Often when faced with extreme sorrow and pain people will express what they are feeling in poetry. Jeremiah did this when his city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. He composed the ‘book’ we call Lamentations (a word which simply means ‘weeping’ or ‘a passionate expression of grief or sorrow’).
Lamentations is in the form of an acrostic poem. If you notice, all the chapters except for chapter 3 have 22 verses. In these chapters each verse begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (this doesn’t translate well into other languages). Chapter 3 has 66 verses, or three times 22: so we have three acrostics in this chapter. The final chapter, although it has 22 verses loses the acrostic in the original Hebrew.
Jeremiah was distraught over what God had brought on Jerusalem. Although God had sent prophet after prophet to warn the people about the coming destruction of the city if they refused to change, they didn’t listen. They continued to reject God and turned to worshipping false gods instead. Finally God brought the disasters on he had threatened on the city which was destroyed, along with his temple, and the people were taken into exile in Babylon. Listen as Jeremiah expressed his sorrow over what had happened.
“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. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is no-one to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. After affliction and harsh labour, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting-place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.” (Lamentations 1:1-3 NIV)
In verse after verse Jeremiah detailed what had happened to the city and its people. But he also realised why this had happened.
“Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honoured her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away.” (Lamentations 1:8)
Sin was the problem. Even though God had warned and warned them over and over again they wouldn’t change. They seemed to think that because they were God’s people nothing bad could ever happen to them: God wouldn’t let it! Yet because they refused to change destruction and exile came.
When bad things happen to us we sometimes forget where God is in all of it. We tend to think that God has forsaken us and doesn’t love us. We don’t realise at times that God allows the bad to happen to us because he has warned us against certain actions. We forget that in the midst of what we consider to be bad that God is there, he loves us, and he is working for good in our lives (Romans 8:28).
It was the same for the people of Judah. Their city had been destroyed. They were in exile. Yet God still loved them. Notice what Jeremiah wrote in the middle of this long poem.
“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)
May we never forget that despite the difficulties we face in life God is still there. He loves us. He is always faithful. Every morning we experience anew God’s love, compassion and faithfulness. Therefore we need to wait for him, be patient, and never doubt him.
Photo of Jerusalem destroyed and exiles from The Citadel, Jerusalem, by Jon Galloway.
Readings for next week: Jeremiah 50-52; Lamentations 1-2