Read Lamentations Three
By this point in our study, it’s no mystery that this is a book primarily about repentance. This book – one riddled with the extravagant consequences of sin – is punctuated in chapter three with the prophet’s personal process of repentance. From having acknowledged that his ways have not lined up with God’s, to confessing the character of God while his situation remains yet unchanged, the prophet has leaned into God’s call to repentance.
And now, he invites his people to join him.
Read Lamentations 3:40-41. Mark all the verbs in these verses (all the action words, or commands).
When you look at these four verbs in sequence, what progression do you notice?
The prophet, having experienced his own personal process of repentance, now invites his people to repent as well. And he does this through four verbs: test, examine, return, and lift.
Do you notice the way each is linked to the next? This call from the prophet of God to repent starts with testing their ways. He calls the people to stop and see if they are really going the way they want to go, and if they are really accomplishing what they thought they were accomplishing. In my own imagination, I wonder if he is calling out the way that the people thought they would be happy apart from God – content apart from His ways. In calling them back to repentance, he first asks them to test what they’re currently doing: are you getting what you thought you would get out of this deal?
Next, he calls them to examine their ways. If they’ve tested their ways, they now realize that they’re not getting what they hoped for. In fact, they’re stranded, abandoned, exiled in a land not their home! They’re far from God and far from home, living the lives of refugees on the run. So the prophet calls them to examine their ways, to question how they got here.
Then, he calls the people to return to the Lord. Embedded in this question is an indictment: your ways have not been ways of blessing, you are far from the Lord. He calls them to return to the Lord because they are far from Him. But also embedded in this question is hope: God is a God to whom they can return. The door to God’s favor is not permanently closed! The people can, and should, return.
Lastly, the prophet calls the people to lift up their hearts and hands to the God in heaven. Usually in the Old Testament we find God referred to as the “God OF Heaven.” This phrase shows God’s power and authority, ruling over the heavens and in control of all of nature. But the prophet uses a slightly different phrase: the God IN heaven. This minor change in the common Hebrew phrase has huge implications for the prophet’s appeal. He is not appealing to God’s authority and power, but to His proximity. He’s reminding the people that they can return to God, and where is this God? He is in heaven. So they must lift their hearts and hands to Him, asking Him to have mercy on them, and begging Him to hear their prayers.
These four verbs map out a striking process for the repentant people: test, examine, return, lift. The people are being called to stop and look at their feet, consider where they are going, and ask if this is truly the right way. They’re asked to turn around, to point their feet in the direction of their God, and pursue walking towards Him in repentance. And, they’re called to then lift, pointing their gaze and affection and hope toward the God in heaven whom they have sinned against.
Should they follow the prophet’s advice, should they heed his call, they will find themselves completely transformed: from walking with confidence in the wrong direction, to falling to their knees with their hands lifted high to God.
Consider the call to repentance in your own life. How do these four verbs help you understand your own process of repentance?
How do these four verbs mirror the five-step process we saw the prophet walk through in last week’s study?
The prophet knows a truth we must embrace as well: we do others no good when we encourage them to persist in sin. When we comfort those in their sin without calling them to repentance, we do incredible damage. Can you imagine our response as modern readers if the prophet – having repented and been restored to God himself – had patted the nation of Israel on the back and said, “It’s okay. Do what makes you happy.” We would have been outraged! Given their situation, we can’t think of anything more cruel. But the truth is, when friends of ours are in sin and we do not call them kindly to repentance, we do the same injustice, because the very best news we can share with our friends who are reaping the negative consequences of their sin is to call them to test, examine, return, and lift.
How can you walk with others in repentance, leading them into the way they should go using these four verbs as a guide?
PRAY & REFLECT
Thank God for leading you in repentance. Praise Him for giving you the gift of repenting from your sin. Ask Him to show you how He might use you and your story to lead others in repentance.