September 7, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Lamentations

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week are from three Old Testament books. First, they finish the readings from Jeremiah. Then there are two readings from the prophet Habakkuk and three readings from the Book of Lamentations.

The first readings from Jeremiah are from Chapters 37 and 38. Jeremiah was then in prison, but King Zedekiah nevertheless went to him for advice. Jeremiah tried to convince him to surrender to the Babylonians. Otherwise, he said, he would be taken prisoner to Babylon, and the city would be destroyed.

Zedekiah did not heed that counsel, and the city fell to the Babylonians.

The last section from Jeremiah in the Office is Chapter 42 and verses from Chapter 43. Jerusalem has fallen and the remnant of those left asked Jeremiah what they should do. He advised them to remain quietly in the land and not to flee to Egypt. Again, they disregarded this advice and went to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them.

There’s much more to the Book of Jeremiah, and I encourage you to read it. He continued to write while he was in Egypt. The book ends with an historical appendix taken from Chapter 24 of the Second Book of Kings. It shows how Jeremiah’s prophecies were fulfilled. However, this material is not included in the Office of Readings.

The Book of Habakkuk is only three chapters. It was written while Jerusalem was in turmoil, but before the Babylonian invasion that ended with the capture of the city. Political intrigue and idolatry were widespread.

The first two chapters consist of a dialogue between Habakkuk and God, with the prophet questioning the ways of the Lord. His complaint is about all the violence and injustice he sees in the world about him: “I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are all before me” (Hb 1:2-3).

God’s reply is that he was going to send the Babylonians as the instrument of his judgment on Judah. That brings a second complaint. How could God do that to his people? This time, God replies that Habakkuk should wait for a vision, and the righteous would survive.

Chapter 2 is the pronouncement of five woes on the Babylonian invaders, and Chapter 3 is a magnificent psalm announcing God’s victory.

The Book of Lamentations consists of five laments composed shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. From Thursday through Saturday next week, the Office of Readings includes the first, third and fifth.

The laments acknowledge Israel’s sin, express grief over Zion’s suffering, accept God’s chastisement, and profess faith in God’s love and power to restore.

The first four laments are acrostics. That is, the separate stanzas begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet from the first to the last. That, of course, is not apparent in English.

The figure of Israel as God’s bride, which the prophets used so often, is here again, but this time Zion is a desolate widow. †

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