Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Anguish: The Widow, Käthe Kollwitz, 1916 (Kollwitz Museum, Berlin)

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!
Lamentations 1:1

The five lamentations follow chronologically from the end of Jeremiah and also the end of 2 Kings, both books concluding at the point where the last batch of prisoners are led away from Jerusalem and the city is sacked by the Babylonians.1 Originally thought to be written by Jeremiah, and credited to his authorship in the Christian Old Testament, it is now more commonly accepted that the five lamentations were written by five different authors, and compiled into a single book at a later date.2

The first lamentation describes the city as a desolate widow, weeping for her loss. Widows were one of the most marginalised groups in Israel, although the law makes provision for their care by the community they were nonetheless people with no status, and the law was often ignored, leaving many women desolate. The first lamentation goes on to describe the widow as descending into harlotry, and the sacking of the city almost as a rape.

Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O Lord, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself. The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary...3

If widows were marginalised, harlots even more so. Jerusalem has become the most despised of citizens, an unmarried, poverty-stricken, prideless, undignified prostitute. And still, this beautiful poem offers her dignity, and redemption. In her fallen state Jerusalem recognises her own part in the downfall, and turns once again to God.

The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow...for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.4

For thousands of years women working as prostitutes have been the scapegoats of society, the sins of the patriarchy cast upon this small group of women, living on the edge of society, at the same time madly desired and contemptuously abused. Prostitution, often described as the world's oldest profession, is rarely (if ever?) a first choice of career. Women tend to fall into prostitution, through abuse, loss and poverty. It surely speaks ill of any society that treats its women as objects in this way, even going so far as to blame women for the sins of the men. The prostitute is a symbol of the depth of depravity of the society. How apt then to compare Jerusalem to a widow and a harlot, It accurately depicts the fallen state of the city and its people, a people divorced from God, widowed and fallen into sin.

1 The last chapter of Jeremiah is almost word for word identical to the last 33 verses of 2 Kings (24:18-20 and 25:1-30).
2 "The Songs of Israel" by John H. Hayes, in "The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues", Westminster John Knox Press, 1998
3 Lamentations 1: 9-10a
4 Lamentations 1: 18a,22b