“He has filled me with bitter herb
and sated me with gall.”
Memories of the bitter herbs of Passover; what a comfort it would be to taste them now.
The smoke burning his nostrils and choking his throat blinded his ancient eyes with tears for days without measure. Not the aroma of a friendly cooking fire this, but the acrid fumes of burned dwellings and scorched flesh; the nauseating pungency of savage death and wanton destruction.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.”
He remembered. No one listened.
Jeremiah lifted his eyes from his lamentations. His spindly, aged legs cramped from the same crossed pose for days upon days. Sapped of moisture by the lye in the ashes piled in drifts against his back and thighs his pale, transparent flesh lay like parchment over his bones.
There was no day. There was only night, and half-night. The sun’s face had gone from this forsaken land, leaving an opaque grey veil through which figures were no more than ghostly silhouettes, moving in a soundless fog.
Nearby was a small boy, sitting alone in the ashes. His forlorn whimper reached Jeremiah through the darkness, echoing the old man’s despair, himself aching for merciful death.
And yet as dawn softly steals the darkness of each night, mercy began to illuminate his downcast soul. Slowly stirring himself, Jeremiah rose from his ashen grave mound and crept to sit by the child. The little boy starved for the touch of human kindness curled up on the prophet’s lap and fell asleep.
The sweetness of tousled blonde hair and the warmth of the small body broke open the wounds in Jeremiah’s hardened heart. Lowering his head, he felt hope for the first time in so many days.
Slowly and silently his mind formed the words of a new refrain.
“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
and great is your faithfulness."
Contemplating the sleeping child, he thought:
“It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young…”
Nineteen years passed, the child growing into a strong, well educated young man.
Mercy provided the boy with a home and with parents in the nobility of Israel who served the Lord.
But now the peace which had finally rested on Daniel’s life once again was shattered…
Newly renamed Belteshazzar, Daniel stood with his friends in the garden of the palace of the Babylonian king, facing a difficult choice.
His three friends were arguing with him.
“We cannot chance that Ashpenaz, who has shown us his kindness and favor, might now wish us evil.” Hananiah looked fearfully around as he whispered fiercely to his friend.
Mishael simply gave him a pleading look.
“This is a small thing that they ask. And is not the choice food and drink a show of the king’s favor?” Azariah’s stomach yearned for the juicy meat on the nearby table, and feared that they would not get their share as the other young Jewish slave boys were already digging in.
“Hananiah, I call to mind the many times the Lord has shown me mercy. I will not now risk HIS displeasure. I will not eat meat that is forbidden.” Nevertheless Daniel watched anxiously as the chief official approached once again.
“Belteshazzar, I have considered your request. I am in fear of my lord, the King. It is his wish that you eat of the food of his table, and he will not take lightly your refusal of the riches he has so graciously given to you.” Without another word, Ashpenaz strode away.
The guard appointed to watch over them stood nearby, listening.
The sun rose. A memory stirred Daniel’s heart, reminding him of God’s mercy, of the bitter herbs of Passover.
Turning to the guard, he pleaded, “Give us only vegetables and water for ten days. See what may happen.”
The guard thought to himself, “Indeed, why should I not take for myself the rich food of the kings table?” So he agreed.
Daniel’s obedience and remembrance of the Passover herbs brought the Lord’s blessings of health and wisdom to the four young men.
And because Daniel stood strong in his faith, his friends faced a fiery furnace with faith, allowing God to change the heart of the Babylonian king.
Scriptures and story elements taken from Lamentations 3 and Daniel 1& 3, the NIV.
In 586 BC, the prophet Jeremiah lamented the destruction of Jerusalem, which God through him foretold.
Nineteen years later, in 605 BC, the Lord delivered Jehoaikim king of Judah into the hand of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was among the young men of the families of nobility of the Israelites, taken captive into the king’s service.
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