Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people. Once great among nations, she has become like a widow. Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek. None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her; they have become her enemies. (CEB)
“Oh, no!” Those are words I’d rather not hear. And I’d really rather not have to say them. “Oh, no!” fills me with dread, with the expectation that I am just about to hear bad news at work or at home. When I hear “Oh, no!”, part of me wants to plug my ears and run away.
How do you feel about spending devotional time in a biblical book that begins with “Oh, no!”? Excited? Eager? I doubt it. Maybe you’re thinking about skipping the Daily Reflections for the next couple of weeks. Who wants to begin a new year with such a downer?
In fact, the Hebrew original of our passage does not literally say “Oh, no!” But the Common English Bible (see note below on this translation) accurately captures the sense of the original language. “Oh, no!” is a fitting beginning for the book we know as Lamentations.
The word “lamentation” means “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow, weeping” (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010). It comes from the Latin word lamenta, which has this same meaning. The Latin Bible called this biblical book lamenta for reasons that will soon become obvious. It is filled with laments, with cries of pain and anguish, with sorrow, with weeping.
Perhaps the thought of praying through Lamentations makes you want to say “Oh, no! Anything but Lamentations!” I would suggest that the more you find yourself resisting this book, the more you need it. You might not be in a place to lament today, but you will be in time. Moreover, prayerful reflection on Lamentations might help you empathize with people in your workplace who are right in the middle of grief.
On the other hand, your life and work right now may be filled with sorrow. Maybe you find yourself inundated with your own lamentations. If so, then a careful study of this book will help you to grieve and to find God in the midst of your sorrow.
So, no matter how you respond to the opening “Oh, no!” of this book, I invite you to join me as we reflect and pray our way through Lamentations.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to a biblical book that begins with “Oh, no!”? How do you feel about the prospect of being guided in your work and devotions by a book called Lamentations?
PRAYER: Gracious God, honestly, I’m not thrilled with the idea of reflecting on Lamentations. A big part of me would prefer Philippians, a book filled with joy. I don’t like the “Oh, no!” parts of work and life. I’d rather avoid them, just like I’d rather avoid Lamentations.
But this book is in the Bible, your inspired Word, your Word for your people, your Word for me. So, I trust that you want to speak to me through Lamentations. Give me ears to hear you, Lord, and a heart open to your Spirit.
I pray today for those who receive these Reflections. I ask that those who share my discomfort with this book might make themselves available to you as we work through it together. I pray for those who are grieving, they will find freedom and hope in Lamentations. Make your grace and peace known to them, Lord. Amen.
P.S. on the Common English Bible: For the past four years, I have based the Daily Reflections on the New Living Translation (2nd edition). I chose this translation because it is quite accessible and generally accurate in its rendering of the original biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). I am still happy with that choice, though at times the NLT is a little too free in its translation for my purposes. Recently, I have begun using the Common English Bible in the reflections. This new translation seeks to be faithful to the original meaning of Scripture and, at the same time, to be quite readable (unlike other translations I often use, the NRSV and the ESV). The CEB was produced by a large team of scholars, many of whom I respect for their academic excellence and their orthodox faith. So, I’ve decided to give the CEB a test drive, if you will. I am not prepared to recommend this translation yet, but I think it’s worth a try.