(35) Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail – Lamentations 3:22

The most vivid account of the final years of the nation Judah comes from the prophet Jeremiah who was an eye witness to the destruction of Jerusalem. The son of a priest, God called him to be his spokesman when he was a young man during the reign of the good king Josiah. When he was appointed God said that he would appoint him over nations, “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10), the ratio of destructive to constructive words indicating that his message would be tough and uncompromising.

In an early word to Judah the Lord asks the people what they found wrong in him that caused them to abandon him as their God. It is a plea that sounds like a husband who has been betrayed by his wife. He has done so much good for them in bringing them to the land but they have substituted idols for the glory of having the Lord as their God. He sums up the two evils that the people have committed in a vivid picture. They have abandoned a spring of clear, pure, life-giving water and chosen to build a cistern – a small reservoir – that, at best, will hold dirty, polluted water and, at worst, will become cracked and broken, unable to hold any water at all (see Jeremiah 2:13). No family would chose to live by a cistern of water if they could live by a spring, so why would a nation choose to abandon their God in this way?

Another picture that comes from Jeremiah is the potter and the clay. The Lord told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house where he watched the potter working at the wheel. Something went wrong with the vessel he was making so the potter reworked the clay into a different one. God gives Jeremiah a message for the people from this, telling him that just as the potter can reshape the clay in his hands so God can reshape the nations. But he is not arbitrary. His decisions to break nations down or to build them up are based on how the nations act, whether they do evil or turn away from it.

Jeremiah, like the other prophets, suffered personally with the people he was prophesying to. God told him not to marry as the coming disaster on the nation would be dreadful for children, mothers and fathers. His calling was incompatible with normal family life. Unable to have a family, Jeremiah had few close friends and faced much hostility for his message. His book contains a number of personal ‘complaints’ against God for his lot. In one he accuses the Lord of deceiving him, curses the day he was born and says that he will no longer speak out, but then he acknowledges that he cannot hold God’s word in and has to continue with his calling (see Jeremiah 20:7-9,14).

Once the Babylonians came and besieged Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s message to King Zedekiah was that his best course of action was to surrender as they were sent by God. This would be equivalent to someone standing up in World War II and saying that Britain ought to surrender to the Germans as Hitler was God’s agent to bring judgement to Britain – not a way to win friends! Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah during the siege to prevent the people hearing his message.

On top of all this, Jeremiah loved his country and his people and yet lived to see his own city, Jerusalem, destroyed. There is a short book of five poems called Lamentations which follows Jeremiah in the Bible which describes the desolation of the city following its fall to the Babylonian army. The opening line sums up the horror that Jeremiah and others felt at what they saw: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1) where the word translated ‘How’ expresses a mixture of shock and despair.

However, despite the desolation, even among the rubble of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was able to proclaim his faith saying, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23), an incredible testimony to God’s ongoing faithfulness to his people whatever situation they find themselves in.

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