~by Randy Bushey
How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave (Lamentations 1:1).
The Old Testament book of Lamentations is generally ignored.
Most readers avoid it. It’s persistently, relentlessly, incessantly sad.
A grief-filled monologue by an unnamed observer – identified as Jeremiah by Jewish tradition – arranged into 5 dirges.
The irony: 5 intentionally and gracefully artistic poems of… torment and grief.
The prophet has witnessed the greatest act of covenant judgement on the people of God to this point in their patchwork history.
The relational contract mediated through Moses in which God had committed Himself to a series of promises for obedience and corresponding penalties for breaching the terms of the covenant.
They are recorded in Deuteronomy 28 including consequences that are personal, agricultural, climatic, economic, political and military in scope.
The final, ultimate covenant sanction was expulsion from the Promised Land.
The Lord had warned what was unthinkable to the Hebrew mind: if they persisted in their soul-destroying sin, the Chosen people, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac – himself the child of promise – would be evicted from the territory gifted to the Patriarch in the early chapters of Genesis.
And Jeremiah witnessed that horrific climax.
The conquering, crushing military might of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian military swept down from the north to obliterate the nation of Judah.
After 30 months of siege, the Holy City was annihilated. When the Babylonian forces finally broke through the great city wall, the pent-up frustration was evident in the wide-spread destruction, carnage and ruthless bloodshed that was unleashed on Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
And in July-August of 596 BC the Temple – thought to be the unassailable earthly home of Almighty God – was razed by fire.
Having agonizingly predicted this outcome and then living to see the realization of his dire prophetic warnings, Jeremiah lamented deeply.
But the head-scratching question persists: why did the prophet write such gut-wrenching, anguished content in such decidedly, elegant poetic form?
The author frequently employed an unusual rhythm in chapters 1 to 4. Sometimes referred to as a “limping meter” the poetic beat of 3 + 2 suggests a stagger of torment.
Additionally, each of the first 4 chapters are written in acrostic fashion with successive verses (or paragraphs in chapter 3) beginning with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
And the entire book of 5 chapters is written in a chiastic structure with chapter 3 – the longest dirge – serving as the heart of the composition. In this central chapter, Jeremiah’s response is as a personification of Jerusalem.
Metaphorically, the prophet becomes the city.
So, if in such distress about what he had witnessed, why would Jeremiah take the care to assemble his written material in such an artistically methodical and creative format?
Although many have speculated, that question remains unanswered.
But I have to wonder if, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God as the prophet wrote, his treatise so elegantly structured and with such sophistication continues to subtly demonstrate that even in those dire times, the Lord remained in sovereign control of everything that happens on earth and throughout His universe.
Takeaway – The poetry is a subtle, but also intentional, deliberate reminder of our God regulating and ordaining the affairs of mankind, the detail of which He knew perfectly before the foundations of the world were laid.
His unseen Hand was – and will continue to be – bringing about His ultimate purposes, designs and intentions: then, now, forever.
Although there are elements of darkness, depression, discouragement and disappointment in our day, triggered by the pandemic and other causes, our situation is not comparable to the suffering that Jeremiah witnessed.
However, he would remind us:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him (Lamentations 3:22-24).
~graphic by Google Art Project