Context of the Text
Lament Lament is a category of worship that is very foreign, not from people’s lives, but from communal worship. It will be important to spend some time with the congregation on the importance of what lament is and is not. Lament is not pious whining, it is the cry from the one in despair that God has not stopped the pain and sometimes evil from coming (not all hardship is evil). Christians may feel like lamenting to God, asking God to show up and be better, is idolatrous worship. According to Scripture, this is not the case. The largest categories of songs in the Psalter are laments. Laments are a great gift to the church as they are grounded in faith. “God you can do better!” “Why are you allowing evil to come and destroy my life?!” God is more displeased by our apathy and empty praise that our honest and searing pain and anger at God’s allowing of evil to reap devastation in our lives. When worship is only about giving God praise and refusing the space for lament, it leaves our worship shallow and inauthentic. This text in lamentations is an excellent opportunity to teach about the importance of regular lament in Christian worship. Along with this text, Psalm 22 can also be used to show Jesus’ use of lament on the cross. If Jesus can lament so can we.
Notes on the Text Kathleen O’Conner notes that the book of Lamentations is a poetic response to a national tragedy. These 5 poems speak of invasion and collapse of a nation. A capital city is destroyed and the social and economic systems have thus crumbled.
Verse 1: Out of the box a woman- Daughter Zion is in pain feeling lost and in despair. Jerusalem is destroyed, the people gone. Shame and embarrassment now become the national hymn. While once high and esteemed, this city is now in ruins. The Jews overall failed to listen to God’s prophetic warnings that their sin would have devastating consequences. This verse notes the despair of what once was only to see it in decay. Yet from God’s perspective, this exile is necessary and an opportunity for the Jews to once again put their adoration and faith in God and not in a building (temple) or city.
Verse 2: The pain is visceral, expressing itself in bitter tears. There is no place for comfort, the injury and wound is simply too deep. Moreover, friends have become enemies. It is noteworthy that in times of pain and need one’s true friends become evident. It is not clear whether the author feels sorrow or a sense of justification in that what has occurred was necessary.
Verse 3: Judah has gone into exile after much work and heavy labor. While once a proud nation, the people have simply been absorbed into other nations. However, the opportunity comes. The Jews would be invited to find their identity not in a geographic land or a buidlign, but in Yahweh. God is to be their source of hope and identity. This is the resurrection hope of exile. Turn from sin and find God again and make him Lord of all.
Verse 4: From roads to gate, to priests to young women the devastation is widespread.
Verse 5: For a nation in exile, enemies have become conquerors This verse also declares clearly this destruction is brought by God because of their own disobedience. As such, this destruction is not evil, but justified. And then this verse also notes that its future, the children, have been taken to a foreign land to become citizens of new kingdoms. It is this loss of a future that may be the most devastating. Again what is most tragic is that this mother, Judah, is responsible for the fate of her children. There is a sense in which Zion must feel this guilt.
Verse 6: All of the glory to Zion has been erased. And in fact this was the problem. Zion became the source of its own glory that never reached God. God had been neglected and Zion, as a type of national pride had become the idol. Not only are the children taken, but the officials and leaders are lost and scattered.
Preaching the Text It would be wise to spend some time in a sermon on the overall scope, purpose, and sequence of Lamentations.
One of the awkward tensions in the Old Testament concerns the exile of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Was this exile a good or bad thing? The prophets are clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is a result of the sin of the people. While some tragedies and evil experienced are not a punishment and a result of evil. The destruction of Jerusalem is specifically caused by God and is seen as both a punishment and a means of grace for the Israelites. The prophets continually called for the Jews to repent of their wickedness or see all they hold dear destroyed. Care must be taken with issues about evil and God’s action, but in light of the tenor of the Old Testament, the exile of the Jews and the destruction of the temple are not evil, they are God’s punishment for sin. Moreover, when persons today try to use the concept of exile when speaking about things in the culture not going their way, they must show care to note that if it is exile then it was their own fault and exile is actually a good thing. Again we must not equate exile with all evil that comes our way. We should never affirm that God causes or brings evil to our lives, even as we affirm that God allows it, which means God could have stopped it. This is the foundation of lament.
One of the problems for many Jews is that the Temple and Jerusalem had become their god, their idol. They had assumed that since this was God’s holy city and holy temple God would never let it be destroyed. This confidence was misplaced. Actually, the exile is a means of grace to help the Jews come back to God and repent of their sin.
So what “good” things in our life threaten to take the place of God? Which things do we look to for pride, hope, and security? If anything rightly fills that space, this these have become our gods and we are in need of repentance.
This text can be preached that this terrible exile that happens to Zion is their own fault. This is punishment and actually a means of grace that they might turn back to Yahweh. Within the truth here care must be taken to not assume that all things that happen to us are a result of our sin. In fact we would not use the category of the exile as evil, while clearly evil occurs to the innocent all the time. The preacher will take great care to distinguish the exile as punishment from other events of evil in life.
In the end the exile was to be a means of grace and as a lament, even though this was deserved, their lament can begin by looking at their own sin, while inviting God to help them repent of their ways.