The book of Lamentations is one of the toughest reads in the Old Testament—a portion of the canon jampacked with tough reads. But, Lamentations is challenging for a number of very specific reasons that resulted from and continue to generate an avalanche of dark emotions. The book itself is a collection of five funeral dirges (laments) that carry the grief and heartache of the prophet Jeremiah, who was called “the weeping prophet” for a reason. In Lamentations, Jeremiah is in the throes of despair. The covenant people of God in Judah&srquo;s southern kingdom have once again drifted away from their God, resulting in divine chastening for their rebellion. As pastor and Bible teacher Charles Swindoll explained:
“It is a mute reminder that sin, in spite of all its allurement and excitement, carries with it heavy weights of sorrow, grief, misery, barrenness, and pain. It is the other side of the eat, drink, and be merry’ coin” (Charles R. Swindoll, The Lamentations of Jeremiah, “Introduction”).
Babylon would be the instrument of Judah’s chastening both in the short-term and in the long-term. The short-term would break the prophet’s heart as he watched the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, complete with the desecration of the temple there. The long-term would be a 70-year captivity in which much of Judah’s population would be taken as war trophies to Babylon to serve their conquering king, Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah’s lament, however, rises to a crescendo in chapter 3—and that crescendo is no small surprise. With his heart broken by the devastation of Jerusalem, he has a moment of epiphany. Things actually could have been worse, and the only thing that prevented an even darker outcome was the faithfulness of God. The prophet’s cry of realization is found in Lamentations 3:22–24:
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!” (Lamentations 3:22–24)
In the midst of a season of divine correction, Jeremiah sees evidence of mercy and compassion. God’s mercies prevented the nation from being utterly annihilated, and His unfailing compassion is at the root of that mercy. But what is the “engine room” that has enacted God’s mercy and compassion? His faithfulness.
While it might seem like an odd pairing, these ideas of mercy and faithfulness are linked together repeatedly in the scriptures. In Psalm 36:5, we read:
Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
The connection of mercy and faithfulness is also seen in Psalm 89:1:
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
What makes these statements so remarkable is that God’s faithful displays of mercy to them are seen against the backdrop of Judah’s unfaithfulness to Him. In fact, it was this very lack of faithfulness to their covenant agreement with God that was the impetus behind their repeated seasons of correction in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 78:37 reads:
For their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant.
God’s faithfulness is in direct response to their unfaithfulness. What does this mean? It means that God is trustworthy independent of any actions on our part. Though surrounded by disaster and despair, Jeremiah was utterly convinced by the faithful character of God—in spite of his pain-filled circumstances.
As we consider Jeremiah’s words, it was not Judah’s performance that was the reason for hope. It was also not Jeremiah’s robust faith that caused Him to have hope. Through tears and heartache, Jeremiah found hope in his God because God had proven Himself faithful over and over and over again in the experience of the people of God:
Israel’s national memory went back to centuries of slavery in Egypt, where they drifted from and adopted the false idols of the land of their captivity (as evidence of their unfaithfulness). But God rescued them and brought them out.
After four decades of wilderness wanderings (due to their unfaithfulness), God in His faithfulness delivered them safely to the land He had promised.
After the failure of a king based on their own standards, God gave them a king (David) who would reflect and represent His own heart to the people.
The words of Jeremiah reach back into Israel’s long and troubled past to provide hope in their present distress. Though Judah was being disciplined and deported, God’s faithfulness could still be trusted. And 70 years later (Daniel 9:1–2), another prophet—Daniel—would be challenged by God’s promise of rescue that Jeremiah had recorded. Why? Because God is faithful. He can be trusted.
God’s character gives us solid ground to stand on; we can depend on Him even when we have proven ourselves undependable. In fact, as was the case with Judah’s performance or Jeremiah’s levels of faith, our dependability is not the issue—His is. How can we trust Him? Among myriads of other things, the New Testament joins its voice with the Old to remind us that God is faithful:
In making us His own.
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
In giving us reason for hope.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)
In giving us ultimate security.
But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
In accomplishing His purposes in us and through us.
He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
This brief sampler of God’s faithfulness to His children offers us the same hope that Jeremiah felt in the shattering experiences of Judah’s downfall. Lamentations 3:22–24 is scripture’s clarion call to steadfastly trust in God. In our darkest hours, there is always reason for hope for one simple reason: God is faithful.