Lamentations means “funeral songs.” Possibly authored by Jeremiah, it talks about the total destruction that happened to Jerusalem and the temple. The cause of this destruction is identified as the sin of the people and the destruction itself acknowledged as God’s judgement. But in the midst of it the author sounds notes of hope of the mercy of God.
Note: In the original Hebrew, each of the 22 verses of chapters 1, 2 and 4, and every third verse in chapter 3 start with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence. This is called an acrostic. This was a favourite form of Hebrew poetry used to aid memory. The main intent of these poems is not to teach lessons or describe events but to express grief.
Lamentations is the record of the heart’s bitterness and agony being poured out. Reading 2 Kings 25 would be helpful to better understand the tragic incidents that inspired the composition of Lamentations.
A Post Mortem
“Lamentations conducts a kind of post mortem on the death of Jerusalem, examining the body in clinical detail. Like a doctor, Lamentations’ author seeks to know the cause of death. He has no final doubt: though the Babylonians did the work, ultimately God was responsible. But could God willingly create such misery? The author seems stunned that God has actually destroyed his own people, though he admits they richly deserved the punishment.” – Taken from Introduction to Lamentations, Family Devotional Study Bible.
The City Presented (Chapter 1)
A deserted city which mourns and remembers her treasures of old is presented to us. All splendour gone; she who once was like a queen and great among the nations, has now become widowed. Bitter weeping is her lot, her friends have betrayed her and no one is there to comfort her. More than that her children have gone into exile. And enemies laughed at her destruction. They plundered her and even entered the temple, the sanctuary which they were forbidden to enter.
The great question now posed is: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lam. 1:12). Eyes overflow with tears and hands are stretched out in an appeal for mercy. All this happened because “she did not consider her future” (1:9) when she kept on sinning (see vv. 5, 8, 14, 22) against the Lord
The Destruction Described (Chapter 2)
The destruction was caused because the Lord became like an enemy (v. 5) and without pity and in fierce anger he destroyed Israel. Because of this the prophet wept, his heart was poured out on the ground. Children and infants were the worst affected, they fainted in the streets of the city and asked their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” Their lives ebbed away in their mothers’ arms. The wound of the city was described as deep as the sea. “Who could heal her?” was the question that was asked.
The visions of her prophet were false and worthless. They failed to expose her sin. If they had exposed her sins, then their captivity could have been avoided. The call is to cry out to the Lord: “Let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief, your eyes no rest. Arise, cry out in the night as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord” (2:18b, 19a NIV).
Hope in the Midst of Despair (Chapter 3)
The prophet feels forsaken because his prayer does not seem to reach heaven. He said, “Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer” (3:8 NIV). He remembered his affliction and the bitterness of it and his soul became downcast within him. But he called something to mind and renewed hope: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22, 23 NIV). The prophet affirms that the Lord is good to those who hope in him and seek him and says that it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. He finds hope because of this: “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (3:31—33 NIV).
Therefore the prophet sounds a call to all to return to the Lord (v. 40). He speaks of his near escape from death when he cried out to God. Then, “You came near when I called you, and you said, `Do not fear’ ” (3:57 NIV).
The Severity of the Destruction (Chapters 4 and 5)
The precious sons of Zion, once their worth in weight in gold were now considered as pots of clay. The infant’s tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth because of thirst. Children begged for bread but no one gave it to them. Those people who were brought up well now lay in ash heaps. Compassionate women were cooking their own children. The defeat of Jerusalem took the world by surprise because nobody really believed that enemies would enter her gates.
But at the end the prophet expresses hope: “O Daughter of Zion, your punishment will end; he will not prolong your exile” (4:22a NIV). He again says that joy had gone from their hearts and their dancing had turned to mourning. Finally, he prays to the Lord who reigns forever: “Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (5:21, 22 NIV).
● It is clear that the Lord’s anger was aroused against her people because of their continuing in sin. We need to understand that persistence in sin invites God’s judgement.
● God is not wedded permanently to any institution, even those that bear His Name. The destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem are clear examples of this.
● Suffering is real. The anger and wrath of God are also real. The painful descriptions of the suffering of God’s people show us that the discipline of God is a painful experience.
● In the midst of life’s failures and mistakes rising out of our own sin and folly; there is yet hope. This is because of the Lord’s great love and His compassions which never fail. They are new every morning. And great is God’s faithfulness. That means He is the One who keeps His word.
● The right thing to do when in trouble is to cry out to God, pour out your heart to Him, weep with tears without relief and seek to return to Him.
● Even when it seems that heaven has shut out your prayers, do not give up. Instead cry out to God to restore you to Himself and renew your life once again.
Foreshadows of Our Saviour
Jeremiah reminds us of Another as He sat weeping over Jerusalem. The only difference is that Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple burned as Jeremiah gazed upon the debris. Jesus, about 6 centuries later, wept over the city because of what was going to happen (Thru the Bible notes). See Luke 19:41—44. There are also many Messianic undertones in Lamentations that remind us of the crucified Christ: e.g. 1:12, 2:15, 16, 3:14, 30.