Bible: What Does Lamentations 3-5 Teach Us About a Theology of Suffering?
The Prophet Jeremiah
Alphabetical Acrostic in Triplet
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Like a Bear and a Lion
A Methodical Counseling Method
Structurally, this chapter features an alphabetical acrostic in triplet.
That is, the verses of each strophe begin with successive consonants of the Hebrew alphabet, and the three verses within each strophe start with the same consonant.
Jeremiah employs this style to demonstrate the completeness of the suffering that Jerusalem endured.
The poet reviews God's chastening in a methodical fashion; he communicates the sense of an intense, personal, one-sided attack in progress.
Undoubtedly an eyewitness and recipient of countless agonies himself, he describes in figurative language the actions of the God of wrath whom he believed was personally assailing him.
[Note the preponderance of third-person singular verbs and first person singular objects in verses one through sixteen].
From the poet's perspective, Yahweh has injured him physically. He is
(1) his enemy (vv. 1-3),
(2) the cause of the dis-integration of his whole being (v. 4),
(3) the perpetrator of a personal attack (v. 5),
(4) a persecutor (v. 6), and
(5) a jailer (vv. 7,9).
God acts like
(6) a bear and
(7) a lion toward him, tearing him to pieces (vv. 10-11).
Jeremiah also depicts Him as
(8) an expert archer (vv. 12-13) and
(9) a brutal conqueror (vv. 15-16).
God's chastening has also had spiritual effects upon the prophet, ushering him into
(1) darkness (v. 2),
(2) bitterness (v. 5),
(3) feelings of being forgotten (vv. 6-9),
(4) frustration (vv. 7-9),
(5) desolation (v. 11),
(6) humiliation (vv. 13-14),
(7) anxiety (v. 16),
(8) hopelessness (v. 18) and
(9) depression (v. 20).
Instruction to Help Sufferers
Theological and Practical Instruction
Jeremiah, however, does not stop at simply presenting his condition; he offers theological and practical instruction on how to cope with God's chastening.
First, the prophet focuses attention on the LORD's character; He is a God of mercy and covenant love (chesed) [vv. 22, 32], compassion (rachamim) [v.22], and righteousness (tsedeq) [see verses 34-36].
By this methodology, he seeks to elicit from his people exultant praise of Yahweh (v. 23).
The poet also wishes to encourage others to look past their afflictions and to wait upon their covenant God.
He himself has passed through the process of dealing with his suffering in this way, and only desires that others follow his example.
The suffering prophet reviews several methods which he employed in his own healing process:
(1) self-counseling (v. 24);
(2) instruction on biblical hope (vv. 21, 24, 26);
(3) submission (vv. 27-30, 39), and
(4) repentance and confession (vv. 40-42).
Afterwards, he returns to a discussion of his own present condition, demonstrating how he handled his pain.
Jeremiah, now possessed of a renewed, spiritual perspective toward suffering, evidences this change through pastoral concern.
Instead of allowing self-pity to overwhelm him, he diverts his energy into tearful intercession for those whom the trials have broken (vv. 49-50).
The prophet expresses great intensity of sorrow, manifesting empathy with his people (v. 51).
He then recalls personal near-death experiences in which prayer was instrumental in his salvation (vv. 52-54), and the results of those past prayers (vv. 55-57).
Yahweh redeemed him then (v. 58), and He will vindicate the poet in the present (vv. 59-63) by recompensing his enemies for their abuses (vv. 64-66).
Results of the Siege
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Destruction has altered the appearance of gold and precious stones of the sanctuary: the former has become dim, and the latter are scattered (v. 1).
Jeremiah draws a parallel between these materials and the sons of Jerusalem: just as the enemy has treated Jerusalem's stones like common clay, so Yahweh has dealt with Zion (v. 2).
As famine persists in the city, conditions become worse than brutish (vv. 3, 4); a once prosperous people now experience rapid impoverishment (v. 5).
Using its most separated members as examples of how steep the spiritual decline had become, the prophet considers Jerusalem's punishment as far more severe than that which God levied against Sodom (vv. 6-8).
Famine causes hideous starvation scenes and acts of cannibalism to abound (vv. 9-10).
The promised wrath has come to pass (v. 11).
This event exploded the belief to which the world of that day adhered: knowing of Israel's great Yahweh, kings once thought Jerusalem to be impenetrable (v. 12).
But no more.
Zion's religious leaders made such a defeat a reality by their sins (v. 13).
They suffer a great curse, being treated as lepers: scattered, rejected, and forlorn (vv. 14-16).
Some in Jerusalem waited in vain for salvation from another nation (v. 17); they ended up fleeing the scene, only to be pursued (vv. 18-19).
Among those caught was Zedekiah, the "anointed of the LORD" (v. 20; cf. Jer. 39:4-5).
The writer facetiously exhorts Edom to rejoice, for the latter would also drink from the "cup" and become "drunk" (v. 21).
Punishment upon Zion will cease, and it will commence upon Edom (v. 22).
Jeremiah offers a prayer for restoration.
He delineates the many hardships Judah has had to endure, and asks God to "remember" (v. 1).
Judah is without land (v. 2), and has become a servant to Egypt and Assyria (vv. 3-6).
Survival is his main concern (vv. 7-9).
From young to old, the people suffer illness, physical and emotional abuse, and hard labor (vv. 10-14).
Sin has robbed them of joy, and life has become a burden (vv. 15-18).
At first, the prophet inquires why the rejection has persisted; Jeremiah then begs the eternal Yahweh to restore the nation (vv. 19-22).
SUMMARY QUESTIONS OF LAMENTATIONS
1. What may have been Jeremiah's reason for using the alphabetical acrostic structure?
2. How does the prophet depict Jerusalem in chapter one?
3. What were some of the devastating physical and spiritual results of the invasion of Jerusalem?
4. What does Jeremiah attempt to do in chapter three?
5. How does the prophet expect Yahweh to respond to his enemies?
6. What myth did Jerusalem’s destruction explode?
7. Name the methods Jeremiah employed in his own healing process.
8. What literary pattern does Jeremiah follow in chapter two?
9. What brought about God’s chastening of Jerusalem/Judah?
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