Read Lamentations Three
Yesterday we considered the role chapter three plays in the overall structure and theme of Lamentations. Today, as we discuss this, we are going to be reminded that God’s Word is full of interesting details. There are themes and emphases just waiting for us to uncover them. We just have to look for them. This is the joy of doing exegetical Bible study! These are the things we miss when we jump right to personal application!
We’ll recall that the book of Lamentations is a poem. These five chapters weave together one of the greatest dirges (songs of Lament) ever written. But, that’s not the only thing unique about the book of Lamentations. There are two incredibly interesting features hidden within this poem that aid our understanding of the book.
First, the poem is an acrostic poem. In chapters one, two, four and five, the first letter of each line of poetry (or, in English, each verse) starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Did you notice that each of these chapters have the same number of verses? That’s our first hint that something is going on stylistically! Each of those 22 verses lead off with one of the Hebrew ABCs, giving us a poem on grief from A to Z.
Unfortunately, this common style of Hebrew poetry is lost in translation. When we translate the Hebrew verses into English, the words start with different English letters, and the beautiful and intentional style of the poem is lost on us.
I recently experienced the sense of what it meant to lose this poetic style as I was working on a project of my own. As some of you may know, I recently created a line of discipleship tools for kids called Tiny Theologians. One of my favorite tools in the shop is the ABC’s of Theology, and it has been a passion project for me to share them with others. When a Spanish-speaking church recently asked if they could translate them for their kids ministry, I enthusiastically said yes. But, when we started the translation process I realized that, since each word starts with a different letter when translated, the structure of the cards was lost in translation. They were no longer ABC cards, but a set of theological concepts put together in a seemingly random order.
Now, we’re working to rewrite these cards to maintain the ABC structure when translated to Spanish, but to do so, we have to change the content. But we can’t do that when translating God’s Word from the original languages! God’s Word, being holy, can’t be changed to fit our craving to maintain the style of the original poem. So when the book was translated into English, the acrostic structure was lost. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it and worship the God who inspired such a glorious book for you and me. I actually think there’s a lot here for us to learn from this. Even a book about grief, in God’s mind, was fit for beauty.
What might this indicate to you about God’s view of suffering?
How can you glorify God for writing such a beautiful style into His Word, even when you can’t personally see that structure?
The second literary feature hidden within this book is found in our focus for this week: chapter three. Chapter three continues this acrostic, ABC style, but increases the amount of poetry that starts with each letter – from one line to one stanza. You’ll notice that chapter three is three times longer than any other chapter, lengthening to 66 verses total. In English, each stanza is three verses long, and each of those stanzas starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet as well.
What do you think is the significance of this?
What kind of focus does this put on chapter three?
This literary structure brings one thing into blaring reality: chapter three is the central crux in this poem. In this song of lament, chapter three is the chorus. Every chapter before is pointing forward to chapter three and every chapter after is pointing back to it. Chapter three is the central spoke of the wheel, the thing than holds the entire poem together.
How do you think this will affect our interpretation of chapter three? Of the book?
PRAY & REFLECT
Thank God that His Word is full of beauty. As you consider any grief in your own life, ask God what He might have you learn from His Word – this beautiful poem on grief that leads us straight to the character of God.