Friend or foe?

by Michael E. BrooksBow

“Standing like an enemy, he has bent his bow; with his right hand, like an adversary, he has slain all who were pleasing to his eye; on the tent of the daughter of Zion, he has poured out his fury like fire” (Lamentations 2:4 NKJV).

While traveling throughout the world I often find myself having to refuse someone’s request. It may be for medical help, to assist in evangelism, or simply a personal loan for some private business. Some of these are legitimate needs, but I have limited funds; no one can do everything. Others seem less valid and are turned down for lack of merit. Rarely is there anything “personal” in the decision.

In spite of this, any refusal will often create tension in our relationship. It is a very human tendency to take any negative as an attack. Whether it be a no to a request, or a criticism of some word or deed, we don’t like to be disagreed with. Those are the acts of enemies, not friends. At least that is the thinking of many.

The writer of Lamentations (believed by many to be the prophet Jeremiah) speaks of God “standing like an enemy” against Zion (Jerusalem). Lamentations is the prophet’s poetic mourning over the city and its people. Writing just after Babylon’s mighty army had invaded and destroyed the nation of Judah and taken its people hostage, he acknowledges the justice of God and the righteousness of this punishment for sin.

In the next verse he repeats his description. There “The Lord is like an enemy.” That is to say, he treated Judah as an enemy might, but that does not mean he hated the nation or its people or was against them.

Rather God’s love for his chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, is attested throughout the Old Testament (Hosea 11:1; 1 Kings 10:9). Far from being an enemy, God had chosen Israel (including Judah), freed her from bondage, established a covenant with her, and put her into a fertile land. His love was manifest.

Yet many generations of the Israelites strayed from faith in God and turned to idolatry and many abominations. After centuries of appealing with them through prophets and occasional righteous kings, God proclaimed that it was enough. He judged the land and brought Babylon against it.

As Jeremiah recognized, God’s actions were justified and necessary. Their purpose was to bring Judah to repentance, allowing God to eventually reestablish them in the land and fulfill his eternal purpose for them in Jesus Christ.

Most readers of the Bible understand that while God did things apparently against his people, he never ceased to love them or call them his own. Why can we not then recognize that sometimes others may offer constructive criticism, or refuse a request from us, without being against us?

A long running campaign against drunk driving once stated, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” Saying no may be the kindest, most loving thing we can do. Parents need to realize this. No child should be granted every whim or desire. Withholding some things does not indicate a lack of love.

Whichever position we are in, the giving or receiving end of negative responses, we must seek to understand the nature of true biblical love. That is, to seek and pursue the best interest of others. Sometimes that means dealing positively and generously to help in their needs. At other times however, it may mean saying no.

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

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