“How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud! He has cast down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger” (v. 1).
Just the title of this book of the Bible, Lamentations, irked me. I don’t want to lament things for long; I want to look to the future. But then a bit of research produced some interesting details. These psalms of lamentation were thought to be the work of Jeremiah, but more recent scholarship finds that the “thought and diction” are so different from other writings by Jeremiah that his authorship remains in doubt. I also learned that each of the first four chapters forms an alphabetic acrostic with one stanza for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That is something one cannot see in English translations, but it must have been fun for the ancient Hebrew author(s) to construct such complexity. Or would the listeners have recognized, even anticipated, the acrostic structure when these psalms were read aloud on days of mourning and fasting?
In the verse that I selected, two aspects intrigue me. First is the overall belief, evident everywhere in Lamentations, that the author believes that God controls every detail of life. When things go wrong in Israel, the author is certain that God made those terrible events occur. The people have transgressed, and punishment comes from the Lord. It is the Lord who has brought his wrath to Israel, ruined its strongholds, and destroyed its palaces. Do we in the UCC believe that God controls every aspect of our lives? We emphasize God’s love much more than God’s wrath. At least in some verses in Lamentations, a repentant Israel does gain some hope from the Lord.
The second intriguing detail is the metaphor of the footstool. Israel, the daughter of Zion and Judah, is the footstool of the Lord, writes the psalmist. What is lowlier, more powerless, than a footstool? But I want to say to everyone: you are no footstool. Don’t allow yourself to be a footstool. Stand up for yourself. Perhaps Lamentations, in fact, represents just that kind of assertion.
Dear God, help us find the right combination of humility and assertiveness in life. Help us get beyond lamentation to hope. Amen.