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Learning Lamentation

Date: 
January 17, 2020

As I write this note, the sun is shining outside my window. We haven’t seen the sun much in 2020. These winter months are hard for many of us. We miss the daylight and we miss being outside. Winter can be a sad season. Our series in 2 Samuel began last Sunday with lamentation. David responds to the tragedy of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death with godly grief and lament: “David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah” (2 Samuel 1:17-18). David lamented with lamentation. Lamentation is grief articulated and composed. It gives order, coherence, and meaning to our sorrow and sadness. It doesn’t necessarily remove or relieve our sorrow, but it acknowledges, accepts, and articulates our sorrow. It also directs our sorrow to the promises and presence of God, and so puts our grief in divine context.

Lamentation is learned. The people of Judah needed to learn lamentation, and so do we. God teaches us to lament in Scripture. Many of the Psalms are songs or prayers of lament, which teach us lament. This note is the beginning of a series of notes on lament. In this series, I want us to learn lamentation by meditating up Psalms 42 and 43, which comprise a single song of lament.

I begin with the superscription (that’s what’s written above the Psalm in small capital letters). The superscription for each Psalm is part of the text of Scripture. It’s God’s holy and inerrant word. The superscription for Psalm 42 reads: “To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.” First, we note that this lament is written “to the choirmaster.” It’s a song. Lamentation is set to music and sung. There’s order, structure, harmony, and beauty to music, which rebukes the chaos and ugliness of sin and evil and which calms the turmoil of sadness and sorrow in our hearts. Second, we note that this Psalm is “a Maskil of the Sons of Korah.” Scholars aren’t sure what the term “Maskil” means; however, it sounds like the word for teaching or instruction and it probably carries that connotation. Psalm 42 and 43 is written to teach us lament.

As we learn to lament in this series of notes, we will also learn to hope:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Ps 42:5, 11; 43:5)

Lamentation gives us hope, because it leads us to our salvation and our God, it leads us to our Lord Jesus, who was himself “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and in whom we “draw near to the throne of grace” (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 4:16).

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