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The parallel book in the chiasm, Song of Songs, is incredibly difficult to divide into poems. In fact, that book seems to be a disorganized compilation of erotic poetry. On the other hand, Lamentations describes a very chaotic situation in a very structured way. There are five poems just as there were five books of Torah and just as there are five books of the Psalms.

The first two poems are alphabetic acrostics in Hebrew where each verse begins with a new letter of the alphabet from a-z (so to speak). The emphasis of the first chapter is on the likeness of Jerusalem to a widow — lonely and bereaved. It says, “she has none to comfort her” or something similar five times (Lam 1:2, 1:9, 1:16 (twice), and 1:21) in addition to the poetic way the text puts it in the first verse and elsewhere. The chapter also stresses just how faint and weak the people are due to lack of food. The second chapter stresses how it is the Lord who has done this destruction (“he has”) in “his anger, wrath, fierce anger, and fierce indignation.” Also the emphasis here is on the prophets, priests, and kings and their palaces/temple. The only structural difference between these chapters with long poetic lines for each letter is the order of the letters ‘ayin and pe.

The second chapter also appears to have some other patterning within it. The order goes something like this: “the daughter of Zion” (Lam 2:1), “the daughter of Judah” (Lam 2:2), “the daughter of Zion” (Lam 2:4), “the daughter of Judah” (Lam 2:5), “the daughter of Zion” (Lam 2:8), “the daughter of Zion” (Lam 2:10), “the young women of Jerusalem” (Lam 2:10), “the daughter of my people” (Lam 2:11), “daughter of Jerusalem” (Lam 2:13), “virgin daughter of Zion” (Lam 2:13), “the daughter of Jerusalem” (Lam 2:15), “the daughter of Zion (Lam 2:18). It is almost a pattern. Also, the order of Israel and Jacob: “Israel” (Lam 2:1), “Jacob” (Lam 2:2), “Israel,” “Jacob” (Lam 2:3), “Israel” (Lam 2:5). Often, Jacob the fallen name is put first and Israel the new creation name follows, but here that pattern is reversed. Perhaps it is hopeful in that it ends with Israel?

In any case, the alphabet allows for order in the midst of the chaos the poetry describes. While the first two chapters were acrostics with long lines, Lamentations 3 is an alphabetic acrostic with three verses for each letter. Thus Lam 1-2 are 22 long verses and Lam 3 is 66 shorter verses. In any case, Lam 1-3 consist in long treatment of each of the 22 letters. Some suggest this fits the “qinah meter” of laments in Scripture: long, long, long, short, short. The thought is that this resembles a lament in sound.

It may be important that Lamentations 3 is the middle poem as well as the last long one. Lam 3:22-27 are important in this regard as this third poem is the only one with lines that offer any hope. After words explaining that it was the Lord who brought this upon him, He says, “The loyal-love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”” The reason for what has befallen them is their lack of faith and hope in Him — their faithlessness to Him. But God is faithful even when we are not, and it will take time and there will be suffering, but God will remember them one day.

This poem like those before it reveals that the reason for the suffering of Israel is their sins and it calls those who read it to test and examine themselves and repent (Lam 3:39-40). All of these poems are also very concerned about judgment of those who have sinned against them. The thought is that God has used them to bring judgment upon Israel but they have been most willing participants and have sinned gravely against Israel in doing so. In other words, just because God willed the judgment of Israel does not excuse the sin of the nations that carried out that judgment. The day has come for Israel, let it come also for the nations. This is somewhat different than the attitude of Jesus when he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” but it does fit well with our prayers, “Come, Lord Jesus” when we will see justice done.

Lamentations 4 is also an alphabetic acrostic. It has much shorter lines and the focus returns to the chaos among the peoples. Like in the second poem there is mention made of parents eating their children. I can think of nothing more chaotic and gross. Lamentations 5 appears to have 22 lines but is not an alphabetic acrostic. It ends on a down note: “unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us” (Lam 5:22). It is closer to the pattern of lament psalms in the Psalms, but without the hope.

While the alphabetic acrostics serve to give order in the midst of chaos they also note the totality of the grief experienced (from a-z, so to speak). The destruction of Jerusalem was thorough. This is complete chaos. It is an apt description of Christ on the cross.

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