Hope—Lamentations 3

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. 

A man lies across a spectrum of light projected on a wall.
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

I am a man who has suffered greatly.
    The Lord has used the Babylonians
    to punish my people.
He has driven me away. He has made me walk
    in darkness instead of light.
He has turned his powerful hand against me.
    He has done it again and again, all day long.

He has worn out my body.
    He has broken my bones.
He has surrounded me and attacked me.
    He has made me suffer bitterly.
    He has made things hard for me.
He has made me live in darkness
    like those who are dead and gone.

He has built walls around me, so I can’t escape.
    He has put heavy chains on me.
I call out and cry for help.
    But he won’t listen to me when I pray.
He has put up a stone wall to block my way.
    He has made my paths crooked.

10 He has been like a bear waiting to attack me.
    He has been like a lion hiding in the bushes.
11 He has dragged me off the path.
    He has torn me to pieces.
    And he has left me helpless.
12 He has gotten his bow ready to use.
    He has shot his arrows at me.

13 The arrows from his bag
    have gone through my heart.
14 My people laugh at me all the time.
    They sing and make fun of me all day long.
15 The Lord has made my life bitter.
    He has made me suffer bitterly.

16 He made me chew stones that broke my teeth.
    He has walked all over me in the dust.
17 I have lost all hope of ever having any peace.
    I’ve forgotten what good times are like.
18 So I say, “My glory has faded away.
    My hope in the Lord is gone.”

19 I remember how I suffered and wandered.
    I remember how bitter my life was.
20 I remember it very well.
    My spirit is very sad deep down inside me.
21 But here is something else I remember.
    And it gives me hope.

22 The Lord loves us very much.
    So we haven’t been completely destroyed.
    His loving concern never fails.
23 His great love is new every morning.
    Lord, how faithful you are!
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is everything I will ever need.
    So I will put my hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who put their hope in him.
    He is good to those who look to him.
26 It is good when people wait quietly
    for the Lord to save them.
27 It is good for a man to carry a heavy load of suffering
    while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone and not say anything.
    The Lord has placed that load on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust.
    There might still be hope for him.
30 Let him turn his cheek toward those who would slap him.
    Let him be filled with shame.

31 The Lord doesn’t turn his back
    on people forever.
32 He might bring suffering.
    But he will also show loving concern.
    How great his faithful love is!
33 He doesn’t want to bring pain
    or suffering to anyone.

34 Every time people crush prisoners under their feet,
    the Lord knows all about it.
35 When people refuse to give someone what they should,
    the Most High God knows it.
36 When people don’t treat someone fairly,
    the Lord knows it.

37 Suppose people order something to happen.
    It won’t happen unless the Lord has planned it.
38 Troubles and good things alike come to people
    because the Most High God has commanded them to come.
39 A person who is still alive shouldn’t blame God
    when God punishes them for their sins.

40 Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living.
    Let’s return to the Lord.
41 Let’s lift up our hands to God in heaven.
    Let’s pray to him with all our hearts.
42 Let’s say, “We have sinned.
    We’ve refused to obey you.
    And you haven’t forgiven us.

43 “You have covered yourself with the cloud of your anger.
    You have chased us.
    You have killed us without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with the cloud of your anger.
    Our prayers can’t get through to you.
45 You have made us become like trash and garbage
    among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths wide
    to swallow us up.
47 We are terrified and trapped.
    We are broken and destroyed.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes.
    That’s because my people are destroyed.

49 Tears will never stop flowing from my eyes.
    My eyes can’t get any rest.
50 I’ll weep until the Lord looks down from heaven.
    I’ll cry until he notices my tears.
51 What I see brings pain to my spirit.
    All the women of my city are mourning.

52 Those who were my enemies for no reason at all
    hunted me down as if I were a bird.
53 They tried to end my life
    by throwing me into a deep pit.
    They threw stones down at me.
54 The water rose and covered my head.
    I thought I was going to die.

55 Lord, I called out to you.
    I called out from the bottom of the pit.
56 I prayed, “Please don’t close your ears
    to my cry for help.”
    And you heard my appeal.
57 You came near when I called out to you.
    You said, “Do not be afraid.”

58 Lord, you stood up for me in court.
    You saved my life and set me free.
59 Lord, you have seen the wrong things
    people have done to me.
    Stand up for me again!
60 You have seen how my enemies
    have tried to get even with me.
    You know all about their plans against me.

61 Lord, you have heard them laugh at me.
    You know all about their plans against me.
62 You have heard my enemies
    whispering among themselves.
    They speak against me all day long.
63 Just look at them sitting and standing there!
    They sing and make fun of me.

64 Lord, pay them back.
    Punish them for what their hands have done.
65 Cover their minds with a veil.
    Put a curse on them!
66 Lord, get angry with them and hunt them down.
    Wipe them off the face of the earth.

Lamentations 3 NIRV

Look at all those verses! Yet this song is no longer than Lamentations 1 in Hebrew, and shorter than Lamentations 2 (Which has one stanza written with four lines rather than three).

These laments have a particular form of being written in stanzas of three lines of five words, Instead of the first of these three lines starting with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, starting with aleph and ending in taw, in Lamentations 3 all three lines of each stanza begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each line rather than each stanza corresponds to a verse in our Bible numberings and any blame must lie with the translators who added the verse numbers as the whole Bible was written without verse or chapter numbers which were added much, much later.

The third lament is in four parts: Enduring suffering, Hope in God, A time to take stock, God is ready to answer.

Enduring suffering, experiencing faithfulness

Lamentations 3:1-24.

After an uplift at the end of the second lament, we go back into the personal prayers of a man of sorrow. I am using the term man of sorrow deliberately, well aware of the connotations of that term in the songs of God’s servant in Isaiah’s prophecies. The parallels with Isaiah are there from the start. Verse 2 says, “He has made me walk in darkness instead of light,” which echoes Isaiah 9:2, “The people who are now living in darkness will see a great light,” only the opposite way around.

It was Isaiah who had prophesied that Judah would fall to the Babylonians and suffer all that was now happening. (Isaiah 39:5-8), and also that the people sent into exile would return (Isaiah 35). The words of Lamentations 3:1-18 are on the surface the cry of an innocent person suffering because of the sins of many but are a reminder of what was prophesied. Isaiah had prophesied the same thing that Moses had prophesied: If the people refuse to repent and keep on refusing to repent God would take them from the land God had given them. This is a thing that fills people with dread, but also hope. God did what he said he would do in sending Judah into exile. God will therefore keep his promise to restore the nation.

A time to hope in God

Lamentations 3:25-39

God’s great love is new every morning. These words of comfort, from verse 23, are not written to people who can get up in the morning and see how wonderful life is, but to people living in exile as slaves in a foreign land. Exile and slavery: It’s not a wonderful life.

Jeremiah has shown that there is hope in believing in a promise-keeping God, Especially a God who loves us. God’s love is new every morning, and so Jeremiah responds to God’s goodness and sovereignty. When the country failed suffering came on everyone, good and bad alike. But God’s punishment on Judah was not forever:

31 The Lord doesn’t turn his back
    on people forever.
32 He might bring suffering.
    But he will also show loving concern.
    How great his faithful love is!
33 He doesn’t want to bring pain
    or suffering to anyone.

We walk by faith in a living God whose faithfulness to us will never fail.

Taking stock and renewal

Lamentations 3:40-54

There follows a call for spiritual renewal in the next stanza and prayers for renewal in the next two. It takes God to renew us and that often means us giving up on our own ideas and admitting to our faults. Verses 43-47 may look like more moaning, but really it is not, it is owning up to the consequences of our actions. The early parts of Lamentations 3 are the cries of a man who is innocent and facing the consequences of the acts of others. But he has gone beyond that, admitting that the sins of society are the corporate responsibility of those in that culture and all must pay the consequences. The tears are real, there is sorrow, not hate, for the mistakes of others. Blaming others can be a problem, especially when the others are people like us or vulnerable people.

A God ready to answer

Lamentations 3:55-66

Confidence in God is important, there is an overlap between the last section and this one, but the growing confidence in God that came as a result of accepting corporate responsibility seems to have stalled at the end. Jeremiah is confident not only that God can answer his prayers, but also that God is ready to answer. What he is asking for though is harsh.

The harshest requests of God come from this period of exile. They are requests for revenge. When Jeremiah asks God to hunt them down and wipe them off the face of the earth. He is talking of something that the nation of Judah suffered at the hands of the Babylonians and earlier the nation of Israel suffered under the Assyrians.

Psalm 137 begins, “We were sitting by the rivers of Babylon.” It is a song probably written post-exile and looking back, it ends, “People of Babylon, you are sentenced to be destroyed. Happy is the person who pays you back according to what you have done to us. Happy is the person who grabs your babies and smashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:8-9). Like Jeremiah, the psalmist believes that justice means an exact payback of all that has been dealt out. Harsh justice.

The problem is in seeing things as personal only. Some churches teach that you give yourself to Christ personally and that’s it. They never go further to experience God’s love any deeper. You can see this attitude when Christians complain about social justice as if it were from Satan and not found in scripture, I often wonder which Bible they read. I suspect their knowledge is selective.

That is the problem with harsh justice as opposed to social justice. Judah, the people, were experiencing harsh justice and not administering social justice is among the reasons they were exiled. We need to look at God as a God who cares for all and is open to all coming to him.

If personal faith is all there is then the Lamentations could have ended here, but this is the middle one, there are two more to come. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against having personal faith. I am saying that we need personal faith in God and that personal faith is to be sustained, and sustains us throughout our spiritual journeys. It is a necessary starting point, but that is what it is, a start. We need to move on, taking personal faith with us. God is with us. That is where hope comes from.

< Lamentations 2 | Lamentations 3 | Lamentations 4 >

Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s