NATIONAL AND CONGREGATIONAL LAMENTS
THERE WERE VARIOUS KINDS OF PUBLIC CALAMITY IN ISRAEL AND JUDAH THAT WERE occasions for the calling of a public fast. At such an occasion the congregation of Israel would assemble in the Temple in the mood of lamentation and, attired in sackcloth, would pour out their souls in prayer and song to the Lord. In exilic and postexilic times there were the regularly recurring fasts which lamented the capture and destruction of, Jerusalem by the Chaldeans and the removal of its citizens to Babylon (cf. Zech. 8:19). There were also recurring calamities, largely outside the people's control, which were major national and community catastrophes such as famine due to dearth or a plague of locusts, pestilence, and the invasion of cities by wild beasts attracted by the bodies of the unburied dead, both of these latter the by-products of war. There was also the threat of invasion by enemy powers, which brought throngs to the Temple to lament before the Lord, appealing for His help. There were times when Israel or Judah felt the harsh pagan heel of dominant occupying powers such as the haughty Persians and in hurt dignity lamented to God. There were other times, such as about 351 B.C., when to punish Jewish rebellion pagan Persian forces entered the sanctuary at Jerusalem, striking the religious sense of the loyal Jews into outraged wrath.
Two vivid and instructive pictures of a national or congregational lament are presented in the Old Testament outside the Psalter. The reported occasion of one, in the book of Joel, is a devastating plague of locusts. The priests are summoned to clothe themselves with sackcloth and to lie all night before the altar. They are directed to proclaim a fast, gathering the whole population--men, women, and children--to the Temple. The priests move in solemn procession between the porch and the altar, uttering their wailing cries and chanting a psalm of lament:
Look with pity, O Lord, upon Thy, people,
And do not give up Thy property to disgrace,
So that the nations would use a byword against them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
"Where is their God?" (2:17.)
And in response to this lament the Lord has pity on His people and answers, probably through a prophet, giving the worshiping congregation a consoling and reassuring oracle:
Lo, I will send to you
Grain and new wine and oil:
And you I be satisfied with it.
And I will not make you any more
A reproach among the nations. (2:19.)