The best that the world has to offer in this situation goes something like this: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” But that immediately raises the question: where does the sweet stuff come from?
Why did Jeremiah write, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth?” (Lamentations 3:25-32) Why is it good for a man to bear heavy burdens at all? How is it best for him to have to face the heavy pressures of life? And why did Jeremiah include the phrase “in his youth?” What makes heavy, almost unbearable burdens a good thing for young people?
Let’s look through Jeremiah’s eyes for a moment. What did he see? He was observing the absolute devastation of his nation’s capital. Imagine looking around to see the place where you grew up, so full of wonderful memories, now reduced to rubble. Recent news stories from the Syrian city of Aleppo remind us of the kind of destruction that Jerusalem faced. Hardly a building left standing. Immigrants fleeing, only to find no place of safety.
The young people could have easily argued that it was not their fault. They could have laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of their ancestors and national leaders.
As he agonized over this devastation, Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations. Undoubtedly, his heart went out to the young people who were among the survivors. Picture this in your mind. Mourning and weeping, they were sitting near what used to be their homes. Many of their parents had been killed by the Chaldeans. If they had a future, it was dark with despair. From the descriptions in verses 28-30, you can get a better picture of their situation.
“He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.”
And as Jeremiah grieved with them, he wrote words of hope: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”
How can that be?
The best that the world has to offer in this situation goes something like this: “when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” But that immediately raises the question: where does the sweet stuff come from? What could you possibly add to such devastation that would turn it around and make it sweet? The surrounding verses give us part of the answer:
* The Lord is good. 25
* God is good to those who wait for Him – seeking answers from Him. 25
* Therefore, it is good that a man should quietly and patiently wait for the Lord. 26
Is this fair?
What went through the minds of those young people? Swallowed by waves of grief, they must have come up for air at times to ask why. Why had the Lord allowed their city to be destroyed? Had it been their fault? Was this fair to them? Couldn’t they have argued that they were not to blame? After all, it was their fathers’ continual sinning that had brought about this grave situation. Their ancestors’ worship of the fertility gods of Canaan would be similar to our own sensual culture. This had gone on for hundreds of years – interrupted by occasional revivals. Their pornographic society had poisoned them all, and now they were all grieving under the punishment. The young people could have easily argued that it was not their fault. They could have laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of their ancestors and national leaders. Yet they were now saddled with the heavy yoke of God’s correction. This would change the course of their lives. How and why could this be “good?”
According to Jeremiah 27 and 28, this “yoke” represented the invasion by the Chaldeans, and the consequent captivity of Israel. (See Jeremiah 28:14.) So, how could this be good? The painful punishment that they endured had come from the Lord. It was the natural outcome of the principle of “sowing and reaping.” In fact, this punishment was designed to correct them, and to turn their nation from sinning. Consider, for instance, the words of Jeremiah 2:19:
“Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.”
Those who try to throw off the yoke must learn an important lesson: God always has bigger, heavier yokes. (Read Jeremiah 27 and 28 to see what happened when Hananiah tried to break Judah’s wooden yoke. According to Jeremiah 28:11-17, the false teaching of Hananiah brought a heavier iron yoke upon the people. God always has bigger, heavier yokes.
What is the yoke that you are bearing today? What heavy burdens do you face? Are you laboring under the consequences of the poor choices of another? Can you rightly insist that you were not responsible for the punishment you are forced to bear up under?
Hope for the Heavily Laden
Is there any hope for those who seem to have lost everything? Their homes reduced to rubble, their parents murdered or missing, where could the young people turn for hope? Verse 32 sums up the hope (spoken of in verses 25-29): “But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.” Here is hope for those who are heavily laden. God’s compassion, His multitude of mercies, is the only real answer for those who are grieving. In fact, all of these things are working together for good (Romans 8:28-29). When you look at it this way, life begins to make sense. The curse (Genesis 3:17) with all its heartache is “for your sake!” This means that trouble is one of your best teachers. Grief is guiding you to God. The curse is goading you along toward His compassion. Your miseries cause you to crave His mercies. This will change the way you look at life. So where is this great compassion that can transform the way we look at life?
Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
This invitation from Jesus is for all those who labor under a heavy burden. “The yoke” of the curse makes this appeal even more inviting. For all those who feel that life has not been fair, here is a place for your faith. For young people who insist that they are not to blame for the problems of their ancestors, our Messiah is the model.
Jesus could have insisted that the problems of the world were not His fault. You could picture Him in heaven saying, “I did not cause those sins, and I shouldn’t have to suffer for them.” You can easily see how He could have insisted that it was unfair and unjust for Him to bear the yoke and the curse for the sins of others. But the wonderful Son of God chose to suffer under the consequences of sins He did not commit. Though it was not fair, He bore up under the yoke faithfully. It is only because of Him that Jeremiah’s words make sense: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”
The consequences of sin drive you to the compassionate Christ. Upon Himself, He took the yoke of the sins of the whole world. Only He could bear this heavy yoke. But He gives you an invitation to understand Him better. He invites you to cast all of your cares upon Him; He wants to bear your heavy yoke. Then He encourages you to get into the harness with Him and watch the way He walks under these heavy burdens. Don’t worry, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. But here is the most rewarding part of all: “you shall find rest unto your souls,” for He promised, “I will give you rest!”
Pastor Gordon Dickson, Calvary Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio