Judgment or Blessing Your Temple Won’t Save You

Rebecca Van Noord

They file in and repeat in rote, comforting words, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (7:4). The temple symbolizes God’s presence and protection in a tumultuous world. It makes Judah, subject to Babylonian homage, feel secure. However, while the people desire God’s protection, they don’t want it at the price of giving Him their devotion.


Standing at the gate of the temple, the prophet Jeremiah undermines Judah’s sense of security: “Look, you are relying for yourselves on deceitful words without benefiting” he says, calling out their sins against the law that was supposed to be written on their hearts (Jer 7:8; 31:31). Yet they rationalize stealing, murder, adultery and swearing falsely. In Jerusalem and beyond, justice is abandoned. Sojourners, widows and orphans are oppressed. The people whore after the gods of foreign nations (Jer 7:5). Yahweh says, “Will … you then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jer 7:9–10)

From their origin as a nation, Israel had enjoyed God’s favor. God promised Abraham his descendants would be blessed among the nations, and the nations through them (Gen 12:2–3). Israel, a nation of Abraham’s descendants, was His special heritage. God promised He would overwhelm His people with blessings (Deut 32:9; 28:1–14) and make them “the head and not the tail” among the nations (Deut 28:13). The opposite was also true. If Israel forgot Him, He would punish their disobedience—sometimes at the hands of those surrounding nations (Deut 28:25; see Isa 10:5–6). Yet Yahweh didn’t want mere submission, and He didn’t want empty religious motions. Obedience meant serving Yahweh “with joyfulness and gladness of heart” because of who He was (Deut 28:47).

Yet, in Jeremiah’s day, God’s favor is interpreted as entitlement and obedience is a head nod to the temple. All the while Judah, the remnant of God’s people, treat His goodness and protection as license for all types of evil. Instead of heeding Jeremiah’s words, they “have dug a pit for [his] life” (Jer 18:20). And instead of repenting, the nation flaunts itself through futile alliances with foreign nations (Jer 2:36– 37; 25).

The judgment brought upon God’s people, resulting in their demise and exile, is tragic—especially because they brought it on themselves. Yet even in the book of Jeremiah, we see His mercy. When the people are taken into Babylonian exile and experience the full judgment of their sin, God sends them hope. Stripped of their heritage and any semblance that they are Yahweh’s people, they are still promised better days: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). It’s in this day that things will be set right: “You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (30:22).

God goes to extreme measures to ensure this happens—to the point that He will become a suffering servant, like Jeremiah, to redeem a people in spiritual exile (Isa 53). Such mercy is utterly unfounded based on His people’s actions. Such a testament of His love is beyond anything Abraham, Israel, scattered Judah, or you or I could ever expect. How do you respond to such love?

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

The Mystery of God

Rebecca Van Noord

The Mystery of God
Jeremiah 3:1–4:18; Colossians 1:15–2:5; Proverbs 11:1–12

“God wanted to make known what is the glorious wealth of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

Paul’s use of the word “mystery” in this passage may strike us as a bit strange. How is the person and work of Christ shrouded in secrecy? And why would Paul present Christ as a mystery if his point is that God wanted to make Christ known?

The answer is found in the culture of early Colossae, a city known for its infatuation with magic and the occult. Among the Gentile cults, “mystery” was often associated with a secret ritual that people must perform to create a relationship with a god. False teachers in the community at Colossae were promoting alternative ways to get to God—secret rituals that would lead to special knowledge for a select few. Paul contextualizes the gospel for the Colossians. He adopts this “mystery” language to show that Christ is the only way to God. The mystical path presented to the Colossians was a farce—a shell of what the Colossian believers had in Christ. It’s in Him that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3).

Paul wisely draws on language and tradition familiar to his audience to make the “mystery” of Christ known to all—not just a select few. Paul says he proclaims Christ so that “by admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom … we may present every person mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Because he was familiar with the culture of Colossae, Paul was able to acknowledge the challenges the believers faced, and then present the gospel as they needed to hear it: Christ is the only way. How are you resting in Christ as the only way to God? How are you thoughtfully revealing this “mystery” to those in your church and community?

Do you look for other ways to get to God, like your own goodness or your own ability to earn favor?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Holy War in the Bible

Matthew James Hamilton

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem
InterVarsity Press, 2013

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Most of us have struggled to understand the biblical passages that depict a God of war. The editors of Holy War in the Bible address these Old and New Testament passages as well as the theological issues that result from common misinterpretations of the text.

This resource includes 14 essays divided into six categories. The first three address the challenge of holy war for Christian morality, as well as Old and New Testament perspectives on war. The last three categories address biblical-theological, ethical, philosophical, and theological perspectives on holy war. The volume also contains a useful list of selected references for further study.

Individual essays cover topics ranging from the crusades, interpreting the conquest narratives in Joshua, peacemaking in the 20th century, understanding divine justice in the book of Revelation, and dealing with the New Atheist understandings of a wrathful God. This is an excellent resource for the scholar, student, pastor, or Bible student who seeks to know more about the concept of holy war in the Bible.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 6

Hello, I’m God’s Voice

John D. Barry

Poetry often mixes metaphor with reality. At times it’s difficult to tell where realism ends and analogy begins; we’re not always certain if we’re reading spiritual vision or events in real time. Consider the opening lines of “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake:

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. … The beggar’s rags, fluttering in air, does to rags the heavens tear. … We are led to believe a lie, when we see not thro’ the eye, which was born in a night to perish in a night, when the soul slept in beams of light. God appears, and God is light, to those poor souls who dwell in night; but does a human form display to those who dwell in realms of day.”


Blake mixes perspectives—juxtaposing the eternal (“see a world,” “heaven,” “infinity” and “eternity”) with humanity (“grain of sand,” “wildflower,” “palm of your hand” and “an hour”). He may be speaking on behalf of God, or he may be simply observing life and offering critique like God would. In this way, Blake is similar to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah also mixes vision with reality and God’s perspective with his own:

“But you, O Yahweh … you see … that my heart is with you. … How long will the land mourn … because of the wickedness of those who live in it? … They have said, He does not see our future. If you run with foot soldiers and they have made you weary, then how will you compete with horses? … For even your relatives, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you. … You must not trust in them. … I have forsaken my house, I have abandoned my inheritance. I have given the beloved one of my heart into the hand of her enemies (Jer 12:3–7).”

There are no “Thus sayeth the Lord” statements to guide us in this passage—we’re not sure when Jeremiah is speaking or when God is speaking. In this prophecy, the clues of who is speaking when have disappeared. Here’s why and what you can learn from it.

God’s Voice, the Prophet’s Voice—Same Voice
Step one: Discern the speaker and what they’re teaching in both words and actions.

There are no quotation marks in the original Hebrew—which is why I’ve removed them from this excerpt from Jeremiah. In prophetic narratives, when there are no “Thus sayeth the Lord” or “says the Lord” phrases, our only way to discern the speaker is interpretation. In this example, God begins speaking at “If you run with foot soldiers.” English Bibles often identify the speaker with headings (like the LEB’S heading “The Lord’s Reply”), but these aren’t original to the text—they’re inserted. We can tell that God begins speaking at this point because the words sound like a reply: “You must not trust them.” Additionally, the next phrase is something God often says: “my house” (being the temple).

It can be tricky to pick out a speaker on our own. However, if the speaker is identified for us, we can miss a major point of the biblical text: God’s voice and the prophet’s voice are one. The prophet is so united with God that there is little difference in his mind between what he says to the people and what God says to the people. This is, in part, what it means to be in God’s likeness (Gen 1:27).

But They Don’t Hear God
Step two: Examine the audience.

By living God’s calling, Jeremiah conveys the prophecies against God’s people in both his words and his deeds. The people have regularly disobeyed God, and God is fed up. The people believe that religion will save them, but the hammer is going to drop; Jeremiah is that hammer, a role that is especially difficult to bear when he receives orders that “you … must not pray for this people, and you must not lift up for them a cry of entreaty or a prayer, and you must not plead with me, for I will not hear you” (Jer 7:16). God has made His purposes known to Jeremiah, and now Jeremiah must follow through—even to the point of proclaiming divine retribution when he wants to plead for the people.

And They Still Don’t Hear God
Step three: Ponder parallels in the Gospels—see if Jesus says something similar or if He, as a person, provides a parallel.

Jeremiah’s way of life and prophetic voice can be seen in Jesus’ demeanor. And Jeremiah’s opposition—those who believe that religion will save them—is paralleled in the Pharisees. Jesus even says to His disciples, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness greatly surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). However, there is a major difference between Jeremiah and Jesus: Unlike Jeremiah, Jesus actually is God. Jeremiah is living in God’s image, but Jesus is the living God (Gen 1:26; Jer 1; compare John 1:1). Jesus is the living Word itself (John 1:14)—He’s not just God’s voice, but God in person.

You All Shall Prophesy
Step four: Consider how the other New Testament books handle similar ideas. Use that message as a way to reflect on the meaning of the Scriptures for your life.

Since Jesus is the Word, the New Testament Church lives as the Word—the concept of living in God’s likeness. Paul even states, “Pursue love, and strive for spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. … The one who prophesies speaks to people edification and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:1, 3). Jesus’—and by extension, Jeremiah’s—way of living manifests itself in their lives.

But this isn’t all fun and games: God takes prophecy seriously, even saying to a group of evil people in Jeremiah’s time, “You shall not prophesy in the name of Yahweh or you will die by our hand” (Jer 11:21). We shouldn’t ever claim to speak godly words unless we’re sure they’re actually godly. We must speak the truth and only the truth into others’ lives. In doing so, we experience what it means to bear God’s image like Jeremiah did—to be His voice to the world.

Jeremiah was both ordinary sinner and extraordinary voice of God. He lived to help the sinless and to glorify the only sinless one—God Almighty and, ultimately, Jesus. We must be both prophetic voices of truth and God’s living examples of it.

The High Definition New Testament and High Definition Old Testament identify ambiguous elements in the Bible and their purposes. Go to Logos.com/HDOT and Logos.com/HDNT

Faithlife Study Bible identifies audience. Download the app or go to FaithlifeBible.com

Biblical quotations from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

God’s Puzzling Behavior

Robert B. Chisholm

Some parts of the Old Testament are familiar to us. The stories of Genesis have inspired the writers and artists of children’s Bibles—Adam and Eve in the garden, Noah and the ark, the Tower of Babel that confused languages and dispersed people. We can follow the comforting cadence of Psalm 23 and quote a pithy proverb that inspires us. However, some portions of the Old Testament—often those that raise uncomfortable questions we’re afraid to voice—remain unknown to us. While reading Jeremiah, we might be challenged to raise the following questions.

Can God be surprised?


In Jeremiah, God’s reaction to Israel’s unfaithfulness is that of a scorned spouse or parent: “Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not” (Jer 3:7 NET). He laments, “I thought you would call me, ‘Father’ and would never cease being loyal to me. But, you have been unfaithful to me” (Jer 3:19–20 NET). We’re not surprised by Israel’s rebellion, but we don’t know how to respond to a God who seems surprised.

The Bible teaches that God knows everything—a trait known as “omniscience” (Psa 44:21; 139:1; Jer 17:10). Why then would He act surprised? The answer is that God seeks a relationship with His people. He relates to Israel like a husband to a wife or a parent to a child, and He plays out that role. He speaks as a husband or a parent would speak so Israel will understand the destructive effects of their actions. Not only does God express His pain—He makes it clear that He has been wronged and He has the right to punish Israel: “You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed” (Jer 3:2–3).

Does God deceive people?

As Yahweh’s prophet, Jeremiah says things we wouldn’t expect: “Ah, LORD, you have surely deceived these people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will experience peace,’ when in fact a sword is even now at their throats” (Jer 4:10, author’s translation). Would the God of truth really deceive people?

The Bible teaches that God is truthful (Titus 1:1). His faithful people can rely on His word. But throughout the Bible, God enacts judgment on sinners by allowing them to be misled. In 1 Kings 21, Elijah tells King Ahab that God is ready to destroy him because he has committed himself to doing evil. God has used Ahab’s own prophets to confuse him: “Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you” (1 Kgs 22:23). Paul says that God will someday judge sinners by sending “a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess 2:11–12). However, those who are faithful to God can trust Him. The psalmist says to God, “with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous” (Psa 18:25–26).

Would God really tell a prophet not to pray for people?

God tells Jeremiah to stop praying for Israel because He is bent on destroying them. Their time of grace has ended—they have rejected God’s mercy: “The LORD said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence” (Jer 14:11–12). To emphasize His point, He says, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!” (Jer 15:1). This certainly doesn’t sound like the God of mercy we see elsewhere in the Bible.

God takes no delight in the death of souls (Ezek 18:23, 32; 33:11). Over and over again, He accepts and forgives His people when they repent and turn to Him. Likewise, in Jeremiah’s day, God is willing to restore the people. However, the more He reaches out to them, the more they rebuff Him and harden their hearts. When Israel intentionally rejects God and His mercy, He decrees their demise: “You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I am weary of relenting” (Jer 15:6).

Would God really change His plans?

God seems to change His mind as He speaks to Jeremiah: “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it” (Jer 18:7–8). This raises another question: Would the unchangeable God seemingly change His mind and alter His plans?

God is patient. He gives people ample opportunity to turn from their sin. He teaches Jeremiah this truth by sending him to the potter’s house. At times, the clay will not “cooperate,” so the potter makes it into a different kind of pot than he originally designed. So it is with nations. God may announce judgment, but if people repent, He’ll alter His plan and show mercy. Or, He may intend to bless a nation, but if they reject Him, He’ll judge them instead (Jer 18:5–10). God is unchangeable—immutable—in His essence, but He is not inflexible. Because He is predisposed to mercy, He even grants people the freedom and dignity of contributing to their own destiny.

Jeremiah’s portrait of God might seem unfamiliar and puzzling to us. Although these questions reveal traits of God we’re uncomfortable with, they are, at the same time, encouraging to us. The portrait of God in Jeremiah shows us we shouldn’t take God’s mercy for granted; it also shows us that God offers His love and loyalty—He desires us to return to Him. While He is not a God to trifle with, He is also not a static force who will not listen to the cries of His people. If we are willing to encounter the God of Jeremiah, we will find that He desires to be in relationship with His people.

Unless otherwise noted, biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

The Calling of Jeremiah, Colossae, and Us

John D. Barry

Jeremiah 1:1–2:37; Colossians 1:1–14; Proverbs 10:1–32

We all have trouble accepting our calling. When God asks us to do His work, we tend to wonder whether we’re able to execute His will. We are not alone in this—the prophet Jeremiah felt the same way.

“And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came out from the womb I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord Yahweh! Look, I do not know how to speak, for I am a youth’ ” (Jer 1:4–6).

Jeremiah had been chosen by God before his birth, and yet he struggles. The issue at the heart of Jeremiah’s hesitancy is doubt about how it will all play out. A simple reframing of his call creates the reassurance he needs: “ ‘Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares Yahweh. Then Yahweh stretched out is hand and he touched my mouth, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Look, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I appoint you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy and to tear down, to build and to plant’ ” (Jer 1:8–10). After God reassures Jeremiah that He will be with him—that He will deal with all of his fears—Jeremiah is ready to be the man he’s been called to be. He goes on to become one of the greatest prophets who ever lived.

Paul takes on a similar role as God’s mouthpiece to the Colossians, reassuring them of their calling: “We give thanks always to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you, since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope reserved for you in heaven, which you have heard about beforehand in the word of truth, the gospel” (Col 1:3–5). God has called the church at Colossae, and He is now moving them toward something greater—something more like what Jesus wants for their lives.

Like Jeremiah and the church at Colossae, we must take hope in the calling God has given us. We must reconcile ourselves to His work in our life. We must realize that He will give us what we are lacking, whether resources, confidence, or skill.

What do you fear? What do you need God to provide so you can better do His work? How should you go about acquiring this?

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: A Deeper look at the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew James Hamilton

A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount
InterVarsity Press, 2013

Dale and Sandy Larson, editors of this study, have written new material to compliment John Stott’s LifeGuide Bible Study and The Message of the Sermon on the Mount.

Each session is divided into four parts. The first part, titled “Investigate,” encourages an inductive Bible study approach by posing questions about the text. The session then moves on to “Connect: Scripture to Scripture,” in which the Larsons have placed passages from the Sermon on the Mount into their canonical, historical and cultural contexts. In the third part, “Reflect,” the theme of each lesson is expanded through story or commentary meant for individual study. Finally, “Discuss: Putting It All Together” provides an outline and questions for group discussion.

This resource contains 12 sessions and is aimed at individuals or small groups.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 6

Jeremiah: Double Vision?

Michael S. Heiser

If we look beyond the details of Jeremiah’s anguish and apparently fruitless ministry, we can spot a dual emphasis in the book that bears his name: judgment and repentance. But emphasis is not the only double issue. Two full versions of the book have survived from antiquity—and they diverge in many ways.

The “Jeremiah Problem”

The book of Jeremiah has come to us in two versions—a Hebrew version, the Masoretic Text, and a Greek version in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.) Our modern English Bibles follow the arrangement and content of the Masoretic Text (MT). The Septuagint version (or LXX) was translated from a Hebrew text of the book that differed in many ways from the MT. Because of this, the Greek version is roughly one-eight shorter than the MT, and after Jeremiah 25:13, the order of the chapters differs dramatically.


Despite attempts to solve the “Jeremiah problem,” the textual history of both versions remains unresolved. We still don’t know which Hebrew text is older—the one we have today (MT) or the one used by the scribes who created the Septuagint.

The fragmentary scrolls of the book found among the Dead Sea Scrolls usually follow the order and content of MT, but some of the material matches the Hebrew manuscript that was translated into the Septuagint. Consequently, the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot offer a definitive answer regarding which version of the book more closely aligns with the time of the prophet.

We also find mixed results when examining the history of these versions. The Jewish community favored the MT version, but this is only apparent from around AD 100 onward, after the time of Jesus and the apostles. New Testament writers favored the Septuagint when quoting the Old Testament. Studies reveal that when the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, the wording found in the Greek New Testament, the MT, and the Septuagint differs in some way 80 percent of the time.

Word-for-word quotations of MT are not common, amounting to less than five percent. Even when factoring in nearly identical quotations of MT, it is clear that the New Testament writers only appear to have used MT 20 percent of the time. The New Testament writers most often quoted from the Septuagint,1 but this doesn’t mean they endorsed it, since they used both versions. They were writing in Greek, and so using a Greek translation would have been natural.

A Practical Response

So what can we conclude about the book of Jeremiah? Well, we cannot conclude that the Septuagint is to be preferred over MT, as though it were more sacred or “original.” If that were the case, it would be shocking to see the New Testament writers quote the MT. The reverse is true as well. Neither version deserves a higher status.

Perhaps the real lesson is that the New Testament writers, working through divine inspiration, weren’t concerned about the issue. There isn’t a single instance that indicates concern over which manuscript was being used or quoted.

This lack of concern is reflected in the ministry of Paul, who preached in synagogues all over the Mediterranean. Each synagogue had its own biblical text—its own scrolls, sometimes Septuagint and sometimes MT—and Paul used whatever was at his disposal. The same is true in his own letters. He trusted God’s provision that he was reading and preaching the very word of God. So should we.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

1. Karen Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 189–193.

Before the Tears Are Wiped Away

Aubry Smith

My brother Tripp died unexpectedly when I was in college. When I returned to school, still shell-shocked from his funeral, I was met with a barrage of friendly fire in the form of “Christian comfort.” One after another, friends offered snippets of hope: “God works all things for good,” “God is in control,” “His ways are higher than our ways.” These remarks were meant to give me hope and comfort; they were received as notices that my grief was making everyone uncomfortable and I needed to get back to normal soon. So I pushed my grief aside and pretended to move on.

In those dark days, I wish I had read Lamentations.


Writing after the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the author wails over all Israel has lost because of their disobedience to God. Lamentations doesn’t provide quick, easy answers for grief. Instead, the movement through despair is slow and laborious. Using language that anchors us deep in the nation’s suffering—words like “anguish,” “desolation” and “groaning”—the author forces us to gaze in detail at the grotesque suffering of his people. He tells us of a nation abandoned by its closest allies (1:2). He narrates horrific stories of mothers boiling their children to eat them (4:10). He voices the unending weeping for all that was lost.

It’s as if there is inward work that must be done in the author, in the people—perhaps in us—before any of us are allowed to look forward to life after the misery.

I often wish I had been given permission to mourn this way after Tripp’s death. I wish I had told a friend about sitting in the waiting room all night as his vitals crashed and then steadied, over and over. I wish I had explained to someone how I felt when his wife had to make the impossible decision to end life support when it became apparent he was brain-dead. I wish I had told them what I had lost and would never have again. Instead, compelled by the constant “hope” offered, I ignored the grief and pretended everything was fine. It wasn’t until three years later—when I began writing out my anguish and slowly working through every detail—that I was honest about the turmoil inside.

Lamentations abandons the appearance of superhuman emotional strength—which we often commend as godly strength—and opts for open mourning instead. It gives us permission to settle down into mourning, engage with suffering, and weep.

Although hope is delayed in Lamentations, grief is always directed toward God. The writer drags us through his muck and then calls out to God, “See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious” (1:20). He begs God to see his suffering, take part in this grief, and act in mercy (1:11, 20–22; 2:18–22).

And when we are finally ready for light to pierce the darkness, Lamentations offers these words: “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” (3:22–23). The writer encourages the mourners to wait quietly for salvation, knowing that God will not cast off His disobedient people forever. We now know that this promise begins its fulfillment in the first coming of Christ and will be fully realized when He comes again.

Lamentations even points to Christ: “He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver … He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink” (3:13, 15). The savior, pierced in the side and given gall to drink, suffered for us on a cross. And it’s His suffering that enables us to look to a future where every tear is wiped away (Rev 21:4).

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3


John D. Barry

Leviticus 14; John 8:31–59; Song of Solomon 7:1–4

“Even though I know it’s wrong, I sometimes think, ‘If I hadn’t accepted Christ, I would have so much more freedom.’ And then I venture down that road and realize just how terrible it is. It takes me to a very dark place.”

This deep, heart-wrenching statement by a friend made me realize there are countless people who probably feel this way about Jesus. And what if, unlike my friend, they hadn’t figured out the latter part of this statement? They were probably walking a road closer to legalism than the road Christ envisions for our lives. Or they could be so far from actually experiencing grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that they have yet to see how incredible a life lived for Jesus can be.

Jesus promises freedom: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ ” (John 8:31–32). What we often gloss over in this passage, though, is that Jesus is speaking to believers. If you haven’t begun to fully trust in Jesus, the thought that He gives us freedom is difficult to understand. Someone could ask, “Isn’t He creating a system that forces us to live a certain way?” The answer is no: Jesus is setting up what will be a natural response to His grace.

The context of this verse also makes me wonder if someone who hasn’t yet truly sacrificed for Jesus, beyond just a simple tithe, would fathom what freedom with Him looks like. The Jews Jesus is addressing would have already been experiencing some sort of social ostracism for their belief in Him—they would have understood that sacrifice brings spiritual freedom.

This concept isn’t easy to grasp, but in the simplest terms possible, Jesus frees us from religious systems and gives us the Spirit to empower us to do His work. This Spirit guides us and asks us to make sacrifices for Him, but those sacrifices are minimal compared to the eternal life He gave us through the sacrifice of His life. These sacrifices don’t become a system with Christ, but something we strive to do because we want to. That’s the freedom of the Spirit.

Have you experienced freedom in Christ? How can you seek the Spirit’s presence so you can experience more freedom?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.