A Lamentation in Miniature

As I’m studying the book of Lamentations–chapter 3 in particular–Charles R. Swindoll’s little book The Lamentations of Jeremiah (Swindoll, 1977) has opened my eyes to the depth, beauty, and poetry of this section of Scripture.

Did you know that four out of the five chapters or dirges of Lamentations are acrostic poems in the original Hebrew language? Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 all have 22 verses. In chapters 1 and 2, each verse or stanza is three lines, and the first word of the first line of each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It would look like this in English:

(verse/stanza 1)
A-word line 1
line 2
line 3

(verse/stanza 2)
B-word line 1
line 2
line 3

(verse/stanza 3)
C-word line 1
line 2
line 3

and so on.

Chapter 3 is the climax of the book with 66 total verses (22×3). This time, every verse (in our numbered Scripture) is a line in a three-line stanza, and each line begins with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It would look like this in English:

(stanza 1)
A-word verse 1
A-word verse 2
A-word verse 3

(stanza 2)
B-word verse 4
B-word verse 5
B-word verse 6

(stanza 3)
C-word verse 7
C-word verse 8
C-word verse 9

and so on. Isn’t that amazing? In the Hebrew language, emphasis is conveyed through repetition, and a three-fold repetition, such as seen in the phrase of worship “Holy, holy, holy” in God’s presence in Isaiah 6:3, indicates the superlative form of something. (We would say holy, holier, and holiest where the Hebrew language says holy, holy holy, and holy holy holy.) So the triple development of the acrostic style in this chapter, in my opinion, marks chapter 3 as the superlative or the extreme of both the depths of the writer’s grief and the heights of God’s goodness.

Chapter 4 continues the acrostic pattern but with two-line stanzas, and chapter 5, while not acrostic, still follows the form of an acrostic poem.

I had to see this for myself. I opened my Bible to Lamentations (sandwiched between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the major prophets of the Old Testament) and counted verses and sections. Sure enough, four 22-verse chapters or poems bookend the center, focal chapter/poem of 66 verses, or 22 3-verse stanzas.

I was blown away. And my inner artist said, I want to try that. So I wrote the 26 letters of the English alphabet and set to work, trying to craft my lines along the grief < praise > prayer pattern of the book of Lamentations. I’d love to write a five-chapter series of extended laments someday, truer to the form and content of Jeremiah’s poetry, but for this first imitation I set my sights lower, on a simple, 26-line acrostic poem. While I borrowed heavily from Scriptural imagery, every word truly bleeds out of the emotions, prayers, and praises of own heart as I’ve navigated the valley of chronic illness.

Without further ado, here is

A Lamentation in Miniature

All that is good has been taken away,
Broken and buried beneath yesterday.
Comfort is gone and I sit in the ash,
Doubled and scarred by the stripes of God’s lash.
Even my clothes have been stripped from my skin;
Frail and naked, I search for my sin.
God has rewarded my faith with a stone;
How does He answer the prayers of His own?
Into the darkness I pour out my grief—
Justice has fled—is there any relief?
Know Him, my soul, who gives songs in the night;
Look up and search for the Dweller of Light.
Many, oh Lord, are Your mercies toward me,
New every morning like waves of the sea.
Open my eyes to observe Your good hand
Pressing before and behind where I stand.
Quiet my heart with the songs of Your love;
Raise me to comforts of Heaven above.
Surely like mountains Your justice stands firm;
Take my transgressions and pardon this worm.
Under Your sheltering wings I abide;
Victory comes! I shall be satisfied.
When I remember the words of Your mouth,
Excellent promises, how can I doubt?
You are my All and my Life without end,
Zenith of Good that can never descend.

Have you ever read Lamentations? Does imitating art stretch or stimulate your creativity? How has God shown Himself to you in your suffering?

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