Thursday, May 20, 2021

Terror on Every Side



Week 20 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 20; Lamentations 3 

Background

In this week’s lesson, Jeremiah is suffering and despondent over all that is happening to him. Some scholars call a feeling like this a “dark night of the soul.” In this emotional time of deep sorrow of his soul, Jeremiah goes to Yahweh.

A dark night of the soul is when what you believe life to mean or be collapses around you. This overwhelming and deep sense of despair or meaninglessness is usually caused by an external event or disaster which triggers these emotions. Examples are death, divorce, diagnosis, or disaster. Beyond falling to your knees, it is more of a curled-up-on-the-closet-floor with great sorrow kind of time.

Described by spiritual leaders and writers and poets over the centuries, the phrase, dark night of the soul, is believed to originate with John of the Cross (1547-1597), a priest, scholar, spiritual director, and poet from Spain. It can describe a spiritual crisis or a time when things just do not make sense. Usually temporary, it can last for a period of time. Internal feelings of emptiness and doubt compete with experiential knowledge of trust and faith, an intersection where sorrow and truth meet. Only by integrating these two, the overwhelming grief and trusting God’s unchanging character, only in the merging of emotion and intellect can the soul move through the crisis.

The other side of the dark night of the soul often reveals a new and deeper understanding or sense of purpose. A spiritual awakening or reset can be transformative. New insights and greater intimacy with God frequently emerge. Perhaps the the hardest part is holding on to the truths of God, His true character, while riding out the dark times.

Lamentations, the Old Testament book authored by Jeremiah, says this in its opening verse of Chapter 3,”I am the man who has seen affliction.” In verses 17-18 Jeremiah writes, “You have moved my soul far from peace…My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD.” Jeremiah is speaking of his experiences with suffering. While these verses may sound hopeless, simply read on a few verses. In remembering his afflictions, Jeremiah also remembers God’s goodness and finds renewed hope. A few verses later he writes, “Surely my soul remembers… therefore I have hope.” (20-21) In some of the most quoted and familiar verses from Lamentations Jeremiah reminds, “The LORD’s mercies never cease; for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” (22-23) 

“In remembering His God, the prophet gains a clearer and more complete understanding of God’s sovereign purposes for the suffering of His people.”[1] Like many servants of God in the Old Testament and countless others throughout the ages, suffering can lead to greater intimacy with God. God’s sovereign purposes will always remain. Great is His faithfulness! 

Study 

Most believe that this takes place during the time of Jehoiakim. At the end of Chapter 19, Jeremiah again shares the message at the Temple, and this makes the elders and Temple leaders angry. Pashhur is the “chief officer” which is more like the “head of security detail for the large complex.”[2] In verse 2, he has Jeremiah beaten and put into stocks at the Benjamin gate near the Temple. Stocks are a confinement device of the feet, neck and hands that fastens a person in a stooped position. This Upper Gate of Benjamin is likely the same as the north gate of the inner court as opposed to “the Benjamin Gate” in the city wall. (Jeremiah 37:13;38:7) Both gates face north toward Benjamin territory.

Jeremiah is released the next day and calls Pashhur “Magor Missabib” which means “terror on every side”. The King of Babylon is coming, and Judah will be given over to him as they become exiles. Along with captivity, their wealth and treasures will fall to the enemy also. In verse 6, Pashhur is told that he will be taken into captivity and die there. He is identified as one of the false prophets. Likely Pashhur will go “into exile in 597 BC”.[3] “Destruction comes in three waves of invasion by Babylon, the first 605 BC, then 597 BC when Pashhur and King Jehoiachin are captured, and 586 BC the final defeat.”[4] 

Jeremiah 20:7-18 is the sixth lament of the prophet. Jeremiah shares his despair and praise to God, shares his burdened heart. Having demonstrated his obedience in giving God’s message, in return, the response is persecution. When Jeremiah writes that he feels “deceived” this a “sense of being overcome or prevailed on to do something for the Lord.”[5] People mock him and make fun of him; yet he continues to speak God’s message of “violence” and “destruction”. For this he is taunted and scorned, shamed and disrespected. 

“Jeremiah is the only prophet to compare the word of God to ‘fire’” (5:14; 23:29)[6] I am reminded of the two followers of Jesus after the crucifixion, returning home on the road to Emmaus and how they felt a burning within when Jesus teaches them. The presence of God is powerful. Jeremiah feels this is a spiritual fire inside, and while it motivates him, Jeremiah is weary. He tires of the rejection. 

In this lament, in verse 11, Jeremiah is reassured as “the LORD is with me like a ruthless (dread) champion (hero).” Jeremiah recognizes God’s protection and righteous justice. We begin to see some self-loathing, feelings of insecurity, feelings of failures and weaknesses, honest feelings of his heart as he lays it out before God. This is called by some commentaries as Jeremiah’s “dark night of the soul”, a time of spiritual darkness yet an awareness of the unchanging character of God. 

Finally, the question of “why is God allowing these things to happen to me?” “His own despair is so all-consuming that all he can think about now is some quick way out of this mess.”[7] We must always remember there is a bigger picture – God’s Picture – which begins and extends beyond our comprehension. Like others, like Jeremiah, “we, in our depressed states, need to have a  whole new vision of the greatness, magnificence, and awesomeness of our God.”[8] 

Reflection

Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations  3:22-23 NIV 

Various Bible translations use great love, lovingkindness, steadfast love, mercies, faithful love to describe the way God loves, the character of His love, and the depth of His love. Even as Israel suffers for her unrepentant disobedience to God, as she nears captivity in Babylon, as Jerusalem waits for complete destruction, God’s covenant love for His people remains. God’s never-ending mercy constantly seeks restoration. I will hope in Him! 

Words struggle to adequately explain deep grief or spiritual emptiness or deliberate rebellion or profound remorse. God’s unmeasured grace finds us wordless, defenseless, guilty and starving.  With compassion, God understands the wordless sighs, the heart’s intentions, the soul’s great needs. Even though we stumble or fail, sway or faint, God’s faithfulness will always endure. 

“Even though at times Jeremiah felt an acute loneliness, he nevertheless experienced God standing by his side as a great champion.”[9] Jesus teaches that we will have trials and troubles, but He will be with us. Adonai, my great LORD, hear my whispers of regret, my sighs of anguish, my confessions of sin. Replace my emptiness with Your goodness; let my story tell of Your mercy-full forgiveness. Great is Your faithfulness, overflowing with truth and compassion and never-ending grace.   

Application

  • Betrayal stings! Jeremiah feels betrayed by his friends. When have you felt the sting of betrayal and rejection?
  • Do you tell God how you feel, pour your heart out at His altar? Will you trust in God’s infinite love and never-ending mercies even in the hard places? 

Donna Oswalt

 



[1] English Standard Version Literary Study Bible notes on Lamentations Chapter 3

[2] Archaeological Study Bible notes Jeremiah Chapter 20

[3] Ibid

[4] Chronological Life Application Study Bible notes

[5] Complete Word Study Bible Dictionary

[6] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah, Kaiser, Walter C, p 251

[7] Ibid, p 254

[8] Ibid, p 255

[9] Shepherd’s Notes, Jeremiah and Lamentations

1 comment:

  1. I had not heard the phrase "Dark Night of the Soul". It is described so well.

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