Can you remember a time that you thought was the darkest hour of your life?
Perhaps you had just made a colossal business blunder that had cost you hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars.
Maybe you had just received news that your spouse or child was hopelessly ill.
Or, you might have come home and found your wife or husband had left you for another “lover.”
Maybe you failed a course that you desperately wanted and needed to pass.
It might have been the news that a loved one or dear friend had committed suicide.
Most of us can remember an hour in our lives that seemed all darkness and no light—a time when our heart was broken, our spirit crushed, and our desire to live exhausted. As a pastor, I have suffered a few such times, and I have sat in silence beside scores of men and women whose hearts, figuratively speaking, have been twisted and torn from their breasts. In those times, we can understand something of what Job meant when he said “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)
Though most of us have suffered some great personal losses, probably none of us has suffered in a greater way than did the prophet Jeremiah. He suffered not only as a person but as a prophet.
In his third elegy, Lamentations chapter 3, the shades of the soul of this man of God are pulled up so that we can have an internal view of what he, and others like him, endured when God brought judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem. Note here his affliction (3:1-20); his affirmation (3:21-42); his anguish (3:43-54); and, finally, his answer (3:55-66):
(1) The prophet’s Affliction: He suffered physically, relating that his flesh and skin had been made old and his bones had been broken. The trauma had caused him to age prematurely. He had suffered physical abuse at the hands of the enemy.
He suffered emotionally. His innermost being was shot through with pain; it was as though someone loosed the knot that held everything together. Everything fell apart.
He suffered socially. He was mocked, rejected, disbelieved, and “in derision daily.”
He suffered financially. It had been so long since he had enjoyed pleasant days and times, he had forgotten the feeling. (3:17) He suffered mentally. Verses 1-20 of Lamentations 3 are the “grievous soul-suffering of the godly in their cheerless and hopeless misery.”
(2) The prophet’s Affirmation: Jeremiah affirmed God’s mercies, His faithfulness, and His salvation, expressing against the black backdrop of the book to this point that “the Lord is good to them that wait for Him.” (3:25) He affirmed God’s compassion, concluding that God never punishes His own without purpose; that sin brings judgment, and that affliction should cause us to search our hearts, with honest confession being the result.
(3) The prophet’s Anguish: God numbers our hairs, will He not also number our tears? “Little furnaces are for little faith. The greatest compliment God can pay you is to heat the furnace to the utmost.” (Unknown). “He knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
(4) The prophet’s Answer: (a) God heard Jeremiah’s prayer; (b) reassured the prophet of His presence; (c) gave Jeremiah assurance of his salvation; and (d) gave the prophet assurance that He would right the wrong.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee—I only design,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”
(How Firm a Foundation—Rippon’s Selection of Hymns)
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:2,3)