Shifting The Blame - Lamentations 4:1-5:22

If while driving you’ve ever been stopped by a police officer who then asked you if you knew how fast you were going, you may have felt compelled to tell the officer that you had a good reason for your speed. Last year an officer in Australia pulled someone over for speeding, and the driver gave an interesting excuse: the person said “the wind was pushing me.” The officer noted the excuse, and then wrote the driver a $200 ticket.

 
Lamentations 4:1-5:22
 

When we’re guilty, it’s natural to “shift” the blame or responsibility to something or someone else, even if we’re clearly in the wrong.Even in situations where we have been affected by the sins of others, it’s natural to feel that because of what that person did, we shouldn’t be held responsible if we respond in a sinful way.

But what we see in Lamentations 4-5 and other places in Scripture is that God holds each person responsible for the things he or she does, regardless of what others have done. 

And not only does God hold us responsible for our sin. but in his mercy toward us, he shows us how to respond. So how should we respond?

Well, God requires three things of us, and you’ll see these in the outline on page 6 

of your worship guide.  God requires that we look:

  1. at ourselves as we lay blame
  2. at ourselves as we endure consequences
  3. and to Him as we seek restoration

So let’s look at these together.

 

First, God requires that we look as ourselves as we lay blame. (4:1-22)

To remind you of the background of Lamentations, it was written by a poet, probably the prophet Jeremiah, to grieve the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Along with that city, the nation known as Judah was taken captive and the temple of worship in Jerusalem was plundered and torn down. All of it was the result of the sins of the Hebrew people, known first as the nation of Israel which had split into Israel and Judah.

Most of them, including the king, had adopted the wicked practices of idol worship like the nations around them, and most had turned from God and trusted in other nations to protect them and provide for them. But all the way back to when God gave the law to Moses that made them a nation, God had warned them that if they did this, eventually he would turn them over to what they pursued. Now the people are dealing with the effects of God’s judgment. The period of time is called “the exile” and they were captives to the nation of Babylon.

Some of the people had been faithful to God all along, but most had not. So you can imagine that these people who did not trust God became bitter and angry and they began to blame-shift. There was a common proverbial statement or proverb during that time – not one from the OT book of Proverbs but just a common saying, similar something to our saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” The saying was this, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.”

So the fathers ate something sour, but their children, and not the fathers themselves, had to endure the bitter taste. The people of Judah commonly used the saying to blame the previous generations for doing things that put the current generation in exile and misery. But two different Old Testament prophets corrected them. Jeremiah addressed it, and so did a prophet named Ezekiel. This is what Ezekiel, who wrote and preached during the exile, told the people. Ezekiel 18: [1] The word of the LORD came to me: [2] “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’? [3] As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. [4] Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

This means that regardless of what the fathers did, the current generation is responsible for their own sins. And so in Lamentations 4, we get a full picture of who gets the blame. Just like their temple has been torn down and scattered, the people of the nation have been torn down and scattered.  You see verse 2, “the precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold, how they are regarded as earthen pots, the work of a potter's hands!” They’ve lost their high position among the people of the world. Verse 3, they neglect their children - “the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.”

This is a thought also in Job 39 referring to how ostriches don’t care well for their young. And so verse [4] The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives to them. I mentioned in previous weeks that part of the idol worship in which they participated was child sacrifice. So what is going on, while inhumane and cruel, is consistent with how these people had come to live. We also see it in verse 10.  They’re doing awful things.

And so they’ve gone from one extreme to the other.  Riches to rags, so to speak. It’s a punishment worse than what Sodom received, in that the ancient city of Sodom received a quick judgment, whereas this is much more prolonged. And everyone paid the penalty.  All the people, also the prophets and priests, we see that in verse 13. They had misinformed the people and misled them. They even shed the blood of innocent people, verse 13 says, so they’ve murdered. And so they are responsible, and yet the people followed them and did terrible things, so the people have their own guilt. Verse 16, their elders or leaders are guilty also. And much of this is similar to what’s been said in Lamentations already, but when you’re suffering, you often say the same things about your pain over and over.

Even the king was guilty, verse [20], The breath of our nostrils, the LORD's anointed, was captured in their pits, of whom we said, “Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.” The people viewed the king as their savior. He was the air they breathed. But he was guilty as well. Even some of their enemies are mentioned here.

Verse 21 refers to Edom – a rival nation, but not just any rival. They were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham. They were ancient relatives. Their hatred for Israel and Judah went way back, and when Babylon went in to conquer Judah, Edom helped them, and they mocked Judah and took pleasure in seeing their nation fall. The poet says that Edom is going to get what they have coming. Verse 21, “to you also the cup shall pass.” Judah had been assured that their exile wouldn’t last forever, first part of verse [22], and Edom would have to take responsibility for the things they did.

In 2004, Oprah Winfrey made television history when she gave a new car to everyone in her studio audience. 276 cars in all. She announced that everyone was being given a special box which they were not to open until she told them to. When everyone had a box, she said that inside one of the boxes was a key. She then told the people that if their box had the key, they would receive a car. And when they opened the boxes, every box had a key in it. There were unbridled shouts of joy and laughter. And Oprah famously began to point and shout, “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” Now that event is often referred to jokingly anytime there are many people who receive something.

It’s as if all the people of Judah open our boxes and inside they find blame. Earlier we read from Romans 3: “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one. No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become corrupt; no one does good, not even one.’ “You get blame, you get blame, everybody gets blame.

Are you willing to look at yourself and acknowledge where you are guilty of sin, how you are to blame in your circumstances or conflicts. The wording Paul uses in Romans 3 can also be stated, “they have become worthless.” That means no one is without guilt. Where does this show up in your life, in your relationship with God or with those around you?

 

Also, God require us to look at ourselves as we endure consequences. (5:1-18)

In this part of chapter 5, the people of Judah are reaping what they’ve sown. Notice that last part of Verse 1 and into verse 2: “see our disgrace! [2] Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners.” This refers to the Promised Land which God gave them and they’ve now lost. That idea of the tables being turned is repeated over and over here. Verse [3] “We have become orphans, fatherless.”  God was a father to these people. Verse [4] “We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought.” Deut. 6 in the Old Testament says that when the people entered the Promised Land, they received cisterns of water they did not have to dig.  That water is taken away. Verse [5] “Our pursuers are at our necks; we are weary; we are given no rest.” Deut 12 said that the Promised Land was a place of rest for them. What they sowed is clear in verse [6] “We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria, to get bread enough.”

They trusted in these idolatrous nations to help them and feed them, rather than trusting God. In Exodus 16 God provided bread from heaven for the people. We see the reality that later generations are affected by what earlier generations do: Verse [7]: “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities.”

Often the sinful habits that we have were modeled for us by our parents or grandparents. In that way, sin gets passed down through the generations. That was the case with Judah, even though they were still responsible for their own sin. More of the tables being turned – Verse [8] “Slaves rule over us.” God had brought Israel out of slavery. Now they are slaves again. Verse [9] and 10, they endured famine, verse [11], they endured rape and murder, verse [13] and 14, they are enslaved and times of joy are gone. All of these things are things that God had delivered them when he set them apart by his grace and made them a nation.  But they willingly turned from him. And so verse [15] “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. [16] The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned!”

If they had trusted God’s way of living, they would have been sowing peace and security. But through selfish and immoral living, they sowed danger and destruction. So that’s what they’re reaping. You plant corn, you grow corn. It’s the same in life. The law of sowing and reaping is always in effect. Sometimes you experience things that are no fault of your own. But that’s not what is in view here. These are consequences.

The reality of consequences is sometimes wrongly seen as opposed to the ideas of grace and forgiveness. For instance, when someone in authority is removed from their position because moral failure and misdeeds, when should they be able to return to their position? There seems to be two opinions. One is that because no one is perfect, and because people should be forgiven, the person should receive another opportunity. The other opinion is that while yes, there is forgiveness, there are also consequences, and forgiveness does not equate to installing someone in a position of influence and authority. This topic comes up when pastors have moral failures. The question is, “If God forgives and gives grace, and since we all have our flaws and failures, shouldn’t the man be quickly allowed back into his position?”

The biblical answer is “no.” In a situation where someone is caught in sin, it’s natural to immediately say “I’m sorry and I won’t do it again.” But it’s typically a longer process for a person to truly experience remorse and repentance. Should the person who asks for forgiveness be forgiven immediately? Yes. Should they be allowed to then go on as if nothing every happened? No, because there are consequences. And consequences draw out true repentance. Is the person in authority being punished by the people who won’t re-install him in his role? No, the person punished himself. Because we reap what we sow. In Galatians 6, Paul told the church, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” If you betray someone’s trust, can they forgive you, yes, but it will take time for them to trust again. Actions have consequences.

One of the roles of church leadership is to protect the people of the church through what is commonly called “church discipline.” It sounds scary, and it has been done in a wrong way by many churches, but the Scriptures describe it as the gentle and loving process of rescuing someone from grievous sin. Galatians 6 says, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” What do you think is the first step of church discipline? Is it one person gently confronting another? Is it a few people gently confronting someone? Actually, it’s neither. There is a step before both of those. It’s the weekly preaching of God’s Word.True preaching contains warnings for God’s people. You’re smart enough to look around you each day and know that we reap what we sow. I’m not saying tragedy in a person’s life means they did something wrong. We know that isn’t always the case. There are many examples in Scripture of godly people who suffer not as a result of punishment.

But we’re talking about, and Lamentations 5 is talking about, sowing sin destruction and reaping destruction. Where in your life are you sowing destruction? Are you sowing greed, bitterness, anger, grudges, apathy, hard-heartedness, lust,dishonesty? What do you think will come from sowing those things? You wouldn’t plant a rock and expect a flower to grow from it. Why would you harbor those things in your heart and expect a good result? Admit that to God today and renew your faith in Jesus and your obedience to God. Renew your trust that only the blood of Jesus can take away the guilt of your sin. God is a God of redemption and restoration. And we see that in this last section of chapter 5,

 

God requires that we look to Him as we seek restoration. (5:19-22)

The poet of Lamentations proclaims here that, even in light of the blame and consequences, God is in control and he alone can restore.  Their kingdom is destroyed, but his kingship is still intact. And notice that “LORD” in verse 19 is in all capital letters. The translators use all caps to let you know that they aren’t translating the normal Hebrew word for “lord” there, which can also mean “master.” “LORD” in all caps let’s you know that the writer used the covenant name of God. We think it was pronounced something like “Yahweh.”  It was the personal name God gave to Moses when God was fulfilling the covenant he made with Abraham. The covenant love of God, which is the steadfast, unending love of God, is in view here. It’s the grace of God – favor that is not earned.  It’s given freely out of love. We still see the poet’s pain in verse [20] “Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days?” but we see the faith of his request in verse [21] “Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored!” And not exactly a happy ending to the poem in verse [22], but it’s an honest ending. “unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.” If you’ve ever suffered or you’re suffering now, I’m sure you can appreciate the honesty. The promise that the exile would eventually end was still there, but it couldn’t come soon enough. The misery of consequences doesn’t always vanish quickly, does it? But the poet knows that God – only God – can restore the people.

I’m always fascinated by people who have the patience, vision, and skill to restore old cars or old buildings or furniture. To take something old and forgotten, and breathe new life into it. To make it look like new again. To put things back like they were at the beginning, before time and decay took their toll.

Do you ever feel the toll of time and decay?  The toll of sin, of your guilt and the blame that is yours, of the consequences you’ve endured.  Do you feel the effects of sin on the world around you? I’m sure you do. But can you imagine being fully restored?

This is what makes the grace of God so amazing. It’s what makes the gospel of Jesus so beautiful. Yes, everyone gets blame, but God sent Jesus to live a righteous life, die an unjust death, and rise again from the dead so that for those who trust in Jesus, he could shift our blame to Jesus. This is hope, not just for you who have never trusted in Jesus, but for all of us, every day. Hebrews 10 says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (or set apart). This is our peace when we take blame. This is our strength when we endure consequences. And this is our confidence when we come to God for restoration. God restores what was ruined.

Let’s pray.