Douglas Wilson – Surveying the Text: Lamentations

Douglas Wilson

Introduction:

This short book is a powerful expression of godly grief. It is also a highly disciplined work of art, and there is something very important that we can learn from this. The authorship of this book is not certain, but a strong tradition connects it to Jeremiah.

The Text:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies” (Lam. 3:21–32Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

Structure of Lamentations:

Before addressing the meaning of our text, we must first consider the structure of Lamentations—because the structure of the book helps to determine what this text actually means. The book is structured in two different, complementary ways, and so you will need to bear with me for a moment.

A Hebrew verse is traditionally structured as a couplet made up of two matching lines. The two lines usually match each other in length and thought, and they usually have three stresses each.

The heavens/declare/the glory of God

The firmament/sheweth/his handywork

In a lament, or a eulogy, which is what Lamentations is, the pattern is 3/2 instead of 3/3. This helps create a “trailing off” or dying effect.

He hath inclosed/my ways/with hewn stone,

He hath made crooked/my paths.

Lamentations does this throughout at the verse level, but it also does it at the macro level with the book as a whole. The book is composed of five laments, corresponding to our five chapters. The first three of them are acrostic poems, arranged according to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of them has twenty-two stanzas, with three couplets in each stanza, such that each poem has 66 couplets. In the first two poems, just the first couplet begins with the appropriate letter. In the third poem, each couplet in each stanza begins with the corresponding letter. The effect is a quickening or intensifying one. The fourth poem, also an acrostic, only has two couplets per stanza, giving it a total of 44 lines. This creates the immediate effect of the eulogy dying out, just like Jerusalem. In the last poem, the disintegration is complete. It has 22 stanzas, 22 couplets, and the acrostic device is abandoned. Jerusalem is in rubble. Thus the entire book follows a 3/2 pattern.

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Michael lives in Belleville, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, MO with his wife Erica and daughter Alissa. An 8 year Navy veteran, he is now employed at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) where he oversees advanced educational programs. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Religion (Biblical Studies) from Liberty University. He is an avid reader and blogger operating the website Christian Apologetics and Intelligence Ministry (http://intelmin.org) which provides both original content and shares relevant posts and articles from around the web.

bolingme – who has written posts on Apologetics and Intelligence Ministry.


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