One of the incredible things that often get lost in translation is the intricate beauty, poetic beauty, and inherent complexities of the Biblical texts. There is really no book that has such literary depth and beauty as the Bible, and this aspect of the Bible is rarely seen because it is usually only ever experienced as a translated text. Poetry and literary tradition rarely translates well. I was reminded of this when I came across Lamentations 3 this morning. Rarely do we probably read from Lamentations, which in its self might be something worth lamenting, but it is written to make some very incredible points about the character of God.
There is an important point made in Lamentations chapter 3, and it is made through the words and the structure of the letter. The passage is a Hebrew Acrostic. Every line of each verse begins with a corresponding letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. While you don’t likely know Hebrew, you can see this by looking at the beginning of each sentence in the separate verses on the right side.
You may see the acrostic. Each line of each three line verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet beginning at א, which is the first letter and ends with תִּ(the last letter). As you might imagine, this is not an accident. This literary technique is used in Hebrew, as the phrase “from A to Z” might be used in English, to connote the completeness and comprehensive truth of the message. In other words, this says that this message is thoroughly, universally, and dependably true.
The chapter revolves around a central statement of truth, which is also common in Hebrew poetry. The central passage in this chapter is found in verses 31-33.
31 For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
33 For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow. –Lamentations 3:31–33
The book of Lamentations exists because the people of Israel had a lot to lament. They had disobeyed God, they had turned to idols, they had practiced all kinds of sexual immorality, they had adopted terrible practices from neighboring pagan nations. The consequence is that the nation was sacked by the Babylonians and the people were carried off and they were in exile. They were in the middle of being punished for the choices which they had made. When we are suffering for the choices that we have made, there is not a lot of encouragement that you can depend on. As children, when we suffer punishment for our actions, there is no encouragement that we have other than the fact that no matter what we do our parents love us. God is punishing the people of Israel. He is punishing them because of what they have done. They are suffering the consequences of their actions, and yet in the midst of this, they have this encouragement. God loves them. God doesn’t like to punish, but everything is always done for our greatest good because God loves us. It is an amazing message. God is not a God who loves to punish, but He punishes to love. Parents can probably relate best to this. It is important, and in saying it this way God reassures us that this message is thoroughly, universally, and dependably true. From A to Z God looks on us in love no matter what we have done. The beauty of this message is not only in its literary structure, but it is in the value of its eternal truth. We are loved by God thoroughly, universally, and dependably.