C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The southern kingdom of Judah was in trouble with God. About a century earlier, the Lord had allowed the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. That event should have served as a graphic warning against apostasy. But despite repeated warnings, Judah persisted in rebelling against God.
Jeremiah—rejected, threatened, beaten, and even imprisoned by his own people—had to pronounce God’s irrevocable message of impending judgment (Jer. 25:11). The catastrophe that came on Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC revealed the devastating effects of sin and disobedience. The national disaster became Jeremiah’s personal agony. Yet the prophet came to appreciate the fact that God’s presence is keenly felt during the darkest of times; if we wait, seek, and hope in the Lord, He eventually gives a “song in the night” (Ps. 77:6).
And I said, “My strength and my hope have perished from the Lᴏʀᴅ.” Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall [bitterness] (Lam. 3:18–19).
It’s been said that prayer, affliction, and temptation form the heart of a servant. The prophet Jeremiah’s heart had been tempered in the school of affliction. His anguish is described as a heavy drain on his being, producing a completely restless heart and mind. The bitterness associated with the curses God promised Israel for disobedience became his portion (Dt. 28:15–68).
He tried hard to warn the Israelites, but no one took him or God seriously. He stood virtually alone, seeking to stem the tide of iniquity. Beaten and imprisoned, hated and mocked, rejected, despised, and considered a traitor to the nation, Jeremiah’s life became unbearable. In his anguish he grumbled that even God purposely turned against him (3:3).
God does not derive pleasure in allowing grief and affliction (Lamentations 3:33). But He means what He says and says what He means.
He felt trapped, as though bound in heavy chains or buried alive in a dark place with no hope of escape (vv. 5–7). He moaned that his prayers were ignored and his peace was stripped away (vv. 8, 17). deep within his heart and soul he cried, “‘my strength and my hope have perished from the Lᴏʀᴅ’” (v. 18). His agony was intense.
Jeremiah was a true servant of God and identified and suffered with his nation as it was being judged for sin. Israel’s ordeal serves as a warning concerning the awful effects of sin on both individuals and nations. Scripture states, “do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7; cf. Job 4:8). A life sown in sin, iniquity, and transgression will not reap the blessings of God (Ps. 5:5; 66:18; Prov. 3:33; Jer. 17:10; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 3:12).
Suffering due to sin is God’s megaphone to awaken a godless world (Jer. 32:19; Rom. 2:9). It is also God’s way, on occasion, to agitate a casual and careless spiritual life (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:11). Judah sinned and failed to repent: Because you have burned incense and because you have sinned against the Lᴏʀᴅ, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ or walked in His law, in His statutes or in His testimonies, therefore this calamity has happened to you, as at this day (Jer. 44:23). God does not derive pleasure in allowing grief and affliction (Lam. 3:33). But He means what He says and says what He means.
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The world stands guilty before a righteous God (Rom 3:23). It is His prerogative to deal with sin according to His plan: “Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39). Therefore, “Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the Lᴏʀᴅ; Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (vv. 40–41).
Next week we’ll see the prophet Jeremiah’s assurance and admonition.
⇒ Continue Reading Part Two of this series here.
This article was originally published in the March/ April 2005 Israel My Glory magazine.