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Strolling Through the Book of Lamentations September 29, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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I recently strolled through the Book of Lamentations with the aid of a commentary by Calvin.

This post includes a summary of Lamentations and my thoughts on that challenging – yet important – book.

Summary: In this book, the author presents a plethora of laments concerning:

  • the decline and fall of Jerusalem and Judah
  • the desecration – and destruction – of the temple by the Babylonian soldiers
  • the executions of nobles
  • random killings by the Babylonian soldiers
  • widespread famine
  • the suffering of infants – and their deaths at the hands of their mothers
  • widespread rapes
  • child slavery
  • the exile of his compatriots
  • the glee of the enemies of Judah in response to her downfall
  • the insults of those who oppose his ministry.

Yet he asserts that these calamities are the natural result of the sinfulness of his compatriots, as God cannot ignore their evil deeds.

Thus, he exhorts his compatriots to:

  • reflect on their evil deeds
  • repent of them
  • beseech God to forgive them of their sins.

It should be noted that he wrestles with God throughout this book. On the one hand, he:

  • struggles with the fact that God has brought these calamities on His people
  • wonders if these calamities constitute an overreaction on His part
  • wonders if He has permanently abandoned His people.

On the other hand, he:

  • declares his confidence in God – given His permanence
  • entreats Him to punish the enemies of His people – especially the Edomites
  • entreats Him to punish those who oppose his ministry
  • entreats Him to restore His people to His favor.

Thoughts: This book contains many haunting phrases, including, “The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals” and “He made ramparts and walls lament; together they wasted away.” Perhaps one could argue that anthropomorphisms are a valuable tool in the hands of a poet. On a related note, I wish that I could read Hebrew – as that would have given me an even greater appreciation of this book. For example, each of the first four chapters constitutes an acrostic poem in Hebrew; the beauty of that structure is lost in translation, though. Clearly, it is praiseworthy when the Holy Spirit works through His servants to leverage the power of language for His glory.

In verse 10 of chapter 3, the author compares God to a bear and a lion. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Harsh is the complaint when Jeremiah compares God to a bear and to a lion. I have already said that the apprehension of God’s wrath terrified the faithful of that day so much that they could not sufficiently express the depth of their calamity. We must also bear in mind that they were expressing themselves in a human way. They did not always curb their feelings but said some things that they deserved to be rebuked for.

Calvin’s thoughts raise the following question: when we, as believers, wrestle with God in our prayers, what constitutes appropriate dialogue in that context? Clearly God has given us the ability to think and reason; how much latitude, then, does He allow us in terms of questioning His will? He knows that we are not omniscient and that we lack His ability to see the future; does He account for those limitations when evaluating our difficulties in comprehending His will? How can we properly struggle with God in our prayers while maintaining our confidence and trust in Him? One must wonder if God disapproved of at least some parts of this book…

This book is replete with jarring images of the pain and suffering that pervaded Judah after the Babylonian invasion. While these images make for unpleasant reading, one thought is that they provide us with a better understanding of the infinite holiness of God. While we cannot measure the extent of His holiness, we can learn more about it in light of His response to sin. Indeed, it is evident that the people of Judah had committed a plethora of sins before the Babylonian invasion. Each of these sins had offended His infinite holiness – compelling Him to respond in a manner that defended His holiness. As modern-day readers, this book should spur us to ponder the extent of His holiness; moreover, in light of His permanence, we should consider whether our words and deeds properly reflect His holiness.

Overall I found this book to be a challenging read, as it contains seemingly contradictory messages. On the one hand, the author expresses his confidence in God in verses 21-24 of chapter 3:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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.

On the other hand, the author seems to express doubts concerning God and His faithfulness in verses 19-22 of chapter 5:

You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Perhaps these seemingly contradictory messages are included to highlight the emotional turmoil within the author as he wrote this book. While the power of the Holy Spirit was upon him at that time, he was not immune to human weaknesses and frailties. As modern-day readers, we cannot ignore the extent of his pain concerning the downfall of his nation. On a related note, those of us who live in First World countries may have difficulty feeling empathy with the author. We often hear of calamities in less prosperous nations, yet since we often do not know those who have been directly affected by these events, it is relatively easy for us to gloss over them.

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