The Attributes of God
- Lamentations 3:22-27
- 2 Timothy 1:3-12
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Just imagine this; there are rumours of an invasion in Australia. An army of hundreds of thousands of well-equipped enemy soldiers have been dropped in Australia. This was followed up by more and more arriving in war ships all along our shores.
Like a deadly swarm of locusts they begin a systematic march south, driving the people of Australia deeper and deeper into the south east. Like a mob of sheep we are chased into the ACT. Those who resist fall be the sword. Others lose their property, without the chance of just getting something as a momentum out of their homes, which are burnt to ashes.
From Canberra the Government tries to calm the people by telling them that there is actually no real threat to the invasion, because there is a strong army waiting for them as they approach.
In the end the even this so-called strong army falls and there is no escape as the the people are driven along a narrow corridor down the mountain ranges towards the ocean. The enemy is getting more fierce and the defence lines fall one after the other.
The food resources are drying up and people start eating the flesh of their dead children to stay alive. People start to pray and ask God to help them. Some find refuge in church buildings along the way and trusted that for as long they are in these buildings, God will protect them. These buildings are later attacked and burned to the ground. Thousands die, and other flee to the shores.
Ships arrive at the shores and like cattle on live export, Australians are taken away from their beloved homeland to do slave labour in a foreign country. Families are separated, never to see one another again.
There is one person, he calls himself a prophet of God, who keeps preaching a sermon, which more or less had this message:
We are going through a tough time. We have rejected God and his Word. But He is faithful. He is merciful. Wait upon Him. It is good to bear the yoke now.
You feel like screaming at him to just shut up, because everything he is talking about is just a pie in the sky. It seems stupidity talk about the faithfulness of God in the face of a national disaster. God has forgotten us; stop talking about his faithfulness!
This is the picture of Israel in the time of Jeremiah.
The fall of Jerusalem
It was on the 15th January 588 that Nebuchadnezzar marched against Jerusalem and besieged the city. This went on for 18 months. There was no food to eat.
Things got worse in Jerusalem. Infants and babies died because of the famine. There was no food to eat, and mothers began to eat the flesh of the dead babies. Listen,
The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives to them. Those who once feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple embrace ash heaps. (Lamentations 4:4–5, ESV)
Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the field. The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Lamentations 4:9–10, ESV)
The Jewish army with king Zedekiah broke through the wall of the city and fled to the south towards the Jordan Valley, but the Babylonians overtook them. The soldiers were scattered and they captured the king. He was taken to Babylon, and they killed his sons in his sight. They gouged out his eyes, shackled him and imprisoned him.
Then after another three months, the enemy invaded the city.
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. (2 Kings 25:8–9, ESV)
The walls of the city were smashed, and
the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. (2 Kings 25:11–12, ESV)
Then the heathen enemy turned to the temple:
And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. (2 Kings 25:13–15, ESV)
This is the temple of which the Psalmist wrote:
beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. (Psalm 48:2, ESV)
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. (Psalm 46:4–5, ESV)
For this chosen people, this chosen place, and chosen anointed king, it seemed to mean the end of every cherished hope of their salvation and calling of God.
Then the enemy turned upon the leaders: they took
… the chief priest and … the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army … and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land. (2 Kings 25:18–21, ESV)
The inheritance given by the Lord, was now owned and trampled by strangers.
Why? Why all of this? Who was responsible for this calamity? We have to go back to Deuteronomy 28 to understand something of what happened here. Moses was instructing the people how they should be faithful to God and not worship other gods, something they soon forgot. This is what Moses said to them:
If you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away. And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things … you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put and iron yoke on your neck until He destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 25, 37,53, 47, 48 ESV)
This is exactly what happened in the time of Jeremiah. Over years God sent his prophets to warn his people, but they turned away from their glory and worshipped other gods.
What has all of this to do with the faithfulness of God? Is faithfulness not connected with good things; does the faithfulness of God not say that He will take care and save his children?
Let’s just go back to what we have heard the last few weeks about the attributes of God. He is Sovereign, He is holy, He is just and righteous, He is loving. It is precisely because He is sovereign and holy and just that He would do as He promised. It is precisely because He is righteous that He punished unfaithfulness. He is faithful to do as He promised. His word is not yes and no. He hates sin, and He rewards unfaithfulness is his justice.
Oh, that God would engrave into our hearts his mercy and his love, but also his justice and righteousness – because He is holy. He would not be trusted if his people would get away with idolatry. His glory He does not share. He is a jealous God. His love is all consuming and does not stand the idea of sharing his love with another. At least we now understand, even with tears of pain and disappointment, that there is a reason and purpose for the calamity: it is not blind fate that hits for no reason; it is our heavenly Father who acts out who He is in faithfulness.
God would be unjust, unrighteous and unfaithful to his holiness if He would not punish sin. He would not be trusted if He would just turn a blind eye on the unfaithfulness of his people. He would just be like the gods of the heathens fi He is not for his holiness. Why would the faithful ever trust and obey Him if He allows the unbridled unfaithfulness of those who hate Him?
In chapter 3 we read about Jeremiah in the midst of all that happened. The “we” of the first two chapters now becomes “I”: I have seen affliction, I walk in darkness, my bones a broken, I am walled in, my prayers are not heard, I am left without help, I am the target for the arrows of the Lord, my heart is pierced, I am laughingstock I am mocked, I eat bitter herbs, I am deprived of peace, my soul is downcast in me.
Jeremiah is carrying out of one of his functions as a prophet, namely his continued watch over the ruins of Jerusalem. He is with his people in this calamity. He gives expression to the sorrow of the people that he may weep with them. He points his fellow-countrymen to an acknowledgement of God’s justice in this visitation. He keeps them from despair under the burden of an unutterable woe. He teaches them how to give due submission to the judgment that has befallen them.
And he reminds them of this great truth:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23, ESV)
When he lost everything, and when the people lost everything, he reminds them they they have not lost God, because his love and faithfulness are with them, even in affliction and pain. You might have lost good and kindred, but you have not lost God. Why? “The Lord is my portion.” Take everything, give me Christ. Win the world, and you have lost God.
So Jeremiah, though his tears of sorrow, reminds them of God’s faithfulness. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, it is good to wait patiently for the salvation of the Lord.” He wants them to not look around them, but to look up to God who is faithful to restore the sinner who comes to him in repentance.
Our Lord is like Jeremiah, but He is immensely more. Yes He is with us in our sorrow, but He bore our sorrows; we are the targets for God’s anger, but He stood in our place and took the punishment; on the cross He took the bitter herbs when He cried out, “Why have You forsaken me?”; there his Father did not hear his prayer. There He became the laughingstock of the world; there his splendour was gone, He was afflicted, and without hope. In fact, all the curses that rested upon the people because of their unfaithfulness, became his because of his faithfulness.
When He died it was THE act of God’s victorious love and faithfulness. Jesus is God’s faithfulness: He promise in Eden that there would be One who would crush the head of the serpent, and on the cross and the open grave He did so. God is faithful, and his faithfulness in Christ is now every morning. In Him we have what we need – everything!
Is God faithful? You bet He is, not only in Christ Jesus, but He did as He promised through the prophet. Seventy years after they were taken into captivity to Babylon, He brought them back. Read about it in Ezra and Nehemiah.
For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. (Ezra 7:9, ESV)
With him were the faithful, some stayed behind and chose to remain in Babylon. They travelled 1800kms over hostile terrain, after they asked God for a safe journey. They had 19.5 tons of silver, 3 tons of silver ware, and 3 tons of gold. They spend four months on the road and arrived in Jerusalem- with nothing missing. Listen to this verse:
On the fourth day, within the house of our God, the silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed …The whole was counted and weighed, and the weight of everything was recorded. (Ezra 8:33–34, ESV)
Nothing missing. People returned, their names were recorded, no one harmed. They could not start freshly by the grace of God, to rebuild the temple. God is faithful to his Word.
In Christ we have everything, our names written in his blood, we are safe. He will take us home, no one will be missing.
Great is his faithfulness. The Lord is my portion! Amen.
Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt
Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night
So quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart in You
Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 10 February 2013