Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The structure of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

Chapters 1-4 of the Lamentations are alphabetic acrostics. When read through in English one might think they are uncontrolled screeds the prophet prays in complaint about the destruction of Jerusalem; however, in fact they are exquisite works of complex Hebrew poetry.

Chapters 1, 2, and 4 each consist of 22 long verses; each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph to Tau. (As a reminder, there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, not 26 like the English).

Chapter 3 consists of 66 short verses where verses 1-3 all start with the first letter of the alphabet, verse 4-6 with the second, etc., until one gets to verses 64-66 which all begin with the final letter.

Chapter 5, the final one, consists of 22 verses, but it is not an acrostic. The restraints of poetry are cast off and the prophet yells out his complaints about the mistreatment the people of God are suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, ending with these questions and exclamations:

Why do you always forget us?
      Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
      renew our days as of old 
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
     and are angry with us beyond measure.

The centre of the book is chs. 3:22-23, the verses upon which the well known hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, is based:
         22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, 
               for his compassions never fail.
        23 They are new every morning;
               great is your faithfulness. 

I am no expert in Hebrew, let alone Hebrew poetry, but I can conclude that it is beautiful.