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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS
In the Hebrew Bible, the small book which follows in our English Bible the book of Jeremiah, is placed in the portion which is called “Kethubim” (the writings). It is one of the five, so-called “Megilloth.” The Septuagint translation begins with a brief paragraph which is not found in our version: “It came to pass that, after Israel was taken captive and Jerusalem was made desolate, Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said ...;” then the first chapter begins. The Vulgate (Latin) translation has adopted this statement and also the Arabic version.
There can be no question that Jeremiah is the inspired author of these outbursts of grief, as well as confession of sin and dependence on Jehovah. Yet this has not only been seriously questioned, but positively denied. Critics claim that probably chapters 2 and 4 must have been written by an eye-witness of Judah’s conquest; they deny that it was Jeremiah and think it must have been one of the exiles. The claim is made because it appears to them that these two chapters lean strongly on Ezekiel and parts, they say, must have been copied after Ezekiel’s writings. The other chapters, they say, are much later. Critics like Budde and Cheyne put the third chapter in the pre-Maccabean period towards the end of the third century. All is nothing but guesswork, which is proved by the different theories of these scholars, which clash with each other. To show the superficial method of these men we shall give a few of the star arguments against the Jeremianic authorship of Lamentations. They say that 4:17 could hardly have been written by Jeremiah because the writer includes himself with those who had expected help from Egypt. But the critic does not see that the prophet identifies himself with the nation, as Daniel did. Then again, they object to 4:20, because it speaks of Zedekiah in such a way as Jeremiah would never have spoken of him. But how do they know? Zedekiah was still the Lord’s anointed, even as David recognized down to the sad end of Saul, the king as the Lord’s anointed. Instead of being an argument against the authorship of Jeremiah, it is one for it.
Then these “literary” critics claim that the smooth and beautiful style cannot be Jeremiah’s. “The whole style of these poems, though exquisitely beautiful and touching, and studded with the thoughts of the great prophet, is absolutely different to anything we find in the long roll of Jeremiah’s great work. It is too artificial, too much studied, too elaborately worked out” (A.B. Davidson). If A.B. Davidson and other critics had just a little faith in divine inspiration they would not write such puerile criticism. As if the Spirit of God could not change the style and manner of the writings of one of His chosen instruments!
The Lamentations are correctly divided into five chapters in a very remarkable way. Chapters 1 and 2 consist each of twenty-two verses of three lines each. All is written in a certain meter. Each verse begins in both chapters with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They are acrostics. The third chapter has instead of 22 verses, 66 verses, that Isaiah 3:0 x 22. The first three verses of this chapter begin each with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the next three with the second letter, so that in these 66 verses the Hebrew alphabet is again followed. The fourth chapter is also arranged in the same manner, acrostically, each of the 22 verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The last chapter shows no such arrangement. We doubt not that in all this there may be a hidden, a deeper meaning, which no saint of God has yet discovered.
The message of this book is extremely precious. It is a pity that so few of God’s people have ever paid a closer attention to this book. Here is indeed a great mine of comfort and spiritual instruction which will prove very wholesome to all those who walk with God.
When Israel suffered in Egypt the Lord said: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people” Exodus 3:7 . Lamentations shows the same blessed fact, that Jehovah has a loving and deep interest in the afflictions of His people through which they pass on account of their sins. He who had to chastise His people is nevertheless moved with compassion in their behalf. Yea, in their affliction He Himself is afflicted and He yearns over them. The feelings, deep emotions of sorrow and humiliation, expressed by the mouthpiece of Jehovah, Jeremiah, were produced by the Spirit of Christ, in the heart of the prophet.
“There is nothing more affecting than the sentiments produced in the heart by the conviction that the subject of affliction is beloved of God, that He loves that which He is obliged to smite, and is obliged to smite that which He loves. The prophet, while laying open the affliction of Jerusalem, acknowledges that the sin of the people had caused it. Could that diminish the sorrow of his heart? If on the one hand it was a consolation, on the other it humbled and made him hide his face. The pride of the enemy, and their joy in seeing the affliction of the beloved of God, give occasion to sue for compassion on behalf of the afflicted, and judgment on the malice of the enemy” (Synopsis of the Bible).
Prophetically we may look upon these lamentations as embodying the soul-exercise of the godly remnant of God’s earthly people passing in a future day through the great tribulation. That beautiful prayer found in the last chapter will then be answered, “renew our days of old” and all the glorious promises given to Israel will then be fulfilled.
No further division of this book is needed; the division into five chapters is perfect.
the Fifth Week after Easter