This morning my daily Bible reading took me to Lamentations. When it came up on my Bible reading app, I groaned a little. Because, full disclosure, and knowing that no Christian is EVER supposed to admit they don’t like anything that’s in God’s Word…
I don’t like Lamentations.
Lamentations is the most depressing book ever. It follows Jeremiah, which is also the most depressing book ever. Nor for nothing is Jeremiah called the weeping prophet. His assignment was to communicate a VERY unpopular message to a group of people who didn’t want to hear it. His message: the Babylonians are coming. God’s people are going to be in exile for seventy years. And it is because of your sin and idolatry that this is going to happen.
Because his message was so unpopular, and because there were false prophets who were proclaiming that this whole exile thing would blow over in two years (see Jeremiah 28:1-4), Jeremiah’s words were ignored. The king of Judah actually cut apart the words of the scroll Jeremiah wrote, column by column, and threw them into the fire (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah himself was thrown into a well and accused of treason (Jeremiah 38).
Not to put to fine a point on it, but Jeremiah’s ministry assignment sucked.
Jeremiah hated it. He actually accused God of deceiving him (Jeremiah 20:7). Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah will say,
Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
making him very glad.
Much of Jeremiah’s 52 chapters is about how much he hates the assignment God has given him. Yet, he can’t NOT fulfill it. In 20:9, he writes:
“If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Apparently, 52 chapters were not enough for Jeremiah. So he followed it up with Lamentations. Which on the surface seems to be more of the same. Five solid chapters of complaining.
But when you start looking at the structure of Lamentations, there is more than meets the eye. Chapters 1,2,4,5 each have 22 verses. They are written as an acrostic, where each verse begins with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter three is 66 verses, also written as an acrostic (three verses per letter).
Why such a careful, methodical, precise structure? I think it is to make it easier to find the exact center of the book. The central verse of Lamentations is 3:33. It’s worth backing up a little in order to get Jeremiah’s run-up to this magnificent verse:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.
31 For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.
In the middle of his complaining (literally) Jeremiah remembered the unceasing, unfailing love of the Lord. He remembered that He renews His mercies to us every morning. That even though God can be the cause of our grief, He is also the source of our comfort. Verse 33 says that God does not afflict from His heart– he is not mean-spirited.
What do I remember in the middle of my complaining? Jeremiah found joy. Literally. In the exact middle of his sorrow. Joy is found when we focus not on our circumstances, but in the character of God.