Committed to Hope Even in Pain
2 Kings 25:1–7; Lamentations 3:25–58
2 Kings 25:1, 2, 5–7; Lamentations 3:25–33, 55–58
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Retell at least one expression of faith that resulted from the fall of Jerusalem.
2. Explain how experiences of deprivation and despair provide opportunities for strong expressions of hope.
3. Write a prayer to use for the next severe trial in his or her life.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, July 30—Promise of Deliverance (Isaiah 30:15–19)
Tuesday, July 31—Jerusalem Destroyed (2 Kings 25:1, 2, 5–7)
Wednesday, Aug. 1—God Is Our Hope (Psalm 33:12–22)
Thursday, Aug. 2—My Soul Waits (Psalm 130)
Friday, Aug. 3—God Is Faithful (Lamentations 3:19–24)
Saturday, Aug. 4—Wait for the Lord (Lamentations 3:25–33)
Sunday, Aug. 5—God Hears My Plea (Lamentations 3:55–59)
It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Why Teach this Lesson?
Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.” Death and taxes may be universal realities, but suffering and pain are also part of our common experience. Some of your students have recently buried a parent or a child or a spouse. One student may have watched her husband walk out on their marriage recently. The fact that these students will be in class on Sunday demonstrates the faithfulness suggested by the lesson title. None of us escapes the wounds inflicted by our broken world; our response to that pain, though, is what shapes us.
The point of today’s lesson is critical for those who have suffered, who are suffering, and who will someday suffer—meaning everyone! God is faithful. He is with us in pain, just as He is with us in health. Jesus was in all ways like us, subject to temptation, suffering, pain, loss, and humiliation. Our God knows what suffering is like, and today’s lesson is one way he will help you gain a proper perspective on it.
A. Tragedy Theology
The tsunami tragedy of December 26, 2004, resulted in massive loss of life. So did the earthquake on the Pakistan-India border of October 8, 2005. Many organizations and nations responded with immediate and continuing aid for the ones who survived but who had lost homes, possessions, and their livelihood.
Tragedies of such proportions affect everyone psychologically. The enduring question is Why? Accounts from those two tragedies tell of individuals or groups that were spared through various circumstances. Did that mean that God was with them more than he was with the ones who lost their lives?
God knows when tragedies occur, for he knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29). The fact that death can come at any age or in any circumstance confirms that an individual must be prepared for that possibility at all times. Every day there are accidents and acts of terror. No one is guaranteed that he or she will be alive tomorrow.
Thousands around the world die each year because of the fact that they are Christians. They lose their lives simply because they give expression to their faith by assembling together, distributing literature, or even using charitable acts as methods of evangelism. In many parts of the world it is just expected that a Christian will suffer. Yet the ultimate purpose of life for the Christian is to die in Christ. Family members who survive have a loss, but they are blessed with expectation of reunion. They also have examples of how a Christian handles the trials of life. God is with his people in both life and death.
B. Lesson Background
Nebuchadnezzar became the king of Babylon when his father died in the summer of 605 b.c. The Babylonians had just defeated the Egyptians, and to demonstrate that there was a new power in the region, Nebuchadnezzar took captives from Jerusalem. They included the prophet Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar allowed Jehoiakim to remain on the throne of David.
Nebuchadnezzar returned in the summer of 597 b.c. to put down a rebellion initiated by Jehoiakim. But Nebuchadnezzar found that Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, had been reigning for three months. Nebuchadnezzar therefore took Jehoiachin and 10,000 others captive. He then placed Zedekiah (Jehoiakim’s brother) on the throne (2 Kings 24:14–17). The prophet Ezekiel was among the captives taken to Babylon then.
Zedekiah, Judah’s last king, was therefore a puppet king under Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was not a good puppet, however. At the beginning of his reign he sponsored a gathering of messengers from other nations. They came to Jerusalem to plan rebellion (Jeremiah 27:1–3).
On that occasion Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to put a yoke on his neck and to announce to the delegates that Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant, and that all the lands were given by God into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (27:4–6). To prophesy this submission did not seem very patriotic, but it was in the best interests of the nations involved. Would Jerusalem obey?
I. Siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1, 2, 5–7)
King Zedekiah made a trip to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign (about 594 b.c.; Jeremiah 51:59). It is sometimes thought that he and others who plotted against Babylon were compelled to make this journey in order to give personal expressions of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar.
A few years later, however, Zedekiah rebelled (2 Kings 24:20). Nebuchadnezzar then moved to subjugate the disloyal nations, and Judah was first on his list.
A. Dates Determined (vv. 1, 2)
1, 2. So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
What Do You Think?
What may be some reasons that God would allow an adversary to “besiege” your church today? What corrective action do you need to take?
The tenth month is in winter. This shows Nebuchadnezzar’s determination as he begins the military blockade of Jerusalem. Polite warfare (if there is such a thing) in ancient times waits until spring and the dry season. To move an army and its equipment into position in the rainy, cold months of winter is a hardship.
The conditions inside Jerusalem are not pleasant during the long months of siege. There is the constant thought that the enemy outside is waiting for you to surrender or starve. In the meantime the Babylonians patiently work to break through the defenses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of “foxhole faith” inside Jerusalem at this time.
What Do You Think?
The old saying is, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” How do some practice “foxhole faith” today? How do we avoid this?
Jeremiah’s message is that the lives of the people and the city itself can be saved only by surrender (Jeremiah 38:17-18). Some of the officials of the city attempt to have Jeremiah killed for discouraging the men of the city with these words. The food supply eventually becomes so critical that some women eat their children (Lamentations 2:20; 4:10). This time there is no miracle to save Jerusalem, unlike the threat by the Assyrians over 100 years prior (see 2 Kings 19:34, 35). In July of 586 b.c., the Babylonians finally force their way into the city.
B. Disasters Described (vv. 5–7)
5, 6a. But the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured.
Zedekiah and others attempt to flee from the wrath of the besieging army, but the tactic does not work. The Babylonians capture the fleeing king on the plains of Jericho. The soldiers who are pledged to defend the king abandon him. It is every man for himself!
6b. He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him.
Zedekiah is closely related to the three prior kings of Judah. But his royal pedigree is of no value. He is just a prisoner, walking many miles to the north to meet the king of Babylon, whom he has betrayed. Every step is difficult, and the anticipation of the outcome only increases the anxiety.
7. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
The last thing that Zedekiah is allowed to see is the death of his sons. Then he is blinded, perhaps with hot coals. He will never rebel again. Several years earlier, Ezekiel had made an interesting prophecy about Zedekiah: he was to be brought to Babylon, but he was not to see it (Ezekiel 12:13). The judgment on him by Nebuchadnezzar fulfills the prophecy. Other leaders of Judah also experience death at Riblah (2 Kings 25:18–21; Jeremiah 39:6).
What Do You Think?
How do you respond to someone who questions the goodness of God when he or she reads passages such as 2 Kings 25:7?
II. Statements of Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:25–33, 55–58)
Jeremiah is traditionally thought to be the author of the book of Lamentations. The theme of the book is the desolation that accompanies the destruction of Jerusalem. It has now been some 40 years since Jeremiah was called to prophesy. In one sense Jeremiah probably considers himself a failure. His nation is gone, and the majority in Judah did not heed his message. In God’s sight, however, Jeremiah is a faithful prophet who preaches even when he does not wish to do so (Jeremiah 20:9). Future generations regard him highly. His is one of the names given to Jesus when he asked his disciples how others identified him (Matthew 16:13-14).
The first four chapters of Lamentations are alphabetic acrostics: the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used consecutively to begin the verses. Here in chapter three there are three verses for each letter. In two places the letters are transposed, and no one knows why. Some think that this method of writing may increase the ability to remember or demonstrate the carefulness of the writer.
A. Reminders in Suffering (vv. 25–27)
25. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him.
This verse and the two following not only begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but in the Hebrew they also begin with the same word—good. Its position as first in the sentence indicates its importance.
First, Jeremiah reminds the reader that the Lord really is good to the ones who have hope or expectations concerning God’s promises. God fulfills his word, whether it is the destruction of a sinful nation or the revival of a dead nation.
Notice that the triad of verses immediately before this one provides the background for one of the great hymns of the faith, namely, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Most who sing the words do not realize the depths of faith that Jeremiah was expressing when he wrote them. It is almost inconceivable that Jeremiah can say that God’s mercies are new every morning (v. 23). The experiences of Jerusalem’s siege are still vivid in his mind, but he can still see the blessings.
26. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
The latter part of this verse is difficult for many. Today’s generation wants immediate gratification. Action is thought to be much better than quietly waiting for anything. To wait quietly also means that complaining or murmuring is not present. It is good that faith and faithfulness combine to eliminate impatience with God’s timetable concerning the fulfillments of his promises (see 2 Peter 3:4–9).
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that God has rewarded your patience?
27. It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
To bear the yoke is a figure of speech that means someone has been placed under a burden, similar to an animal that wears a yoke. It is a forced place of service. It indicates humiliation. The person who experiences tough times later in life is usually better able to accept them if they were also part of his or her earlier years. Pain and suffering are never desirable, but there may be valuable lessons for the ones who endure them.
The exhortations of this verse and the previous one add a different dimension to the laments. These are positive expressions, and they say much about handling the traumas of life.
Gain from Pain
Some parents try to bring up their children in a “risk-free” world. They try to protect them from all emotional pain or hardship. Yet going through emotional pain can have a positive result. The same is true physically. Exposure to certain less-severe viruses can build immunity against those that are even worse.
The discipline of children is an area in which some parents have abandoned the responsibility of administering healthy doses of pain or hardship. The TV show Nanny 911 makes this all too clear: children run riot as parents attempt to be their buddies rather than their, well, parents. Scripture reminds us that tough discipline, though not pleasant at the moment, has ultimate value (Hebrews 12:11).
In our spiritual lives, times of pain and trial may have a good ultimate result if we will allow God to use them for that purpose. Paul reminds us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). None of us would say, “Bring on the pain, let the bad times roll.” Yet we do know that God can bring good out of our patient endurance in times of hardship and pain. The key is to allow him to do so. —A. E. A.
B. Reactions to Suffering (vv. 28–30)
28. Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Jeremiah’s words in the next three verses seem to combine the thought of the previous verse (bearing a yoke) and the suffering that accompanied Jerusalem’s siege and destruction. There is no question this time about the source of the sorrows. The Lord is the one who has placed the burden on his people.
One of the frequent questions in negative experiences is, “What did I do to deserve this?” In many cases the answer is that nothing was done; some things just happen. Sometimes there are accidents, and no one is to blame. For Judah, however, the causes are known. It is therefore simply better to maintain silence. Asking questions only intensifies the sense of guilt and loss.
God uses the Babylonians to punish Judah, and the Babylonians are certainly not considered more righteous than Judah. Would that be a good question to raise with God? The prophet Habakkuk addressed that same issue approximately 20 years before Jerusalem fell: How could God use such a sinful nation to punish Judah? God’s response is one of the outstanding verses of the Bible. Regardless of what happens, the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; see also Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). God will also take care of the Babylonians (see Lesson 7).
29. Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
What Do You Think?
Why do some find it so hard to practice abasement when in the valley of despair?
The figures of speech showing humiliation or abasement continue, and this one is distinctive. It is similar to “lick dust,” as given in Micah 7:17. It is also reminiscent of a conqueror’s putting his foot on the neck of the one conquered (Joshua 10:24). The one who is treated in this way, however, does not surrender hope. His or her spirit is not broken. Such a person anticipates that with God’s help there will be better days ahead.
30. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
The mistreatment moves from humiliation to physical violence. It is possible to view this verse figuratively. If that is the case, then it is a recognition that God is behind the abasement that takes place. We recall that many who read these laments are righteous survivors of the catastrophe of 586 b.c. For them, Jeremiah’s words are spiritual encouragement. It is very difficult to accept punishment when you are innocent of wrongdoing, but sometimes it must be endured.
C. Reassurances in Suffering (vv. 31–33)
31. For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
It is always easier to endure present suffering if one knows that it is only temporary. Here Jeremiah provides assurance that being cast off is not a permanent situation. Its real purpose is to purge and purify a sinful nation. Comparisons may be made to surgical procedures. These are painful for the present, but the promise of healing enables one to look past the pain and discomfort.
32. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
The strong medicine of discipline may not taste good, but it is good for the recipient. The compassion of God leads him to bring a restoration that is based on the qualities that a thoughtful person should expect God to have. God is holy, and sin must be punished; but he is also prompted by his abundant mercy to do what is best for those who serve him. After all, “God so loved the world,” not just one person or nation.
33. For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.
The word willingly is interesting, for in the Hebrew it literally says “from his heart.” This also says much about the character of our God. He is not a sadist who finds joy in torture. The writer of Hebrews expresses a parallel thought when he says, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).
Visual for Lesson 10
Use this montage to challenge your students to name an unending sequence of God’s blessings.
D. Responses by God (vv. 55–58)
55. I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
The verses immediately before this section show that Jeremiah is recalling the time when he personally was the object of violence. See Jeremiah 38:6–13.
Being reared in an area where cotton was grown, I became familiar with the idea of someone being in low cotton. This spoke of the person who had to pick cotton in a field where the stalks were not very high, thus he or she had to stoop way over to pick the cotton. The reason for the low cotton was that the field was not producing well. But the cotton would grow higher in a good growing season, therefore the picker did not have to stoop so low. Thus to be in high cotton meant that times were good, but to be in low cotton meant times were tough.
We all go through tough times—times when it seems we are about as low as we can get. God’s people are not exempt. Remember Daniel: he was in pretty low cotton when he was in the lion’s den. Joseph was not much better off when he was cast into a pit by his brothers then sold into slavery.
But no matter how low we may go, the good news is we can never go so low that God cannot hear us or see us. We know we have victory through Jesus in the low times. The words of that great Easter hymn help us to recall this: “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave he arose!” Jesus knows what it means to be in low cotton, and he knows how to lift us out of that state. —A. E. A.
56. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
This is Jeremiah’s testimony: the Lord heard his prayer and his cry for help. The old saying, “Where there’s life, there’s hope!” comes to mind. Jeremiah is almost saying that since he is able to pray, then he is confident that he is heard.
57. You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”
Jeremiah recognizes answered prayer: Do not fear. The Christian today also has a blessed assurance in several ways. Centuries after Jeremiah, Jesus will promise to be with his followers to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Paul affirms that through Christ we conquer all things, no matter the peril (Romans 8:37–39). Look at those words again; they proclaim that there is hope even in pain.
58. O Lord, you took up my case;
you redeemed my life.
The final response that is expressed by Jeremiah is the joy that the Lord has redeemed his life. The word redeemed is a special word for the Hebrew. It is the word for the relative who can avenge a death (Numbers 35:19), redeem a kinsman from slavery (Leviticus 25:47–49), retrieve a family inheritance that had been sold, or marry a widow of a close relative who has no sons. In this case it is Jeremiah’s life that has been redeemed. This is a source of joy!
One preacher testifies that he often battled depression on Monday morning if things had not gone as desired on Sunday. The cure was simple: go to a local discount store! Merely being with people, many of whom he knew, would compel him to smile. Soon the depression would vanish. We are made for relationships!
To attempt to handle the trials of life alone is difficult for most people. One of the responsibilities of Christians is to help bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2). Even the apostle Paul expressed concern when he had to face his trials alone. When others deserted him, it was not pleasant (2 Timothy 4:16).
Some people will resist offers of help, but fellowship is important. If a person can conquer pride and actually ask for assistance, then everyone involved benefits. After all, it is not good for us to dwell alone!
Thought to Remember
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
Almighty God in Heaven, thank you for the blessings of redemption, daily bread, and friends in Christ. None of us seeks trials and pain, but we can thank you for the steadfastness, character, and hope through the suffering that those trials and pain produce. In the name of the Son who suffered so much, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing