WEEK 9: And the People Prayed – Lamentations 5
In the course of bearing witness to Lady Zion’s plight, the reporter became her advocate and comforter (Lam 1 and 2). As a fellow sufferer and survivor, he testified that doubt and despair could be overcome through hope in the LORD who is faithful to all His promises (Lam 3). And despite their present reality of immense hardship under foreign occupation (Lam 4:1–20), a prophetic voice has promised the people that God will answer their prayers – punishing their enemies and restoring Zion (Lam 4:21–22).
Now the people respond by bursting into prayer. And while Lamentations 5 is mostly complaint, what matters is that the people are praying. They are talking to God; the channels of communication have been opened. This marks the beginning of healing.
Echoing the plea of Lamentations 2:1 and 3:19, the community implores Yahweh to remember them and to look and see. It is not that God the omnipresent Spirit cannot see them; it is just that He is behaving as if he is unaware of their plight.
They then describe their disgrace in detail in 17 consecutive verses of complaint upon complaint (vv. 2–18). What we have here is a concise description of the horrors of war. The situation described in Lamentations 5:2–18 would be familiar to many. For multitudes of Christians in this present day, it is their reality. Pray for them now. Watch the news with a fresh appreciation of what suffering entails. Cultivate compassion.
The closing verses of Lamentations 5 reveal the internal, spiritual struggle faced by suffering believers universally. They rise up in praise and worship – ‘You, Lord, are sovereign and eternal’ (v. 19), before falling back in confusion – ‘so why do you leave us like this for so long?’ (v. 20).
Then we have the most controversial of endings in verses 21–22: “Restore us to Yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old – unless You have utterly rejected us, and You remain exceedingly angry with us.” The difficulty lies with the Hebrew word kî’im (literally: ‘for if’) commonly translated as ‘unless’ (v. 22). Actually, there is no consensus on how kî’im should be translated. If it is translated ‘for if’, then the ending is left unresolved: that is, we have an ‘if’ but no ‘then’. Other commentators maintain that kî’im could be translated ‘even though’: this is the voice of the unfaithful wife who skipped out into the world only to find that the world was not such a great place after all. And so she returns to her ever-faithful, loving husband to plead her case.
Lamentations closes with Judah’s suffering, traumatised people knocking on Yahweh’s door. And knowing Yahweh – that can only be a good thing! Pray, suffering believer, pray. Whether you are at fault or not, just pray. Do not let shame, anger, confusion or tears keep you from the one who faithfully and steadfastly loves you. Church: pray that the Holy Spirit will draw suffering believers into prayer – into communion with their faithful God and only Saviour, whose love for them is everlasting (Romans 8:28-39).
Elizabeth Kendal is a dedicated international religious liberty analyst and advocate. Elizabeth maintains two blogs: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) to facilitate strategic mission, aid, advocacy and prayer; and Religious Liberty Monitoring (providing additional news and analysis).