We find ourselves continuing on in this “acrostic” style of poetry – where the poet goes down the Hebrew alphabet and uses the next letter IN the alphabet to start a new line in his poem. But where Lamentations 1-4 are all in this style, it is in the 3rd chapter that we move from 22 lines to 66!
From a 10,000 foot view, our text today, in which many people feel is the continued voice of the observer. It’s the voice we hear is of someone who is has seen the destruction of the city but now experiences it on a personal level. It’s not about the city anymore, it’s not about the destruction of the temples, the loss of life, the starving children on the street, the mocking of nations around the city of Judah or the temples that now are in rubble…it’s now about ME. My feelings, my place, and my space. And the words lifted up and cried out by our poet are from his personal rollercoaster of emotions and feelings. Of the pain and the suffering that they are now in. Of the hand of God that is upon him or withdrawn from him – it’s all about him…to begin with. You’ll see it goes from personal lament…to hopeful personal…to prayerful corporate hope.
So, let’s first read our text today and then get talking! So please read Lamentations 3:1-19
What you hear is pain and suffering. Our opening 19 verses (with most of this happening within the first 16 verses themselves). make you wonder where this person is at. The pain that they are in, the anger that they feel and the confusion that abounds. And here’s what I mean: There is a word that appears, or is implied, 20 times in these opening 16 verses – and when a word or image or something that is repeated frequently is there it’s usually good to look into it. What we see here is the word “he” – and that “he” is God. And nearly every time “He” is used it is in conjunction with some negative action.
- HE has driven me away and forced me to walk in darkness rather than light – 2
- HE has turned his hand against me – all day long – 3
- HE has made my skin and flesh grow old – 4
- HE has broken my bones – 4
- HE has besieged me with bitterness and hardship – 5
- HE has made me dwell in darkness – 6
- HE has walled me in so I cannot escape – 7
- HE has weighed me down with chains – 7
- HE shuts out my prayer – 8
- HE has bared my way with blocks of stone – 9
- HE has made my paths crooked – 9
- HE has dragged me from the path – 11
- HE has mangled me – 11
- HE has left me without help – 11
- HE drew his bow and made me the target of his arrows – 12
- HE pierced my heart – 13
- HE has filled me with bitter herbs – 15
- HE gave me gall to drink – 15
- HE broke my teeth with gravel – 16
- HE has trampled me in the dust – 16
And then verses 17-19 are all responses to what He (God) has done and how they now feel. So these are the responses to the responses. It’s now not the physical but the spiritual brokenness that has set in.
And as I said earlier, it’s not about others and it’s not about the city either…it’s about what God has done to me! He is so far into his pain, he is so deep into a pit of darkness that the only reality, the only truth he finds is that this place and space is because of God. And as we read those opening verses, as it seems heavier and heavier as his lament goes on, as he goes from darkness to broken bones, from being walled-in to let loose and having animals lie in wait to attack him – to having his teeth broken by gravel… with each verse he sinks deeper and deeper into despair – and then all a sudden…hope! He reaches his lowest point that is possible – also known as your personal “breaking” point.
Things are now personal. No longer is he an observer and no longer is he a passive commenter on the things going on as the people suffer under the hand of God’s wrath. As we read in verse 3 and 6 he has moved from walking in light to now stumbling in darkness. He is no longer an outsider and is now fully in the mess, chaos, and suffering of the city. Why? Well, feelings and emotions change when our circumstances, and our lives, take new directions. When it becomes personal it NOW means something to me. No longer am I a passive observer who can make certain comments for now I am an active participant who now sees things differently. And boy do I see things differently.
It never fails, does it? My life-view changes when I’m now struck with _________. When life is good for me I am the fiercest defender of prayer and I will preach it till my tongue falls off. I’ll declare that in order for you to get through your pain and suffering you need to pray more. That even when your ailment doesn’t end or your desired outcome doesn’t happen that that is STILL an answered prayer! So I’m all about telling YOU what YOU need to do. But then when I personally hit a season of ________ or when I am faced with ________ I might start off praying hard but then, when the answers don’t come and the resolution doesn’t happen at the rate I want – then my prayer life suffers. I have all the advice in the world for YOU…but doing it myself? Well, I’ll probably start with prayer but there’s a good chance I don’t end up there.
Or maybe it’s more of me having an OPINION on what is going on in your life and the work God is doing. That because you’ve done ________ that _______ is now happening to you. And yet when those same things then happen to me I am NOT going to look deep within and take a dose of my own opinions and observations.
When it becomes personal then everything changes. No longer are our opinions and thoughts the same. No longer am I quick to give advice and, Lord have mercy, do NOT give ME any! Jeremiah, in the previous two chapters, was quick to observe, quick to declare, and quick to tell – and yet now that he feels imprisoned, now that he feels blocked and in chains (vs 7-9) his attitude changes. No longer is it “you have done this to yourself” but now it is “God has done this to me.” No longer is it deserving – now it’s just God and his anger. Why this change of feelings and scenery from the observer? We don’t know. Chapter 3 just begins with him finally seeing and understanding. It’s as if they have spent so much time in this darkness and chaos that their eyes have now been acclimated. That not only are their eyes now open but their heart is now open too. Is it sympathy pains? Maybe. Is it that the pains of the woman, the city, have somehow been transferred over to him to where he sees and feels something he hasn’t before? Possibly. We just don’t have the details except what is given to us and that they have now “seen affliction” and that God has “driven” him away and made him walk into this darkness that the people were living in.
When we spend time with people we cannot help but enter into their lives. It’s a joy to be able to participate in the joys of people and it becomes a burden to enter into their pains as well. And often times we find that we are ready for the one and not ready for the other. “Give me your joys and your celebrations … but the hardships I just don’t want.” I know I have experienced this with people in the past. As a minister I get the privilege of entering into people’s joys and pains – and most of the time I get it. It’s part of ministry. It’s part of doing “church” with people. It’s part of being a family. And I’ve experienced it with people outside of “church” and the church body. And yet does it stop us from building those relationships and doing that life with them? To some it does and to others it won’t. And I know people who have “cut and run” from relationships when it got hard. I know I have in the past. And yet there is a strength that happens when we do all of life together. There’s a relationship that becomes forged in stone when all the peaks and valleys are experienced together. There is a lasting tie that happens when I know that you will not leave me when _____ happens. And there is something special when you finally see what I see, feel what I feel, and lament what I lament. Our observer is no longer an observer. They have entered into the darkness, walked out of the light, and taken on the pain and suffering.
One of my favorite movies and books is “The Green Mile.” I love the work Stephen King does in his writing and use of words and characters. This book is about a very small portion of a prison called “The Green Mile” which was the last stop before someone was executed for their crimes – and in this book John Coffey (played by Michael Clark Duncan) comes in as he’s been accused and tried for the murder of two young girls. And throughout his time on the Green Mile he befriends the prison guards (and a few of the prisoners) as he awaits his sentence to be carried out. But there is something special about John Coffey. John Coffey has a gift. A gift, and ability, to see into the future, to see people’s pain and suffering, but he has the ability to take AWAY their pain. By his touch he can remove the very things that they hold within, experience deep down, and suffer from. I imagine, in a way, this is what our observer now does. That while they cannot take away the pain and suffering of the city, they can sit with her, speak differently to her, and know her more. No more is it your affliction – now it is my affliction too.
I think for me this is one of the truly amazing things about what God has done. If we fast-forward around 500+ years we begin to see that not only was the wrath of God just, not only was it God’s hand upon his broken city that wanted nothing to do with him, but we see that God never intended the people to sit in their own sins, and pain, and suffering. That while the observer leans into the city and feels for her and now experiences it (a good challenge for all of us to do) God had something even bigger in play. That while the observer could only observe and feel there was nothing they could really do. And while often times many of us just want someone to sit with us and be with us what we ultimately need is whatever we’re going through to be taken away. And THAT is what God was doing when he sent Jesus Christ. That he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, into our afflictions and pain and suffering. That God no longer was going to “observe” and temporarily respond – but he was now entering into and because of – our pain. Christ’s entrance into this world meant that all the pain and suffering we see and experience would be taken away. That he would come and sit with us, experience it with us, but then ultimately heal us from it all.
I think there are a lot of lessons for us in these 19 verses. Challenges for us to truly DO life with one another. I’m sure you’ve said it to others, I know that I have, but how often have we said, “I wish I could take ________ away from you.” We are relational people for a reason. And it’s not just because “that’s the way God made us” – it’s because God made us in his image and called us into his image-bearing work. We do life with others, and say these things to people because that’s who God is and that’s the image he’s placed into us…and that’s the way of life his Son lived as well.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- Do you have any relationships that you’ve been through rough parts of life with? Did the relationship get stronger or weaker? Why?
- Why do you think our feelings and observations change when we’ve gone through what someone else has gone through? Clearly, there are certain things in life that you just can’t understand until you’ve gone through them, but you think by now we’d know that our words mean something and so if you haven’t gone through it then watch your tongue! And yet we still find that while we KNOW that we don’t always abide by it! So why do you think we often speak without knowing?