Lamentations 5:1-22

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
    look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
    our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
    our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
    we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
    to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
    and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
    and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
    because of the sword in the desert.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven,
    feverish from hunger.
11 Women have been violated in Zion,
    and virgins in the towns of Judah.
12 Princes have been hung up by their hands;
    elders are shown no respect.
13 Young men toil at the millstones;
    boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The elders are gone from the city gate;
    the young men have stopped their music.
15 Joy is gone from our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head.
    Woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 Because of this our hearts are faint,
    because of these things our eyes grow dim
18 for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
    with jackals prowling over it.

19 You, Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures from generation to generation.
20 Why do you always forget us?
    Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
    renew our days as of old
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
    and are angry with us beyond measure.
(Lamentations 5:1-22 NIV)

As we wrap up the book of Lamentations, Chapter 5 takes on yet another form.  Like chapters 1, 2, and 4, Chapter 5 has 22 verses.  Unlike its predecessors, Chapter 5 is not an acrostic.  The 22 verses are significant, however, as the count is a sign of completeness, from beginning to end, from “A” to “Z”, as we would say in English.

Like Chapter 3, each verse in chapter 5 consists of one two-line thought or phrase.

There is only one voice in Chapter 5, that of a corporate or community lament.   Notice the personal pronouns – “we”, “our”, “us”.  As we learned in the Introduction to Lamentations, these chapters were meant to be part of a public ceremony, ritual, or solemn assembly to commemorate a loss.  The poet is speaking on behalf of the people.

Chapter 5 has four sections:

  • Verse 1:  Requests for God’s attention, to take note of how His people are being treated
  • Verses 2 – 18:  The terrible distress and deplorable conditions due to their sin and rebellion
  • Verse 19:  Acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty forever
  • Verses 20-22:  Closing appeal for God’s attention and help

Verses 1 and 20-21 are like bookends to this chapter.   The poet asks God to pay attention to their plight.  Verse 1 requests the Lord to “remember”, “look”, and “see” – all words that request God’s attention.  The poet knows that God has not forgotten His promises to His people, nor is He inattentive to their cries for help.  The poet also knows that God’s reputation is at stake – He will not allow His holy name to be tarnished.

Also, the poet knows God’s heart and character – when God sees His loved ones suffering, even if they brought His righteous judgment upon themselves, it will not last forever.    With the poet’s request for the Lord to pay attention, he knows that God will not just acknowledge His people’s plight – the Lord will take action to protect and provide for His own.

Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, this chapter is meant for public worship.  The poet calls for prayer and confession of sins and invites God into conversation with His people.  The people had been wayward and in rebellion for so long, they wondered if God had given up on them.  This chapter is much like Psalm 79 in its message and content.

Verse 22 seems to end on a negative note.  In fact, some Jewish scholars, when reading this chapter, will repeat verse 21 after verse 22 to be sure to end on a positive note.  However, in reading the text, it seems that verse 22 is quite a suitable ending as-is.  The poet knows well that the Lord is able to rescue His people, and has promised to preserve a remnant for His own.  With this in mind, the poet ends with a broken and contrite heart, acknowledging their sin.  The poet knows that God’s people have nothing to offer the Lord – only God’s mercy can restore them.

May our hope be in the Lord and in Him alone.  May we be broken over our sin and rejoice in His salvation, love, mercy, and grace.

We will end our study of Lamentations with the summary reminder of God’s holiness, character, and love from chapter 3:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
(Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV)

Blessings,
~kevin

Lamentations 4:1-22

How the gold has lost its luster,
    the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
    at every street corner.

How the precious children of Zion,
    once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
    the work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer their breasts
    to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
    like ostriches in the desert.

Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
    sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
    but no one gives it to them.

Those who once ate delicacies
    are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
    now lie on ash heaps.

The punishment of my people
    is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
    without a hand turned to help her.

Their princes were brighter than snow
    and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
    their appearance like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot;
    they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
    it has become as dry as a stick.

Those killed by the sword are better off
    than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
    for lack of food from the field.

10 With their own hands compassionate women
    have cooked their own children,
who became their food
    when my people were destroyed.

11 The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
    he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion
    that consumed her foundations.

12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
    nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
    the gates of Jerusalem.

13 But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
    and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
    the blood of the righteous.

14 Now they grope through the streets
    as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
    that no one dares to touch their garments.

15 “Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
    “Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
    people among the nations say,
    “They can stay here no longer.”

16 The Lord himself has scattered them;
    he no longer watches over them.
The priests are shown no honor,
    the elders no favor.

17 Moreover, our eyes failed,
    looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
    for a nation that could not save us.

18 People stalked us at every step,
    so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
    for our end had come.

19 Our pursuers were swifter
    than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
    and lay in wait for us in the desert.

20 The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath,
    was caught in their traps.
We thought that under his shadow
    we would live among the nations.

21 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,
    you who live in the land of Uz.
But to you also the cup will be passed;
    you will be drunk and stripped naked.

22 Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
    he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
    and expose your wickedness.
(Lamentations 4:1-22 NIV)

As we begin Chapter 4, let’s take a look at some of the overall characteristics as we have done with the previous chapters.

Like the chapters before, chapter 4 is set as an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet.  Chapter 4 is different than the other chapters in that it has only two 2-line thoughts or phrases in each verse, compared to three 2-line phrases for each verse in chapters 1 and 2, and one 2-line phrase for each verse in chapter 3.

The different format can be attributed to largely to the “then and now” motif of chapter 4.  Each verse contains a comparison of what life was like in Jerusalem’s and Judah’s “glory days” versus what it is like leading up to and after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of her people.

Like Chapter 3, Chapter 4 has one voice expressed through the poet as part of the community.  Remember that these lamentations were to be used as part of a public worship, commemoration, or ritual.  Hence, the usage of both “I” and “we” in the poet’s expression.

Chapter 4 can be broken down into smaller sub-sections:

  • Verses 1-4:  The value of Jerusalem and its inhabitants plummets – from gold to dirt.
  • Verses 5-10: impact of the famine, especially on families and children.
    The mention of mothers eating their young again is very disturbing to the poet.
  • Verses 11-16:  Misery everywhere is brought on by the leaders’ sin and the people’s willingness to follow their leaders.
  • Verses 17-22:  Relief from Judah’s and Jerusalem’s enemies.
    • There will be no help from Egypt (v. 17)
    • The king (Zedekiah) will not be able to help (v. 20)
    • The poet seeks God’s retribution against Edom for their part in the brutality (vv. 21-22)
    • The poet claims God’s promise of hope for the future and an end to the exile (v. 21a)

As we look over Chapter 4, one item missing from previous chapters is the “why” question.  The poet (and the community) seems to have acknowledged and accepted responsibility for their sins and the righteous judgment of God against their sins.

As the poet acknowledges the sins of the people on behalf of the community, he also shows the character of God.  While God judges wickedness and sin with His holiness and righteousness, He also mercifully redeems the wrongs of the past and offers grace for the present and the future.

May we grasp the enormity of God’s holy, righteous hatred of sin as well as the boundless love, mercy, and grace He offers us.

As we begin to understand who we are and who God is, may we also show mercy, kindness, grace, and love to others, just as Christ has done for us.  Only as we begin to understand the nature and character of God can we extend His love, mercy, and grace to our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Blessings,
~kevin

Lamentations 3:1-66

I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
    and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
    with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
    like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
    he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
    he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
    like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
    and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
    and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart
    with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
    they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
    and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
    he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot
    all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
    before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
    would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
    and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
    to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled
    and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
    you have slain without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can get through.
45 You have made us scum and refuse
    among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths
    wide against us.
47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
    ruin and destruction.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes
    because my people are destroyed.

49 My eyes will flow unceasingly,
    without relief,
50 until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul
    because of all the women of my city.

52 Those who were my enemies without cause
    hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
    and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

55 I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case;
    you redeemed my life.
59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
    Uphold my cause!
60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

61 Lord, you have heard their insults,
    all their plots against me—
62 what my enemies whisper and mutter
    against me all day long.
63 Look at them! Sitting or standing,
    they mock me in their songs.

64 Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
    for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
    and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the heavens of the Lord.
(Lamentations 3:1-66 NIV)

Like its two predecessors, Chapter 3 is a Hebrew poem that uses an acrostic structure to express the author’s thoughts.  Unlike Chapters 1 and 2, Chapter 3 is not a funeral song.

Chapter 3 also has a slightly different acrostic form than chapters 1 and 2.  While the number of words in Chapter 3 is about the same as each of its predecessors, the format is different.  Chapters 1 and 2 had 22 verses (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet).  Each verse began with the Hebrew letter but had three phrases or thoughts.  Chapter three has only one phrase or thought in each verse, but has 66 verses.  The acrostic form in Chapter 3 is still present but applies to groups of three verses:  verses 1, 2, and 3 each start with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, verses 4, 5, and 6 each start with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and so on.

While chapters 1 and 2 had multiple voices speaking, Chapter 3 has one voice expressed through the poet as part of the community.  Remember that these lamentations were to be used as part of a public worship, commemoration, or ritual.  Hence, the usage of both “I” and “we” in the poet’s expression.

Chapter 3 has four distinct sections:

  • Verses 1 – 20:  The Lord is responsible for the calamity they are experiencing.
    God’s people are experiencing His judgment and righteous wrath over their sins.
  • Verses 21-39:  The Lord is the only One who can help and can be trusted.
    God’s people can trust God’s grace, mercy, and His loving heart toward His own.
  • Verses 40 – 51:  The Lord is the healer and forgiver of sins.
    Tears and repentance are the appropriate response from the people for their sins.
  • Verses 52 – 66:  The Lord is the protector of His people.
    The people ask God to provide justice and retribution against their enemies.

May we see God’s righteousness, holiness, and abhorrence of sin as well as His grace, mercy, and love toward His redeemed ones.  Jesus is the living essence of all these.

The writer of Hebrews captures the heart of God and our redemption in Christ:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV)

Blessings,
~kevin

Lamentations 2:1-22

How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
    with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
    from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.

Without pity the Lord has swallowed up
    all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has torn down
    the strongholds of Daughter Judah.
He has brought her kingdom and its princes
    down to the ground in dishonor.

In fierce anger he has cut off
    every horn of Israel.
He has withdrawn his right hand
    at the approach of the enemy.
He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire
    that consumes everything around it.

Like an enemy he has strung his bow;
    his right hand is ready.
Like a foe he has slain
    all who were pleasing to the eye;
he has poured out his wrath like fire
    on the tent of Daughter Zion.

The Lord is like an enemy;
    he has swallowed up Israel.
He has swallowed up all her palaces
    and destroyed her strongholds.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation
    for Daughter Judah.

He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden;
    he has destroyed his place of meeting.
The Lord has made Zion forget
    her appointed festivals and her Sabbaths;
in his fierce anger he has spurned
    both king and priest.

The Lord has rejected his altar
    and abandoned his sanctuary.
He has given the walls of her palaces
    into the hands of the enemy;
they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord
    as on the day of an appointed festival.

The Lord determined to tear down
    the wall around Daughter Zion.
He stretched out a measuring line
    and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
He made ramparts and walls lament;
    together they wasted away.

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
    their bars he has broken and destroyed.
Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations,
    the law is no more,
and her prophets no longer find
    visions from the Lord.

10 The elders of Daughter Zion
    sit on the ground in silence;
they have sprinkled dust on their heads
    and put on sackcloth.
The young women of Jerusalem
    have bowed their heads to the ground.

11 My eyes fail from weeping,
    I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
    because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
    in the streets of the city.

12 They say to their mothers,
    “Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
    in the streets of the city,
as their lives ebb away
    in their mothers’ arms.

13 What can I say for you?
    With what can I compare you,
    Daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you,
    that I may comfort you,
    Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
    Who can heal you?

14 The visions of your prophets
    were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
    to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
    were false and misleading.

15 All who pass your way
    clap their hands at you;
they scoff and shake their heads
    at Daughter Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
    the perfection of beauty,
    the joy of the whole earth?”

16 All your enemies open their mouths
    wide against you;
they scoff and gnash their teeth
    and say, “We have swallowed her up.
This is the day we have waited for;
    we have lived to see it.”

17 The Lord has done what he planned;
    he has fulfilled his word,
    which he decreed long ago.
He has overthrown you without pity,
    he has let the enemy gloat over you,
    he has exalted the horn of your foes.

18 The hearts of the people
    cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
    let your tears flow like a river
    day and night;
give yourself no relief,
    your eyes no rest.

19 Arise, cry out in the night,
    as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
    in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
    for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
    at every street corner.

20 “Look, Lord, and consider:
    Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
    the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
    in the sanctuary of the Lord?

21 “Young and old lie together
    in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
    have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger;
    you have slaughtered them without pity.

22 “As you summon to a feast day,
    so you summoned against me terrors on every side.
In the day of the Lord’s anger
    no one escaped or survived;
those I cared for and reared
    my enemy has destroyed.”
(Lamentations 2:1-22 NIV)

Similar to chapter 1, Lamentations chapter 2 is an acrostic poem written as a funeral song using the Hebrew alphabet.

Similar to chapter 1, the poem uses multiple voices.  In this case, the voices are the poet as narrator/commentator, and the poet as himself.  Here are the breakouts:

  • verses 1-10 – Poet as Narrator
  • verses 11-13 – Poet as Himself
  • verses 14-19 – Poet as Narrator
  • verses 20-22 – Poet as Himself

Notice that the poem’s frequent use of the term “Daughter” for the city of Jerusalem:

  • Daughter Zion – verses 1, 4, 8, 10, 18
  • Virgin Daughter Zion – verse 13
  • Daughter Judah – verses 2, 5
  • Daughter Jerusalem – verses 13, 15

The poem’s theme is largely God’s judgment on its leaders and the effect of their sin on the people.  God’s judgment is against the king (verses 6, 9), the prophets (verses 9, 14, 20), and the priests (verses 6, 9, 20).  The effects on the people are famine, destruction of the city, and removal of all defenses.  The situation is so bad that the children are dying of starvation in their mothers’ arms (verse 12), and the mothers are eating their children to survive (verse 20).

So what can we learn from this funeral song, this deep lament?  A few thoughts come to mind:

  • We must not assume righteousness before God – He alone is holy.
  • We don’t have invincibility before God – He alone is mighty.
  • No thing or place is a safe haven – even God’s place of dwelling among His people.
  • No one is indispensable to God – He did not spare His own Son.

May we take our bitterness of life, our pain, our sorrows, our complaints, and our tears to the Lord.  As we voice our distress and grief to Him, He is faithful to hear and to heal.

Blessings,
~kevin

Lamentations 1:1-22

How deserted lies the city,
    once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
    who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
    has now become a slave.

Bitterly she weeps at night,
    tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
    there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
    they have become her enemies.

After affliction and harsh labor,
    Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
    she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
    in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
    for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate,
    her priests groan,
her young women grieve,
    and she is in bitter anguish.

Her foes have become her masters;
    her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief
    because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile,
    captive before the foe.

All the splendor has departed
    from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer
    that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled
    before the pursuer.

In the days of her affliction and wandering
    Jerusalem remembers all the treasures
    that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into enemy hands,
    there was no one to help her.
Her enemies looked at her
    and laughed at her destruction.

Jerusalem has sinned greatly
    and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
    for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
    and turns away.

Her filthiness clung to her skirts;
    she did not consider her future.
Her fall was astounding;
    there was none to comfort her.
“Look, Lord, on my affliction,
    for the enemy has triumphed.”

10 The enemy laid hands
    on all her treasures;
she saw pagan nations
    enter her sanctuary—
those you had forbidden
    to enter your assembly.

11 All her people groan
    as they search for bread;
they barter their treasures for food
    to keep themselves alive.
“Look, Lord, and consider,
    for I am despised.”

12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
    that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me
    in the day of his fierce anger?

13 “From on high he sent fire,
    sent it down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet
    and turned me back.
He made me desolate,
    faint all the day long.

14 “My sins have been bound into a yoke;
    by his hands they were woven together.
They have been hung on my neck,
    and the Lord has sapped my strength.
He has given me into the hands
    of those I cannot withstand.

15 “The Lord has rejected
    all the warriors in my midst;
he has summoned an army against me
    to crush my young men.
In his winepress the Lord has trampled
    Virgin Daughter Judah.

16 “This is why I weep
    and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
    no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
    because the enemy has prevailed.”

17 Zion stretches out her hands,
    but there is no one to comfort her.
The Lord has decreed for Jacob
    that his neighbors become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
    an unclean thing among them.

18 “The Lord is righteous,
    yet I rebelled against his command.
Listen, all you peoples;
    look on my suffering.
My young men and young women
    have gone into exile.

19 “I called to my allies
    but they betrayed me.
My priests and my elders
    perished in the city
while they searched for food
    to keep themselves alive.

20 “See, Lord, how distressed I am!
    I am in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed,
    for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves;
    inside, there is only death.

21 “People have heard my groaning,
    but there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my distress;
    they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced
    so they may become like me.

22 “Let all their wickedness come before you;
    deal with them
as you have dealt with me
    because of all my sins.
My groans are many
    and my heart is faint.”
(Lamentations 1:1-22 NIV)

As we begin our walk through the book of Lamentations, we remember from the introduction that this is a Hebrew poem, written in the form of an acrostic.  Each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet; hence, 22 verses.  Also, remember that Chapter 1 is a funeral song, used as part of public mourning, as an expression of grief.

As we begin reading, we notice that verse 1 identifies the subject of the dirge – a city.   And not just any city, but Jerusalem.  In typical ancient writing style, the city is identified as “she”.

We also notice that there are two voices in Chapter 1.  The first voice is the narrator, and the second is the personified voice of the city, written in first-person.  The back-and-forth dialogue is as follows:

  • Narrator:  vv. 1-9b
  • Jerusalem:  vv. 9c
  • Narrator:  vv. 10-11b
  • Jerusalem:  vv. 11c-16
  • Narrator: v. 17
  • Jerusalem:  vv. 18-22

As we read this chapter, we see Jerusalem is an emotional basket-case, a “hot mess”, if you will.  She weeps (vv. 1-2), groans (vv. 8, 21-22), is in bitter anguish (v. 4), distress (vv. 20-21), and betrayed by her friends (vv. 2c, 19a).

And what is the cause of all her grief and despair?  Her many sins (v. 5a), because she has sinned greatly (v. 8a), because of her rebellion (vv. 18a, 20b), because of all her sins (v. 22b).

She tried calling out to her friends, but they have betrayed her (vv. 2c, 19a).  All who pass by offer no help.  Repeatedly, she says that there are no human sources to comfort her (vv. 2b, 9b, 16b, 17a, 21a).

The city is portrayed as a daughter (v. 6a) and virgin daughter (v. 15c).  She is a daughter in distress, calling out to her Heavenly Father, the only one who can help her, heal her, and vindicate her against her enemies (vv. 21c – 22b).

What do we do when we find ourselves in grief, sorrow, and distress?  When we find ourselves broken beyond repair, like the prodigal child, do we try to resolve the problem ourselves, or do we come to the end of ourselves and return to our Heavenly Father, who has been waiting for us all along (Luke 15:11-32)?

Blessings,

~kevin

Introduction to Lamentations

As a natural progression to completing the book of Jeremiah, we will take a quick journey through the book of Lamentations.

The book of Lamentations is a collection of five poems, written after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC).  The book’s primary themes are laments over the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, and the distress of the Jewish people (mainly, those left behind, not those exiled to Babylon).

While some scholars attribute authorship to Jeremiah, most do not.  Most historians believe that there was more than one author for the book of Lamentations.  Like many other books of the Old Testament, the authors of Lamentations are not identified.

While the book of Jeremiah was prophetic, the book of Lamentations is not.  In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Lamentations is grouped into a section called “The Writings”.  Other books in this section include Ruth, Song of Songs, Esther, and Ecclesiastes.

Like other books in the Writings section of the Hebrew Bible, the book of Lamentations was used in public worship services to commemorate an event.  Eventually, the book of Lamentations became associated with the  9th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Ab (which generally falls in July or August).  This date reflects the lament over the two destructions of the Jerusalem temples (the first in 586 BC, and the second in 70 AD).

The form of the Hebrew poetry is worth noting as we look at the overall book of Lamentations.Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are written in the form of a Hebrew acrostic, with each verse starting with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  If these poems had been drafted in English, verse 1 would start with an “A”, verse 2 would start with a “B”, etc.  Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, these chapters have 22 verses.

Chapter 3 is also a Hebrew alphabet acrostic but contains 66 verses.  Each three-verse group starts with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Chapter 5 has 22 verses but is not an acrostic.  Chapter 5 has the same feel as an acrostic and conveys completeness.  If chapter 5 were written in English, we would say the chapter covers everything from A to Z.

Chapters 1 and 2 are a funeral song.   Each verse contains three sets of two-line thoughts.  Chapter 4 is a funeral song, with each verse containing two sets of two-line thoughts.  Chapter 3 is not a funeral song but is much more personal than corporate in its use of pronouns (“I” vs. “we”).   Both chapters 3 and 5 contain one set of two-line thoughts in each verse.

In order to understand the significance and role of the book of Lamentations in ancient culture, we need to take a slight detour and learn how the people of Jeremiah’s day processed grief.  In our modern cultures (especially Western cultures), we handle grief using psychological methods, with an introspective focus.  This processing takes place on an individual or one-on-one basis, or in small groups.

In ancient cultures, grief was processed through community rituals, ceremonies, symbols, and/or commemorations.  This processing was a collective and community process, rather than focused on an individual or small group.  The community, as well as the individual, felt the weight of the grief being observed.  These observations were made through readings, songs, and prayers.   These rituals provided a defined time to grieve as well as a sense of closure for the community.

Likewise, the themes of the book of Lamentations are primarily corporate in nature.   These griefs being observed were for the entire country, not just certain individuals.  The topics covered included the consequences and confession of sin, recognition of God’s judgment, and the pain involved for all.

As you read each chapter, you will soon notice that there is not a request for restoration of that which was lost, but rather an entreaty for the Lord to return to His people and land.  The Jewish people remembered God’s promises to them, and they longed for a restored relationship with Him, to feel His love and compassion once again.  In a word, the Lamentations expressed a sincere desire for hope.

So what faith lessons should we look for as we read and study the book of Lamentations?  Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • We live in a broken world, and feel the effects of sin every day, both our sins of commission and omission as well as the sins of others.
  • Sin causes pain and loss, and we experience grief over that loss in one or more ways.
  • It is important to come to terms with our grief, and not ignore it, “stuff” it inside, or make it our mantra for living.
  • Coming to terms with our grief involves denouncing all self-righteousness, taking responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions, and remembering that no one can escape God’s searchlight of holiness, righteousness, and judgment.
  • Processing our grief must involve the community around us, whether a few close friends or the larger circles of people we engage with on a regular basis.
  • By processing our grief, we set the stage for healing and growth.

Chapter 3 expresses this need to process our hurts, and the healing that can result:

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
(Lamentations 3:19-24 NIV)

Blessings,
~kevin

Old Endings and New Beginnings

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
(Lamentations 3:22-26 NIV)

As another year winds down and a new year is about to begin, my heart echoes several thoughts as I look back and look forward.

These thoughts are not in discord but in harmony, not in competition, but in teamwork as I look at the world around me.

I am often reminded of these verses recorded by the prophet Jeremiah, as he remembers the goodness of God in the midst of Israel’s rebellion and waywardness.

I am humbled by God’s grace and love for me, despite all my shortcomings and failures.  He loves me unconditionally, something I will never fully fathom this side of eternity.

And what He asks of me is to walk with Him and share His love with those around me.  Seemingly simple, but yet the battle rages every day for my heart and my mind.

As you look back over this year and look forward to the next, may you take time for worship and for quiet, to consider what God has been and done in your life, and what your heart desires in the future.

Let this old hymn be your praise today:

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Blessings,
~kevin