This chapter has a drama in its structure in the original language, because after four neat alphabetical acrostic poems in chapters 1-4, the last has no discernable pattern. The structure is gone. Chaos has replaced order.
Like the other poems, the content is divided into observation and implication. It starts with a plea to God to remember what has happened to them, and lists the terrible sights and images in Jerusalem. And it’s awful.
It’s a picture of a destitute, marginalised, powerless people, exploited and abused at every turn. So many races and ethnic minorities come to mind still. The world has more stateless refugees than ever. Paying too much for basics of life like food and water, unable to find work or stuck doing back-breaking labour. Victims of crime, denied justice, joyless.
There is an acceptance that ‘the crown has fallen from their head’ because of sin. But there also a complaint to God that this generation is bearing the sin of previous ones, a hint of self-righteousness.
The list takes up more of the chapter than usual, and the conclusion is more pessimistic. It asks God to remember all this, and on the basis that his throne endures forever, restore them.
But it also considers the option that God may have utterly rejected them, that he is ‘angry beyond measure’.
I don’t think God was more angry about this sin than any, it all earns judgement. His character is one of grace. But the brutal truth was that the paradigm of Israel they knew was not God’s plan any more. The Messiah was coming. It was a new thing, as Isaiah said, and more inclusive, and not tied to sacrifices in the temple.
The exile would end, the temple would be rebuilt as promised, but smaller and then get sacked again and never return… (Yet).
I’m unsettled, I’m busy, I’m vulnerable. In the arc of my life, my strength is getting less not more. There are loose ends everywhere I can’t get a handle on.
Thursday and Friday last week, I opted out. I stayed home, didn’t think about work except to get a medical certificate. I was agitated and distracted, I muddled through the days.
Coming at such a vulnerable time for me, the book both dwarfs and validates my bad feelings. I’m relatively not that hard done by, but also it is ok to lament. The divine plan includes hard bits. It did for Jesus too. They don’t stop being hard because God is sovereign. Talk about them, share them with God and each other, to make sense of our existence.
This is the end of lamentations. It has to be there, after all the prophets. 16 books of prophesy, full of warnings about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and how bad it will be. There had to be a first hand account to close the narrative circle. To show it was indeed 100% as they said it would be.
The Lord gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.