We should remember the steadfast love of the Lord every day, but we need reminders most when we feel it least. When we’re tempted to lose heart, when our souls are cast down, we need to remember what God is really like. Join the author of Lamentations. Recall the mercies of God throughout history and in your own life.
Perhaps you’ve heard that God’s mercies are new every morning. You’ve been told that his steadfast love never ceases, and you’ve sung “Great is Your Faithfulness.”
Perhaps your reminder about God’s mercies was splashed on an inspirational calendar above the perfect dew-brushed meadow. Or maybe you heard a perky Christian radio disc jockey quote this enthusiastically in an effort to motivate listeners to get out of bed.
I’ve heard this sentiment about God’s mercies on retreats, during good times, when the group I’m part of wants to extend its current momentum. We’re experiencing God’s blessings—both in ministry and life—and from this verse we’re told we should have confidence these blessings will continue. But does this use Lam 3:22–23 in the correct context?
When we learn to read the Bible as an actual book and not as a professionally-bound collection of pull-quotes, we’ll find that some of our favorite passages take on deeper and more sobering meanings.
The Book of Lamentations
The book of Lamentations is not cheerful. The author was not writing from a mountain top, riding the spiritual high of God’s favor.
In fact, picture the exact opposite of that setting. That’s the background for this book of laments.
(A quick note: Many people assume the prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. There is wide disagreement about this, however, and I don’t think any interpretation changes if we drop this assumption.)
In 589 BC, Jerusalem was surrounded by the armies of Babylon and endured a long siege. The city fell in 587 BC and Babylon crashed in with fire and fury. The temple was desecrated and destroyed. The city was burned. Many Israelites died, and most of the rest were led away by the enemy forces. A scattered few people remained, and they were starving.
The author of Lamentations wrote in the midst of this terrible landscape. In five heart-wrenching prayers, he cried out to the Lord. He knew God’s hand was behind Babylon and that the Jewish people deserved this judgment for their idolatry. His laments were raw acknowledgments of their terrible, warranted state.