We began our study with a passage of poetic comfort in the middle, Lamentations Chapter 3, of one of the saddest times in Israel’s history–the period just after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians ca 600 BC. Now having traveled through a long history of the Temple, to the church, let us return to the important idea of “Hope.”Recall that the above 12 lines of poetry, framed by the inclusio “hope” as shown. Hope is the sole (and soul) comfort that the remnant of Israel going into exile has remaining to it. Their beloved and even then ancient city of Jerusalem was now in ruins and in the territory hands of the Babylonians. The Temple of the Name and Presence of the Lord (YHWH) has been destroyed with all the sacred articles taken as earthly booty. And the individuals hearing this message from the mouth and hand of Jeremiah, were now lowly slaves, despised and effectively ‘dead’ as human beings. Yet, amazingly, God proclaims a word of Hope. Let us consider two reasons why this message of “hope” is so significant. First, it provides another evidence that God can and does make promises about the future–promises which seemingly (and humanly) are impossible to fulfill. But there is nothing too hard for the Lord; this is something we all know at some level but is not easy to truly believe, especially in the face of such adversity. And even more importantly is that it is the character of God to bring to pass all that which He promises. He is utterly faithful to His word (promises). And man’s lack of faithfulness does not hinder God’s purposes. On the contrary, man’s failure to hold on to the Law, and the fear of the Lord, simply and conclusively demonstrates man’s inability to merit God’s favor. The Jewish people who turned their backs on God, sought idols, personal prosperity, and in general their own way, were just like us or, rather, we are just like they were. So the “hope” of Lamentations 3 is an expression in the Old Testament of the Grace Principle, which is that God does for us out of His love acts of mercy that completely and simultaneous fulfill His righteousness. The penalty of sin could not be waived; it had to be paid. And paid it was; fully, eternally. We saw a chart illustrating God’s faithfulness portrayed early in this study by the below: God’s promise of hope, and its ultimate fulfillment in the restoration of Israel after the Babylonians themselves fell captive to their rival nation, the Medeo-Persian empire. From the deepest of depths, God made ‘the dead’ come yet alive, as we have previously studied. There is a second reason why this message of hope in the midst of doom / exile / death is so important. It relates directly to you and me, namely: our individual death, the fate we all share. An important interpretative tool for understanding Scripture is sometimes referred to as “The Now And Not Yet” (TNANY). Early in this study we noted how Abraham received two promises from God–one being that he would father a multitude and the other to possess a Promised Land. Under the interpretive tool of TNANY we see two realizations for Abraham: we understand that Abraham did experientially possess both those promises, but, yet, there was a ‘not yet’ aspect. So, Abraham did father, through Sarah, his son of promise, Isaac; and from Isaac came the son who became the heir of the promise, Jacob, and from Jacob the 12 males who were then the forefathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. So, Abraham through the line of the promised seed, his offspring occurred as a miraculous fulfillment, in his lifetime.
- In addition he fathered children outside of the line of promise (notably Ishmael and Esau, in addition to others), who also became numerous.
- And, according to the Epistle to the Galatians, he fathered spiritually Gentiles who have come to faith.
In like manner, Abraham did reach the Promise Land and lived long in it, and both he and Sarah were buried there. Yet, he did not fully realize its ownership within the confines of space-time and his life span. But his offspring, did ultimately possess the Land as God had promised. And, in some period yet to come, on this earth, there is at least a hint in Scripture that Abraham will be ‘back.’
But both of these promises were not completely realized during the space-time period of Abraham’s ‘life;’ this is the ‘not yet.’ And such ‘not yet’ points to a promise God has yet to fulfill, and which God must ultimately fulfill to be true to His word. Recognizing such condition should comfort us as we come to understand our great positional truth in Christ (such as given in Romans chapters 1 through 11) which does not always comport with our everyday experience. We have both the experience of it, in terms of ‘now,’ but there is still a ‘not yet’ component.
The Bible reminds us that we are pilgrims and strangers here, during this period of time. The Bible uses various images of our life here. One portrays our lives as a staked tent. This causes us to think about our impermanence; tents are temporary structures, usually standing on borrowed or a transient’s ground. This place, our place in our space-time, and within the envelope of our body, is simply not our true home, We occupy a temporary dwelling, though it is the only one our space-time eyes have seen. It is from the promises of God that we ‘see’ a another place, outside of space-time, that is now being readied and will soon be our eternal home. How can we have hope that this is true?
We can rest on the three legs of the above triangle–God’s power to do, His promises, and His faithfulness. We can reset much more richly when we reflect on the passage from Lamentations 3 that we have been considering here. Because in exactly the same way that national Israel experienced complete loss, resolution, exile, and restoration, so will we through though our own physical death. Our death will be like untying the lines and removing the stakes that have been temporarily anchoring us to borrowed land in space-time. But the God whose faithful arms reached out and called His people back to Jerusalem, and later came as Messiah Himself in fulfillment of the many promises in the Old Testament will likewise return for us, redeem us, and restore us into His presence in a new Garden where we will delight in Him forever. Consider the below New Testament passage in this light:There is both a physical and spiritual “you.” Before Christ performed His redemptive resurrection in you, the one was alive–your physical “you”–while the other was dead–your spiritual “you.” But, one day soon, that physical “you” will be dead, and every act of power or control that you have exercised (or imagined you did) every day of your life will then be completely extinguished, leaving for your physical “you” only the inexorable process of decay to dust. In a short number of days thereafter, there will be no one living who will ever know who you were, nor will there be any record of your physical life with any meaning to it. Such is the condition of space-time ‘beings.’ It is God’s promise, His power to fulfill His promise, and His faithfulness to accomplish that which He has promised, to grasp that otherwise ‘homeless’ spiritual “you” to bring you into a new and eternally permanent home. Like the testimony of Stephen to the Jewish leadership regarding the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promises, as he is being stoned to death for his words of truth he sees (and we see) at his own physical life’s end the very evidence of God’s faithfulness in calling Stephen “home.” The hope of the Jewish exiles in Lamentations 3, as is the hope of Abraham and his innumerable descendants, including both Gentiles and Jews, is the Sovereign and Grace-base restoration of all things. Such hope has vastly more substance to it than any promise or expectations we could have here within space-time. Finally, consider hope expressed as an acronym and comfort, as shown below:This is the end of this story of Emmanuel Longing; but the bigger Story will have no end, as such Longing will find its eternal fulfillment.