At last, we are at our final introduction to the Lamentations of Jeremiah. While the immediate theme of the book is, of course, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, we cannot ignore certain emotional aspects of sorrow which seem to ooze out of the weeping eyes of the prophet. But, he is not the only one who is weeping. For example, what emotions must have pierced the heart of the mothers of whom we read in 4:3? Surely, they sought in vain for water and food for their infants. And once the famine had taken their little one where only Yahweh (Jehovah) holds control, what must they have felt, when the only way to preserve their own lives was to make wise (?) use of the little ones emaciated corpses (4:10).
Is there no hope?
Is there no deliverance?
A Short Reading
A View of the Broader Context
1. In each of the preceding chapters the ensuing result of disobedience is laid at the feet of all, but the peculiarity unique cause of the judgement of God is laid at the feet of the priests (4:13, 16) and prophets (2:9, 14; 4:13).
2. Let’s attribute to the priests and prophets the highest, most noble of motives (perhaps being mere men, they were so wrapped up in the geopolitical events in Egypt, Edom, Ninevah, Shechum, and Babylon, they simply were overwhelmed with the weight of duty which fell on them. You’ve been there; you’ve failed; you’ve neglected the weigher matters of the law while training a gnat and swallowing a camel, haven’t you?
3. If you persevered to read chapter 3 (you did, didn’t you? It’s the best part of the scroll!) you saw Jeremiah’s personal outpouring of his own distress. Like all good men of conscience and sincere duty to a troubled and endangered people, Jeremiah included himself with the guilty, who was suffering the same dangers which fell on the city and nation. Think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “…that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth”; or consider Ezra who, after all the great things accomplished upon the return from captive, was shocked at the confession of the officials that the people, protests, and Levites were in direct disobedience of God’s instruction. Did he rail upon the guilty? No, indeed not! Read Ezra 9:6-7 to see what he confessed to God, defining the “we”—himself included—as guilty and worthy of God’s judgment
Narrowing the Focus
The hopeful echo of Jeremiah’s own faith—”The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23)—closes chapter 5. See 5:21-22. But, this hope is tempered by a litany of complaints, because chapter 5 is an expression of collective memory (and complaint, for memory remembers long what acknowledgment of personal culpability prefers to give dispensation).
This week, place a small dash in the margin of your Bible which identify the complaints listed in 5:1-16. If you ignore the parallelism in each verse (and I’ve counted correctly), you’ll see 32 complaints. If you see the parallelism (and you should, though not always easily), you’ll count 16.
We are going to enjoy the study of Lamentations, but I have to tell you, it’s not an easy read and you are going to be really challenged.