Devastation—Lamentations 1

Psalms not in the psalter

Lamentations of Jeremiah

The Lamentations are five psalms that describe the results of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. in detail. The first four chatters are in the form of an acrostic poem, this form using the whole of the Hebrew alphabet in order. The other common element is that these songs are written in groups of five words in each line, like other Hebrew laments, three words followed by two in a rhythm that feels like limping.

The ruins of the city of Harran. Wikimedia Commons

The city of Jerusalem is so empty!
    She used to be full of people.
But now she’s like a woman whose husband has died.
    She used to be great among the nations.
She was like a queen among the kingdoms.
    But now she is a slave.

Jerusalem weeps bitterly at night.
    Tears run down her cheeks.
    None of her friends comforts her.
All those who were going to help her
    have turned against her.
    They have become her enemies.

After Judah’s people had suffered greatly,
    they were taken away as prisoners.
Now they live among the nations.
    They can’t find any place to rest.
All those who were chasing them have caught up with them.
    And they can’t get away.

The roads to Zion are empty.
    No one travels to her appointed feasts.
All the public places near her gates are deserted.
    Her priests groan.
Her young women are sad.
    And Zion herself weeps bitterly.

Her enemies have become her masters.
    They have an easy life.
The Lord has brought suffering to Jerusalem
    because her people have committed so many sins.
Her children have been taken away as prisoners.
    Her enemies have forced her people to leave their homes.

The city of Zion used to be full of glory.
    But now her glory has faded away.
Her princes are like deer.
    They can’t find anything to eat.
They are almost too weak to get away
    from those who hunt them down.

Jerusalem’s people are suffering and wandering.
    They remember all the treasures
    they used to have.
But they fell into the hands of their enemies.
    And no one was there to help them.
Their enemies looked at them.
    They laughed because Jerusalem had been destroyed.

Her people have committed many sins.
    They have become impure.
All those who honored Jerusalem now look down on her.
    They all look at her as if she were a naked woman.
    The city groans and turns away in shame.

Her skirts are dirty.
    She didn’t think about how things might turn out.
Her fall from power amazed everyone.
    And no one was there to comfort her.
She said, “Lord, please pay attention to how much I’m suffering.
    My enemies have won the battle over me.”

10 Jerusalem’s enemies took away
    all her treasures.
Her people saw outsiders
    enter her temple.
The Lord had commanded them
    not to do that.

11 All Jerusalem’s people groan
    as they search for bread.
They trade their treasures for food
    just to stay alive.
Jerusalem says, “Lord, look at me.
    Think about my condition.
    Everyone looks down on me.”

12 Jerusalem also says, “All you who are passing by,
    don’t you care about what has happened to me?
    Just look at my condition.
Has anyone suffered the way I have?
    The Lord has brought all this on me.
He has made me suffer.
    His anger has burned against me.

13 “He sent down fire from heaven.
    It went deep down into my bones.
He spread a net to catch me by the feet.
    He stopped me right where I was.
He made me empty.
    I am sick all the time.

14 “My sins have been made into a heavy yoke.
    They were woven together by his hands.
They have been placed on my neck.
    The Lord has taken away my strength.
He has handed me over to my enemies.
    I can’t win the battle over them.

15 “The Lord has refused to accept
    any of my soldiers.
He has sent for an army
    to crush my young men.
I am like grapes in the Lord’s winepress.
    He has stomped on me,
    even though I am his very own.

16 “That’s why I am weeping.
    Tears are flowing from my eyes.
No one is near to comfort me.
    No one can heal my spirit.
My children don’t have anything.
    My enemies are much too strong for me.”

17 Zion reaches out her hands.
    But no one is there to comfort her people.
The Lord has ordered that
    the neighbors of Jacob’s people would become their enemies.
    Jerusalem has become impure among them.

18 Jerusalem says, “The Lord always does what is right.
    But I refused to obey his commands.
Listen, all you nations.
    Pay attention to how much I’m suffering.
My young men and women
    have been taken away as prisoners.

19 “I called out to those who were going to help me.
    But they turned against me.
My priests and elders
    died in the city.
They were searching for food
    just to stay alive.

20 “Lord, see how upset I am!
    I am suffering deep down inside.
My heart is troubled.
    Again and again I have refused to obey you.
Outside the city, people are being killed by swords.
    Inside, there is nothing but death.

21 “People have heard me groan.
    But no one is here to comfort me.
My enemies have heard about all my troubles.
    What you have done makes them happy.
So please judge them, just as you said you would.
    Let them become like me.

22 “Please pay attention to all their sinful ways.
    Punish them as you have punished me.
    You judged me because I had committed so many sins.
I groan all the time.
    And my heart is weak.”

Lamentations 1 NIRV

The first of these laments has a particular form of being written in three lines of five words, the first of these three lines starting with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, starting with aleph and ending in taw. Each set of three lines corresponds with a verse in English, and other, translations. The lines consist of three words followed by two, which are split in the NIRV translation used above, which is why it shows six lines per verse rather than three. As you can see, the translators use more than five English words to translate the Hebrew, which to my mind somewhat destroys the poetic form.

The poem is split into two, the first eleven verses and the last eleven. Although there is a great deal of skill that went into writing this poem, this is far from being the angry rant that the loss of the capital city and its temple could be expected, the themes come in a random order, which shows the agitation in the writer.

Jerusalem lies in ruins – v 1-11

Many cities in Ukraine lie in ruins as a result of bombardments from Russia. Other cities in Turkey and Syria are flattened by recent earthquakes. The picture of devastation in this poem is being seen on our television today. The book of Lamentations does not belong in the ancient past, it still happens today. We see it in the eyes of those who stand by the ruins of their homes as rescue teams look for their family and see their hope disappear as bodies are brought out. There will always be a time for lament.

Jerusalem’s cry for help – 12-22

There will also always be people who need help. Although both v. 8 & v. 14 speak of the sins of Jerusalem there seems very little contrition here. There is a victim mentality in this chapter. Psychology shows that people tend to see themselves as either victims or victors, we do not easily see ourselves as perpetrators. Humans are the same now as they were then.

So what do we do when we are asked to help by people who show no realisation that they have brought something on themselves? We should help them just as we would someone who is suffering innocently. Jesus came to suffer and die for all mankind not because we asked him to come but because that was God’s plan. We needed it but we did not know we needed it.

As for ourselves, there is a need to look at ourselves inwardly and honestly, is there something where we think we are the victim and we are to some degree to blame. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart, and confess if any wrong is found. God loves to forgive, to save you from what you deserve and to freely give you blessings you do not deserve.

We give because we have received from God. Freely you have received, freely give.

| Lamentations 1 | Lamentations 2 >

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