Day 10: An Optimistic Lamentation

Lamentations 2:18-22 :

Their heart cried to the Lord.
O wall of the daughter of Zion,
let tears run down like a river day and night.
Give yourself no relief.
Don’t let your eyes rest.

Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.
Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children,
who faint for hunger at the head of every street.

“Look, Yahweh, and see to whom you have done thus!
Should the women eat their offspring,
the children that they held and bounced on their knees?
Should the priest and the prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?

“The youth and the old man lie on the ground in the streets.
My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword.
You have killed them in the day of your anger.
You have slaughtered, and not pitied.

“You have called, as in the day of a solemn assembly, my terrors on every side.
There was no one that escaped or remained in the day of Yahweh’s anger.
My enemy has consumed those whom I have cared for and brought up.

This passage reminded me that there are always two ways for us to respond to God’s wrath. We can confess and mourn for our sins as Jeremiah describes here, or we can harden our hearts against God, like Pharaoh did and like everyone living on earth will do during The Great Tribulation. This tells us something about God that is good to remember.

God listens to sinners who confess their sins. If that were not the case, there would be no point in trying. Here Jeremiah tells the people to cry all day long. He’s not just telling them to be sad. He’s telling them: “Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children.” He’s saying that God is the kind of God who gives mercy to those who cry out to Him, even after they have sinned. This is why it makes sense to be an optimist. Our God is a God of mercy. Even those who sin may end up getting blessed! The mercy of God changes life in a fundamental way. Israel’s history is not just an example of God’s wrath against sin, it’s also an example of God’s mercy toward sinners.

Perhaps this is the fundamental purpose of Lamentations. Perhaps it is God’s intention for us to be sorry for our sins so that He might have pity on us and show His mercy toward us. We do know that this is God’s purpose for us today. God wants every one of us to first realize that we have sinned and understand that the wrath that God has against sinners will come against us unless we confess and seek His mercy. If we don’t lament, we not only fail to see our sin, but we also fail to see that God is a God of mercy.

Day 1: An Elaborate Expression of Sorrow

Lamentations 1:1-5 :

How the city sits solitary,
that was full of people!
She has become as a widow,
who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
has become a slave!

She weeps bitterly in the night.
Her tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her.
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her.
They have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into captivity because of affliction
and because of great servitude.
She dwells among the nations.
She finds no rest.
All her persecutors overtook her in her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
because no one comes to the solemn assembly.
All her gates are desolate.
Her priests sigh.
Her virgins are afflicted,
and she herself is in bitterness.

Her adversaries have become the head.
Her enemies prosper;
for Yahweh has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.
Her young children have gone into captivity before the adversary.

In the book of Jeremiah, we learned that the prophet was allowed to live in Judah after most of the people were removed from the land by Babylon. In this book, Jeremiah writes sad poetry to tell us what it was like there. It isn’t apparent in English, but the Hebrew poetry in this book follows very strict forms. It has exact numbers of verses and those verses start with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. I am told that there are five poems here, the first four of which follow the acrostic pattern. That makes this a very difficult work in literature.

In this first poem, we read about the sorrow of seeing Judah empty after having been a thriving and powerful country for so long. We read that no one helps her even though she used to have many “lovers.” They have now become her enemies. We are reminded that no one goes to the temple any more or meets at the gates of the city. We read that Israel’s enemies are now in charge and are prosperous.

In these first five verses, we are also reminded about why this has happened. “Yahweh has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” God is using Jeremiah to give us a close look at what it feels like to be judged by God for sin. Why did God have Jeremiah write these sad things down in such an elaborate way? That’s a question that I would like us to consider as we continue our journey through these poems. I don’t believe that these poems are just about how sad Jeremiah was. I believe that we will discover that they hold an encouraging message for us about what our response should be and what God’s discipline produces in those He loves.