Sunday, February 8, 2009

lamentations and psalm 48

jeremiah's lamentation, by marc chagall

Earlier this week I went to visit a dear sweet lady in a nursing home. I went with a friend as part of a service day that our Bible study group had coordinated, and we had the privilege of visiting, praying, reading scripture, and singing hymns with women who are members of our church but are no longer unable to attend services. As we sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" with sweet Mary Louise that morning, it made me want to go back and read the verses in Lamentations from which those lyrics are taken. When I found some time to read it the next day, I got ambitious and decided to read the whole book (it's not very long). I've also been reading through Psalms, one a day, and happened to be on Psalm 48 that day.

So long story not-so-short, I ended up reading the book of Lamentations and Psalm 48 on the same day. What an incredibly sharp contrast. Compare these two verses:

Lamentations 1:1 How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was a queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

Psalm 48:1-3 Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.

In Lamentations, the author goes into great, and even graphic, detail of the ruin and destruction of the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege on the city. He weeps for her defiled temple, her plundered treasure, her starving children, her slaughtered princes. He acknowledges that it was the sin of the people and their worthless prophets that led to the tragic downfall of Jerusalem. It is a ruthlessly hard book to read. Even though it contains some beautiful statements of hope and faith, the last words are still "Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure." Did you heave a big sigh just reading that? I did.

But as much as I have learned to love the Old Testament, I have also learned the importance of reading it with New Testament eyes. Our story does not end with the last words of the book of Lamentations. I realize that Psalm 48 is still in the Old Testament, but I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sheds new light on these words from verse 8: As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever.

There is still significant and sobering truth to be found in the words of Lamentations: our sin is not without consequence. But in the light of God's abundant grace to us in Jesus Christ we see the eternal reality -- the enemy has been defeated and our city is safe. Psalm 48:4 says, "When the kings joined forces, when they advanced together, they saw her and were astounded; they fled in terror." God is in His city, His holy mountain, His people. In contrast to the last verses of Lamentations, Psalm 48 ends with these words of assurance: "For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end."

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