Lamentations is a sad book. It is, as Charles H. Dyer wrote, a mournful afterword to the book of Jeremiah. The title of the book is taken from the very first word of the book which is a lament, a cry of anguish: “אֵיך” (Alas!, Why!, How!). Maybe your Bible calls it ‘The Lamentations of Jeremiah’ or simply ‘Lamentations’.
Traditionally authored by Jeremiah, it is made up of five dirges, or funeral laments, the kind of wailing, woeful speech someone might give about one recently died. There are multiple crossovers and cross-references to be made to his other surviving prophetic writings, and no doubt we will touch on them as we move through Lamentations day by day. His emotional language and vivid descriptions of the events of 588-586 B.C. help us to think he wrote the book very soon after Jerusalem’s fall. For more on the historical background, see the piece by Dyer below.
There are many interesting things about the book of Lamentations including it’s pattern of writing, the crossover to Deuteronomy 28, and it’s acrostic arrangement, but perhaps the most interesting is that we see how Jeremiah dealt with death, with loss, and with destruction.
Despite the desolation, the grief, and the affliction there is mercy, there is hope, and there is restoration. Life now in 2021 is full of the former, but we need to focus on the latter. Lamenting the former is ok, it’s ok to lament what is happening and what has happened. Dwelling on it, however, is dangerous, and Jeremiah is going to take us on a journey, day by day, through Lamentations towards a bright hope for tomorrow.
Historical Background – Charles H. Dyer
From 588 to 586 B.C. the army of Babylon ground away at the defenses of Jerusalem (for comments on these dates see information at 2 Kings 25:1-10). So Judah’s early flush of excitement and euphoria following her rebellion against Babylon was replaced with uncertainty and fear. Her ally, Egypt, had been vanquished in battle as she tried in vain to rescue Judah from Babylon’s grasp. One by one the other cities in Judah were crushed (cf. Jer. 34:6-7) till only Jerusalem remained before the Babylonian hordes.
Within the city the ever-tightening siege by Babylon’s armies began unraveling the fabric of society. Starving mothers ate their own children (Lam. 2:20; 4:10). Idolatry flourished as the people cried out to any and every god for deliverance. Paranoia gripped the people until they were willing to kill God’s prophet as a traitor and spy just because he spoke the truth.
The long siege ended abruptly on July 18, 586 B.C. The walls were then breached and the Babylonian army began entering the city (2 Kings 25:2-4a). King Zedekiah and the remaining men in his army tried to flee, but were captured (2 Kings 25:4b-7). It took several weeks for Nebuchadnezzar to secure the city and strip it of its valuables, but by August 14, 586 B.C. the task was completed and the destruction of the city began (2 Kings 25:8-10). (For support of the dates July 18 and August 14, 586 B.C., see Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983, p. 190.) The armies of Babylon burned the temple, the king’s palace, and all the other major buildings in the city; and they tore down the walls of the city which provided her protection. When the Babylonians finally finished their destruction and departed with their prisoners, they left a jumbled heap of smoldering rubble.
Jeremiah witnessed the desecration of the temple and the destruction of the city (cf. Jer. 39:1-14; 52:12-14). The once-proud capital had been trampled in the dust. Her people were now under the harsh hand of a cruel taskmaster. With all these events stamped vividly on his mind Jeremiah sat down to compose his series of laments.