Proper 8 • Lamentations 3:22–33 • July 1, 2012

By Gerhard Bode

The one- and three-year lectionaries each include only one pericope from the Book of Lamentations. In both cases, the text is Lamentations 3:22–33, which also contains the central theme of the book. In a series of laments, the prophet Jeremiah explains how the Lord in his wrath has turned against the kingdom of Judah—Jerusalem in particular—and why the people cry out to the Lord. Jeremiah then gives assurances of God’s steadfast love and compassion for his people, especially in times of affliction.

Why lament?
Laments are verbalized sufferings. The verses preceding the pericope (3:1–21) describe the afflictions and humiliations endured by God’s people in the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. In anguish the people voice their laments to God himself because he is the only one who can take away their suffering. Such anguish is temporal, but God’s steadfast love, compassion and faithfulness are eternal (3:22–23). God’s people also raise their laments because God is the one who has afflicted them. Jerusalem had “sinned grievously” against the Lord, becoming a “filthy thing” even among its neighbors (cf. 1:8, 17). The people had rebelled against his word, and in his righteous response God had given them over to suffering and captivity. He punished them, but he did not forsake them. A yoke—a symbol of submission and a metaphor for captivity—may be placed on a person, a burden hard to bear. It is good for a young person to endure trials, to bear burdens, even while they may be difficult, because it helps them prepare for future sufferings (3:27–30).

What cause for hope?
Hope is the major theme of the central part of Lamentations (3:21, 24, 29). The reason for hope is found in the proclamation about what kind of God the people have and how he deals with them. God himself is the reason for our hope, and he is the object of our hope. God is faithful and merciful; therefore hope in him never ends. God is good and the suffering he sends is good for his people. God is just; the suffering he gives is not unjust. Even though God rejects his people for a time, he will not reject them forever. Sending affliction and punishment are God’s alien work, in which he finds no delight. God “does not afflict from the heart, nor grieve the sons of men” (3:33). The sending of affliction (especially anger at sin) reveals the wrathfulness of God’s nature (alien work), but it is not what determines God’s purposes; rather, his mercy and compassion are (proper work).

God’s history of faithfulness is connected with who he is. God’s attributes expressed in 3:22–23 are his chesed “steadfast love,” his rachamaw “compassion” (referring to God’s nature as a merciful God), and his emuna “faithfulness” (referring to God’s covenant promises). These attributes recall Exodus 34:6–7 and the Lord’s proclamation about himself after the golden calf incident. God renewed the covenant the Israelites had broken because he is compassionate, gracious, and full of mercy and faithfulness.

The Lord is Good
Christ bore the yoke woven together out of our sins (Lam 1:14). God himself laid it upon him. Christ put his own mouth into the dust in his humility, he gave his cheek to be struck, he was scorned and insulted, and shame was heaped upon him. To his Father, Christ raised his own lament: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God forsook his own Son that we might be restored as his own people. Yet God did not reject him forever, but raised him on the third day. God’s wrath at sin is ended with Jesus’ dying words on the cross: “It is finished.” Is there any greater demonstration of God’s loving kindness for us than in his own Son speaking these words? Is there any more joyous exclamation of God’s loving kindness than “Christ is risen! Alleluia!”? The God who has done this for us, who has sent his own Son to die and rise again for us, who has accomplished forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life for us—this God is the object, the foundation of our hope. Great is his faithfulness!

Does God’s loving kindness ever end? Are his tender mercies ever finished?

His anger does end; it passes away. God’s chesed triumphs over bitterness, despair, and hopelessness. He will have mercy in accordance with the abundance of his faithfulness. His anger has a conclusion, but his compassion and mercies are never ending, new every day, as certain as the rising of the morning sun. Suffering never has the final word.

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