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Lamentations 1

June 23rd, 2015
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This is an overview of Lamentations from an historical point of view.

Lecture 20 – Responses to Suffering and Evil: Lamentations and Wisdom Literature [November 15, 2006]
Chapter 1. The Book of Lamentations [00:00:00]
Professor Christine Hayes

When Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon burned the temple and destroyed Jerusalem, the initial reaction was one of overwhelming grief and sadness, and that’s represented primarily in the Book of Lamentations. It’s a very short book of dirges that laments the loss of Jerusalem as the death of a beloved person.

It may have arisen, however, because of all of the prophets, Jeremiah is the one who reveals the most to us about his personal suffering and grief, and because he was present as an eyewitness at the destruction. There’s no real logical development of ideas in Lamentations primarily because it’s structured by an artificial device. There are five chapters and four of the chapters are acrostic poems. This means that each verse, or sometimes a series of verses, begins with a letter of the alphabet in sequence. So in chapter 3 you have three verses per letter of the alphabet. But this kind of acrostic poetic formation gives the poem a kind of formal unity, at the same time that it has no logical unity or logical flow. And it’s been pointed out that that form is particularly appropriate for an expression of grief that is too profound or too all encompassing to be logical.

The Lamentations over Jerusalem resemble very much David’s lamentations over Saul. The mourner spends time contrasting the former splendor of the beloved to his or her present state. (And we have lots of Ancient Near Eastern prototypes for this kind of lamentation — lamentations over destroyed cities which are understood as the result of the deity’s decision to abandon the city.)

In Lamentations we’re given a very detailed picture of the great suffering that accompanied the final collapse. Lamentations 1:1:

“Alas!
Lonely sits the city
Once great with people!
She that was great among nations
Is become like a widow;
The princess among states
Is become a thrall.”

Chapter 4:

Alas!
The gold is dulled,
Debased the finest gold,
The sacred gems are spilled a
At every street corner.
The precious children of Zion;
Once valued as gold — 
Alas, they are accounted as earthen pots,
Work of a potter’s hands!
Even jackals offer the breast
And suckle their young;
But my poor people has turned cruel,
Like ostriches of the desert.
The tongue of the suckling cleaves
To its palate for thirst.
Little children beg for bread;
None give them a morsel.
Those who feasted on dainties
Lie famished in the streets;
Those who were reared in purple
Have embraced refuse heaps.
The guilt of my poor people
Exceeded the iniquity of Sodom,
Which was overthrown in a moment,
Without a hand striking it.
Her elect were purer then snow,
Whiter then milk;
Their limbs were ruddier then coral,
Their bodies were like sapphire.
Again, the description of the physical beauty of the beloved,
Now their faces are blacker then soot,
They are not recognized in the streets;
Their skin has shriveled on their bones,
It has become dry as wood.
Better off were the slain of the sword
Than those slain by famine,
Who pined away, [as though] wounded,
For lack of the fruits of the field.
With their own hands, tenderhearted women
Have cooked their children;
Such became their fare,
In the disaster of my poor people.

The poet here, though, does adopt the standard Deuteronomistic interpretation of events which infers sin from suffering, and therefore, harps on the sin and the uncleanness of Jerusalem that brought on this calamity. Their guilt exceeded the iniquity of Sodom in the passage we just read, and this is a strategy that of course justifies God. The poet singles out the corrupt priests, the corrupt prophets for blame. He attacks the popular ideology of the inviolability of Zion. Israel’s many sins are what caused Yahweh to pour out his wrath and destroy Jerusalem utterly.

The descriptions of Yahweh’s wrath, anger, his consuming rage, these are some of the most powerful and most violent poetry in the Hebrew Bible. They tend to divert attention, in fact, from the people’s guilt and focus attention on their suffering. Children crying for bread, children starving to death, women raped, men abused. In chapter 3, the poet switches into the first person so Jerusalem is speaking like one who is pursued and abused, beaten by an angry and violent master.

Chapter 3 [vv 1-11]:

I am the man who has known affliction
Under the rod of His wrath;
Me he drove on and on
In unrelieved darkness;
On none but me He brings down His hand
Again and again, without cease.
He has worn away my flesh and skin;
He has shattered my bones.
All around me He has built
Misery and hardship;
He has made me dwell in darkness,
Like those long dead.
He has walled me in and I cannot break out;
He has weighed me down with chains.
And when I cry and plead,
He shuts out my prayer;
He has walled in my ways with hewn blocks,
He has made my paths a maze.
He is a lurking bear to me,
A lion in hiding;
He has forced me off my way and mangled me,
He has left me numb.

A remarkably violent passage. And in another remarkable passage, the poet describes God as refusing to hear the prayers of Israel. He no longer can forgive. He simply has to punish. This is in chapter 3 as well, verses 42 to 45.

We have transgressed and rebelled,
And You have not forgiven.
You have clothed Yourself in anger and pursued us,
You have slain without pity.
You have screened Yourself off with a cloud
That no prayer may pass through.
You have made us filth and refuse
In the midst of the peoples.
So God is simply refusing to even hear Israel’s prayer. This is an emphasis not so much on Israel’s guilt, but on Israel’s tremendous suffering, God’s hardheartedness.

The poem ends with a plea of reconciliation in 5:19-22.

But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever,
Your throne endures through the ages.
Why have you forgotten us utterly,
Forsaken us for all time?
Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!
For truly, You have rejected us,
Bitterly raged against us.
Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!

Lamentations represents one response to the fall of Jerusalem. It’s an overwhelming sense of loss, grief, misery, a sense of shock too at God’s treatment. And also a longing to return, a longing for renewal and reconciliation. The 200 years following the destruction would prove to be a time, a very critical time, of transition. And Israelite literature in this period reflects the Israelites’ struggle with the philosophical and religious challenge of the destruction.

Another viewpoint from Harvard’s Harvey Cox who co write a book on Lamentations while the other author Stephanie Paulsell wrote on the Song of Solomon.

The lament, as Harvey Cox tells us, “does not depict what we “ought” to be like in the face of tragedy: noble, stoic, patient, long-suffering. It depicts what we really are like – miserable, engaged, confused, and vindictive” (Lamentations and the Song of Songs, p.34).

 Also from Lamentations we will see the seriousness of the situation this world is in.

 This is his brief talk about Lamentations:

To view start  at 16min 59secs When was the last time you heard a sermon on Lamentations

and finish 26min 52secs do something we need to know about.

 Next week we will see something remarkable and surprising in the middle of the book of Lamentations. There is hope.

 An attempt to capture this pain is  The Music of the Bible Revealed: click here

Sermon

 Most people in our culture recoil at the idea of God’s wrath. The well-known theologian, Miroslav Volf, (presently at Yale) once did too, until he experienced the brokenness of the world in some of the most horrific ways. In his book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, he writes:

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them.

My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.
Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where over 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love (138-139).

God hates what we do to each other on this earth. There is great suffering all around us. The circumstances in Jerusalem described in Lamentations is a consequence of the evil abounding in Judah. It is in one sense a warning to the world that God hates evil. He hates all that destroys what he has intended for us. It is also a reminder of his sovereignty –he is not mocked by the ‘respectable’ games people play – even in his name.

We will come back to this at the end of the sermon.

But I would like to now focus on the significance of lament being canonized in scripture. Because the lament is a human response to very tragic situations.

Read more…

Message for the Day

How to Enter the Kingdom of God

October 18th, 2013
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Last time we heard Jesus teaching about persevering prayer and not giving up in the face of injustice. We read in the last book Revelation 6:9-11

 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters were killed just as they had been.

 This, from our perspective, can be the theme of Revelation. We are like the vulnerable widow facing the unjust rulers of this world – seemingly impotent and without hope to rectify the wrongs done to the people of God. And this will continue until the coming of the Son of Man whose appearance is described as “ For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.”

 Thus the source of this persevering faith is knowing who Jesus is – revealed in their midst. In him the kingdom of God was already present.

 They could see who they were trusting. Whose promises were sure.

 Gary Deddo at the recent conference spoke on this:

 In Hebrews 11 you notice that By faith everyone did what they had to do. Faith and obedience go together.

 The Who is a speaking, doing God.

 Trust God because of his Word – his final word is a living word, Jesus Christ.

 The pattern always in the Old and New Testament is: We learn what God has done for us and our response is an obedient trust to his graciousness to us.

 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, then we trust and obey.

 Faith is always built on the foundation of who God is, revealed in what he has already done for us.

 If we know better who God is – we know who we can trust; we find his commands are connected to his promises. He won’t command what he has not already done for us.

 We are now coming to another parable of Jesus to help us in trusting God in our weakness.

 Luke 18:9-14

This is one of the most well known parables of Jesus. We love to use it to warn against people being self righteous.

Is it Pharisaical to have a disciplined Christian life?

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Message for the Day

Pakistan

August 6th, 2009
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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 016 | Wed 05 Aug 2009 Reports:

 
Pakistan’s infamous Blasphemy Laws (Articles 295 b and 295 c of the
Penal Code) were introduced in the 1980s as the nation was undergoing a
process of Islamisation under General Zia. Defiling of the Qur’an and
blasphemy (‘derogatory remarks’) against Muhammad, the founder of
Islam, are criminal offences punishable by life in prison or death. The
blasphemy laws are frequently used as instruments of persecution, most
commonly by Muslims with non-religious motives such as a desire to
seize Christian land or close a Christian business. A simple
uncorroborated accusation is enough to have the accused (who is guilty
until proven innocent) removed through imprisonment or murder (honour
killing).

As reported in RLPB 012 (link below), after a local Christian was
falsely accused of blasphemy, a rampaging mob of some 600 armed Muslims
looted and torched 110 homes belonging to Christians on the evening of
30 June in Bahmani Wala, Punjab Province. A ‘reconciliation’ was
brokered in which the Christian victims were encouraged not to press
charges or protest, but to accept a ‘compensation’ payment. This was
despite the fact that impunity only encourages more persecution.

On Sunday 26 July Muslims in the Punjabi village of Korian allegedly
found pages of an Islamic book in a garbage tin outside a Christian’s
home. Police registered a case against the Christian. Muslims then
rampaged against the local Christian community on the night of Thursday
30 July, torching 47 homes and forcing the village’s 500 Christians to
flee for their lives.

Read more…

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