Lamentations 1 (day 798) 8 March 2012
Tradition has it that this lament is the work of Jeremiah, and the early Greek translation known as the Septuagint added a line at the beginning of the book attributing it to Jeremiah (“Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented this lamentation over Jerusalem”). Modern scholars debate the authenticity of these claims, but that is not a matter for us to pursue; just be aware that you will find differing opinions in the commentaries.
Of the five chapters the first four are acrostic; that is, each verse begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which contains 22 letters. (Chapter 3 has three verses for each letter.)
1-2: The devastated city is described as a widow bereft of her husband, a princess who has become a vassal, a once-popular woman deserted by lovers and friends alike.
3-7: The metaphors continue of bereavement and of royals now become commoners.
8-10: Jerusalem, he says, is like a woman violated by those who once honored her, but she herself is to blame because of her sins.
11-16: The city herself now speaks. She watches the people scrounging for food. She sees passersby shaking their heads. She suffers from the burden of God’s rejection of her and the suffering of her “children” renders her disconsolate.
17: The prophet as observer interjects at this point his own witness of a city “stretching out her hands” in supplication, abandoned and dirty.
18-22: Jerusalem admits her misdoings and acknowledges that she deserves what has befallen her. Her enemies gloat. She begs God to visit them with the same wrath from which she is reeling.
Lamentations 2 (day 799) 9 March 2012
1-9: The lament continues cataloguing the destruction the LORD has wrought in Jacob (Judah and Israel): the dwellings, forts, armies, palaces, temple, the festivals and even the Sabbaths, the altar, the sanctuary, the walls of the city, and the gates.
10-14: The prophet looks over the destruction, sees the despairing elders and distraught young girls in the street and weeps over Jerusalem. He hears the children crying out for food and drink. The devastation is so vast he does not know how to begin providing comfort for the people. They have been deceived by the false prophets who refused to tell them the truth about their broken relationship with God.
15-17: Now he sees the traveling merchants and others passing through stopping to gawk at the wreck that was Jerusalem. Many of them are simply stunned, but some, perhaps from neighboring tribes and peoples who have not had good relations with Judah, gloat over the destruction. But it is all God’s doing.
18-19: He tells the people to cry out to the LORD and beg for mercy for the sake of their children.
20-21: Look what you have done, LORD, he cries. Starving women have become cannibals. Priests and prophets are killed in the temple, perhaps as mock sacrifices. Innocent people are lying in the streets. Is this what God really wanted?
22: I imagine that the author intended these words as the voice of the city. God invited Jerusalem’s enemies to come to the “party,” and she has seen her children destroyed.
Lamentations 3 (day 800) 10 March 2012
1-18: I am reading from the NRSV, which I think is a very fine translation. However, I believe a mistake has been made in the translation of verse 1. In an otherwise commendable effort to be gender-inclusive, the NRSV has “I am one who …”, but the Hebrew uses an emphatic masculine noun and is very clear that the opening words are “I am a man who …” In fact, it is acceptable to render it, “I am a soldier who…” In other words, the voice we are hearing is the voice not of the city, nor even of a representative anonymous person within the city, but of a specific individual telling his personal story. He realizes his plight is at the hand of God. The destruction of Jerusalem has left him bereft of pride, of health, of property, and of freedom; and it is all God’s doing.
19-30: But he is not bereft of faith or of hope. God’s steadfast love is everlasting. God is good; faith waits for God. God punishes, but not forever. Faith waits.
31-45: He enters into a rather lengthy argument in which he seems to be trying to justify God’s actions. He acknowledges the people’s guilt, but also accuses God of ignoring their prayers.
46-54: The despair and destruction are catastrophic. He is so completely demolished that he has lost all hope, at least temporarily.
55-66: But hope springs eternal for every believer. “I called on your name” is reminiscent of Psalm 116:4 and 118:5, where utter calamity evokes a fervent cry for help, and God answers. Our citizen/soldier does indeed find a ray of hope in that he believes he hears God saying “do not fear.” He is encouraged then to lay his complaint before the LORD and plead for justice, which he clearly believes must involve retaliation against his enemies.
Lamentations 4 (day 801) 11 March 2012
1-10: The horrors of life for those remaining in Jerusalem are described in heart-breaking detail: rubble in the streets, starving children everywhere, once healthy people now emaciated, people ignoring one another’s needs in the awful choices they have to make in order to survive, and the most horrible of all – women eating their own children to keep from starving to death. It would have been better to have been killed outright than to go through this much suffering.
11-12: In other words, verses 1-10 describe what happens when God’s full wrath is visited on a city. The prophet imagines that such a thing would not have been possible without God’s intent because Jerusalem was so secure. I doubt the kings of the world considered their gates impenetrable – Nebuchadnezzar didn’t – but what Jeremiah is looking at is something that for him was completely unimaginable.
13-16: The blame for the disaster is placed squarely on the heads of the very people who should have prevented it – the religious and spiritual leaders of the people. Their actions were so disgraceful that finally even the common people wanted nothing to do with them. “Away! Unclean! Do not touch!” is the language used of lepers in Leviticus 13:45-47. God certainly has no regard for them, and they are now scattered, taken into exile and expelled from the city.
17-20: The text here switches to first person plural, as if the community is now speaking to us. They are remembering the horror; the vain hope for an ally to come to their rescue, the relentless pursuit of enemy soldiers in the streets, refugees being hunted down in the hill country, the king, “the LORD’s anointed,” taken prisoner.
21-22: Edom is once again singled out for special attention. They are gloating now over the state of things in Jerusalem, but their time is coming.
Lamentations 5 (day 802) 12 March 2012
1-18: The voice of the community continues, describing life in the occupied city. They have to pay for water to drink (so do we!), are consigned to hard labor and ordered about by “slaves,” probably a reference to the lowly social status of many of the occupying troops. Danger is in the streets, especially for women. Princes and elders are given no respect. The music has died. And it’s our own fault, they say.
19-22: Still, faith waits, for God’s sovereignty is eternal. But God has forgotten us, and for how long? Or will the unthinkable come to pass: will we be forgotten forever? And on that sad note Jeremiah’s lamentation ends.