“Do not decrease.” This direction is given to the people of Israel during a time of chaos and disruption. They are in exile, ripped from their homes, and fighting for their lives. God, with the audacity that only God can have, asked them not to shirk back, not to batten up the hatches or build a wall of protection. Instead, God tells them to choose life.
Now, I cannot presume to speak for everyone, nor have I ever been thrown into exile and forced to marry my captors. But I have encountered my personal exiles when I felt far-flung from God’s reach, and those moments hardly felt like opportunities to increase. In fact, in those times decrease felt like my only option. You could find me at home hiding under the covers, watching Netflix, eating Americone Dream, and hoping that everything would go away.
God’s response to this sunken behavior might sound something like, “There you go again, committing adultery with your neighbor’s wife” (Jer 29:23).
Now, I’m not literally committing adultery — but neither were the Israelites. Rather, this phrase signifies that in a time of deep pain they turned to other comforts and solutions rather than turning to God. Jeremiah, the prophet who co-authored both Lamentations and Jeremiah, has been sent to call the people back to right-relationship with God.
Jeremiah begins by acknowledging the pain the people of Israel are facing. In Lamentations 3 he speaks profusely about the tears that are soaking their faces and the chains that are wearing them down. They are in the darkness of death. This darkness does not mean dark-colored. Rather, it signifies obscurity: the people thought God had forsaken them. As a result, they had given up on God and pursued other sources of strength.
Through this lens, Jeremiah’s words in Lamentations 3 are especially powerful:
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in God.”
For Jeremiah, for the people of Israel, and for us today, the only way out of exile and chaos is securing our hope in the promise that God is always with us. We must be assured that, no matter how horrible the situation appears, God has not forgotten us. In my experience, any attempts at healing that have not been grounded on God’s everlasting love have been temporary at best.
If this Lent feels like a time of exile, I wonder how Jeremiah’s call might speak to you. How might naming pain begin a process of liberation? How might we reconnect to God’s promise to be with us? How might that promise develop in us hope? And how might that hope motivate us to turn outward and seek the welfare of those around us, knowing that our liberation is bound to their liberation?
Prayer: Ground me in your unfailing love.
Reflection: Where, in your life, do you feel a sense of exile? How might you return to God in this time?
Art: Lamentations 3:22 by Mark Lawrence