Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Greatness of God's Faithfulness

If you were ask people what their favorite all-time Christian song or hymn was, I am sure that the responses would be varied. Yet I suspect there would be a few that rise to the top of the list according to the frequency by which they are named. Songs such as Holy, Holy, Holy, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and Be Thou My Vision. I suppose that Because He Lives would be towards the top and maybe even some newer contemporary songs like Indescribable or Shout To The Lord. But I am sure that no list would be complete without many references to the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

Now, in no way do I mean to convey any negativism towards the song Great Is Thy Faithfulness in this post. In fact my intent is the opposite for it is certainly one of the hymns I deeply cherish. And yet I have often wondered if people realize what they are singing when they sing it. For that matter, it seems as if though the phrase, "Great is His faithfulness" is an evangelical catch phrase. It often goes something like this. "Well, I didn't have enough money to pay my bills at the end of the week, but God provided and all were paid. Great is His faithfulness." While that also is true and God often does provide in miraculous ways for those He loves, it seems to me that we do a disservice to ourselves if we don't understand where that phrase first came from and what it meant when it was written. The point I am trying to make is that too often I think that we as believers look at God's provisional faithfulness to us like a great big blessings bank. "Look at my 3,500 square foot house, my luxury suv, and my brand new boat. Great is God's faithfulness!" We see all of our physicals blessings that God has graciously given us as proof of the attribute of His faithfulness. Yet God's faithfulness to us is far grander than physical blessings and it reaches far beyond our simple imagination of stuff.

For a long time if you would have asked me where the phrase "great is Your faithfulness" came from I would have answered with one of the following answers as a possibility; maybe Abraham said it as he looked at all that God had given him, or David as he surveyed his kingdom, but it was probably Job who said the words when God restored all back to him. But the phrase "great is Your faithfulness" comes from Lamentations 3:23. You know, that little book that is wedged between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Lamentations was written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, while he and the city of Jerusalem were under attack by the Babylonian army circa 586 BC. The Babylonian army circled the city of Jerusalem for approximately two and a half years from 588 to 586 BC. It was the ultimate waiting game. The Babylonians knew that Jerusalem could only defend herself and they also knew she would not surrender. So they simply waited. For two plus years not allowing anything in or anything out of the city. It was a waiting game of starvation. Sooner or later, Jerusalem would run out of food and then the Babylonians would take the city with little or no casualties. On top of the food issue that Jerusalem faced was the reality of disease. With two years of not being allowed out of the city, the refuse, garbage, and filth would have begun to pile up bringing in the vermin and disease. (II Kings 25:1-10, Lamentations 1:8-12)

Not to make anyone sick, but to give a glimpse into how bad a siege like this was we should also consider Jeremiah 19:9. In this verse, written before the attack on Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesies that the eventual attack on the city would be so terrible that it's occupants would resort to cannibalism in their attempts to survive. This was not unprecedented. In fact when the northern city of Samaria was under a starvation attack 150 years earlier by the Assyrians, we are given the rather gruesome story in II Kings 6:26-29 of two women who agree with one another to eat each others sons.

I say all of this to try and prove the point that when Jeremiah wrote "great is Your faithfulness" he wasn't counting all of the stuff that God had given to him. In fact if you read Lamentations 3 you will find a man that seems broken almost beyond words. And yet he writes in the middle of it, "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 him."
The faithfulness that Jeremiah is thankful for is that God continued to grant His mercy and compassion day after day to a sinner like Jeremiah. Jeremiah knew that he deserved to be perishing with those that were dying daily around him, yet in complete devotion to the One who alone can save he proclaims that his hope rests solely in the Lord.

Would that I like Jeremiah be able to say, "The Lord is my portion, I will hope only in Him." May He continue to strip away me from me that I become more dependent on Him. Then, as a debtor to His grace, mercy, and compassion alone may I be able to say, "Great is God's faithfulness for He has saved a wretch like me."

Now playing: Aaron Keyes - Not What My Hands
via FoxyTunes


William said...

well said. i don't really understand the historical background, but that gives me a better picture of that time.

will remind myself, everytime i hear this song.

Liz said...

Having this historical context really does help. Andrews went into it just a bit in "Polishing God's Monuments" but not in this detail. We really do tend to cheapen God's faithfulness.

It's easy to take stories in the Bible and feel so detached from them today, but you have a gift of explaining passages like this so that they seem much more real and current - more relatable. Thanks for sharing this.