12 March 2016

Lamentations 3:1-9

“I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 55:16-22


The book of Lamentations is often associated with Jeremiah, though we do not know who wrote this set of 'dirges', or songs of mourning. They were written after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 or 586 BC when the city was razed to the ground, and the people deported into captivity in Babylon, 600 miles away (2 Kings 24:10-12; 25:8-12). Lost in translation is the fact that here we have the first three verses of a 22-verse poem (Lamentations 3) in which the three lines of each successive verse begin with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet - so here we have the verses of the letters aleph, beth, and gimel. Hence this chapter is an attempt to set out the whole A to Z (or aleph to taw) of grief.

Here is a description of the situation in which God's people now find themselves in. They are being driven into captivity by the unrelenting beatings of the Babylonians (verse 1). Near to death and starving after a siege which had lasted between one and two years (verses 4-5), the lights of the city have been extinguished (verse 6). A chained forced march leads towards Babylon (verse 7). The writer poetically speaks of being walled in as a captive, whilst at the same time speaking of the hewn stones which are now strewn in his path as the walls of the city have been demolished (verse 9).

Read the passage a second time, and see it as the personification of the city - where, for example, the "skin" and "bones" (v. 4) are the walls and buildings of Jerusalem.

Yet this beating is seen as coming from God, as this chapter follows on from Lamentations 2:22, which speaks of the anger of God bringing punishment to God's faithless people. Instead of the besieging army being shut out of the city, it appears that the gate shuts out prayer (verse 8). God is not ready to help those who have abandoned God's covenant (2 Chronicles 36:14-21).

To Ponder

  • Sometimes people struggle to know whether God is listening to their prayers or not. What can you say to them that might help them in this situation?
  • People sometimes say, "God must have done this for a purpose". Is this always helpful? Why, or why not?
  • Does tribulation have to go hand-in-hand with bitterness? If not, what separates these two?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.