Lesson Three: Women’s Lament
Focus Scripture: Jeremiah 9:17–21; Matthew 2:16–18
The Woven Harmony of Lament
The scripture references highlighted in Lesson Three are from Jeremiah and Matthew. The reference from Matthew’s gospel includes a quotation of Jeremiah 31:15 (. . . A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; . . .) Matthew’s gospel places these words in the context of Herod’s massacre of the children of Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus. The Jeremiah context is that of the Israelites being marched off to Babylon following the fall of Jerusalem. The implication is that the long walk to Babylon takes the captives right by Rachel’s tomb. As they are taken away from Israel, Rachel weeps (from her tomb) for these children of Israel. Remember that Rachel’s husband, Jacob, had his name changed to Israel; all the children of Israel are “her” children. (There are two physical locations that currently claim to be the tomb of Rachel. The two locations are far apart and the means of distinguishing one from the other is their relationship to the route the captives are presumed to have taken from Israel to Babylon.)
This reference connects to Lesson Two, which highlights Psalm 137. Psalm 137 is sung by the Israelite captives after their arrival in Babylon. These are the same captives that walked by Rachel’s tomb on their way into exile.
Lessons Three and Six
Jeremiah 31:15 is referenced in Lesson Three but the lesson focuses on Jeremiah 9. In Jeremiah 9, the prophet describes crying that originates in Zion. The countryside and the city dwellings are in ruin. Though not specifically cited as such, the destruction of the city described in Lamentations echoes the report in Jeremiah 31: the city and the nation are destroyed. Lamentations 5 is one of the texts considered in Lesson Six. Following the strand of women’s lament here, in Lamentations the city of Jerusalem is personified as a woman, lament over the city can be read as a women’s lament.
Lessons Five and Six
Lesson Five offers several examples of people who accompany others who are lamenting their lives: Eliphaz, Parker Palmer’s friend, Thomas A. Dorsey’s friend Professor Frye. In Lamentations 3 (not technically considered in the study, but part of Lamentations, which is in Lesson Six—a stretch but stay with me here), there is a witness, someone who sees the destruction of Jerusalem. This witness, called The Strongman or The Everyman, volunteers to walk alongside Jerusalem. The Strong[one] can say what Jerusalem cannot in that moment. It is this witness who says: “But this I call to mind; therefore, I hope. The steadfast love of yhwh is not finished, for [God’s] mercies do not come to an end. (They are) new every morning. Great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21–23).”
Lessons Six and Eight
The book of Lamentations comprises five separate poems, all related to the destruction of Jerusalem. Each chapter that we see is one poem. Poem One (Chapter 1) announces that there is no comfort to be had. Poem Two begins by describing God’s anger and calls on yhwh to look and see what has happened. There is no response from God. Poem Three introduces a narrator who sees the suffering of Jerusalem and suffers along with the city. Poem Four describes the suffering of the city. And Poem Five, considered in Lesson Six, strongly calls on God to look and act. One of the unique characteristics of Lamentations is the fact that God is completely absent. There is no divine response to the atrocities described. Does God not care? Is God not moved by the plight of the city and the people God has established there? The people are lamenting here. What is God doing while this destruction happens?
The question of God’s presence is answered, I think, in Lesson Eight, where we consider God’s laments at what Ephraim (that includes us) has done in moving away from God. God acknowledges that Ephraim has broken faith with God who taught them to walk. What will God do in light of Ephraim’s unfaithfulness? See in Lesson Eight what God’s final answer is to this people who have not kept their side of the covenant.
Lesson Eight and Lesson One
God’s lament in Lesson Eight is caused by human sin and unfaithfulness. It might be interesting to consider that idea in light of Lesson One. Could Jesus’ cry from the cross really be, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken yourself?” Has God ever forsaken the divine self? How do we look at that moment where God-on-the-cross is lamenting the (perceived) absence of God-in-heaven?
You will probably see other places in the study where the lessons weave together. To my mind, the way the stories overlap adds harmony to lament. Biblical prayers of lament pull us forward and call us back by remembering and reframing events that are sources of lament. Scriptural prayers of lament join present and past. They help us see issues from one place in the story and then another. They help us call to mind how the people of God have cried to God when they could do nothing else. They remind us that God heard those cries and will hear ours. Perhaps not on demand, but the God of hope will answer.
P. Lynn Miller.
Author and Illustrator of the 2020–2021 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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