Getting our bearings: an A to Z of lamentations - 2 Kings 25:1-12

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 19th April 2015.

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Getting our Bearings: An A to Z of Lamentations


I want to start by talking to you about the importance of biblical background checks and the importance of a bird's eye view.

 

We’re all aware of background checks in our lives. I hope you agree that they are really important. They may not be perfect but they are essential before individuals are given certain roles. For example, before anyone helps in one of our children’s groups they need to undergo what is called a DBS check. I hope you would say, “Well done for doing that. I may take some extra time but it’s a really important thing to do.”


Before diving into a book like Lamentations I think it’s very useful to do what I would call a biblical background check. It’s not essential but if we do it, I’m convinced we’ll find our understanding of what we read greatly improved. So that’s the first thing we’ll do this morning. We’re going to do a biblical background check on the book of Lamentations.


The second thing we’ll do is look at a bird’s eye view of the book. The best way to show you the benefits of a bird’s eye view is to show an example.


Show example of bird’s eye view. An artificial island in Dubai.


What are the benefits of a bird’s eye view? Let me mention three benefits.


First, it can show something beautiful. You end up delighting in what you see and praising the one who created it.


Second, it can show you if someone has deliberately designed the pieces to fit together in a certain way. That can encourage you to pay attention to the detail because you expect the words to be constructed deliberately rather than randomly thrown together. That may encourage you to slow down and ponder what you read.


Thirdly, it may also show if something is particularly significant. Perhaps the parts have been knitted together in such a way that pushes one item to the place of central importance.


So, in the light of these benefits, my intention, after we’ve done a biblical background check, is to show you a bird’s eye view of Lamentations.

 

I’m confident that as we do these things, the things we’ll discover will motivate us to actually want to read the book and listen attentively when it is preached.


Let’s get started.


First of all, let’s do a biblical background check on Lamentations.


How are we going to do this? We’re going to do this by asking two questions.

 

•When was Lamentations written?
•Why was Lamentations written?

When was Lamentations written?


When you read through the book you'll discover that it is speaking about a specific historical disaster that happened to the city of Jerusalem in 587BC.


Lamentations 1:1, "How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave."


What caused this great reversal? The historical events are described for us in the section of 2 Kings that we had read to us, 2 Kings chapter 25.


The year was 587BC and the Jewish leader of the time, King Zedekiah chose to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar, the leader of the Babylonian superpower. As a result, the Babylonian armies surrounded Jerusalem and held it under siege for many months. Eventually the city walls were broken down and the city was pulverised. The temple was destroyed. Peoples’ homes were burned. The king’s sons were butchered before his very eyes. And Zedekiah's eyes were put out and he was led to capacity in Babylon. The vast majority of the people who survived this disaster were also led into exile, although the very poorest were left to work the land.

 

What we discover in Lamentations chapter 3 is that the author was himself a personal witness of this tragedy and suffered greatly as a result of it. And you can see in the book that his emotions are still very raw.


The book never actually discloses his name. It is completely anonymous. However, I am persuaded that it was Jeremiah the prophet who was responsible for writing the book of Lamentations. There are three reasons for this.

 

•2 Chronicles 35:25, "Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments."
•The heading in one version of the Alexandrian version of the LXX. "And it came to pass, after Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem became desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said…"
•The life of Jeremiah described in the prophetic book matches the emotional and expressed expressed in Lamentations.


As a result, I am persuaded that Jeremiah was the one who wrote the contents. And it would seem that he did this soon after the national Jewish disaster of 587BC.


Why was Lamentations written?


How would you feel if your house was completely destroyed? Or a special place with lots of memories was burned down without a trace?


That would be bad. Things were even worse for the people of God who had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC.


Yes, their favourite place was gone. But more than, this their favoured placed was also gone. You see, of all the places on the earth, the true and living God said he was going to dwell in the Jerusalem temple in a special way. Now it had been razed to the ground!


This was a national disaster of unspeakable proportions!


As a result, all sorts of questions were raised in the peoples’ heads and all sorts of emotions were raised in the peoples’ hearts. Questions like this...


•How could this have happened here?
•Where was God when this happened?
•Was he weaker than the Babylonian armies? Did he want to stop it but couldn’t
•How can we process our distraught emotions?
•What does the future hold?


Lamentations was written to help the survivors of this disaster answer these questions and live in a godly way in the messed up situation they found themselves in.


It was a pastoral response to a particular national disaster.

 

It was written to help God’s people understand the past events, to help them process their very real and current emotions, and to give them hope for the future that was ahead of them.


We’ll discover exactly what was said as we work our way through the text but for now let me tell you what Lamentations says in answer to the question, why has this happened?


What becomes clear in Lamentations is that the suffering being experienced by God’s people at this point is completely deserved.

•1:8, "Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean.”
•1:12, "Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?"
•1:14, "My sins have been bound into a yoke; by his hands they were woven together. They have come upon my neck and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has handed me over to those I cannot withstand."


It’s important to say that the bible also addresses other types of suffering. For example, the book of Job engages with the personal suffering of a man who has done nothing specifically wrong to deserve the things he is experiencing. And in Luke chapter 13 we read about Jewish worshippers who were slaughtered by the Romans as they attempted to worship at the temple.


But Lamentations is dealing with a specific type of suffering. It is speaking corporate suffering on God’s people that they deserved.


When the people asked why has this happened? Lamentations does not answer with silence. It speaks and it points the finger. And it says in this instance you and the previous generations have sinned against God. And as a consequence, as God already promised in his Word (See Deuteronomy chapter 28), he has now responded in wrath.


This background picture is really important to know because it controls how we should apply what we read to our situation.


For example, it would be very dangerous to tell someone who is suffering from cancer through no fault of their own to open up Lamentations and follow the advice they find on its pages. If they do that, they may conclude wrongly that God is punishing them for a specific sin. We need to be careful how we use what is said.


How might Lamentations apply to our situation?


First, Lamentations presents us with God's righteous response to human sin. It confronts us with the devastating wrath of God inflicted on sinful people. Therefore, this book will help us get our heads around the reality of hell. You may not really want to do that but it’s really vital that we do.


God’s anger was poured out in a devastating way in 587BC. What that felt like is powerfully written about in Lamentations.


And yet when compared to the reality of hell, it is a tiny emotional mountain.


Sometimes people want to say that the God of the OT seems cruel whereas the God of the NT is kind. Everything is intensified in the NT. Both grace and judgement are greater!

 

Hebrews 10:31, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." 

 

Second, Lamentations will also teach us much about the cross.


When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane. Take this cup from me. Why was he so frightened by his death? He was going to experience hell on the cross. So as we think about God’s wrath outpoured in Lamentations, we should be refreshed in our gratefulness to Jesus for his substitutionary death.


Third, I think Lamentations can help us understand why the church is so weak in Western Europe today. Wrath was poured out on God’s people. God still judges his people today when they reject him. Should we be surprised that when the vast majority of church leaders in Western Europe reject God’s word that the church seems so ineffective and so useless?

 

Second, let me show you a bird’s eye view of Lamentations.


I can’t show you everything


First, there are five poems. The need for emotional therapy.


Second, what are the poems about?

 

•Poem 1: The pain of God’s people
•Poem 2: The anger from God’s throne
•Poem 3: The hope from God’s heart
•Poem 4: The horrors in God’s city
•Poem 5: The response God expected


Third, the poems are very well structured.


Poem 1, 2, 4 and 5 have 22 verses and poem 3 has 66 verses. This is not an accident.


It gets even more interesting when you dig deeper


Poems 1,2,and 4 are acrostic in form.


Each verse begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. This has 22 letter. Aleph, beth, gimel etc…The equivalent to our ABC.


Poem 3 is a super acrostic. Three alephs, then three beths and then three gimels.


Poem 5 is not an acoustic. It’s still got 22 verses but the letters at the start of each verse are random.

 

What does this mean? Here are a few implications.


First, someone has taken great care to write this. And so we should read it very carefully.


Second, it’s like an A to Z. Therefore, we should expect it to be...

 

•Comprehensive.
•Controlled. Boundaries are given. This is not a rant against God. There is honest expression of emotion but not a criticism of God.
•Clear. Grief is often muddled and circular. It doesn’t really go anywhere. It is confused. Perhaps goes round in circles. But this will help the people.


Third, the super acrostic suggests that poem 3 is the high point. The very structure is declaring to us that something really special will be found in chapter 3.


That’s exactly what we find. We find hope in the midst of the disaster.

 

Fourth, what about poem 5? We should also expect it to be significant in some special way. It turns out to be a prayer that should be prayed in the mess. The structure of the poem declares to us that God’s people shouldn’t wait until life is nicely ordered before they speak to their Creator.


How must we respond to the God who has brought wrath or will bring wrath in the future? Not by running from him but by running to him.

 

In conclusion

 


Whether you are a believer or someone trying to discover the truth then I hope you now feel motivated to read and listen to Lamentations.

 

•Brilliantly structured and beautifully put together
•The wrath of God
•The cross of Christ
•The hope that we so desperately need.

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