Restoration—Lamentations 5

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. 

Lamentations 5 is different from the other Lamentations in that while it also has 22 verses, it is not an acrostic poem and each verse has only one line, which often has only five Hebrew words, but this is not rigidly adhered to, some verses having 6, 7 or, rarely 8 words.

Lord, think about what has happened to us.
    Look at the shame our enemies have brought on us.
The land you gave us has been turned over to outsiders.
    Our homes have been given to strangers.
Our fathers have been killed.
    Our mothers don’t have husbands.
We have to buy the water we drink.
    We have to pay for the wood we use.
Those who chase us are right behind us.
    We’re tired and can’t get any rest.
We put ourselves under the control of Egypt and Assyria
    just to get enough bread.
Our people of long ago sinned.
    And they are now dead.
    We are being punished because of their sins.
Slaves rule over us.
    No one can set us free
    from their power.
We put our lives in danger just to get some bread to eat.
    Robbers in the desert might kill us with their swords.
10 Our skin is as hot as an oven.
    We are so hungry we’re burning up with fever.
11 Our women have been treated badly in Zion.
    Our virgins have been treated badly in the towns of Judah.
12 Our princes have been hung up by their hands.
    No one shows our elders any respect.
13 Our young men are forced to grind grain at the mill.
    Our boys almost fall down
    as they carry heavy loads of wood.
14 Our elders don’t go to the city gate anymore.
    Our young men have stopped playing their music.
15 There isn’t any joy in our hearts.
    Our dancing has turned into mourning.
16 All of our honor is gone.
    How terrible it is for us because we have sinned!
17 So our hearts are weak.
    Our eyes can’t see very clearly.
18 Mount Zion has been deserted.
    Wild dogs are prowling all around on it.

19 Lord, you rule forever.
    Your throne will last for all time to come.
20 Why do you always forget us?
    Why have you deserted us for so long?
21 Lord, please bring us back to you.
    Then we can return.
    Make our lives like new again.
22 Or have you completely turned away from us?
    Are you really that angry with us?

Lamentations 5 NIRV

The breaking of the five words per line pattern, typical of Hebrew laments, could mean that Chapter 5, while still being a lament, is looking forward to something positive.

Chapter 5 is also a community lament. It represents God’s people, personified as Jerusalem, crying out to God whom they trust.

Chapter 3 was about personal trust in God, but I said at the end of the post on that chapter that personal faith often is not enough. I think that the focus of many evangelicals on personal commitment and personal trust in Jesus Christ is an excellent start. Without a personal commitment to God, we cannot move forwards. So I say “well done indeed” to those who emphasise a personal relationship with God. But the book of Lamentations does not end with chapter 3, and neither should our commitment to God end with the personal relationship. To move on the Jews in Babylon needed to do as a community what the individual did in Chapter 3. Chapter 3 was about hope in the individual. This chapter is about a community of people with hope repenting and confessing together. That is where transformation comes from, from people of hope passing on hope.

The pictures above are of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 2E before and after restoration, to reopen the waterway. The canal did not restore itself, it took a community, firstly to promote the idea of the canal being opened, then a lot of hard work, especially on digging deeper channels between locks 2E and 3E, and further along in Slaithwaite locks 21E and 22E, pus re-digging sections which had been filled in. The publicity was on a number of levels which included a re-creation of one of the locks at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1999. The towpaths were thronging with people that year looking at the rejuvenated canal.

What does canal restoration have to do with Jewish Exiles in Babylon or with society today? The news about Huddersfield this last week is not good. In September last year, two boys aged 15 and 16 at the time were arrested for the murder of a 15-year-old boy. This last week they were found guilty and sentenced.

This same week that they were sentenced, four teenagers appeared in court in Leeds and a murder of and, allegedly, by teenagers happened in Northampton. All involved what the police describe as bladed weapons. Knife crime is increasing, and it is common now among school pupils when only a few years back it was mostly down to organised crime. People who feel safe do not, generally speaking, feel the need to carry knives for their protection, the way to tackle knife crime is to give hope to people who are feeling hopeless and unsafe. Saying the answer is to spread the Gospel, to introduce people to Jesus. That is a brilliant start. A personal relationship with Jesus will help individuals a lot. But it will not solve the problems in society as it will not bring hope to the community. We cannot restore our country to God on our own.

A lesson from the 19th century.

William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, fought to end the slave trade within the British parliament. Slavery was abolished in 1833 within the British Empire. The Portuguese abolished their slave trade in 1836 due to pressure from the British government and also internal pressure which had been going on for decades by the Dominicans.

British Evangelicals were also involved in Parliament in introducing the Factories Acts, firstly in 1802, though it was largely unenforced until the act of 1844, and strengthened by further acts of 1847, 1850 and 1853.

Trade unions were originally founded only among skilled workers, but started to be found among unskilled labourers, particularly in coal mines, from 1850. Unions gained legal status in 1867 and were legalised in 1871. The Methodist Church, born in the evangelical revival of the 1700s, was deeply involved in the growth of the Trade Union movement.

The Oxford Movement of 1833 – 1845 was mainly concerned with returning catholicism to the protestant Church of England. It was these early Anglo-Catholics who moved into working-class areas, where poverty was a significant danger to life, building communities

Which of these were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit? I would say all of them, God’s Spirit is not confined to one denomination of style of churchmanship.

Back to 2023. As well as personal conversion and commitment we need communal repentance and communal confession. The whole community had to accept that people need hope, freedom from fear and security. It is good to see how churches are involved in setting up and running food banks and street kitchens and to see Christians Against Poverty commended on ITV’s The Martin Lewis Money Show. We need social justice, not harsh justice and the church is at the forefront of this.

We need unity in diversity today in a way that was evident 100 to 150 years ago. That is not the same as uniformity, there is very little uniformity in the mixed bag of evangelicals, Dominicans, Anglo-Catholics and Methodists of the 1800s, other than all were Christians moved by the Spirit of God.

Back to the time of Lamentations. The leaders of Judah had administered harsh justice and not social justice to their people which is among the reasons they were exiled made clear in lamentations chapter 4.

Lamentations 5:16 says, “All of our honor is gone. How terrible it is for us because we have sinned!” There is an admission that all the punishments were their fault and here is a communal confession on behalf of the people. That confession leads to giving God his due praise. “Lord, you rule forever. Your throne will last for all time to come.” (v, 19). Out of community confession comes praise for God who unites us. Notice how I united the social reforms of the 19th century as being Christians led by the Holy Spirit. That is how we should act in the 21st century too. Let’s move forwards as a diverse community led by the Holy Spirit.

< Lamentations 4 | Lamentations 5 | Habakkuk 3 >

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