Read Lamentations Three
We now come to a somewhat unsettling part of Lamentations chapter three. And, I want to tell you right now: we’re leaning all the way into these verses. When we come to passages in Scripture that confuse or scare us we have to lean in! Press into understanding what they’re saying! We can be assured, we’re going to be better for what we find there – so much better than if we ignored it.
Read Lamentations 3:42-45. What strikes you about these verses?
Does this seem odd, given what the previous verses in chapter three were about?
It’s easy for us to read these words with fear. The line, “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven,” startled me when I first read it. We can easily read this and wonder, What happened to the goodness and covenant faithfulness the prophet praised God for possessing only verses earlier? Is the prophet proclaiming that God won’t keep His promise to forgive those who repent? These verses seem to fly in the face of a biblical theology of repentance that we have come to know and love: genuine repentance will always be followed by genuine forgiveness. God is a kind, faithful, good, and merciful God. The Scriptures extol Him as a God who is “Quick to forgive.” So what is happening here?
Let’s lean in.
Look closely at verse 42. There are three verbs used – two of the people and one of God. Identify them.
What major verb is missing? (Hint: it’s the verb we’ve been considering all last week)
The people have transgressed and rebelled. And they have not yet repented. Though the prophet is calling them to join in his repentance, they have not yet accepted that invitation. Repentance is entirely missing from this verb line-up, and this omission is going to be incredibly important as we step into studying the verb attributed to God. Hold this in mind, and let’s look closely at it.
Look closely again at verse 42. Underline the verb attributed to God. Circle the negative clause (“not”).
Hebrew verb tenses are important. When we consider the Hebrew past tense, we’re looking at what is called the Hebrew perfect tense and the Hebrew imperfect tense. The Hebrew perfect tense is a simple past tense; it’s the tense that you and I would generally call to mind when using the English past tense. The Hebrew simple perfect tense indicates an action that occurred in the past and is completed. It gives no indications of any ongoing results of that past action. If were to chart this verb tense on a graph, we would draw a vertical line and label it “present”, and to the left of that line we would draw a dot to represent this action having occurred in the past. It’s simply past and completed.
Contrarily, the Hebrew Imperfect tense indicates a past action that has ongoing consequences. If we were to chart this verb tense on a graph we could draw a vertical line and label it “present” and to the left of that line we would draw a dot to represent the action, and from that dot we would draw a line with an arrow across the “present” threshold to represent the way this action has ongoing results in the present. This verb tense tells us about an event or action that happened in the past, but is not entirely completed, as it has ongoing consequences.
When you consider which verb tense might be used in verse 42 for the phrase “you have not forgiven”, which tense would you guess is being used?
Consider your biblical theology and what you know to be true of God. Which would more accurately reflect God’s forgiveness?
The prophet is using the simple perfect tense here when describing the way God has not forgiven their sins. The people have sinned in the past, and God has not forgiven in the past. God unforgiveness is a dot in the past right next to their rebellion. God’s unforgiveness here does not have ongoing consequences or results. It does not continue into the future. Their sin is past, the repentance is yet to be seen, and God’s unforgiveness is in the past also.
What does all of this mean? Why is it so significant? Because there is yet hope! This verb tense reveals that the prophet has hope of future forgiveness and he calls his people to repentance! There is hope for a future in right relationship with God.
Read verses 42-45. Knowing that the simple perfect is used for all of these verbs, how do you read them now as opposed to when you first read them? How does understanding this verb tense help you understand what the prophet is saying?
There were consequences for their sin. They rebelled and did not repent, and God was right to allow them to reap the consequences of their sin. Forgiveness was not theirs because they did not care to ask for it. But in the unchanging character of God is eternal forgiveness! God offers His forgiveness to all who will ask. And for you and I, forgiveness is our eternal inheritance in Christ as we have approached God in repentance, and received His forgiveness.
PRAY & REFLECT
Thank God that His forgiveness is always available to you in Christ. Ask Him to give you a heart of genuine repentance and to teach you to lead others into repentance as well.