Read Lamentations Three
Even when driven to the pit of despair, you and I have the hope of a God who is able and willing to deliver. Today, we get to glimpse that same hope voiced in the words of the poet.
Read Lamentations 3:17-18. What is unique about these verses?
Summarize each of the metaphors used of God. Describe each in your own words:
The Man of Suffering and his people have been battered and bruised, locked up and imprisoned, mauled and pierced through with arrows. They are at the point of total despair. There is no hope on the horizon, no light at the top of the pit they have fallen into. Salvation seems so far from a realistic possibility that they have forgotten what it means to have peace.
The word here for peace is a Hebrew word many of us are likely familiar with: שָׁלוֹם (Shalom). It is a Hebrew word for all-encompassing peace and well-being. Let’s do a brief word study of a few selected passages where שָׁלוֹם is used to help us better understand it in context.
Look up the following passages. Identify the places where שָׁלוֹם is being used and note how that particular verse adds to your understanding of the word:
Shalom is the word God uses throughout His Word to reference total and abundant well-being. It has a sense of ultimacy to it as He promises it to those who are passing away and entering the afterlife, indicating that they are right with God at the end of their lives. It has a corporate and wide-spread sense to it as God promises to bring שָׁלוֹם on the land, spreading peace throughout the nation, through the fields, and in every home because they are His people and are in right relationship with Him as they live under His blessing.
Read Jeremiah 6:14. Identify where the word שָׁלוֹם is used in this verse (three times). How does this warning/prophecy relate to Israel’s current situation in the book of Lamentations?
What, then, is the significance of the use of שָׁלוֹם in Lamentations 3:17?
The nation has finally come to terms with her own deception. She believed the false prophets who promised that she was at peace – that she was right with God – when there was no peace to be found. In her rebellion she closed her eyes to her sin, shut off the voice of conviction, and stopped up her ears to the call to return to God. And in the pit of her despair, when she has come to total end of all hope, she confesses: there is no peace. I am not right with God.
This is a poignant moment of confession, but the poet does not stop there. When all has been given up, the poet writes: “my endurance has perished, so has my hope from the LORD.” Any time we see the word “Lord” appear in all capital letters in the Old Testament, it is an indicator that the name YHWH is being used in the original Hebrew. Finally, at the end of all of this despair, the poet names YHWH. He has hinted at God and used metaphors for God, but here God is named by His proper name – the God of Israel.
This is the name that God gave to Moses when He sent him to Egypt to lead the people out of slavery and into freedom. God told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “I AM who I AM. Tell him I AM (YHWH) has sent you.” Bound up in this name, YHWH, God is revealing that He is Self-existent. He requires no one and nothing for His existence. This is the God who will be who He is – and nothing else.
By finally breathing the name YHWH here at the end of the first section of Lamentations 3, the poet is doing two things. First, he is naming YHWH as the enemy – all of this, GOD has done it! But he is simultaneously addressing the God who is present, YHWH. Here in the pit of despair, God’s name is still utterable. God’s name is still breathable. God’s name is still reliable. And if YHWH is present, there cannot not be hope. Even in this lowest pit, the poet can turn his face towards YHWH, and set his feet towards the ascent of repentance.
Commentator Moyter puts this incredibly well:
“And so, having sunk to its very lowest point, if the poem is to continue at all, the only way is up. And this is indeed where the Man begins a painful climb, in which for every inch upwards he has to strain every sinew and muscle of faith to grasp hold of the truths deeply embedded in that one word – the LORD.” (The Message of Lamentations, p. 109)
PRAY & REFLECT
Has God been calling you to repentance throughout this study? Talk honestly with Him about your sin. Ask Him to turn your feet and face towards Him. Ask Him for the grace of repentance. Praise Him for always being I AM.