Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Lamentations

LamThis week I am reading through Lamentations accompanied by, Jeremiah/Lamentations, College Press NIV Commentary, by Timothy M. Willis. Lamentations is a collection of 5 poems that mourn the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and subsequent exile of its Jewish population. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Lamentations is a collection of five lament poems that were written soon after they Babylonian exile and destruction of Jerusalem. Four of the five poems are written in acrostic form, in which each line begins with the succeeding letter of the alphabet. These poems read like an eyewitness account of the destruction and grief that is felt in the aftermath of the wrath of God. Because of Jerusalem's rejection of the Covenant, God had taken his hands off of the city and its people and allowed the Babylonians to completely decimate and burn the city to the ground. The poems recount a walk through the city in which the authors mourn what has become of the once-great city.

Laments like these reflect the true feelings of individuals when they are hurting deeply. God does not want such feelings ignored, pushed aside, diminished, or belittled in any way. He is a God who “weeps with those who weep.” He is “the God of all comfort,” accepting these expressions of grief, and then responding to them in a way that will bring comfort to those currently suffering. Even the questions raised at such a traumatic time are welcomed by him. Lamentations, 397

Chapter 1 is written from the perspective of the city of Jerusalem, pictured as a recently widowed and ravaged wife. The suffering Jerusalem is graphically described. The city cries out in grief to God, her husband. YHWH's response is that it has has been decreed for Jerusalem to suffer. Jerusalem acknowledges the justice of this decree and warns others to not rebel against God. Jerusalem then asks that God would bring justice to those who have oppressed her. Chapter one is a graphic picture of what happens when God gives over a rebel to the consequences of their actions.

A once great lady has become a widow, a queen has become a servant girl; her friends … have become her enemies, her rivals have gained the upper hand, her children have been carried off, and her many possessions have been lost. What makes it all the more horrifying is the absence of any comforting hand. Lamentations 1.1-7, 404

Poem 2 is written from the perspective of the people of Jerusalem. The people mourn the ferocity of the destruction of the city that was once so dear to the Lord. But it is recognized that in the midst of this, God himself feels grief as that of a mother who has lost an infant child. People ask God to remove their suffering and to remove the oppressor who is gloating over their misfortune and making every day a terror to them.

This had been his dwelling, his place of meeting (v. 6), his altar, his sanctuary, his house (v. 7). Sadly, this “dream home” had turned out to be a disaster, so the owner has been forced to demolish it completely and start over. All the memories, good and bad, of life in that first home now lie in a heap of rubble at his feet. Lamentations 2, 410

In poem 3 the prophetic voice speaks. This poem is even more intense as the poet makes three acrostic lines for each section instead of just one. This poem refocuses the people back on the fact that it is a God of mercy, justice and love who has disciplined them. The same God who rescued them from Egypt will also rescue them from this situation. The purpose of the punishment is to humble them to get them to repent and renew their covenant loyalty. Because God is compassionate, their suffering is not eternal. They need to realize that their suffering is deserved, but also that, when they repent, God will restore them. So now the prophet urges the people to repent and wait for the coming deliverance from exile. God's character in covenant guarantees that he will come to their rescue.

The speaker declares that, in spite of his suffering at the hand of the LORD, he still believes in the ultimate mercy and goodness of the LORD. These qualities reside at the heart of the LORD’s character. Lamentations 3, 416

In poem 4 the prophet recounts the devastated situation of the survivors in Jerusalem. Those who once lived in luxury are now living life on a level lower than animals. He acknowledges that the people deserve this because they used their former privileges to indulge themselves at the expense of others. Even in this situation the people respond (17-20) and lament that their allies let them down. They still refuse to trust God. Nevertheless, the prophet responds that someday God will restore them from exile and punish their enemies. 

The speaker now responds to the mocking applause of Edom over the Babylonian victory. She had better celebrate while she can, because she will soon have to “taste” the bitterness of defeat herself (v. 21)...Edom is taunting Jerusalem for what has happened, not realizing that the same fate will soon befall her. Perhaps Edom would have been more sympathetic, if she had realized this.  Lamentations 4, 425–426

Poem 5 is the only one in Lamentations that is not an acrostic. It is a communal lament, but with a half-hearted response of faith at the end. The community lifts up their suffering to the Lord and recognizes their guilt, but fail to fully take responsibility and repent. They wonder if God will stay faithful to His covenant. It will be another 50 years, when God raises up a new more faithful remnant in exile, before they will find out that He will. Jeremiah was right after all. 

First, there is a momentary turn toward repentance (v. 16b). There is a general admission of guilt, but the absence of any specification makes one wonder how clearly they see their sins. Rather than focus on that, they return to the suffocating suffering they endure. Lamentations 5.1-18, 429

If they are truly honest with themselves during this long and painful exile, the people will have to wonder whether they had even exhausted the mercy of the God of all mercies. When they do experience his blessings again, after such a spiritual drought, they should finally understand the truly merciful and gracious nature of those blessings. Lamentations 5, 431

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