In and Out of Life's Gardens
It may seem a bit unnatural to read Lamentations on the same day that we read Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon (which I will call “the Song”), since it is not next in the typical sequence of Old Testament books. My primary reason for including it was that the reading of the latter two books is significantly shorter than our readings on other days, and the most likely candidate to include with them was Lamentations, since it also is poetry (and since including it with Jeremiah, where it would naturally belong, would make the reading for that day a little long). In addition, although the three books vary significantly in content, I felt like all three could be thought of under the imagery of a garden.
Life outside the garden
Ecclesiastes pictures life outside the Garden of Eden. Mankind now lives “under the sun” and all is vanity. Ecclesiastes presents the frustration, unexplained questions, and futility of life. Welcome to reality! Along the way, however, Ecclesiastes provides some answers, although admittedly not all the answers and not always satisfying answers. The end of the book will provide the ultimate answer (12:13). In addition, Ecclesiastes contains proverbs that set forth wise thinking and behavior. Life’s futility does not excuse relativity. There are rights and wrongs, and a judgment lies ahead (11:9).
According to Ecclesiastes, the panacea for the futility of life under the sun is “godliness with contentment.” Highlight these four themes as you read Ecclesiastes:
Intimacy as a garden
The Song is perhaps the most pure example of Hebrew poetry found in the Old Testament, and it brings the power of its poetry to bear on the romantic relationship of one couple, Solomon and the Shulammite. Imaging their relationship as a garden is not much of a stretch as the Song itself uses the image of a vineyard (2:15). The Song catches up with them during their courtship (1:2-3:5), zooms in on their wedding night (3:6-5:1), and portrays some of the relational hiccups that occur after the wedding (5:2-8:4).
Their courtship is characterized by longing, admiration, anxiety (3:1-5), and—very importantly—restraint. “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not arouse or awaken love until it is desirable” (2:7; 3:5; 8:4). A garden of delights awaits them on their wedding day, but it is not to be enjoyed before then. The fox of premarital indulgence could spoil their vineyard (2:15).
Their wedding night contains procession, excitement, wonder, eagerness, consummation, and sanction. Solomon especially praises his bride for her beauty (4:1-11) and her purity (4:12). The narrator’s voicing his approval of their union conveys God’s sanction of the newlyweds (5:1b).
A garden needs tending and so does the garden of romance. Male and female rhythms do not always keep pace together and that can create tension in marriage (5:2-8). But through transparency, communication, and voiced admiration (5:10-16; 6:4-10), a couple can weed out relational tensions and enjoy the ongoing fruits of intimacy.
Two final thoughts on the Song. First, the Song is told largely from the feminine viewpoint and sheds light into feminine thoughts and emotions. Both men and women need to read the Song and profit from its content, but it especially hammers home certain truths to the “softer gender.” The Song is for women what Proverbs 5-7 is for men. It shows along what pathways a woman can be tempted to abandon her treasured purity and sacrifice it on the altar of wanton desire. It also exposes those attitudes or actions that can hinder her marital intimacy and create distance between her and her husband. Second, the Song ends by reiterating the Shulammite’s purity (8:8-10). Being a “wall” before marriage fostered the unsullied satisfaction enjoyed after marriage.
Mourning a garden lost
Lamentations’ Hebrew name is Ekah, which means “how!” How can it be that the nation of Israel has been bereaved of Jerusalem and the Temple? The answer is sin! Israel rebelled against God and was expelled from the “garden” He had given them.
Lamentations is a dirge mourning the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Its five chapters are each a poem based on multiples of 22, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Every chapter except chapter 5 is an acrostic. Each chapter also highlights a slightly different theme related to Jerusalem’s destruction.
Lamentations is relevant for those experiencing chastisement. It is a reminder of sin’s certain and painful consequences. No one gets away with any sin! Second, it is a guide of how to pray during times of chastisement. Speak of your pain to the Lord, but do so with a heart of genuine grief and repentance for sins committed. Third, Lamentations points toward where to hope in times of chastisement for sin: hope in the character of the God who chastised you—He is good, merciful, compassionate, faithful, just, impartial, eternal, and sovereign.
Review & Application:
About the Author
Timothy W. Berrey is the author of Planning Your Life God's Way and From Eden to Patmos: An Overview of Biblical History. He is the director of Graduate Studies at Bob Jones Memorial Bible College in Metro Manila, where he has lived with his wife Laura and six children since 2005.