The Wild Places Bible Guide – 16
April 1, 2019
Monday, April 1
Last week, we read some of ancient Israel’s stories of exile – one of the great wild places of their collective historical and spiritual consciousness. This week we’ll read some of the poetry of exile – the expressions of sadness, anger, doubt, and faith hard and chaotic times can provoke. We’ll look to this poetry as a model for our own range of reactions to life, and our own possibility of faith while in wild places.
Lamentations 1:1-11, 20-22 (CEB)
1 Oh, no!
She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.
Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.
Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.
2 She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.
None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;
they have become her enemies.
3 Judah was exiled after suffering and hard service.
She lives among the nations; she finds no rest.
All who were chasing her caught her—right in the middle of
4 Zion’s roads are in mourning; no one comes to the festivals.
All her gates are deserted. Her priests are groaning,
her young women grieving. She is bitter.
5 Her adversaries have become rulers; her enemies relax.
Certainly the Lord caused her grief because of her many wrong acts.
Her children have gone away, captive before the enemy.
6 Daughter Zion lost all her glory.
Her officials are like deer that can’t find pasture.
They have gone away, frail, before the hunter.
7 While suffering and homeless, Jerusalem remembers all her treasures from days long past.
When her people fell by the enemy’s hand, there was no one to help her.
Enemies saw her, laughed at her defeat.
8 Jerusalem has sinned greatly; therefore, she’s become a joke.
All who honored her now detest her, for they’ve seen her
Even she groans and turns away.
9 Her uncleanness shows on her clothing; she didn’t consider what would happen to her.
She’s gone down shockingly; she has no comforter.
“Lord, look at my suffering—the enemy has definitely triumphed!”
10 The enemy grabbed all her treasures.
She watched nations enter her sanctuary—
nations that you, God, commanded: They must not enter your assembly.
11 All her people are groaning, seeking bread.
They give up their most precious things for food to survive.
“Lord, look and take notice: I am most certainly despised.”
20 Pay attention, Lord, for I am in trouble. My stomach is churning;
my heart is pounding inside me because I am so bitter.
In the streets the sword kills; in the house it is like death.
21 People heard that I was groaning, that I had no comforter.
All my enemies heard about my distress; they were thrilled that you had done this.
Bring the day you have announced so they become like me!
22 Let all their evil come before you.
Then injure them like you’ve injured me because of all my wrong acts;
my groans are many, my heart is sick
Points of Interest
- This is the first chapter of the short book of Lamentations, with a few verses cut for brevity. Tradition has it that the prophet Jeremiah wrote this poetry after the destruction of Jerusalem by the conquering armies of Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Many Jews still commemorate this historical destruction and other calamities Jews have faced, right through the Holocaust, on the annual fast day of Tisah B’Av.
- Scholars note that this chapter’s poetry reads like an ancient funeral dirge. Not one but many people have died. Collective suffering and chaos is personified through the death of the city’s husband. Once great Jerusalem is now empty, her people enslaved. She weeps, experiencing both suffering and shame, at the reversal of her fortunes.
- Lament is the expression of grief, sorrow, and anger. Bitter weeping and lost glory shape the tune here. Lament is an alternative to the cheer that can be out of reach in wild places. It is also an alternative to the denial of our suffering and shame, denial that can easily fuel inclinations toward despair, addiction, or domination of others. To lament is to be curious about our suffering or that of others.
- An awkward aspect of Lamentations is how the author sees God’s agency in Jerusalem’s suffering. The opening narrator says, “The Lord caused her grief because of her many wrong acts.” When Jerusalem speaks in the second half of the chapter, she says similar things. Lamentations finds this helpful. To see Jerusalem’s destruction as the consequence of its injustice and unfaithfulness is more comforting to the author than to imagine it as the result of chaos, or the death or failure of God. But for most of us, I expect this merely raises more questions. Somewhere between a Calvinist, micromanaging God and a deist, absentee landlord god, is the God the Bible speaks of that is good and just and honors our freedom while also active in history. Lamentations tries to grapple with God’s possible role in their suffering, even if the results aren’t satisfying to you and me.
- Beyond looking for explanations, the lament ends with a cry for help and a cry for vengeance. We want to make meaning out of the story of our wild places; even more, we want to know we’re seen and known in it all. This week, we’ll invite you to speak with God in the hope that God sees and knows all that troubles you, and sees and knows with compassion. Watch out for adults who are upset when they don’t precisely get their way. There’s always emotional unhealth or abuse of power or both behind that.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for your city, your region, or your country. Tell God what grieves or angers you. Ask God that those who suffer shame will have the power to cry out and rage, rather than bury their shame, and ask God to hear and respond to their cries.
Spiritual Exercise of the Week
Words of Doubt or Lament – Too often we don’t express to God our questions, our doubt, and our anger. This week, though, we still remember the wild places of exile – loss, grief, disappointment, out of control seasons, anxiety born of change. Whatever challenges you’re facing, speak out loud to God, or write in your own mini-psalm, your questions, doubt, or anger. When you’ve said or written what you have for today, sit in silence for a moment, and see if you sense or feel anything from God.