In the summer of 586 BC, an event unthinkable took place in the midst of the people of God. Following a siege that had lasted for a year and a half, the holy city, Jerusalem, fell to the Babylonians who burned it and utterly destroyed the beautiful temple of Solomon. According to tradition, the prophet Jeremiah sat weeping outside the north wall of Jerusalem under a knoll called Golgotha. Perhaps it was there that he wrote the Book of Lamentations which was given the title in Hebrew of "How!".
Lamentations begins with this question: How?. In verse 1 is written, "How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!" That such a thing could befall the city of God was evidently a thing of astonishment. As it is put forth in verse 12 of chapter 4, "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem."
The first few chapters of this short book give us an idea of the awful events that must have surrounded the fall of Jerusalem. The people had been taken into captivity (1:3), joy had been utterly taken from her (1:4), great sorrow was upon them (1:12), no strength remained (1:13-14), God had become their enemy (2:2-5), famine prevailed (2:11-12), and the dead filled the city (2:21). We know from Lamentations 4:10 that the famine had been so bad that mothers had even boiled their own children for food.
It seems incredible that in the midst of this hymn of heartbreak, Jeremiah found hope and comfort. He writes in 3:21, "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope." What was the source of this hope? Jeremiah writes in 3:23, "great is thy faithfulness". Today we shall study this important attribute of God: His faithfulness.
I. Understanding Faithfulness
First we shall endeavor to understand the meaning of faithfulness as we look at God's revelations and promises to man.
A. Faithful to the Truth
When we consider the faithfulness of God, let us understand that all of the revelations which He has given to man are consistent with His nature and with each other. When we examine a portrait of a familiar person and observe that it accurately portrays them, we say that it is a faithful rendering of that person. We may equally say that the Word of God is a faithful rendering of the truth. When we play a recording of some music and we cannot distinguish any differences between the recording and the real thing, we talk about the fidelity of the music. Likewise we may say that the Word of God has the quality of fidelity. It cannot be distinguished from the truth, for it is the truth. Psalm 119:138 says, "Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful."
Not once did Jeremiah accuse God of being in the wrong for His judgment upon Jerusalem. In fact, he claims quite the contrary in Lamentations 1:18 and says, " The LORD is righteous." Nor did Jeremiah question God for His actions. He knew that God had allowed the city called "The perfection of beauty" to be destroyed because of the transgressions of Israel (1:5, 4:13). Jeremiah knew that God was holy and that He must punish wickedness if He were to remain faithful to His nature. Therefore, there is no hint nor a shadow of a thought that God had done something wrong. In Jeremiah's understanding of God, his Master was acting in perfect accordance with His essence.
Throughout the Bible we find God behaving in a way that is faithful to His character. There are never any surprises or discrepancies. If God punished sin yesterday, we can count upon Him doing so tomorrow. If He showed mercy or kindness in the past, He will continue to do so in the future. Of what use would God's goodness, His mercy, or His love be if He were not faithful? How significant would be the power, holiness, or justice of God if He were not faithful?
B. Faithful to His Promises
The other area that we must consider, with respect to the faithfulness of God, is that God will fulfill every promise that He has made whether to His people or to His enemies. When a man keeps his promise to do a thing, we say that he is faithful. Likewise, God is faithful in that He will fulfill all that He has said He will do. Balaam testified of God in Numbers 23:19, "hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" There is nothing that God has said that He will not be faithful to perform!
Jeremiah clearly understood that the judgment upon Jerusalem was a fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. He says in Lamentations 2:17, "The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old." In Deuteronomy 28, 15-68, God told the children of Israel exactly what would happen to them if they chose not to obey His commandments. (Notice especially verses 36-37 and 52-57). Jeremiah also knew that the mercy of God, which had preserved them from complete destruction, was also a fulfillment of God's promises. God had already promised Jeremiah that He would not utterly cast off His people (Jeremiah 31:35-37).
God has proven over and over again in Scripture that He will be faithful to do exactly as He has promised to do. He promised that He would give a descendant to Eve that would bruise the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15) and He did. He promised Abraham at age 99 that he would give him a son and make him a great nation (Genesis 18:10) and He did. He promised David that He would set up his son to sit upon his throne and build the temple of God (2 Samuel 7:12-13) and He did (1 Kings 8:20). He told Noah that He was going to destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 6:17) and He did. He told Ahab that He would withhold rain from Israel (1 Kings 17:1) and He did. God is faithful to His promises!
II. Utilizing Faithfulness
Let us now apply the faithfulness of God in some practical areas of our lives.
If the revelations of God are faithful to the truth (and they are) then every word of the Bible is true. Everything the Bible says about history is the truth. Everything the Bible says about science is the truth. Every revelation concerning man is true. We can trust every word found in the Bible as a "faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation".
Jeremiah found hope and peace of mind in the faithfulness of God. It may be that his recollections in Lamentations 3:21 refer to the judgment of God which fell upon Jerusalem. This would bring comfort, knowing that God was faithful in keeping His promises, because He had also promised the restoration of Israel. It may be that his recollections refer to the mercy of God. This would surely bring comfort in knowing that God would be faithful in His compassion toward Israel. In either case, the attribute of faithfulness brought consolation to Jeremiah in his time of greatest sorrow.
There is great comfort then in the faithfulness of God. When we suffer, let us commit our souls to God as a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19) knowing that God did not create us for the purpose of destruction. A faithful Creator never stops caring for His creation nor does He cease from molding His creation into what He intended it to be (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:24). When we are persecuted, let us take comfort in the faithfulness of God knowing that He has promised to recompense the wicked (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). When we fall into sin, let us take comfort in the fact that God will always forgive us if we confess it (1 John 1:9).
We ought to often meditate on the faithfulness of God. From the point that Jeremiah recalled the faithfulness of God, the remainder of Lamentations is full of hope and a pleading for God to remember His people. Jeremiah says in 3:31, "the Lord will not cast off for ever" and in 5:1, "Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us". He ends with his plea to God in 5:21, "Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old". His whole outlook changed when he recalled the fact that God would absolutely keep His promises. Given the great wickedness of America today, there may come a day soon when the faithfulness of God will be something we really need to cling to. We may yet see days like those in Lamentations.
Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 4:2 that as stewards of God's work, we ought to be faithful. Let us therefore practice to be true to our work and to ever abound in the performance of it. Some of the common terms for the believer found in the New Testament are Christian and disciple. Are those terms a faithful rendering of you? Are you Christ-like? Are you consistently following the teachings of Jesus? Are you a faithful steward of the work of God?
One of the great martyrs of the first century was a man named Polycarp. Towards the end of his life, he was caught and brought before the proconsul who urged him upon threat of torture to recant his faith in Christ. To this Polycarp replied, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?" When the proconsul threatened to throw him to wild beasts, Polycarp further responded with this, "Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous". The proconsul proceeded to increase the threat to that of being burned at the stake. To this Polycarp said, "Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt". Here was a man that was "faithful unto death" (Revelation 2:10) knowing that God was faithful. Oh Christian, let us too be faithful to our Lord and Master to the very end, for how great is His faithfulness.