Read: Lamentations 1-5
These five Hebrew acrostic poems1 lament the fall of Jerusalem (though the fifth is not officially an acrostic). Probably written by Jeremiah, we are invited to weep the loss of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.
Like one attending a funeral, my words are few. It’s more important to listen to those who mourn than to add words that try to comfort in times of great distress. I remembered this thought when reading through Job just a few months ago, as Dr DelHousaye would say, the volume of “our response needs to be turned all the way down to shut up!
In that light, I present a few verses that caught my eye.
The First Lament
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.
Her fall was astounding;
there was none to comfort her.
“Look, Lord, on my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed.”
“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.
The Second Lament
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.
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.
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.
The Third Lament
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
One thing I have to say after reading Lamentations: remember the context. These are verses we simply can’t take out of context and apply them to our lives today. While it seems that God hasn’t answered my prayers, I would not engrave Lamentations 3:8 above my door. These are the words of our ancestors after realizing Jeremiah’s prophecy was meant for them and a result of their great sin.
Still, in great distress we read words of assurance that God is not done yet.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
Lord, you have heard their insults, all their plots against me—
what my enemies whisper and mutter against me all day long.
Look at them! Sitting or standing, they mock me in their songs.
The Fourth Lament
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 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.
Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
and expose your wickedness.
The Fifth Lament
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
Many years ago I sang, American Pie, in Air Force talent show competitions. The crowds loved that song, though it was truly a lament as we read above. Verse 14 must have been on the author’s mind when he wrote: “the day, the music died.” There have been times in my life, even today, when it seems the music has died, Joy is gone. These are dark times. It’s foolish to deny it, difficult to understand, but inappropriate to believe this is our ultimate fate. American Pie is a song with several verses. I chose to include the closing verse to sing in front of large secular audiences, “The three men I admire most, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, they took the last train for the coast, the day, the music died.” Not much of a theological statement, my prayer was to begin a conversation. I don’t know if it was successful, but it was my feeble attempt.
Lord, thank you for allowing us to lament, for wiring us with emotions that are often unexplainable and frequently unavoidable. Thank you for friends that comfort us in these dark times and mostly for your words that reveal your great desire for an eternal relationship with us through Jesus Christ.
1 Hebrew acrostic poems. In many places in the Bible we find poetry expressed in an acrostic, one verse or couplet of verses, for each of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.