Those of us raised in church have probably heard the song Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23. The words of the song and the passage have brought encouragement and hope to countless souls, including mine. But last night as I read through the first three chapters of the book, it struck me that Jeremiah penned these comfortably familiar and incredibly uplifting words right after lamenting the misery of Israel’s suffering under God’s punishment for their sins (chapters 1-2), then lamenting his own deep despair in the first 20 verses of chapter 3.
Lament means to wail, moan, weep, cry, sob, and complain. I have experienced some intense weeping and complaint sessions with the Lord, but never once have I accused Him, as Jeremiah did, of causing my “flesh and my skin to waste away” or that He has “broken my bones.” Jeremiah was obviously feeling defeated and rejected. Following are verses 1-20 of Chapter 3. In bold are all the negative, depressing, far from uplifting words that emphasize that Jeremiah was beyond miserable. It is ironic that these sad verses directly precede some of the most encouraging words in the entire Bible.
I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me
with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in secret places.
He has turned aside my ways
and torn me to pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He bent His bow
And set me as a target for the arrow.
He made the arrows of His quiver
To enter into my inward parts.
I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
Their mocking song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wandering,
the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
Affliction, darkness, broken bones, bitterness, mocking, wandering – they are all words that you are unlikely to find on a greeting card! Jeremiah’s next words, however, emanate hope:
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
What changed from the time Jeremiah wrote verse 20 to the time he wrote verses 21-24? I think the word “recall” gives a clue. The Hebrew word translated “recall” is used over 900 times in the Old Testament, with the most usage pointing to the meaning “again.” In English, recall means to remember or call to mind. In other words, we pull up something from our memory that we have known before and remember it again. Jeremiah, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, remembered and felt hope.
What did he remember? Verse 22 begins the description of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses and how they never cease. Jeremiah continues to remember (and remind us of) God’s compassions (or mercies) and how they are “new every morning,” then he declares, “Great is Your faithfulness.” (Emphasis mine.)
Remembering is a very crucial spiritual discipline. We need to remember, to recall to our minds, what God has done and what we know about His character. Remembering will help us know that we can indeed trust Him for this moment we are in.
When we purposely recall to mind during affliction God’s character, it brings us hope. Hope that since He never changes, He will continue to be faithful. Hope that since His compassions are new every morning, we will never run out, we will never exhaust the supply. Like manna, fresh and nourishing, He will provide just what we need for the day.
So no matter what the enemy throws at us,
no matter how bad things seem to be,
no matter how deep our despair,
this we recall to mind, therefore we have hope…great is His faithfulness!
Janice Powell 2013
Photo of today’s morning sky was taken by my friend in her front yard. I asked nicely if I could use it and she said yes.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972, 1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.