How lonely sits the city. 1:1-7
In the Greek version of the Old Testament the opening verse of Lamentations states, "And it came to pass, after Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem had become desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said...." Although there is debate as to the author of the book, we have in Lamentations a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587/6BC. It is likely that our author is an eyewitness of these events. Chapter 1 consists of an acrostic, twenty two verse corresponding to the number and order of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The point being made is that Israel's sin is from A to Z. The rhythm of the poem in Hebrew is known as a "dirge", a 3:2 beat. The author begins with a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem, a poem which Gunkel calls a "political funeral song".
v1. Jerusalem is described as a widow, broken by the loss of her husband and family. Her glory is gone, all her "splendor has departed." The Romans actually minted a coin to celebrate their destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70AD. The city is depicted as a woman sitting alone under a palm tree; she is brought to utter desolation, cf. Jer.15:17. The image of a bereaved woman is repeated throughout the poem.
v2. She is betrayed. Her lovers no longer comforts her; her friends have betrayed her. Jerusalem sought political alliances with Egypt to stand against the Babylonians, but when the chips were down the Egyptians were nowhere to be found. As it turned out, they were just playing political power-games and had no intention of coming to Judah's aid. In fact, Egypt at this point in history had little military power.
v3. Judah is now in exile; "she" is captive. As far back as the prophet Moses, Israel was warned of this possibility, Deut.28:65.
v4. The city is now desolate and the roads empty, cf. Jud.5:6. All the joyous festivals are ended; she is deserted. Jerusalem's utter desolation is expressed in the grieving of her ladies-in-waiting.
v5. The enemy is now her master and this "for the multitude of her transgressions." Her glorious heritage is gone because of sin. Again, Israel was warned of this possibility by Moses, cf., Deut.28:44.
v6. "Her splendor has departed" in the flight of her princes. King Zedekiah and his courtiers turned tail and fled as the Babylonians broke into the city. Zedekiah was captured and watched as the Babylonians executed his children. His eyes were then put out and he was bound and led captive to Babylon.
v7. In her affliction "Jerusalem remembers" the days under David and Solomon, days of glory and splendor. She also remembers the Egyptians who failed to come to her aid, but particularly she remembers the Edomites who not only rejoiced at Jerusalem's destruction (Ps.137:7), but joined in the plunder of the land of Judah. The Edomites would later settle in southern Hebron, but were under God's curse for their actions. They were overrun by the Nabataeans in the 3rd Century BC and had to flee into Judah, cf., Jer.49:7-22.
Lamentations reveals the innermost feelings of a child of God weighed down by God's judgement, and yet uplifted by His mercy. It is a book of doom and hope. As such, it gives "an instructive insight into the inner life of those who remained faithful to Jehovah after the national collapse", A. Weiser. There is a sense where Lamentations expresses the doom of the cross of Christ, and so links to the inner life of those believers who are overwhelmed by the consequence of human sin.
Christians don't always handle grief very well. We are often expected to "give thanks in all circumstances." If not thanks, we are at least expected to acknowledge the sovereign hand of God and rest on the truth that "all things work to good for those who love the Lord." Obviously, the writer of Lamentations did not understand this enlightened method of handling grief.
In an incident published worldwide and later made into a film, an Australian believer, Lindy Chamberlain, lost her child in the desert to a wild dog known as a Dingo. She sought to rejoice in God's sovereign hand, giving thanks to the Lord in the face of disaster. The Police were totally thrown by this witness and so were soon to believe that she was guilty of killing her own child. The creation of evidence by the police to support their theory was a national disgrace.
Day by day we are confronted by the "desolation" of Eden. Human rebellion against God, most often of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind sort, brings with it a world where nothing works. Sometimes the desolation is of a major sort. It can be a personal tragedy, "tears upon her cheeks", "none to comfort her", "overtaken", "desolate", "in bitter anguish." Like the destruction of Jerusalem, it may even be the church, "great among the nations", now with "no resting place."
In the face of such affliction we should emote with Jesus, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Our felt pain must be our spoken pain, not buried pain. So, let us stand with the suffering Christ, for in him, grief expressed leads to hope.
1. Why has "the Lord brought her grief?"
2. What were the circumstances around the lamentation of Jesus?
3. How can "bitter anguish" be a proper response for tragedy when we are called on to give thanks in all circumstances?
4. Consider how a lament may be a healthy emotional release.
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