June 12, 2015.
Daily Reading: Lamentations 1-5.
Background: The book of Lamentations is a collection of five poems (corresponding to the five chapters) that are traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, though there is no textual evidence that states this claim outright. The first four poems are acrostics, with each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet for a total of 22 verses (the third chapter, which has 66 verses, repeats each letter three times). The fifth poem is not an acrostic, but it does retain 22 verses. The book is a lamentation over the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah at the hand of the Babylonians (see II Kings 25), yet ultimately as a punishment from the Lord for their abandonment of Him. Though the book is one of deep sadness, in the middle of the lament, there is a ray of hope (see 3:22-24).
Concepts and Connections.
The lonely city: The first poem in this set (see background information) is a lamentation over Jerusalem that is now barren of her people. The majority of the inhabitants of the city have been taken into captivity by Babylon, who came against here and took her by siege (see II Kings 25). Now she is left bare, and the poet laments over the emptiness of her streets and the absence of the joy that once filled the city. The people of Judah had been spread throughout the Babylonian world, finding no resting place in their exile. This destruction and exile had been brought about by the Lord because of the sins of the people of Judah, for they had forsaken the Lord their God, and turned to other gods who were no gods at all. The empty streets of Jerusalem are compared to the once thriving streets, looking back to the day when Judah enjoying their wealth and prosperity. But this prosperity is no more, as her enemies have been given the upper hand against here from the Lord. The poet makes it clear that it was for the transgressions of Judah that the Lord had brought about this calamity, and that He was in the right for doing so. Yet there is still a plea for mercy and a prayer that the Lord visit the nation that held Judah captive for their sin, just as He had done for Judah. In the end there is a plea for the Lord to hear the groaning of His people.
The destruction from the Lord: The second poem in this set is focused on ascribing the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem to the Lord. Though the physical destruction of the city had come at the hand of Babylon, this was merely a tool of the Lord to punish His people. He had told His people long ago that this day was coming, and now there was nothing left but a city of ruins to lament over. The poet here describes the punishment from the Lord as without pity, showing no mercy on His people due to their complete disobedience. The siege and destruction were truly horrific, as we will get a clearer picture of the calamity in chapters 4 and 5. Here, the poet is lamenting over the anger of the Lord which had not been turned back. But the poet can make no excuse for the people, for they had rejected the Lord. They had forsaken Him and His law and turned to their own way. Now there was none to comfort her, none to reach out their hand to help. Her prophets and priests, the leaders of the people, had spoken lies and lead the people astray, and this was the punishment from the Lord. They had been given opportunity to repent and return to the Lord, but rather they chose to persecute the prophets that brought the true word of the Lord, refusing to listen to them. Now they had been made a desolation, a stench among the nations. Those who were left are called to cry out to the Lord in their affliction, that they might save their children, for the anger of the Lord was against His people.
A seed of hope: This poem is the middle of five and is three times as long as the others, using each letter of the Hebrew alphabet three times in this acrostic. It should be noted that this is the literary center of the book, and perhaps the focal point is drawn to verses 22-24 of this chapter as a seed of hope amid a dark lamentation. The opening of this poem is similar to the previous chapter, recounting the destruction that the Lord had brought on His people, not removing His anger from them. He will not hear their cry for help or their prayer to Him, for He has set destruction against them. Yet, in the middle of the lament, the tone changes, and the Lord is praised for His steadfast love. Yes, the punishment had been brought on them from the Lord, but He would not punish forever. He would chastise His people properly, then He would again visit His people in their trouble. Great is His faithfulness! After His love and faithfulness is recognized, the rest of the poem confidently trusts in the Lord, that though they are being punished currently, there is hope for the future, for the Lord has hear their prayer and answered “Do not fear!” The anger of the Lord would turn from His people and onto the nations around them, answering them according to their deeds. This ray of hope is what we should look for and cling to when we go through our own rough seas.
The utter ruin of Jerusalem: This fourth poem gives an eye witness account of Jerusalem during the siege and fall to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (see II Kings 25). Here we get a clear picture of just how terrible is was in the city during this time when the Lord “gave full vent to His wrath. Infants had no drink, children begged for food and hunger plagued the city. There is even record of mothers boiling their own children to have something to eat (compare with Ben-hadad’s Siege of Samaria in II Kings 6:24-31)! Note the horrific picture that is painted in this poem, detailing the terrible times in Jerusalem during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege. They had become a byword to the peoples, becoming fugitives and wanderers amongst the nations. Yet even in the midst of this terrible relocation, at the end there is still hope and trust in the Lord that He would not continue His wrath and destruction, for the days of Judah’s punishment were accomplished. But woe to the nations who were without God, specifically Edom here, for the Lord would punish them for their sins accordingly.
A cry to the Lord: Though this poem, unlike the others, is not an acrostic, it still retains 22 verses like the others (save for the special case of the third chapter). This poem is a plea to the Lord, that He remember His people and turn back His anger from them. The poet recounts what has happened to them, describing the peril in Zion, and lamenting over the city for her sin and downfall. Destruction and disaster loom everywhere as the Lord has carried out His anger on His people. At the end of this poem, the Lord is called to reign forever, but the poet struggles with whether or not He will remember His people. He asks God if He will forget them forever (compare with Psalm 13). The poet then asks for restoration and renewal, but the poem ends with a seed of doubt, that perhaps the Lord has finally utterly rejected His people, never to turn away His anger. These truly were troubling times for the people of God, and there was no doubt a lot of questioning what God would ultimately do, just as the poet ends here. May we never reach this point in out own spiritual walk.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Luke 9-10.
Stand firm in the faith.