responds according to His own nature and the revelation of Himself and in the ways of His grace. Such is the unwearied care of God for us. If He lay bare the heart by suffering He does so that He may reach the depths of the soul of man, and that He may be everything to the soul. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).