Old Testament

Readings for the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures

The writer expresses sorrow on behalf of the people of Jerusalem as they mourn their loss.

How lonely lies Jerusalem, once so full of people!
Once honored by the world, she is now like a widow;
The noblest of cities has fallen into slavery.

All night long she cries; tears run down her cheeks.
Of all her former friends, not one is left to comfort her.
Her allies have betrayed her and are all against her now.

Judah’s people are helpless slaves, forced away from home.
They live in other lands, with no place to call their own –
Surrounded by enemies, with no way to escape.
No one comes to Temple now to worship on the hole days.
The young women who sang there suffer, and the priests can only groan.
The city gates stand empty, and Zion is in agony.
Lamentations 1.1-4

Jerusalem’s old men sit on the ground in silence,
With dust on their heads, and sackcloth on their bodies.
Young women bow their heads to the ground.
My eyes are worn out with weeping; my soul is in anguish.
I am exhausted with grief at the destruction of my people.
Children and babies are fainting in the streets of the city.
Hungry and thirsty, they cry to their mothers;
They fall in the streets as though they were wounded,
And slowly die in their mother’s arms.
O Jerusalem, beloved Jerusalem, what can I say?
How can I comfort you? No one has ever suffered like this.
Your disaster is boundless as the ocean; there is no possible hope.

People passing by the city look at you in scorn.
They shake their heads and laugh at Jerusalem’s ruins:
“Is this that lovely city? Is this the pride of the world?”
All your enemies mock you and glare at you with hate.
They curl their lips and sneer, “We have destroyed it!
This is the day we have waited for!”

The Lord has finally done what he threatened to do:
He has destroyed us without mercy, as he warned us long ago.
He gave our enemies victory, gave them joy at our downfall.

O Jerusalem, let your very walls cry out to the Lord!
Let your tears flow like rivers night and day;
Wear yourself out with weeping and grief!

All through the night get up again and again to cry out to the Lord;
Pour out your heart and beg him for mercy on your children –
Children starving to death on every street corner!
Lamentations 2.10-1315-19

Our glittering gold has grown dull; the stones of
the Temple lie scattered in the streets.

Zion’s young people were as precious to us as gold,
but now they are treated like common clay pots.

Even a mother wolf will nurse her cubs, but my people
are like ostriches, cruel to their young.

They let their babies die of hunger and thirst;
children are begging for food that no one will give them.
People who once ate the finest foods die starving in the streets;
those raised in luxury are pawing through garbage for food.
Lamentations 4.1-5

The writer describes the suffering he has endured, and concludes by expressing hope in God.

I am one who knows what it is to be punished by God.
He drove me deeper and deeper into darkness
And beat me again and again with merciless blows.

He has left my flesh open and raw, and has broken my bones.
He has shut me in a prison of misery and anguish.
He has forced me to live in the stagnant darkness of death.

He has bound me in chains; I am a prisoner with no hope of escape.
I cry aloud for help, but God refuses to listen;
I stagger as I walk; stone walls block me wherever I turn.

He waited for me like a bear; he pounced on me like a lion.
He chased me off the road, tore me to pieces, and left me.
He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

He shot his arrows deep into my body. People laugh at me all day long;
I am a joke to them all. Bitter suffering is all he has given me for food and drink.
He rubbed my face in the ground and broke my teeth on rocks.
I have forgotten what health and peace and happiness are.
I do not have much longer to live; my hope in the LORD is gone.

The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison.
I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed.
Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing:

The LORD’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,
Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.
The LORD is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.
Lamentations 3.1-24

The writer, speaking on behalf of the community, tells God of the ways in which the people of Jerusalem have been disgraced, and he prays for mercy.

Remember, O LORD, what has happened to us. Look at us, and see our disgrace.
Our property is in the hands of strangers; foreigners are living in our homes.
Our fathers have been killed by the enemy, and now our mothers are widows.
We must pay for the water we drink; we must buy the wood we need for fuel.
Driven hard like donkeys or camels, we are tired, but are allowed no rest.
To get food enough to stay alive, we went begging to Egypt and Assyria.
Our ancestors sinned, but now they are gone, and we are suffering for their sins.
Our rulers are no better than slaves, and no one can save us from their power.
Murderers roam through the countryside; we risk our lives when we look for food.
Hunger has made us burn with fever until our skin is as hot as an oven.
Our wives have been raped on Mount Zion itself;
in every Judean village our daughters have been forced to submit.
Our leaders have been taken and hanged; our elders are shown no respect.
Our young men are forced to grind grain like slaves; boys go staggering under heavy loads of wood.
The old people no longer sit at the city gate, and the young people no longer make music.
Happiness has gone out of our lives; grief has taken the place of our dances.
Nothing is left of all we were proud of. We sinned, and now we are doomed.
We are sick at our very hearts and can hardly see through our tears,
because Mount Zion lies lonely and deserted, and wild jackals prowl through its ruins.
But you, O LORD, are king forever and will rule to the end of time.
Why have you abandoned us so long? Will you ever remember us again?
Bring us back to you, LORD! Bring us back! Restore our ancient glory.
Or have you rejected us forever? Is there no limit to your anger?
Lamentations 5

The Hebrew Scriptures also contain the book of Job, the sotry of one man’s troubles and human suffering. Job, a good and righteous man who lost all his children and his property, openly lamented the severity of his situation to one of his friends, and expressed his anger to God.

If my troubles and griefs were weighed on scales,
they would weigh more than the sands of the sea,
so my wild words should not surprise you.
Almighty God has shot me with arrows,
and their poison spreads through my body.
God has lined up his terrors against me.

Why won’t God give me what I ask?
Why won’t he answer my prayer?
Job 6.1-48

Included in the Hebrew Scriptures is the book of Psalms, a collection of prayers and poems that express every possible human emotion, including sorrow and joy, doubt and trust, pain and discomfort, despair and hope, anger and contentment, the desire for revenge and the willingness to forgive. Among the psalms are those known as “psalms of lament,” which are characterized by: 1) a cry to God for help; 2) a description of the problem; and 3) a plea for God to respond. These psalms may also include a profession of trust in God and a promise to praise God. Like these psalm writers, call upon God, knowing that God understands what you are feeling and experiencing.

I have cried desperately for help,
but still it does not come.
During the day I call to you, my God,
but you do not answer;
I call at night, but get no rest.
But you are enthroned as the Holy One,
the one whom Israel praises.
Our ancestors put their trust in you;
they trusted you, and you saved them.
They called to you and escaped from danger;
they trusted you and were not disappointed.
But I am no longer a human being;
I am a worm, despised and scorned by everyone!
All who see me make fun of me;
they stick out their tongues and shake their heads.
“You relied on the LORD,” they say.
“Why doesn’t he save you?
If the Lord likes you, why doesn’t he help you?”

Many enemies surround me like bulls;
they are all around me,
like fierce bulls from the land of Bashan.
They open their mouths like lions,
roaring and tearing at me.
My strength is gone,
gone like water spilled on the ground.
All my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like melted wax.
My throat is as dry as dust,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have left me for dead in the dust.
An evil gang is around me;
like a pack of dogs they close in on me;
they tear at my hands and feet.
All my bones can be seen.
My enemies look at me and stare.
They gamble for my clothes
and divide them among themselves.
O LORD, don’t stay away from me!
Come quickly to my rescue!
Save me from the sword;
save my life from these dogs.
Rescue me from these lions;
I am helpless before these wild bulls.
Psalm 22.1b-8, 12-21

Save me, O God!

You know how I am insulted, how I am disgraced and dishonored;
you see all my enemies.
Insults have broken my heart, and I am in deep despair.
I had hoped for sympathy, but there was none;
for comfort, but I found none.
Psalm 69.1a, 19, 20

LORD God, my savior, I cry out all day, and at night I come before you.
Hear my prayer; listen to my cry for help!
So many troubles have fallen on me that I am close to death.
I am like all others who are about to die; all my strength is gone.
I am abandoned among the dead; I am like the slain lying in their graves,
those you have forgotten completely, who are beyond your help.

You have caused my friends to abandon me; you have made me repulsive to them.
I am closed in and cannot escape; my eyes are weak from suffering.
LORD, every day I call to you and lift my hand to you in prayer.

LORD, I call to you for help; every morning I pray to you.
Why do you reject me, LORD? Why do you turn away from me?

You have made even my closest friends abandon me, and darkness
is my only companion.
Psalm 88.1-58-913-1418

My Sovereign Lord, help me as you have promised
and rescue me because of the goodness of your love.
I am poor and needy;
I am hurt to the depths of my heart.
Like an evening shadow I am about to vanish;
I am blown away like an insect.
My knees are weak from lack of food;
I am nothing but skin and bones.
When people see me, they laugh at me;
they shake their heads in scorn.
Help me, O LORD my God,
because of your constant love, save me!
Make my enemies know that you are the one who saves me.
They may curse me, but you will bless me.
May my persecutors be defeated, and may I, your servant, be glad.
May my enemies be covered with disgrace;
may they wear their shame like a robe.
I will give loud thanks to the LORD;
I will praise him in the assembly of the people,
because he defends the poor and saves them
from those who condemn them to death.
Psalm 109.21-31

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