We’ve made it to the FINAL chapter! We’ve made it to the end of one of the most avoided books in all of scripture! Not that we should celebrate the finality of it – but let us celebrate the truth that while difficult – we’ve been blessed by this book! It’s in the Bible for a reason and we shouldn’t be avoiding ANY books just because it’s hard or uncomfortable or makes me feel all weird inside. With that being said, this last chapter is unlike all the others. It’s not only shorter but no longer is it acrostic (having each verse begin with the next letter in the alphabet) – although we should still consider it alphabetic since there are 22 verses and 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
But there is something deeply different in chapter 5 that sets it apart from all the other verses. We now, after all this time, have a true petition and prayer to God. And not only that but those are the very first words we find here – which is very different than all the rest. Chapter 1 begins with a lament of the city (“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!”). Chapter 2 begins with pity (“How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion with the cloud of his anger!”). Chapter 3 begins with sorrow and pain (“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath!”). Chapter 4 begins with grief (“How the gold has lost its luster, the fine gold become dull!”). But chapter 5? We have a prayer. We have a petition and request that is set before God. Lamentations 5 takes all the requests, the petitions, all of the gunk and the pain and the problems of the previous 4 chapters and smooshes it all together and simply lays it upon the throne of God with 1 request: Save us.
But there are more differences in this chapter than all the rest as well. While the other chapters definitely have a “prayer” feel to them this one is just very different and mainly in how it ends. Chapters 1-3 all end with some type of petition of the Lord. So while they work through their issues and problems there still is this understanding of who God is and the work he WILL do – but not so with chapter 5. Chapter 5 leaves us hanging as we wait…and wait…and HOPE that God is going to restore. Will He? Will he restore us or forget us? Will he renew us or leave us damaged and destroyed? Or, even worse, will he reject us and cast us off. It’s as if Jeremiah and the people are in the midst of all their pain and suffering and just don’t know what the next day will look like. Which is odd because we also have this very brief declaration of God’s reign in verse 19 – but it’s said so quickly in passing that it makes you wonder if they even believe what they are declaring.
Lamentations 5 is a “staccato”-type text in that each verse just makes a declaration and then moves on to the next. There is no drawn out reasoning, there is no detailed explanation as they seek to have God, or even anyone who is listening, to really understand their pain. They are quick, to the point, and given in a fashion of bullet-points. They need no explanation because it is either known, or, what I lean to is that they are just tired. They’re exhausted with all of this. They don’t have the words nor the energy to explain. They have been so persecuted, harmed, and exhausted from crying that it’s hard enough to catch their breath to give THESE 18 laments let alone some in-depth experiences from a personal level of them. And what we have is not Jeremiah speaking or the woman from chapter 1 – we have “us” … and “our”… and “we”. This is the PEOPLE’S lament.
The struggle that we will have with this chapter is that Jeremiah doesn’t give us space to talk. He doesn’t give us room to have a conversation about where they are and where they could be nor any hope that stands just outside. And why? Because this chapter isn’t a conversation chapter. It’s meant to stand where it is with the pain, suffering, and wondering about tomorrow. Not only because this is historical poetry (it’s poetry and yet it’s given to us during the time of captivity so it’s “historical” as well) but also because these are real feelings from a real person who is in deep pain and sometimes the space we’re in doesn’t allow, or invite, someone to respond. But what is even more painful for me? It’s as if they are trailing off and getting quieter (to use another musical metaphor, I appreciate what John Lange writes in that it’s a decrescendo movement).
The chapter, as we read it, will make you wonder just how much fight is left in the people of God. And that there is where I begin to wonder if that is the beginning of hope. We often say that a person has to hit “rock bottom” in order to move in the right direction and you have this feeling that this is what the people of God were needing. Because it’s there that you do that hail mary to God. It’s there that you stop doing things your own way and by your own means. It’s there that you stop blaming others for your own place and mistakes. It’s here, as we know, that you stop wrestling with God and concede to his ways and not your own. We may FEEL like God is done with us and even wonder if he’s still there…but those are our feelings and not the truth of who God is.
Sometimes even the people of God need to be reminded that while God is above our place and space it doesn’t mean he’s outside of it.