Lamentations is anonymous although tradition attributes it to Jeremiah, partly on the basis of 2 Chronicles 35:25. Lamentations 1-4 comprises a series of cleverly executed acrostic poems. These highly structured poems are very different from what we have been reading in the Book of Jeremiah. It is quite possible that these laments were composed for liturgical purposes, using a structure that would be more appropriate for worship than the writing in the Book of Jeremiah. The book seems to have been written in Jerusalem by someone for whom the memory of the city’s fall was fresh and poignant. There is no indication that Jerusalem had already been reinhabited by the Jews. Therefore, the date of composition is most likely between 586-538 B.C. Lamentations was written as an expression for the exiled Jewish people of their pain, grief, and horror at the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Whoever wrote these words, despite their poetic discipline was clearly wrestling with the ways in which God, the Lord of history, was dealing with His wayward people. The author clearly understood that the Babylonians were merely human agents of the divine judgement…that God Himself had destroyed His own city and temple. It is tradition that Orthodox Jews read this book aloud on the ninth day of Ab, the traditional date of the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 586 B.C. Many Jews read this book weekly at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. From chapter 3 on the author seems to vacillate randomly between despair and hope. However we need to be mindful to developing threads of his theology as he presents his case before the Lord. And a couple of random thoughts as you read. Ramparts were sloping wall like fortifications of earth or stone that were used as a protective barrier against invaders. As you read about night watches, know the Jews divided the night into three watches: sunset – 10:00 pm, 10:00 pm – 2:00 am, and 2:00 am – sunrise. There are three themes to watch for as you read. The first is judgement. Simply put, sin has consequences. Lamentations demonstrates that God often uses human agents to execute His judgement. Another theme is that there is an appropriate response to judgement. The fitting response to judgement is repentance and a cry for forgiveness and restoration. The Israelites had sinned but appealed to God for help, expecting Him to forgive and restore. The third theme is God’s character. God is just, but He is also the God of hope, love, compassion, faithfulness, and salvation.
There are parallels between Jeremiah and Lamentations. Both speak of troubled widows, weeping people and sins. There is also mention of punishment, false prophets, and bitterness. Finally the two books also have words about pits and clay pots in common. Much of what you have read in Lamentations you have read before. Much is made about the sins of the people and the destruction of the city and the temple. We have been reading about God’s righteous anger, his use of Babylon and Assyria as disciplining rods against His people. There was despair, terror, and famine that struck His people, and they brought it all on themselves because they were disobedient. God’s people much preferred worshiping idols than the Lord, for no good reason other than they could see, smell, hear, taste, and touch idols because they were right in front of them. The people paid a heavy price for their disobedience, but in the midst of the terror and suffering there was always a glimmer of hope and the promise of restoration.
Rather than taking a close, verse by look at the Book of Lamentations I am, going to look at some random thoughts. God looked at His covenant with the people as a marriage covenant, and when His people worshiped other gods and idols He considered it adultery. His people had been unfaithful many, many times. As a result, Jerusalem was stripped of everything that was important to the people. This was the Lord’s city and His temple and He was sufficiently disgusted with His people He was willing to tear the city down and start again 70 years later. In chapter 3 the author laments what has happened. He remembers the faithful love of the Lord and he describes how God’s people should respond. Then he
calls on the Lord in prayer. All of those are good reminders for us. The author here speaks of the suffering of Judah and Jerusalem as if it was his own, and we have seen that even though the people deserved their punishment, it still grieved God to have to do that. By chapter 4 God’s anger has been satisfied and soon there will be restoration. God will bring his people back to their land and they will worship Him once more. Many would gloat over the fate of God’s people, but in the end, their turn for punishment would come as well. Chapter 5 is a heartfelt prayer for restoration. The people had experienced terror and famine. They felt as though God had totally abandoned them even though there was always a remnant left. And the book ends with the people still asking questions as to whether God had utterly rejected them, and if He was still angry.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W