Lamentations 4 – This section of Lamentations is about what it was like to be in Jerusalem after its fall in 586 BC. As much misery as we may have experienced, it is not anywhere near the desolation that affected the inhabitants of this city. There are places in the world where life is as terrible, but I have not known anything like this.
“Happier were those killed by the sword, than those pierced by hunger, whose life drains away, deprived of the produce of the field. The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food in the destruction of my people” (4:9-10). The prophet goes on to warn Edom that her destruction will also come.
Lamentations 5 – The people of Israel are terribly persecuted and bear the yoke of their “fathers’” crimes. They suffer all the terrible things people suffer today in Sudan and Congo and other conflict-ridden hotspots: famine, violence, rape of their women and abuse of the young. “Make us come back to you, Yahweh, and we will come back.” (5:28)
Romans 16 – Good-byes and commendations. He mentions Phoebe, a deacon from Cenchreae, and many other workers in the church, some of whom may be his relatives. He also cautions them to be wary of “those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that [they] have learned . . .” (15:17).
Tertius, writer for Paul, greets them and sends along the greetings of others. Then some last words of benediction and an allusion to the “revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith . . .” (15:25-26).
There has been much recent discussion of whether and to what degree there are elements of Gnosticism in the early preaching of the gospel, and this is one of the passages used to prove that there was. I don’t think Paul was opening the door to the Gnostic elements that might have been present in his day, but I do think there is in the Christian gospel an intellectual, imaginative dimension that is Gnostic-like. By this I mean an intellectual and imaginative delight simply in seeing ‘the truth’ (or those degrees of truth we are given a vision of) set forth in the Christian gospel. I experience it when I consider the way the scripture narrative finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. The fact that we know today that the scriptures were actually not dictated by God but were the product of many writers and editors is to me cause for even greater amazed delight and faith in the Holy Spirit—for His one unifying intelligence is the fruit of a great coming together of circumstances, personalities, happen-stances and whatever. Still it can be seen as a great unifying intelligence. Anyway, I think this is what Paul is talking about here when he refers to the way the writings of the prophets shape our understanding of Christ. The power of this gnosis to bind us to Christ, to shape a vision of how great God is, how He embeds Himself in His creation and in our distinctive human consciousness is very great. I am not sure it is something you must see or appreciate to be a Christian, but it is certainly one of the beautiful things our faith offers.