The book of Lamentations is a poetical look at the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. It is a book of wailings that are read annually by the Jews [Precept Ministries International] to remind them of the destruction and captivity they experienced at the hands of the Babylonians. The Hebrew name for the book of Lamentations is ‘Ekah (אֵיכָה) which is the word for “How” or “Oh” in 1:1, 2:1 and 4:1. [Homer Heater Jr.] “The title in the Greek Septuagint means 'Tears of Jeremiah'.” [Norman Geisler] According to Keil and Delitzsch's commentary on Lamentations, taking up lament over peoples, nations, countries, and cities is not uncommon to ancient Jewish custom. Evidence of this can be found in 2 Samuel 1:17ff, 2 Samuel 3:33ff, 2 Chronicles 35:25, Amos 1, Jeremiah 7:29, Ezekiel 19:1, Ezekiel 26:17, etc. Five hundred years of Jewish history [Bible Project] was bound up in the city of Jerusalem. One can imagine the horror of the Jews to see it being licked up in the flames of the Babylonians. The book of Lamentations provides an inside look at the grief they experienced.
Artist rendition of the fall of Jerusalem
The author is never named in the text of Lamentations, however there is substantial evidence that the authorship can be attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. According to Keil and Delitzsch, the eccentric Hermann von der Hardt was the first to call in question the Jermaianic composition of the the book. In his “Programm” published in 1712 at Helmstädt, he attributed the five poems of Lamentations to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and King Jehoiachin. Evidence surrounding the position that Jeremiah as the author of Lamentations include [Norman Geisler]:
Although God does not need one to record scripture based on eligibility, it is interesting to note that Jeremiah would easily have the knowledge and position to write Lamentations. He had been in Jerusalem before the destruction and captivity, sent by God to warn the Jews of what what to come. He also lived through the time of destruction and also went back to Jerusalem at the first return of the Jew under the decree of Cyrus (Neh. 12:1). In other words, he was an eyewitness to the events of those recorded in Lamentations. There is no doubt that he would have been able to inscribe the intricate detail found in the book of Lamentations.
Keil and Delitzsch propose that it would be quite unlikely Lamentations had different authors or was written at different periods just by observing the way it was written. Further, the freshness of grief which seems to be woven into the five chapters would lead one to conclude that it was written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. As Norman Geisler puts it, “There seems to be little doubt that the whole book was composed immediately following the fall of Jerusalem. As one reads the book one can almost feel the tears yet in the eyes of the Jew as they watch their city smolder.” The examination of the works of many scholars will no doubt lead to the same conclusion.
The location of the events in Lamentations is Jerusalem. Although the word “Jerusalem” does not appear in the text of Lamentations, words such as “the city” (1:1), “Judah” (1:3) and “Zion” (1:4) are used in exchange.
Lamentations 4:6 says that the iniquity of God's people was greater than the sin of Sodom. Thus just like the city of Sodom experienced (Gen. 19:23-25), the Lord brought judgement to Jerusalem in the form of siege, destruction and captivity.
According to Josephus' antiquities (his picture to the right), King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the king of Egypt and then proceeded to make an expedition against Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar killed Jehoiakim and established Jehoiachin as king in his father's place in 599 B.C. At this time King Nebuchadnezzar took principled men as captives to Babylon. Soon after, Nebuchadnezzar had fear that Jehoiachin would revolt against him because of his father's death. So he took Jehoiachin, his mother and kindred out of Jerusalem, but did not do harm to the city. Zedekiah, the brother of Jehoiachin was placed as king by Nebuchadnezzar at the age of 21 (2 Kg. 24:18; 2 Chron. 36:10). The prophet Jeremiah shared with Zedekiah the prophecy of the coming destruction of the city at the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 21:1). Josephus records, that after eight years of mutual peace with Babylon, Zedekiah finally broke it ties and allied himself with Egypt in hopes to overthrow Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem to besiege it, but then fled to battle the Egyptians before they could arrived to help defend Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem for a second time and laid siege on it 18 months. The city was taken on the ninth day of the fourth month of the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah. The temple was also burned and the people and Zedekiah were removed from Jerusalem. A few of the poorest people were left behind by Nebuzaradan, captain of the Babylonian guard, to be vinedressers and plowmen (Jer. 52:16).
Gedaliah was appointed as governor of the Jewish remnant in Judah (2 Kg. 25:22) and upon receiving news of this, many of the Jews who had been driven into the surrounding territories of Moab, Ammon and Edom returned to Judah (Jer. 40:11-12). However, Gedaliah was soon killed by Ishmael and those who had returned to Jerusalem in turn fled to Egypt (2 Kg. 25:25-26). [Wikipedia]
The purpose of the book of Lamentations could be expressed in many ways. According to David Malick, one practical purpose for the book of Lamentations is, “To provide an emotional postscript to the book of Jeremiah.” Or to “offer reproof, instruction, and hope” to the survivors of fallen Jerusalem, in the words of Ibid. It can further be presented that Lamentations has a three-fold purpose as stated by Norman Geisler.
God allowed the Babylonians to besiege, plunder, burn, and destroy Jerusalem as a result of Judah's continued and unrepentant idolatry. Solomon's temple, which had stood for 400 years had been burned to the ground. Jeremiah was an eyewitness to these heartbreaking events and wrote the Book of Lamentations as a lament for what occurred.
The Book of Lamentations is divided into five chapters. Each chapter represents a separate poem. In the original Hebrew, the verses are acrostic, each verse starting with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Book of Lamentations, the Prophet Jeremiah understands that the Babylonians were God's tool for bringing judgment on Jerusalem (Lam. 1:12-15; 2:1-8; 4:11). Lamentations makes it clear that sin and rebellion were the causes of God's wrath being poured out (1:8-9, 4:13; 5:16). Lamenting is appropriate in a time of distress, but it should quickly give way to contrition and repentance (Lam. 3:40-42; 5:21-22).
Depending on your English version of the scriptures, the book of Lamentations may or may not have titles included for each chapter. The five chapter's could be organized as:
Another way to organize these poems of lament would be [Rose Publishing]:
All five chapters have 22 verse each with the exception of chapter three, which has 66. Chapters 1 through 4 are arranged in an acrostic with each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In chapter 3, it is three verses to each Hebrew letter. This would have served as a memorization aid for a Jew. [Rose Publishing]
An additional outline events:
I. Jerusalem's misery
A. Sorrowful vs. 12 B. Confession vs. 18
II. Jeremiah's sadness
A. Laments Jerusalem's misery vs. 1 - 19 B. He complains to God vs. 21 - 22
III. Jeremiah's humbleness
A. Wrestles with his own sin vs. 1 - 36 B. His confession vs. 37 - 66
IV. Zion wrestles with herself
A. Tarnished gold now vs 1 - 12 B. Confession of sin vs. 13 - 20 C. Edom is threatened vs. 21 - 22
V. Zion's complaint
A. Orphans vs.2 B. No joy vs. 15 C. Rejected vs. 22
God is a God of hope, even in judgment. (Lam. 3:24-25). No matter how far we may stray from him, we have hope that we can return to Him and find Him compassionate and forgiving (I John 1:9). God is a loving God (Lam. 3:22) and because of His great love and compassion, He sent His son so that we would not die in our sins (John 3:16). God's faithfulness (Lam.3:23) and deliverance (Lam. 3:26) are attributes that give us hope and comfort. I love that He is not disconnected or disinterested but is a God who will deliver all those who turn to Him, admit they can do nothing to earn His favor, and call upon the Lord's mercy.
What would be missing if the book of Lamentations was absent for the text of scripture? First, because of the way Lamentations contrasts God's justice and compassion, we would be lacking a picture of how these two attributes work simultaneously in the character of God . Take for example the way that chapter two expresses multiple times the anger of the Lord with the people of Jerusalem (2:1, 3, 6, 21, 22). Conversely, the following chapter (3), proclaims the Lord's never ceasing, ever present lovingkindness, compassion, and faithfulness (3:21-25). According to the Bible Project on Lamentations, the poet reasons in chapter three that, “if God is consistent enough to bring His justice on human evil, then He'll also be consistent with His covenant promise to not allow evil to get the final word.” Secondly, if Lamentations was not included, we would miss the opportunity to be acquainted with the depth of sorrow that God's people experiences during this climactic point in Old Testament history. Lastly, there would be a substantial amount of threads missing in the unified tapestry of the word of God. For Lamentations runs parallel with many other Old Testament books, such as 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, etc.
Interesting topics for further study could include:
Resources utilized in the compilation of this post include: