Heroes of the Bible

Hoping in Hesed—Jeremiah

After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, Jeremiah wrote Lamentations to capture the horrors when the LORD forsakes us and to witness to Jeremiah’s faith that, nevertheless, the hesed of the LORD endures and blesses forever. Despite witnessing such horrors, Jeremiah still hoped in the hesed of the LORD that endures forever—in the hesed of the LORD that blesses forever. Jeremiah wrote: “[M]y soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:20-23).

About 100 years after the time when the hesed of the LORD saved Jerusalem and its Temple from destruction by the Assyrian Empire, Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian Empire.

Why didn’t the hesed of the LORD that endures forever save Jerusalem and its Temple from destruction by the Babylonians?

The word hesed in Hebrew is translated a number of ways in English:

     —Faithfulness. (Psalm 117:2 NIV).

     —Love. (Psalm 136 NIV).

     —Mercy. (Psalm 136 KJV).

     —Steadfast love. (Psalm 136 ESV; Exodus 34:6-7).

     —Lovingkindness. (Psalm 136 NASB).

     —Kindness. (Micah 6:8).

Since no one English word captures the richness of the Hebrew word hesed, I will use the word hesed in this blog.

The LORD God explained at Mount Sinai that he shows “hesed to a thousand generations of those who love [him] and keep his commandments.” (Exodus 20:6). Indeed, the LORD God proclaimed that he is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining hesed to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

By saving Jerusalem and its Temple from destruction by the Assyrians (despite wickedness, rebellion and sin by Israel), the LORD God manifested his hesed. He was compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

But now, about a century later, the LORD God did not save Jerusalem and its Temple from destruction by the Babylonians. As the LORD God warned on Mount Sinai, his hesed does not always protect people and nations from the consequences of their wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Sometimes, the LORD God punishes “the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him” (Exodus 20:5; 34:7). In other words, the bad consequences of my bad choices can blight the lives of my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

And so it was in the time of Jeremiah.

After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, Jeremiah wrote Lamentations to witness to the horrors when the LORD forsakes us and to witness to Jeremiah’s faith that, despite such horrors, the hesed of the LORD endures and blesses forever. (Similar ideas are expressed in Psalm 22, a psalm of David).

Jeremiah wrote:

“My eyes fail from weeping,

   I am in torment within;

my heart is poured out on the ground

   because my people are destroyed,

because children and infants faint

   in the streets of the city.” (Lamentations 2:11).

“Those killed by the sword are better off

   than those who die of famine;

racked with hunger, they waste away

   for lack of food from the field.”

“With their own hands

   compassionate women have cooked their own children,

who became their food

   when my people were destroyed.” (Lamentations 4:9-10).

And yet, despite witnessing such horrors, Jeremiah still hoped in the hesed of the LORD that endures forever—in the hesed of the LORD that blesses forever.

Jeremiah wrote:

“[M]y soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind

   and therefore I have hope.”

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

   for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

   great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:20-23).

At this point, I want to start singing the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”—a favorite hymn that is based on these meditations of Jeremiah and on Jeremiah’s faith in the hesed of the LORD that endures and blesses forever.

For as Jeremiah wrote, despite the utter destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple there will come a time “when there will be heard once more, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying,

‘Give thanks to the LORD Almighty,

   for the LORD is good;

   his hesed endures forever.’”

(Jeremiah 33:10-11; Psalm 136:1).

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For more of my thoughts about the hesed of the LORD God, please read my blogs “The Hesed of the LORD Endures Forever”, “Hesed Saves and Nurtures Baby Moses”, “Hesed Saves Israel—Passover”, “Hesed Nurtures Israel—From the Red Sea to Mount Sinai”, “Hesed Nurtures Israel—Mount Sinai”, “Hesed Establishes the Work of Moses’s Hands—Mount Nebo”, “Hesed Blesses Forever—David”, and “Walking Humbly With Hesed—Micah

For my thoughts about the Babylonian invasion that destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, please read the chapters “Hezekiah Foolishly Welcomes the Babylonians” and “Jerusalem Is Destroyed by the Babylonians”, in my book Healing the Promised Land, at pages 265-292.