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Lamentations Chapters 1-3 “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”

The Book of Lamentations

Chapters 1-3 – “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”

The Book of Lamentations initially focuses on the disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 587 BC (II Kings 25:8-12).  It was later attributed to the prophet Jeremiah who lived through the destruction. Yet the book, brief as it is, goes beyond the historical events it cites and deals with the larger questions of guilt, suffering and pain in general. Each of the first three chapters has a different narrator. Here is one possible interpretation. The first is a spokesperson for the people of Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. The second is the recording of an observer who witnesses the effects of the destruction.  The third is the voice of a person confronting tragedy and misery in life for no apparent reason.  Together we will see these chapters, as well as the book as a whole, dealing with the painful questions that human being shave struggled with throughout history.

  1. “The Lord has made her suffer” – chapter 1

The first chapter is a perspective of one of the inhabitants of Jerusalem following the devastation of the city. The writer cries out about the fate of the city. She is alone, abandoned and helpless. Even her friends and lovers have turned on her. This could refer to her political alliances or even to the religious cults which became so prominent in Judah and Jerusalem.

The writer acknowledges that this is God’s judgment on Jerusalem (1:5, 12-15, 17-18). Yet rather than complain, the author acknowledges his fault. God has not been unfair or unduly harsh. The writer admits that he has been rebellious (vv. 18, 20).  The Lord is in the right in bringing judgment (18). The author admits that “Jerusalem sinned grievously” (v. 8). There is also a possible allusion here to the fertility cults that had become so pronounced under Solomon, Rehoboam, Jehoram, Ahaz and Manasseh. The writer speaks of Judah’s nakedness being exposed (vv. 8-9).

There is no basis for complaint here. Jerusalem deserved her fate. Yet her suffering was very real. Fire has devastated the city (v. 13). Her soldiers have been defeated (v. 15). The children have become desolate (v. 16).  Jerusalem has become a “filthy thing” in the sight of her neighbors (v. 17).  Her false gods can offer no help (v. 19).  The only hope the writer can hold out is that those who have oppressed Judah and Jerusalem will themselves eventually be judge by God (vv. 21-22).

II. “My eyes are spent with weeping” (2:11) – A second lament

In the second chapter we have another perspective. This may well describe the viewpoint of the prophet Jeremiah who looks at the devastation of Jerusalem. This is not someone who, like the first writer, admits to having rebelled against God. This reaction describes the response of an apparently faithful witness.

What this writer details is the full impact of God’s wrath on his disobedient and idolatrous people. In ominous tones the author states “The Lord has destroyed without mercy” (v. 2), “he has burned like a flaming fire” (v. 3).  The effects are devastating.  God the creator and sustainer now takes on the role of the destroyer (vv. 5-9).

Jeremiah has been described as the “weeping prophet.” That is particularly evident here.  The prophet cries out, “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns” (v. 11).  It is at this point that the prophet takes up the cause of Judah. He wishes he could provide comfort. There is none to be had however.  The people have been misled by false prophets (v. 14). Jerusalem’s enemies exult over her.  The prophet admits that “The Lord has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat” (v. 17).

The only hope the prophet can offer is for Jerusalem to cry out to the Lord. Her suffering has become unbearable. The prophet himself then calls out to the Lord.  He says, “Look O Lord, and consider (v. 20).  The horrors are incalculable.  Women have eaten their own offspring (v. 20; II Kings 6:28-29).  Priest and prophet have been killed in the sanctuary of the temple (v. 20).  Young and old are lying dead in the street.  They have been slaughtered without mercy.  No one has escaped (vv. 21-22).

Is this the end of Jerusalem?

III. Chapter 3 – “Great is your faithfulness”

We hear now from a third voice. This is someone who has experienced the “rod of God’s wrath” (v. 1).  This writer admits no particular sin (as the first writer did).  Nonetheless this writer has been enveloped with bitterness and tribulation (v. 5).  His prayers have gone unanswered (v. 8).  The author goes on to say that he has been torn to pieces.  God has filled him with bitterness, with no peace.  In a completely desperate statement the writer states “I have forgotten what happiness is” (v. 17).  This is followed by the next statement, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord (v. 18).

This third author doesn’t bring up the specific situation of Jerusalem. The misery described here is deeply personal.  Yet nothing is said about any failing on the writer’s part.  The net effect of this third reflection is to set the pain of Jerusalem into the larger context of human suffering and misery. Is this then the final goal of human life, agony, pain and despair?  If that is the case, why even go on living?  We are given here a picture of tragedy and desolation.  This is nothing less than the common plight of humanity in its sin and rejection of God and his Word (Rom. 1:18-32).

This is a picture that is unrelentingly negative.  There can be no effort to minimize it or gloss it over.  However, it is emphatically not the final picture.

The writer then states, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (v. 21).  What follows is a twofold statement unsurpassed in all of scripture.  The first statement affirms the fact that, while judgment is real, while sorrow seems inevitable in human life, God’s last word is always steadfast love and mercy.  Indeed, God’s mercy is new every morning (vv. 22-23).  God’s rejection is not permanent (v. 31-33).  Can hell then be eternal?

The second statement returns now to the situation of the “prisoners of the land,” in other words, the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  The judgment on Jerusalem came from the Lord.  Yet this is the same Lord whose compassion and mercy know no end.  The writer now identifies with those in Jerusalem.  Those who have experienced the rejection of God, whose prayers are not heard (vv. 43-44), are still to call on the Lord, even “from the depths of the pit” (v. 55).

God will not be silent forever.  He will not reject forever (v. 31).  God will both hear and heal.  God’s word even in the midst of turmoil and agony is “Do not fear” (v. 57).  God will take up our cause.  He will rescue us from our enemies.  They will be judged.  God had ordained judgement on Judah.  He allowed the Babylonians to conquer them.  However, the brutality of the Babylonians will not go unpunished.  God takes up our cause (v. 58).  God’s faithfulness cannot be negated by our faithlessness: “great is your faithfulness” (Rom. 3:3-4).  Suffering is real but nothing can take away the hope that we have in God’s peace promised through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1-5).

Questions for Us –

  1. Why do you think God punishes sin?  Does this contradict he statement that “God is love” (I John 4:8)?
  2. Is there any value in suffering?
  3. What assurance can we take from the fact that God’s anger is not eternal and that his steadfast love endures forever?

Next Study – Lamentations chapters 4-5– “Renew Our Days”