“Hope in the Midst of Sorrow”
Jeremiah had a difficult life, or at least that’s the way it seems to the casual observer. He served as God’s prophet in a very troubling time in Judah’s history. Judah rushed into sin following the example of her sister Israel and gave herself to idolatry. God repeatedly warned her through the prophet Isaiah and still she persisted in her disobedience.
Now the payday was coming. Outside the gates of Jerusalem, Babylonian armies lay siege. The punishment that Judah and Jerusalem so richly deserved hung over her like a dark cloud. In the face of the coming judgment Jeremiah had two roles. As God’s spokesman, he gave Judah her last chance to repent, and he brought the very unpopular message that they would fall to Babylon in punishment for their sin. Because of Jeremiah’s sensitivity, he agonized as God’s agent in these matters.
The book of Lamentations is a lament that Jeremiah voiced while the cloud of God’s condemnation burst upon Jerusalem. In this little book Jeremiah expresses the people’s despair in the midst of the destruction of Jerusalem. Impending doom was impending no more, it stormed down upon their heads. Jeremiah not only spoke the peoples’ plight, he also complained to God about how he suffered. Beginning in chapter three, Jeremiah’s self-grieving reads like a huge personal pity party. As a part of the entertainment, he plays the blame game—pin the responsibility on God. This pity party suddenly halts in verse 21 when Jeremiah calls to mind three realities about Yahweh his God. What are these three things? He remembered, first, that the LORD loves eternally (v. 21-23). Second, Jeremiah admits that the LORD is His portion continually (v. 24-25). Finally, he reminded himself that the LORD is good persistently (v. 25).
Jeremiah is not in a positive mood in Lamentations 3. He says things like, “[The LORD] has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood. He has also broken my teeth with gravel, And covered me with ashes. You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity. And I said, ‘My strength and my hope Have perished from the Lord’” (Lamentations 3:15-18). Before we castigate Jeremiah too harshly for his self-pity, we need to pause and admit that we have been there also. But all this changes in verse 21.
What happened? Jeremiah tells us: “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.” In Jeremiah we find David’s discipline of strengthening himself in God in a little different form. Jeremiah strengthened himself in God through reminding himself of three realities about the LORD our God. First, he remembered the wonder of God’s covenant and endless love.
Jeremiah writes: “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness” (verses 22-23). He remembers the LORD’s love and faithfulness to him and to us. The Hebrew word translated “mercies” in the KJV is a special word. It speaks of our God’s covenant love or faithfulness. This is the same Hebrew word used in Psalm 136 twenty-six times. It is repeated because Satan wants us to forget that God loves His people in a very special and specific way.
Sometimes the concept of covenant seems so theological and legal to us that we lose the blessing here. The most intimate relationship that a man and woman can have, marriage, is a covenant relationship. God uses marriage repeatedly to describe His relationship with His people. In each of these descriptions, He vividly delares His special committed love for His people. The word “covenant” is not a cold legal term to God. It paints a rich picture of His affection for us.
This truth is so important to Jeremiah that he rhymes the thought three times in the Hebrew poetry that he is writing. He writes: The LORD’s Love never ceases/ His compassion never fails/ It is refreshed every morning. This leads to this great reality that Jeremiah had forgotten. God’s faithfulness is great and unfailing. God is never unfaithful to His people. God never fails us. We may forget and fail Him, but he never forgets us.
The second thing that Jeremiah reminds himself is true about God is found in his self-pronouncement. “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him’” (verse 24). What does that mean? The Psalmist in Psalm 73 allows us a glimpse. “You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:24–26) God is with him and us through life and will bring the Psalmist and us to glory. God is there and He is not silent in our lives.
Because God was David’s portion, he could call the LORD his God. This is also why David found comfort in God when he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. David knew unequivocally God had committed Himself to him and was on his side. The Psalmist in Psalm 118:5-7 echoes David’s and Jeremiah’s trust. “I called on the Lord in distress; The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is for me among those who help me; Therefore, I shall see my desire on those who hate me.” Jeremiah’s confidence came from here also.
Jeremiah hoped because of three things that he reminded himself about his God. First, he remembered that the LORD’s love never fails. Because of this God is ever faithful to us. Second, he reminded himself that the LORD was his portion. The LORD being his portion meant that God was his inheritance and that God was right there in the valley of the shadow of death with him. The all-powerful God of Israel had his back. If God was for him, who could be against him?
Now we come to the third thing that Jeremiah remembered about his LORD and ours, He is always good. “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him” (verse 25). We have to be careful here. Quite often we say God is good when He does just what we want Him to do or gives us specifically what we want. The truth is that God is always good. His goodness is part of His character and all that He does. The problem is that sometimes we cannot see His goodness to us. But that does not change the fact that He is always good.
Jeremiah reminded himself that God is especially good to those who wait upon Him. He was talking about those believers who trust God and patiently hold on to their confidence until God’s plan unfolds and His goodness becomes apparent. This is the practice prescribed by the writer to the Hebrews. “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35–36).
Sometimes we read “waiting upon God” as sitting around and doing nothing. That clearly is not Jeremiah’s definition of the concept. The rhyme of the thought in the Hebrew poetry shows us clearly how Jeremiah believed we were to wait. “The Lord is good … to the soul who seeks Him.” Jeremiah is interested in us becoming God seekers. That means seeking out our God in His Word and through prayer. We need to diligently seek Him because of who He is. When we diligently seek God we will see His goodness in our lives and not throw away our faith.