Reading through the Bible together

Monday, June 23, 2014

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When disaster strikes, “how” and “why” questions suddenly become important. How is it possible that everything I knew and thought to be solid seems to be melting away? How can God be quiet in the face of my pain and suffering? 

The first chapter of Lamentations does not yet move to the “hows” and “whys.” The poetic book is written in a carefully designed acrostic style (that means, the poet used the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the first letter of each verse in chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5.  In the center of the book, instead of 22 verses reflecting the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Jeremiah used 66 verses, beginning three verses with the same Hebrew letter).

These are not the spontaneous ramblings of a hurt and disillusioned author—the book is a carefully crafted description of the status quo, the reason for the exile, and the prayerful recognition that our only hope lies in renewed commitment to our Maker and Savior. “You remain forever” (Lam 5:19) is a declaration of faith—but it still lies in the future. Like all who suffer pain and loss there are steps that we need to take when we want to return to life.

The first word of Lam. 1:1 (“how”) sets the tone. It is an exclamation of pain; a wail of lament, usually occurring in a funeral setting (2 Sam. 1:19, 25, 27; Isa. 1:21; Jer. 48:17). Judah is no more; its temple—destroyed (v. 10); its leaders and priests are fleeing (Lam. 1:4, 6). The cause for this disaster is in plain sight: “Jerusalem has sinned gravely, therefore she has become vile” (v. 8). The writer immediately recognizes the divine response (“the LORD has afflicted” [v. 12]; “the LORD has trampled underfoot all the mighty men” [v. 14], “the LORD trampled as in a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah” [v. 15]). This is not a random “bad luck” or an adverse political situation—God is behind Jerusalem’s fall, illustrating an important point of the biblical view of history. 

Yes, it was Babylon who finally destroyed the city and its temple in 586 B.C. Yes, it was Babylon’s king, Nabuchadnezzar, who sent Judah’s inhabitants into exile, but ultimately, God is in control (Dan. 1:2). Jeremiah, like Daniel, and all the other faithful of ancient days, recognized God’s active hand in their history. When God allowed something to happen He “did it.” 

I don’t know where you find yourself today. I don’t know what valley or mountain top you will be crossing today. Just remember, the LORD is righteous—and in control. In judgment and in salvation He is sovereign and is willing to listen to your prayers and consider your tears.

 

Gerald A. Klingbeil, D.Litt.

Assoc. Editor of Adventist Review/Adventist World

Research Professor, Andrews University