In our poetic passage there is a clear statement that God is good. What does that mean? Let us consider the life of Abram (Abraham).
God made two great promises to Abram when he was still a young man in his homeland of Us of the Chaldees, a land in the far East with respect to Jerusalem:
- Abram would be the father of a multitude (which is what name Abraham means), a very important blessing, particularly in that period, and
- Abram would be given a Promised Land as his new home.
What happened? Scripture makes clear to us that instead of being a father of many, we learn that Abram and his wife Sarai (later renamed Sarah) could not have children. Along the fruitless years, Sarai (and Abram) devise a “Plan B”–an Egyptian solution–using Hagar a servant as a surrogate “wife” producing a son, Ishmael. Finally, at the advanced age of nearly 100, when all hope was, humanly speaking, lost. It was then that God appears to Abram again and renews the promise that in about a year he would be a father through Sari; God was not fulfilling His word through Sarai & Abram’s Plan B Ishmael. In fulfilling this promise, their identities are enhanced: Abram becomes Abraham, the father of a multitude, and Sarai becomes Sarah, she who laughs. But, what about that long, painful delay from promise to fulfillment? Was God being cruel? (Of course not!). Was He teaching a principal? Yes…several: (1) God’s promises do not fail because God is both all-knowing and faithful; (2) man’s ‘job’ is patiently waiting on the Lord; (3) ultimately this patience will be needed for us to face our own death knowing the promise of God to yet bring us home, under a promise made to us perhaps many decades earlier.
What about the Promised Land? God indeed brings Abraham to a land which He identifies to Abraham as that which was Promised. However, there is a not so small problem: the place is called the Land of the Canaanites, and is occupied by seven or more tribal nations none of whom were voluntarily moving out because of any deal God had with Abraham. The delay from God’s promise to Abraham its literal fulfillment lasted well beyond Abraham’s own life. Abraham did prosper in the Promised Land but did so as a sojourner (as we all are within space-time). And it was after Abraham’s death, that sons of the sons of the sons of the multitude born to Abraham that the full realization of God’s promise occurred. Below is a simplified timeline illustrating this point. All the year references are approximate, which is sufficient for our purposes here. The red numbers in the timeline correspond to the like numbers on the maps below.We will return to this chart in other contexts. Now our focus is on the time of Abraham, ca 2000 BC, when God’s promise of the Promised Land is given to Abraham, and which promise he experiences only as a sojourner, not as the land-owner. As shown above, it takes about 600 years, after the offspring of Abraham (Issac, then Jacob, then his 12 sons who become the tribes of Israel), after the descent in Egypt because of famine in the very land God had promised to Abraham, which led to his descendants becomes slaves to the Egyptians, to the call of Moses, but which required some 40 years of wilderness experiences because of the people’s unbelief. It is only in the time and book of Joshua, Moses’s successor, that God’s promise begins its full fulfillment.
However, also shown in the above chart is that the descendants of Abraham lose their possession of the Land because of their turning their back on God toward idolatry and every manner of evil in the same way as the peoples God had cast out under the campaign of Joshua. This is shown above by the ending of the green box. After a period of 70 years they do return to the land but from then on as a people under the control of more powerful neighboring nations.
Now we are able to consider the context of the 12-line poetic passage that was used at the very beginning of this study. As shown in the above chart, this passage was taken from the book of Lamentations 3:21-26. What is particularly significant about this context is the reference to God as both faithful and good (as we have studied) is expressed under the most painful circumstance, expulsion from the very Land promised to Abraham. If one reads the preceding and succeeding chapters on Lamentations, all of which is a poetic expression, the deepest human pain and sorrow is being expressed. And yet, God is both good and faithful.
This became evident some 70 years later in a God-initiated call by a pagan king (Cyrus, king of Persia) for the exiles to return. Despite the Jewish nation being in subjugation thereafter, they retained a presence in the Land, restored the Temple worship, and provided the stage and opportunity for Jesus Christ to present His claims as Messiah to His people. This is the story we will pick up later.
Now, let us turn to the Temple itself, beginning with the remnant of it available to us today.