By Elizabeth Prata
Below: Ezra’s Lamentation
I’m looking at what the Bible says about lamenting, in three parts. Part 1 dealt with three biblical figures who allowed their grief to send them into depression, anger, and bitterness (Jacob, Mrs. Job, Naomi.)
In Part 2 I looked at the laments of 2 biblical figures, David and Job, and what they did right, according to God.
Today I will look at explaining more of what a lament is, and also the importance of music to help us when our deep grief turns to lamenting.
Most people know that to lament means to express a deep sorrow or grief. We feel grief, a lamentation is action of expressing that grief; the outward expression of the inward feeling. Ezra lamented over the desecrated state of Israel upon his return from exile. David lamented over King Saul’s death. Jeremiah lamented over the rampant national sin.
Webster’s dictionary defines lament as-
1. To express or feel sorrow; to weep or wail; to mourn.
2. To mourn for; to bemoan; to bewail.
3. Grief or sorrow expressed in complaints or cries; lamentation; a wailing; a moaning; a weeping.
4. An elegy or mournful ballad, or the like.
The pathos, emotion, and depth of feeling in the laments of the Old Testament show God’s own heart. It is not merely the prophet who is lamenting, but God through them who was moved by the failure and destruction of His people. At Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He wept and offered a lamentation for the city. He realized the devastation that would again overtake it, reminiscent of Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem’s initial destruction (Luke 19:41–44). While God’s people are a people of praise, we are also to be a people of lamentation and weeping, especially over those things that threaten or befall God’s people. In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained.
In Part 1 and 2 I looked at how the lamentations of Job and David through the Psalms or book of Job asked questions. Asking How long O Lord? Why this, Lord? are ways to communicate to God in prayer through the process of lamenting. It’s OK to ask these things, God knows what is on our heart already. It’s not a surprise to Him.
How to Lament
Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments. (2 Chronicles 25:35).
In this day and age we’re often embarrassed by strong displays of emotion, especially grief. We stoically endure it, or we suppress it, or we present a false joy around it. But the ball of grief (from whatever cause) is still there. See Chrysostom’s lament below, hardly finding ways to express it, the ball of grief so large. How do we express it biblically, then? The opportunity offered in lament is to give us a chance to wrestle with sorrow instead of ignoring it or moving past it.
I find the word of instruction broken off by lamentation; scarcely am I able to open my mouth, to part my lips, to move my tongue, or to utter a syllable! So, even like a curb, the weight of grief checks my tongue, and keeps back what I would say. ~Homilies on the Statutes, Chrysostom
Lamenting should not be a cycle of tears for the sake of tears, devolving into self-absorbed grief. Lamenting is an expression to God, and in that way it is a prayer. It leads to trusting Him. It’s a path for praise, or it should be.
We appeal, ask questions, even complain. In David’s psalms, there is always a turning point, when he says “But God…” or “Yet You…” Lamenting is the hinge between ‘this moment in my life is really hard…but I trust in God’s sovereignty.’
The elements of lament are, according to Mark Vroegop in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, 1) turning to God in prayer, 2) bringing our complaints, 3) asking boldly, and 4) choosing to trust (or praise).
- Turn to God in prayer. Sometimes when we feel such deep grief or sorrow, the last thing we want to to is pray. But that’s the first thing we need to do. The act of clasping our hands together and appealing to God is an act of war against the flesh, the world, and satan. Do it. The importance of prayer is that it keeps us connected with God during a time when we are vulnerable to casting Him off. ‘Prone to wander, God I feel it…’
- Pour out your struggles. Ask your questions. Bring your complaints. I discussed biblical complaining in part 2.
- Ask boldly. Be specific in asking God to resolve your situation in ways according to His character.
- Choose to trust Him. Like any emotion, it’s a choice. When in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, walking that dark path under its dark clouds can obscure the Light of God. This is where the rubber meets the road. We choose to trust that whatever situation brought the laments, it is for His glory and our good. And with trust, comes a choice to be patient. Keep trusting, even if the situation isn’t resolved yet or the waves of grief are still swamping your boat. Eventually you WILL emerge.
Lament: A song of mourning or sorrow. Laments may be occasioned by bereavement, personal trouble, national disaster or the judgment of God. Dictionary of Bible Themes
Lamentations are actually a form of music. One-third of the Psalms are songs of lament, but consider how few songs today are laments. But crying out to God in song is easier than just crying out for a lot of people.
The Hebrew word qiynah is a technical literary and musical term describing a musical composition. Qiynah is best translated as “lamentation,” “lament,” or “dirge.” ~In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained
See the difference in the two songs below?
You see the turning point in the hymn on the right, “YET”. It expresses his pain, it pours out his complaint, it turns to God, provides a path to praise, ends with acknowledging His majesty.
Horatio Spafford was a supporter of Dwight Moody in Chicago. Spafford was a successful lawyer and bought property in north Chicago. A few months later the Great Fire happened, and his investments were destroyed. Two years after that, Spafford’s wife and 4 daughters (aged 12, 7, 4, and 18 months) were aboard a ship headed to Europe to meet up with Moody, while Spafford attended to business and planned to join them later. The daughters perished as their ship sank, the wife was “saved alone” as she telegrammed her husband after rescue. The tragedy promoted Spafford to write the lament, It is Well With My Soul. Here is one stanza,
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Lamenting our losses and grief should always end with a child-like trust in God, proclaiming His goodness. As Mark Vroegop said, “Lament is how you move from no to yes, and from why to who.”
Ultimately lamenting should be all about God.
But You, Lord, are a shield around me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
Mark Vroegop: book. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament
Hymns of Lamentations: list by denomination at Hymnary.org
The Art of Lament, essay at Desiring God Canada