This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 30th, 2016.
The book of Habakkuk often takes a minor role in our reading of the Minor Prophets. If referenced at all, it usually focuses on the famous refrain found at the end of the fourth chapter. A refrain that speaks of resting in God’s will no matter what comes. But, the impulse to jump right to those verses does a disservice to what transpires before. Similarly, there is a temptation to jump past the hard points in life. We want to jump past grief to comfort; jump past pain to healing; jump past doubt to assurance. But many times the hard times are an essential part of the overall process. This reading from Habakkuk gives us a chance to practice this discipline.
The Prophet starts out his account with a question and lament. “How long,” he asks “should I cry out for help?” The prophet is in distress, and he is fed up with it. For Habakkuk, it appears that God has not reached out to save him. God has not taken a look at his trouble. How do we help someone who is questioning God? What do we do when that person is us? Often, these questions don’t find much space in our churches. But the prophets and the psalms don’t seem as afraid of them as we can be. Commentators note that the beginning of Habakkuk’s claims seem vague, and perhaps that is for the best. We cannot write them off as a special occurrence, a one-time thing. Habakkuk speaks from a place that we all come to at some time or another. How can we speak about it?
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 2nd, 2016.
Lamentations opens with the personification of Jerusalem as a woman widowed, abandoned in death by her husband. Who is her husband? Her husband is YHWH who, though not dead, has given over his people to suffering. The lament announces abandonment, the deep grief of one alone in anguish. This book of poems was likely written soon after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, a time when the wounds of sorrow were still raw with hurt. Such an abandonment by God to a foreign power not only weighed the Israelites down with grief over the death of her people; it also called into question God’s place in the pantheon of godly powers. Grief is thus expressed over the physical desolation of the city and the diminishing of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. Once the symbols of God’s covenant faithfulness: land, temple, and king were now the symbols of all that was lost. Israel’s life with God is now broken, as is their place among the nations. The people of God, the lament asks? Are they the bride of YHWH, a queen among the nations? No, they are now a widow and a slave.
To explicate this point clearly, the Hebrew text uses the word translated “queen” in verse one. This is the same word used for Abraham’s wife, Sara. Jerusalem is no longer the bride of the promise, wed to the fulfillment of God’s covenant to make them a people within the land. Instead, that covenant appears abandoned, as they are abandoned to the grief of exile.
Verse two presents the corporate response of the city, the grieving widow. What is the response of the people in their abandonment? Their response is deep grief. Jerusalem looks in verse two for comfort and love. The nation searches for friends, but none exist. There is only the mocking presence of friends turned to enemies. In whom can Jerusalem put their trust? There is no one present for them.
Verse three describes the torment over Jerusalem’s untethering. Israel’s identity, previously experienced as anchored in the land of promise, is now ripped from under their feet. They are untethered from the land, set adrift in exile and in relation to YHWH. The people of God dwell now among the nations, a people of no place, a people of no Sabbath, no rest within the world.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 18th, 2016.
The lament alone is why Jeremiah has been nicknamed the “Weeping Prophet.” Chapter eight is a prophetic poem is the source of the well-known spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead. The “balm” is healing medicine mentioned briefly in Genesis when a caravan of Ishmaelite’s traveling from Gilead to Egypt with a gum-like substance used to close and bind wounds (Gen 37:25). The rhetorical question “Is there a balm in Gilead?” is used to explore the depth of a spiritual and moral crisis in the Israelite community.
The mixture of God’s anguish and the grieving community in Jerusalem are interwoven in a lyrical mourning of the terror to come. In the face of demoralization and suffering, this lament has stood the test of time because these words touch the deepest parts of all humanity. The humanity of Jeremiah is evident through his own grief and depression. Jeremiah is lamenting for the community and for the God of his people. He is holding the tension between God’s anger and sadness and the profound loss of that Israel is and will continue to experience.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 11th, 2016.
When reading the word “desert,” our minds quickly imagine sandy landscapes and a scorching sun. This passage paints imagery of the burning winds of the desert that blow fiercely from the bare heights stinging all in its path. The text creates vivid descriptions of a desert that can be creatively explored. This could be a frozen, barren wasteland with stinging, icy winds that burn like the scorching sun upon the skin. Most likely the imagery comes from a middle eastern desert storm, a dry, dust bowl where sand covers the sun leaving the land in utter darkness. No creatures can be found for even the birds have fled, flying south. Nothing will grow, and nothing will live in the waste and void. Jeremiah is returning the listener to Genesis chapter one where the earth was formless and empty. This Hebrew phrase is only seen in Jeremiah 4:23 and Genesis 1:2.