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Balance Between Justice and Mercy

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Lesson #48

  • Memory Verse: Psa 89:14
  • In lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Jeremiah considers some basic issues that trouble many people.
    • Throughout the Old Testament there is lesson upon lesson that God gives to His people that emphasizes the theme that we see in this chapter of Lamentations…The balance between justice and mercy and God’s way of escape. The Israelites never listened and followed God’s way of escape.
    • The message is still relevant for us today. Yet there are many that do not listen and follow. In this Jeremiah laments man’s foolishness because man does not understand God’s ways.
  • Read Lam 4:1-12 The ruin
    • The effects of the famine (3-10)
      • Remember that the Israelites that lived in the city of Jerusalem were frequently surrounded by fear of the Babylonians that put a siege around the city to starve the people into submission.
      • Jeremiah remembers those dark days of starvation within the city of Jerusalem when people ate anything they could find.
      • They even ate their children.
        • That is a pretty gruesome thought, but no one knows how he will respond to this kind of adversity until he lives through it.
        • Where was God in all of this?
          • We have seen in the book of Lamentations where God took responsibility for what happened to His people. (Lam 2)
          • Where is God’s mercy?
          • Jeremiah says in verse 6 that the punishment of Jerusalem was greater than the punishment of Sodom. Where is God’s perfect justice? Where is God’s mercy?

However, the women of Sodom did not sacrifice their children to idols.

The women of Sodom did not eat their own children in a famine.

    • The mercy of God in the midst of punishment/judgment.
      • It is at this crossroads of God’s justice and God’s mercy that many people fail to comprehend God.
        • Some people consider God as a harsh, judgmental God. They never see God’s love and mercy especially in the Old Testament.
        • Some people consider God a loving, merciful God. They never see God’s judgment especially if they never study the Old Testament.
        • The truth of the nature of God lies somewhere between the two.
      • We must remember that God is perfect justice. He is a holy God.
        • His holiness demands that sin be punished to the full extent of the crime committed.
          • We usually desire God’s justice when it involves other people who transgress.
          • However, we demand God’s mercy when it involves us.
        • If there is no punishment to the full extent of the crime, then there is no justice because one person gets away with more sin than another. That is not justice.
        • In this way, God cannot give man unconditional mercy. To do so would violate God’s perfect justice.
      • Then where is God’s mercy for Israel?
        • “Her Nazarites were purer than snow,…” (7)
          • Even in idolatrous Israel, there were a few who were innocent people that suffered along with those who were guilty. Where is God’s mercy for them?
          • Remember the Nazarites were those who took a vow, often from birth, to dedicate their whole life to serving God.
        • The Bible tells us that God’s character is both: judgment and justice; love and mercy.
        • How can a God that demands perfect justice display love and mercy?
        • Read Hab 3:2
        • Read Rom 2:2-6
        • Read 1Cor 10:11-14
          • These verses tell us that God makes a way of escape.
          • What is God’s way of escape? Mercy is God’s way of escape.

Here is the crux of the problem.

How can God exercise perfect justice and still extend mercy all at the same time?

God’s dealing with Israel answers that question.

    • The destruction of Jerusalem (11-12)
      • Israelites disobeyed God’s command not to worship other gods. We learned the extent to which idolatry had totally corrupted Israel culturally, politically, and spiritually.
      • Israel deserved punishment, so God sent the Babylonians to destroy the polluted temple of gold. (1)
        • The destruction was very severe. Some thought it was a judgment too severe.
        • But remember we learned in the book of Jeremiah that mercy without judgment would have perpetuated the idolatry. The Babylonian captivity was to remove the Israelites from the idolatry that continued in the temple.
          • In this way, God’s judgment on idolatry was an example of His mercy not to let His children persist in what would harm them for eternity. God is the perfect parent.
          • Therefore, the destruction of Jerusalem and the removal of the people to Babylon was, in a way, an example of God’s mercy.
          • God could have annihilated the Israelites totally. In His mercy He did not do that, but instead, promised them a return to the Promised Land.

For the Israelites, God’s way of escape for them was His merciful promise of hope for the future.

God promised He would not abandon them even though they deserved it. This is God’s mercy in the midst of judgment.

  • Read Lam 4:13-20 The cause
    • We have learned in the book of Jeremiah that Israel’s problems were caused by the sins of her leaders that led the people astray. (13-16)
      • The greatest sin of leadership in Jeremiah’s day was the idolatry, persecution, and ultimate death of all the true prophets of God by the false prophets priests, and evil kings.
    • The average person in society always suffers when there is poor leadership.
      • For this reason, it is important to choose good leaders who follow God.
      • But sometimes in certain cases, man has no opportunity to choose his leaders.
    • All are doomed to ruin (17-20)
      • In this way, sometimes God’s judgment seems capricious in punishing the innocent in society with the guilty.
      • Where is God’s perfect justice in this?
        • The Bible tells us that no one is truly innocent before God.
        • Read Rom 3:23
        • God puts people in authority according to what is best for them. This is God’s mercy.
          • God gave Israel the kind of leaders they deserved, not the kind that He wanted them to be.
          • When man suffers because of what his leaders have done, man is moved to seek a better way. That better way is God’s way.

It is the learning process that is important here. Man must come to the end of trusting in what he thinks is best so as to rely on God.

Humility before God is God’s way of escape.

With humility comes repentance.

With repentance comes forgiveness and trust in the love and mercy of God.

  • Read Lam 4:21-22 The end
    • The destruction of the Edomites (21)
      • The Edomites are the example of God’s retribution on the enemies of Israel.
      • In other words, God’s perfect justice reaches everyone.
    • The return of those in captivity (22)
      • The Israelites’ return to the Promise Land is God’s merciful promise.
      • In other words, God’s judgment is always tempered with mercy. But that mercy never violates God’s perfect justice.
  • Application:
    • Let us put this entire lesson in the context of the truths of the New Testament in this age of grace in which we now live.
      • God is still a God of perfect justice even in this age of grace.
      • One day He will judge the entire world, all the nations, all leaders, and all individuals for sin that violates God’s holiness. There will be no escape from God’s perfect justice. Sin is a debt that must be paid. (Rom 6:23)
      • Jesus Christ paid that debt for us when He bore our sins in his body on the cross. This is God’s unmerited mercy. He put our sins on himself that we might have forgiveness. There is no greater gift of love and mercy than this. (Joh 3:16)
    • In the cross of Jesus Christ God’s perfect justice and His greatest mercy cross paths to give us eternal life.
      • Man’s response must be to throw himself on the mercy of God in humility and repentance.
      • When we come to God according to His plan in His way, God wins and we win!…justice and mercy are perfectly balanced.
      • How do we know that Jeremiah was talking about this ultimate balance of justice and mercy in Jesus Christ?
        •  Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.” (8)
        • In talking about the innocence of the Nazarites, the prophet, Jeremiah, skips forward in time to tell us about the innocence of Jesus Christ that suffered for us.
        • Read Isa 52:14-15 uses the same image in prophesying about the crucifixion. (Isa 53)

Lamentations 5

  • Application of Lam 4
    • How has God balanced justice and mercy in your life? Be specific.
  • Preparation for Lam 5
    • Read Lam 5:1-22
      • In what verses do you see a confession of sin?
      • Why is it necessary to confess sin periodically?
      • After the confession of sin, in what verses do you see faith?
  • Memory Verse: Pro 29:2
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About Joyce

I came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in 1963 giving my heart to Jesus in a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles, CA. I have been teaching the Word of God since 1964, Usually two to three adult classes a week.

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