April 12, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Lamentations 4:20 (NRSV)
The LORD’S anointed, the breath of our life,
was taken in their pits—
the one of whom we said, “Under his shadow
we shall live among the nations.”
In the 6th century B.C., as the Babylonians conquered Judah and ravaged the city of Jerusalem, the Jewish people were profoundly disappointed in their king. He did not bring life as they hoped, but death. Beneath the people’s disappointment in their king was an even deeper disappointment in God. The book of Lamentations expresses this disappointment, and in so doing encourages us to be honest when we feel disillusioned by God. By keeping our hearts open, we become aware of God’s presence and grace, even if we don’t understand God’s ways.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
The book of Lamentations was written during the time of the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. The persistent unfaithfulness of the people of God brought about their subservience to the Babylonians and ultimately their utter defeat as well as the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Jewish people had hoped that their king would deliver them from Babylonian domination. We find this hope in Lamentations 4:20, for example. This verse refers to “the LORD’S anointed” who is also “the breath of our life.” Both of these descriptions were applied to the king of Judah, who, in the years before the fall of Jerusalem, was Zedekiah. He was the one, according to Lamentations, about whom the people said, “Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.” The king would ensure that his people flourished even when surrounded by Gentile nations—at least that was the hope. He would fulfill God’s promises of an anointed ruler who would sit on the throne of David.
Unfortunately, King Zedekiah did not fulfill the hopes of his people. The inexperienced ruler, who became king at 21 years of age and ruled for 11 years, was both unfaithful and unwise. As it says in Jeremiah 52:2, Zedekiah “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” He also did what was foolish, rebelling against the king of Babylon, whose military strength was far superior to that of Judah (Jeremiah 52:3). In retaliation, the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem for two years, thus causing extreme famine in the city. The impact of this famine is found in Lamentations 4:9-10: “Happier were those pierced by the sword than those pierced by hunger, whose life drains away, deprived of the produce of the field. The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food in the destruction of my people.”
When the Babylonians managed to breach the wall of Jerusalem, King Zedekiah and his retinue fled, attempting to escape into the wilderness to the east of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:2-4). But the superior Babylonian forces pursued and captured Zedekiah. They brought him to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who passed a harsh sentence upon Zedekiah. First, his sons were slaughtered before his eyes. Then his eyes were put out. After this, he was imprisoned, until he finally died (Jeremiah 52:9-11).
Thus ended the messianic hope of Judah, or so it seemed. The person God had anointed as their king had utterly failed to live up to the yearnings of the people. He failed as ruler, seeking to save his own skin above all. In no way were the Jewish people able to “live among the nations” under the shadow of King Zedekiah.
I wonder if any of Jesus’s followers in or around 33 A.D. remembered the cries of Lamentations when Jesus was crucified. They had believed that he was “the Lord’s anointed.” They had seen him as “the breath of life.” And they may well have said, “Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.” Yet, like Zedekiah, Jesus was taken by the ruling authorities. Like Zedekiah, he was arrested and tortured. Like Zedekiah, he died under the power of an oppressive Gentile regime.
Of course, there were striking differences between the case of Zedekiah and that of Jesus. Zedekiah was a political king. Jesus had no earthly political authority. Zedekiah received his kingship from Babylon. Jesus said that his kingdom was not from this world. Zedekiah led a failed rebellion against Judah’s oppressors. Jesus did not lead an attack against Rome. Zedekiah tried to escape from Jerusalem when his life was in danger. Jesus came to Jerusalem in order to give up his life there and did not flee when he was pursued by the authorities. Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Jesus always did what was good in the sight of his Father in heaven.
Yet, in spite of the differences between Zedekiah and Jesus, they have in common the fact that they both disappointed those who had hoped these “kings” would usher in a time of national restoration. Neither Zedekiah nor Jesus led a successful rebellion against the foreign nation that ruled over God’s people. After the Romans crucified Jesus, those who had believed him to be the Messiah were deeply disappointed, let down by the one in whom they had hoped.
Now, of course, we come to one of the greatest differences between Zedekiah and Jesus. Zedekiah utterly failed in his mission. Jesus, who appeared to have failed, utterly succeeded in his mission. His death was not the defeat it appeared to be. Rather, it was an essential part of the coming of God’s kingdom.
Nevertheless, I don’t want to minimize the disappointment that the followers of Jesus felt after his death. Not only did they lose their teacher and leader, but also they lost their hope that he was the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would free the Jews from Roman domination and establish forever the earthly kingdom of God. It’s hard to imagine the devastation that Jesus’s disciples must have felt immediately after his death.
Most Christians I know are familiar with what it feels like to be disappointed in Jesus. We believe he’s the divine healer. Yet when we pray for a loved one to be healed and that person dies, we feel profoundly let down. We believe Jesus is the great reconciler. Yet when we pray for reconciliation with an estranged member of our family, but reconciliation never comes, we become discouraged, not just in general, but with Jesus. We believe Jesus is the one who brings God’s justice and righteousness. Yet we see a world shattered by injustice and violence. It’s easy to become disillusioned with Jesus. In fact, I know people whose disappointment in Jesus was so powerful that they chose not to believe in him anymore.
What should we do with this disappointment? All too often we try to hide it, to press it down, to deny it even as it eats away at our soul. Lamentations shows us another way. This book encourages us to speak of our disappointment, to share it with others and, most importantly, with the Lord. Rather than closing our souls to God when we’re disappointed, we can open them to God’s presence and reassurance. Our disappointment may not disappear, at least not right away. But alongside our disillusionment will grow a confident reliance on God’s trustworthiness. Though we may never understand God’s ways, at least in this life, we will be ready to receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). We will know at a place within us even deeper than our disappointment that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Can you think of a time when you felt disappointed in God? What happened? What did you do with your disappointment?
Can you imagine how disappointed the followers of Jesus were with him after he was crucified? (Remember, they had no expectation that he would be raised, in spite of what he had told them previously.)
Why do you think so many of us have a hard time expressing our disappointment in God?
If you are feeling disappointed in God, talk to God about it, openly. And, if you are able, share how you’re feeling with a wise friend. If you’re not feeling disappointed in God these days, you probably know someone who is. Pray for that person. If you feel led, reach out to that person with gracious understanding.
Gracious God, we have put our hope in you. We can think of many times when you have fulfilled our hope, and so much more. But there are other times. You know that, Lord. There are times when our hope seems so right and solid, yet you do not follow through in the way we had wanted. We become disappointed in you. We can even doubt your goodness or faithfulness. Or maybe even your existence.
Help us, Lord, when we’re disappointed. Give us the freedom to express what we think and feel to you and to those who are there to support us. Keep us from shutting our hearts to you, even when it’s hard to trust. Give us the gift of vulnerability and openness before you. And then, dear Lord, give us the added gift of your presence, your peace that passes understanding.
I want also to pray today for those who are experiencing disappointment in you. O God, be merciful to them. Show them your goodness. Embrace in your love. Keep them close to your heart, I pray. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Nothing Can Come Between Us and the Love of God (Romans 8:31-39)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.