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Bible Commentaries
Lamentations

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

- Lamentations

by Multiple Authors

INTRODUCTION TO LAMENTATIONS

Lamentations is one of those Old Testament writings which has yet to receive its full share of recognition and appreciation by the Christian world. The reason for the neglect of this little book is not difficult to discover. In the popular view Lamentations is a somber and gloomy record of unrelieved grief as Jeremiah weeps over the ruins of Jerusalem. When viewed in this manner there is little about Lamentations that would attract the Bible student. However, the book is much more than a cheerless protest of the inequities of life. It is more than “a cloudburst of grief, a river of tears, a sea of sobs” as one writer has called it. This five-fold poem is really an affirmation of faith in the justice and goodness of God. The author has tasted the bitter dregs of pain and sorrow, of cruelty and ignominy, of frustration and loneliness and yet he dares to cling to a faith undaunted, a faith which triumphs over circumstances. The book endeavors to explain history and place calamities in proper perspective. When the true purpose of Lamentations is recognized this amazing little book has a great deal to contribute to a Christian understanding of war and natural catastrophes.

Every year on the 9th day of Av (July-August time period), the Hebrew ear is fed with the mournful strains of a book in the Hebrew scriptures called Ekah when they assembled in the synagogue to commemorate the temple’s destruction. The Hebrew people named the books of the scriptures from the first word of the book. Ekah means “how” which came to represent the meaning of this book. How could God’s city, Jerusalem, and God’s temple be destroyed? How could it be that God, Israel’s redeemer, has turned his back and allowed the temple to be destroyed? How can the city that was full of people now be left empty and desolate? This “how” declaration opens the first verse of chapters 1,2, and 4. The first temple was destroyed on the 9th day of Av in 586 BC. The second temple was destroyed on the 9th day of Av in 70 AD. For centuries, even continuing today for the orthodox Jews, this book is read on the 9th day of Av. Our English scriptures call this book, Lamentations.

The book of Lamentations has been generally ignored in Christian teaching, likely because it was written under the painful circumstances of the fall of Jerusalem and its temple in 586 BC. Archaeological evidence suggests about 80% of the towns and villages of Judah were destroyed or abandoned during the final siege by the Babylonians. The destruction of Judah was massive. Jeremiah 52 records its destruction during the 18 month siege that was endured. Those who survived the starvation and slaughter were marched off on a 1000 mile journey by foot into exile, leaving only a few poor survivors scattered through the land. The temple of God was defiled, looted, and burned. It is hard for us to grasp the severity of this event because we do not have anything like this in our history. I think the closest we can get to understanding this pain in recent times is the fall of the World Trade Center Towers. September 11, 2001 was a time of fear, pain, and grief. It was a time of great sorrow and every year there is a memorial held for that dark day in our nation’s history. Yet this pales in comparison to the pain of the fall of the temple of God. Not only was the capital of Judah destroyed, not only was the freedom of the nation lost, not only were the majority of the people slaughtered or removed from the land, but the temple was destroyed. God had forsaken his people. God was no longer with them. The religious and spiritual impact was immeasurable. God had allowed his people to be conquered and killed.

Read Lamentations 2:20-22 to get a sense of this horror.

20 Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus? Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 In the dust of the streets lie the young and the old; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity. 22 You summoned as if to a festival day my terrors on every side, and on the day of the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived; those whom I held and raised my enemy destroyed. (Lamentations 2:20-22 ESV)

Purpose of Lamentations

But this cannot be just a book about the sadness of the people when they lost their city and the temple. Why is this book preserved for future generations? Why was this book breathed out by God and kept as the abiding word of the Lord? There must be value to this book beyond a simple record of one author’s cry. It appears that even Israel had a sense of this as it was used and continues to be annually as a memorial of the fall of the temple of God. This is not merely a eulogy to pay tribute to the past. This book addresses the needs of those who survived as they struggled to deal with their intense grief and pain. Think about the Babylonian exiles and the survivors in the land of Judah who would deeply need this book.

While it is a forgotten book, the book of Lamentations is very useful for us today because it is God’s book about pain and grief. The name of the book is appropriate for what it is about. A lament is a cry uttered when life falls apart. The psalms are filled with laments. Laments are cries and prayers to God in which the speakers describe how their lives have become disoriented and often challenge God on that basis. Do you relate to this? Are there times in your life when you were in great despair? Have you been through times when life was falling apart? The feelings you will read are feelings you will be able to connect to in your time of grief and despair. The placement of this book also encourages this understanding for using this book this way. The book of Lamentations was not originally placed next to Jeremiah. While it is useful for Lamentations to sit in the scriptures next to Jeremiah because it was likely written by Jeremiah and was written after the events recorded in Jeremiah, the book of Lamentations is not a prophetic book. The book of Lamentations in the Hebrew scriptures was located in the Writings section (along with Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther) and was moved next to Jeremiah when the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) was made.

Structure of Lamentations

The structure of the book of Lamentations also reveals that this book is a model for handling times of great grief and pain. First, the book of Lamentations is unique in that it is five individual poems that are thematically tied around the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s temple. Each of the five poems (correctly separated by the chapter divisions) is a stand alone poem, yet the structure is like a mountain with chapter 3 as the peak. Each poem grows with intensity till chapter 3 and then we go down the other side of the mountain until we come to the author’s prayer in chapter 5.

You may notice another part of the structure of these poems in Lamentations. Notice that the first poem (chapter 1) has 22 lines (marked by the 22 verses). The second poem (chapter 2) also has 22 lines. The fourth poem has 22 lines and the fifth poem has 22 lines. Only chapter 3 does not have 22 lines. It has 66 lines. So you notice the symmetry and again the implied intensity of the third poem (chapter 3).

But there is something more that is amazing that is completely obscured by our English translation. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters in it. In the first poem, each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet until all the letters are used. Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, there are 22 lines, each line starting with the next letter of the alphabet. In poetry this is called an acrostic. You may practiced this in school at some point where you had to a write a poem where each line begins with the next letter of our alphabet. If you remember, you had trouble when it came to the letter x. How do you start a line of poetry with the letter x? It was very difficult.

Understanding the nature of the acrostic, notice the beauty of the book of Lamentations. The first poem (chapter 1) has 22 lines each beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second poem (chapter 2) has 22 lines each beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The third poem (chapter 3) has 66 lines. In this poem the first three lines all begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second set of three lines all begin with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and so on until there are 66 lines. The fourth poem (chapter 4) has 22 lines each beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Finally, the fifth poem (chapter 5) has 22 lines. But the author throws a curve ball. It looks like an acrostic because of the 22 lines, but it does not follow the pattern of the other poem and is not an acrostic. The HCSB and NET translations include the Hebrew letters so you can see that these poems are acrostics.

Why is this book on pain and grief placed in an acrostic? I believe this again gives us another picture to the purpose of this book to help us handle grief and pain. In our language this is the A to Z book on grief. More than this, the author is taking us on a journey through grief. He is not wallowing in grief or self-pity. The poems have a purpose and take us on a journey. Further, these poems as acrostics shows orderly thought even in great grief. We see a process for grief before God.

This is really important for us as Christians. A common way to deal with another’s pain and grief is to make light of it, gloss over it, and attempt shortcuts through it. You will see this at funerals where people will try to manufacture ways to quickly get over the grief they are feeling. People will say that God needed another angel or God took the person for a reason. People will say the person is in a better place no matter how the person has lived their life. People will say all kinds of things and do strange things, thinking that they can bypass this grief. Because the event is so painful we try to get to the other side quickly. We even can be terrible comforters to those who are in grief by saying trite things like, “It could be worse” or some other thing to try to make light of what is happening. Lamentations has no interest in this. This book pulls no punches. It does not offer easy answers, inspiring techniques, or some multistep formula to overcoming. The structure of the book shows that it is not in a hurry to get through grief. Further, when you read the book you will see that it does not offer trite answers or false sayings that do not help.

But here is where the great value of Lamentations comes to us. The book of Lamentations shows a person directing his despair toward God not away from him as we may feel we should do and many often do. We often think that we cannot direct our pain to God. As Christians we may think that we are to put on a happy face over the pain we are experiencing. But God wants our pain and grief directed toward him. Does a parent want to hear the pain his or her child is experiencing? Of course! I want to know when my children hurt and I want to know the reason why. I want to hear how they are handling the pain. God wants this from us and the book of Lamentations shows us to take our grief and pain to God. Suffering and despair do not naturally lead us into a deeper relationship with God. Often grief and pain more naturally pulls us away from God. We will read in this book how our grief can bring us to God. Where there is pain, grief, and hurt, there is God.

We will end the lesson by reading these poems. As you read, consider how these poems are instructing us to handle grief. Notice how the author’s grief is given a voice before God. You will notice as you read that God never speaks in this book. This book is very applicable for us today because God is not going to directly speak to us beyond the word of God. This book is not like the book of Job where Job has God speak directly to him. This is the inspired word of God taking us on the journey of grief through the eyes and pain of this author, likely Jeremiah, who has suffered extreme loss when Jerusalem fell. Friends and family are dead. The city is burning. Hope is gone. God has left. What will you do when you go through great grief? This book gives a voice on how to move through grief from A to Z, instructing us on how and what to pray, and placing our focus on the faithfulness of God.

Finally, this book helps us look forward to God wiping our tears from our eyes (cf. Revelation 21:4). Only God can truly comfort. Only God can truly help. Only God can answer our cries.

TITLE AND POSITION

Like several other OT books Lamentations originally took its title from the first Hebrew word of the book. The book is called Ekah which is an exclamation expressing sorrow and sympathy. Ekab in English may be translated “alas” or “how sad it is.” The same Hebrew word also introduces the second and fourth chs of the book. Later Jewish teachers referred to the book by another Hebrew title calling it Qinoth or “laments.” It is still known by this title in the Babylonian Talmud. The scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek during the intertestamental period entitled the book Threnoi, the Greek word meaning “lamentations.” At still a later time in the Greek, Syriac and Latin versions of the Old Testament the longer title “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” was applied.

Though evidence is somewhat scanty it would seem that Lamentations was originally considered by the Jews as an appendix to the Book of Jeremiah. The Jewish historian Josephus at the end of the first Christian century stated that the Hebrew Bible consisted of twenty-two books — five books of law, thirteen books by prophets and four books of “songs and hymns.” According to the Jewish method of counting, 1-2 Samuel were one book as were 1-2 Kings , 1 -2 Chronicles. The twelve Minor Prophets were counted as one book and Ezra-Nehemiah were counted as a single book as well. Taking all this into account one would still have a total of twenty-four books instead of the twenty-two mentioned by Josephus. The only method of arriving at the figure twenty-two is to count Jeremiah-Lamentations as one book and Judges-Ruth as one. It is interesting that several of the early Church Fathers also speak of the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Bible.

At some point subsequent to the time that Josephus wrote (AD 90), several books were removed from the prophetic division of the canon and assigned to the third division which was called in the Hebrew the Kethubhim (“Writings”) and in the Greek the Hagiography (“Holy Writings”). The Book of Lamentations was at that time removed from its position as an appendix to the Book of Jeremiah and was counted as part of the third division. Lamentations was placed alongside of Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Collectively these five little books became known the Megilloth, the Five Rolls. Already as early as the writing of 2 Esdras (ca. AD 100) this switch in the position of Lamentations seems to have taken place. This is indicated by the fact that the author of 2 Esdras gave the total of books in the Hebrew Bible as twenty -four meaning that Ruth had been severed from Judges and Lamentations from Jeremiah.

BACKGROUND AND OCCASION

The destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC was without doubt the most significant event to transpire in the political and religious history of Israel since the Exodus from Egypt. Scarcely any room for doubt exists that it was this momentous event which, on the human side, precipitated the writing of the Book of Lamentations.

In retaliation against the rebellion of his vassal king Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar had laid siege of Jerusalem for eighteen long months. Lamentations describes in the most vivid manner the terrible suffering to which the Jews were subjected during the siege. When the city finally was captured the Chaldean king ordered it completely demolished. To see their beloved sacred city go up in flames was a shocking—even stupefying—experience. In spite of the incessant preaching of the prophets who warned of this very thing, the Jews were totally unprepared for it. For over a hundred years since the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem in the days of King Hezekiah the popular notion had been that Jerusalem was inviolable and secure. Events had demonstrated the basic premise of their theology to be false. Added to the tremendous burden of their grief over what had befallen their nation was their feeling of having been utterly rejected by God.

THEME AND CONTENT

Lamentations is a sad book. The basic theme of the book is a lament over the terrible woes which have befallen sinful Judah and the destruction of the Holy City and the Temple of God. The book consists of four dirges (chs. 1-4) and one prayer (ch. 5) which were written in those agonizing days following the capture and destruction of Jerusalem. As one reads the book he can sense the depths of despondency into which the people had fallen. In these proms the poet has attempted to capture the mood of the people. This was not particularly difficult for him to do since he seems to have been personally involved in their suffering. For the most part the poems contain descriptions of the plight of the people, their land and their sacred city. Here and there are confessions of sin, declarations of penitence, and appeals for divine aid.

Outlining the Book of Lamentations is somewhat difficult because the theme does not show significant variation from one chapter to another. The outline used here has been adapted from that of C. Paul Gray.

I. A Widowed City Lamentations 1:1-22

II. A Broken People Lamentations 2:1-22

III. A Suffering Prophet Lamentations 3:1-66

IV. A Ruined Kingdom Lamentations 4:1-22

V. A Penitent Nation Lamentations 5:1-22

FORM AND STRUCTURE

Lamentations is written entirely in poetic form. Hebrew poetry as a rule does not involve rhyme but rather is a poetry of thought. The second and third lines of each verse will repeat the thought of the first line in different words (synonymous parallelism) or develop further the thought of the first line (synthetic parallelism) or negate the thought of the first line (antithetic parallelism). The metrical structure used in the Book of Lamentations is known as the Qinah or lament rhythm. This is the meter most commonly used in the ancient Near East for chanting dirges over the dead or lamenting national calamities. In Qinah rhythm the second line of each verse is one stress shorter than the first line. As a rule in Lamentations the pattern is three stresses in the first line, two in the second, and three in the third line. This meter, practically obscured in English translation, becomes apparent as one reads the Hebrew text aloud.

The four dirges in the Book of Lamentations are in the form of alphabetic acrostics in which the author begins each verse with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapters 1, 2 and 4 have twenty-two vv, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3 contains sixty-six vv since three vv are assigned to each Hebrew letter. The following chart will illustrate more completely the structure of the book.

STRUCTURE OF LAMENTATIONS

PoemVersesLines in Each VerseAcrostic Pattern
POEM I22Three lines in each verse; verseEach verse begins with a new
7 has four linesletter.
POEM II22Three lines in each verse; verseEach verse begins with a new
19 has four lines.letter. The sixteenth and
seventeenth letters reversed.
POEM III66One line in each verse.Each letter repeated at beginning
of three successive lines or vv
Sixteenth and seventeenth letters
reversed.
POEM IV22Two lines in each verse.Each verse begins with a new
letter. Sixteenth and seventeenth
letters reversed.
POEM V22Two lines in each verse.No acrostic pattern

From the above chart it becomes obvious that the author of Lamentations was not a slave to form. He varied the number of lines in a verse and the number of vv which would be assigned to each Hebrew letter. In three of the poems he reversed the order of two Hebrew letters apparently in order to maintain his sequence of thought.

The author’s reasons for utilizing the acrostic pattern in the first four poems is unclear. Some scholars feel that the acrostic served as a mnemonic device to aid the memory as these laments were publicly recited. It may be also that the author used this technique in order to give a sense of continuity and completeness to the expression of grief. When one goes from a to z (or in the Hebrew, from Aleph to Tav) in expressing his grief he seems to have said all that can be said. The acrostic device is also used by other sacred writers.

AUTHORSHIP AND DATE

The book of Lamentations does not expressly identify the author and therefore one must avoid being dogmatic on this point. However, there does seem to be rather substantial external and internal evidence that Jeremiah the prophet is to be credited with having written this work. The external evidence is as follows.

1. That Jeremiah the prophet did compose laments on at least one occasion is clearly affirmed by 2 Chronicles 35:25. While this verse does not refer to the Book of Lamentations, it does connect Jeremiah with the lamentation-type of literature. The book of Jeremiah itself indicates that Jeremiah was familiar with the vocabulary and the techniques of writing laments.

2. The earliest written source to ascribe the book to Jeremiah is the Greek version of Lamentations. This translation of Lamentations probably completed around 200 BC contains an introductory note which reads: “And it came to pass after Israel was carried away captive and

Jerusalem was made desolate that Jeremiah sat weeping, and he lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and he said . . .” The Latin Vulgate version of Lamentations carries essentially the same heading and the Arabic version reproduces this introductory note exactly.

3. The Targum or Aramaic paraphrase of Jonathan which dates to ca. 100 BC opens the Book of Lamentations with this line: “Jeremiah the prophet and chief priest said.”

4. The Talmud, that vast reservoir of Jewish law and tradition, states: “Jeremiah wrote his book, Kings and Lamentations.”

5. All the ancient Church Fathers regarded Jeremiah as the author of Lamentations.

The internal evidence is equally strong in favor of the Jeremian authorship of Lamentations. Not even the most radical scholars can deny that the character and spirit of Jeremiah is the same as that of the author of Lamentations. Both books are full of sympathy for the people of Zion in their hour of judgment. Both books strongly emphasize the point that the destruction of Jerusalem was a punishment for sin. The author of Lamentations had precisely the same attitude toward false priests and prophets (Lamentations 4:13-16) as did Jeremiah. In addition to these general points of agreement between Jeremiah and Lamentations, a number of similarities of thought and expression have been pointed out.

Modern Old Testament critics deny that Jeremiah penned the poems that make up the Book of Lamentations. They assign this material to various anonymous authors some of whom lived as much as two hundred years after the fall of Jerusalem. Usually the second and fourth poems are said to be the oldest while the third is generally regarded by the critics as the latest. Pfeiffer dates the third poem to as late as the third pre-Christian century. The arguments which have been advanced to deny the traditional view that Jeremiah is the author of the book may be summarized as follows:

1. Lamentations contains a number of words not found in Jeremiah or found there only in a different form. Answer: Does this prove difference of authorship? The vocabulary of an author may change from one work to another depending upon the time, form and subject matter of the new composition.

2. The acrostic pattern employed in Lamentations is foreign to Jeremiah. Answer: While this observation is true, does it really prove anything regarding authorship? The form which a composition assumes is determined by the objective of the author. A versatile writer may utilize several different forms of composition during his career. But it should be noted that in the Book of Jeremiah a predilection for alphabetical manipulation occurs in at least three passages. See comments on Jeremiah 25:26; Jeremiah 51:41; Jeremiah 51:1.

3. The acrostic arragements of the poems in the book vary; therefore the poems must be by different authors. Answer: Surely no one would demand that a modern poet never vary his form.

4. The author of Lamentations (Lamentations 4:17) expected help from Egypt; Jeremiah did not. Answer: Lamentations 4:17 makes no mention of Egypt. Furthermore the author of Lamentations frequently speaks for the nation and reflects the attitudes which they might have had.

5. The author of Lamentations (Lamentations 3:59-66) pictures the Chaldeans as wicked enemies deserving of divine judgment; Jeremiah considered them as instruments used of God for the chastisement of Judah. Answer: Jeremiah did in fact predict the destruction of Babylon (Jeremiah 50-51). The idea that the Chaldeans were at the same time an agent of God and an enemy which must ultimately be destroyed are not mutually exclusive. Since the author of Lamentations attributes the Chaldean destruction of Jerusalem to God, he too must have viewed these foreigners as the agents of God.

6. The author of Lamentations was bewildered and perplexed over the destruction of Jerusalem while Jeremiah had been expecting and predicting that destruction for years. Answer: One has only to reread the personal prayers of Jeremiah to realize that the prophet had his share of bewilderment. Furthermore it must always be kept in mind that the author of Lamentations speaks for the entire community, not just for himself when he expresses shock and lack of comprehension over the destruction.

7. The author of Lamentations had a much higher estimate of king Zedekiah than did Jeremiah (Lam 4:1922; Jeremiah 24:8-10). Answer: There is no indication that Jeremiah had anything but respect for Zedekiah in his capacity as the head of the nation. Furthermore Lamentations 4:19-22 reflects the thinking of the people not the prophet who wrote the book.

The arguments against the traditional view that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations are singularly weak. Certainly the book seems to have been written by one who was an eyewitness of the destruction of Jerusalem. Who better than Jeremiah can be nominated as author of these poems which Gottwald has declared are “without peer” among the collective laments of the ancient Near East?

PURPOSE AND USE

Why was the Book of Lamentations written? Why was it included in the sacred canon? The book served a useful purpose in at least three different ways. Psychologically, Lamentations served the purpose of giving expression to the agony of a distraught people. Suffering men must give vent to their emotions in some way. Even though their grief was too deep for words the poet felt compelled to make an attempt to express the agony of his people through these sad but beautiful poems. Verbalization of grief and suffering, both physical and spiritual, has therapeutic value. Liturgically the poems of Lamentations served as the means by which the congregation of Israel could express sorrow over their national loss. Theologically the book served the purpose of helping the people of Judah maintain their faith in God in the midst of overwhelming disaster. Lamentations expresses the conviction that God has dealt justly with His people. The author desires that his people recognize the righteousness of God’s dealings with them and cast themselves upon the mercy of the Lord.

Lamentations is read in Jewish synagogues on the ninth of the month of Ab (which falls at the end of July or early August), a fast day which commemorates the destruction of the Temple. Roman Catholics read selections from the book during the last three days before Resurrection Sunday. Passages from Lamentations are also used in certain Protestant liturgies.

REVIEW

1. The Book of Lamentations is known in Hebrew Bible by the name ________.

2. In the Septuagint (Greek Version) this book is called _______.

3. Lamentations seems to have originally been attached to _______.

4. In the modern Hebrew Bible Lamentations is found in the section called _______.

5. The event which precipitated the writing of Lamentations was ______ which occurred in _________.

6. Three types of Hebrew poetry are __________, ___________ and __________.

7. Only chapter _____ is not written in acrostic pattern.

8. What is the purpose of the Book of Lamentations?

9. Why do some critics deny that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations?

10. Why did the author write four of the poems in Lamentations in the acrostic pattern?

Expository Outline On Lamentations

The faithful Jeremiah spent many years pleading with God’s people to repent of self-indulgence and spiritual indifference. When they remained prideful and stubborn, God allowed the pagan Babylonians to conquer Judah, destroy Jerusalem, and take most of the people prisoner to Babylon. God’s love is too great to allow him to stand by idly when his people desperately need spiritual discipline. Though his methods in our own lives may be less dramatic, we can be certain that he will discipline us too when we need it. Jeremiah was deeply sincere, compassionate, and sensitive.

Though he truthfully spoke the warnings and rebukes that God proclaimed through him, Jeremiah did so sadly, for he agonized over the spiritual desolation he saw and the terrible discipline that he knew was coming. When all that the prophet foretold and feared did indeed come to pass, Jeremiah remained a faithful and sympathetic observer. Years earlier, the prophet had composed a series of laments on the passing of King Josiah, the spiritual reformer (2 Chronicles 35:25). Now, Jeremiah describes the fallen city with the same perceptiveness, faithfulness, and sense of loss.

This fresh set of laments and observations are collected in the book of Lamentations. In the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, the title of the book is equivalent to, ’How’, which is the first word of three of the chapters. Here, this does not mean ’in what fashion’, but rather, ’to what degree!’ The prophet laments, for example, ’How deserted lies the city’ (Lamentations 1:1), ’How the Lord has covered the Daughter of Zion with his anger’ (Lamentations 2:1), and ’How the gold has lost its luster’ (Lamentations 4:1). In each case, he marvels sorrowfully over the grief caused by sin and pride. Yet the weeping prophet always had hope for the future, for he knew that God’s love and mercy are even greater than his anger and discipline.

In the midst of his desolation, he remembers that ’the Lord is my portion’ (Lamentations 3:24), in whom he puts all of his hope, both now and forever. Thus Lamentations impresses upon us the nightmarish spiritual consequences of turning away from God, while at the same time reminding us that God always stands ready to restore and strengthen us when we turn back to him. If we believe, no disaster is final, and no devastation is incurable. While Lamentations echoes these and similar themes throughout the book, it also has a fairly clear arrangement.

Each chapter consists of a separate, self-contained lament with its own specific theme. In the original Hebrew, four chapters are written as acrostics: in chapters 1, 2, and 4, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order. (The first verse begins with aleph, the second with beth, and so forth.) In chapter 3, each set of three verses begins with the same letter, again in order. The book’s main themes are as follows:

The prophet describes the desolation and suffering of the fallen city (Lamentations 1), and then the divine, righteous anger that has brought such discipline upon them all (Lamentations 2). The faithful observer expresses his own feelings of helplessness and sadness (Lamentations 3), and observes the useless nature of everything the nation had wrongly relied upon (Lamentations 4). The book concludes with a heartfelt appeal to God for forgiveness and hope (Lamentations 5).

- Mark Garner, 2007

Lamentations Chapter One
No One To Comfort
Lamentations 1:1-22

The book of Lamentations is a funeral dirge. We read five poems written about the author’s grief and pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of God’s temple. Yet these poems are not the ramblings of one man’s pain. The structure of this poetry reveals a carefully thought response to grief in which the author takes us on his journey through grief and pain. This brings us to the first poem, Lamentations 1, an acrostic where each verse begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As we study, please remember that the first poem does not have all the answers but is the starting point for a godly handling of grief and pain.

Lack of Comfort


The declaration that stands out in this poem is that there is no one to comfort. “She has none to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:2). “She has no comforter” (Lamentations 1:9). “My eyes flow with tears for a comfort is far from me” (Lamentations 1:16). “Zion stretches out her hands but there is none to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:17). “They heard my groaning, yet there is no one to comfort me” (Lamentations 1:21). You will notice that in three of these instances (Lamentations 1:2; Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:17) the author is referring to the lack of comfort for city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. However, in the other two instances the author refers to himself (notice the switch to the first person) and his own lack of comforters in his grief (Lamentations 1:16; Lamentations 1:21). Tied closely with this is the word “groaning” which occurs five times in this poem (Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:8; Lamentations 1:11; Lamentations 1:21-22). The city is groaning, the people are groaning, and the author is groaning. These words of groaning and lack of comfort ring like a funeral bell gonging throughout the poem.

In Lamentations 1:7 utter helplessness is depicted. The city is in deep misery and all that is left to do is to remember the former days of happiness. This is what disaster and despair do to our lives. Our grief and our pain become so overwhelming that life seems helpless and hopeless. All one feels that they can do is remember the good days in the past for it seems that there will be no more good days ahead. Lamentations 1:12 continues this thought where the question is asked if anyone has sorrowed more than them. This is also what intense grief does. The person feels like no one has gone through what you are going through. No one is sorrowful like me! No one is sorrowful like us! It is a time when we look and see the joy of the wicked and wonder why we are in agony while trying to be righteous. There is no one to comfort.

This is a fact about grief and pain. There is nothing another person can do. As much as we enjoy having the sympathy of others, when you get down to it, it is not comfort. Yes, it is nice to know that you have friends and family. Yes, it is wonderful to know that people care. But there is nothing that a person can do. When we got the diagnosis for Grace and her disability, there was nothing anyone could do. When my parents got divorced when I was 9, there was nothing anyone could do. What comfort can you give? When you are going through pain and grief, there are no words that can help. There are no quick fixes. There is no comfort. Not only is there no comfort, but those who you thought were your friends and helpers become enemies (Lamentations 1:2). Jerusalem speaks of those who were supposed to be her allies and supporters, yet they have turned their backs on her. We put a false hope in people. People are going to let us down. They cannot be our comforters because they do not have the power to do so. They cannot help. They are just as helpless as you are.

So we go through our pain and grief. Listen to the pain that the author describes for himself and for those who lived in Jerusalem. The physical grief that they are feeling is intense and overwhelming. In verse 13 the author describes the pain as fire in his bones. The intensity of his grief causes his body to ache all over. Further, in verse 13 he says that he is stunned and faint. In verse 16 he declares that he is crying and that his eyes flow with tears. Have you been afflicted with pain so great that your eyes just overflow with tears? Sleepless nights filled with tears. His body hurts with the grief he is enduring. In verse 20 the author says that because of his distress his stomach churns and his heart is wrung within him. He feels like his insides have been twisted and turned over. Grief is physically painful. Grief hurts.

Truth In Grief

As we study through these poems in Lamentations we are looking for critical truths that are to help anchor our lives through grief and pain. The author expresses a truth that is his first anchor in his grief. “The Lord is in the right” (Lamentations 1:18). God is always in the right. Deuteronomy 32:4 expresses this truth.

“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV)

Whatever is happening, we have no place to charge God with wrongdoing. This is the mistake that I believe we see Job commit that he must be corrected in. No one can charge God with wrong or making a mistake. This is when we are tempted to fail in our grief. We begin to think that God has done something wrong. The Lord is always in the right, whatever happens to us. We are the ones who are not in the right. Even though we are seeing the author exclaim in pain, “How could God do this?” we also see him saying, “The Lord is in the right.” I do not understand this but there is one thing I know: our Lord is always right in all that he does. Hold on to this truth in pain and grief.

Hope In Grief

We noted earlier that one of the difficulties with pain and grief is there are no comforters. There is nothing another person can do. We feel helpless in our grief and others feel helpless in your grief. What can a person do? But this does not mean that we are left helpless and hopeless. God describes himself as the one who gives comfort and relief.

Think about how miserable the people are in their grief for all they had lost. Listen to the opening words of Isaiah’s prophecy after depicting the fall of Jerusalem.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV)

God will comfort his people. The next words of Isaiah’s prophecy is the call to prepare the way of the Lord. God is coming and he is coming to comfort his people. Though there was no one to comfort Jerusalem for her sins and for her loss, God speaks tenderly to his people and brings comfort.

This is true for us today also. Listen to what the apostle Paul says to the Christians in Corinth.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV)

Our God is the Father of mercies. He is the God of all comfort. There may be no comfort in this world. But God is the one over all comfort. He is the giver of comfort. He comforts us in our pain and affliction and we comfort others through that comfort. God gives the comfort we need!

This is why prayer is the first place to turn in our grief and pain. When Jesus is in anguish, moments before he is about to be betrayed, what is Jesus doing? Jesus is praying! Prayer to God is the first step forward. Prayer is the only way forward. God is the only one who can comfort. We are taught to pour out our complaint, sorrow, and anguish to the God in whose presence we not only live but also grieve. Notice that this is exactly what the author of Lamentations does in his grief.

“O Lord, behold my affliction!” (Lamentations 1:9)

“Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.” (Lamentations 1:11)

“Look, O Lord, for I am in distress.” (Lamentations 1:20)

This is all we need for turning to God. You may not know what to say. You may not know what to ask for. You may not know what help you need. But you can turn to the Lord in prayer and say, “Lord, look!” See my pain! Look at what has happened to me! You are the God of all comfort and all that you do is right! Please comfort me in my distress. These are the first steps for a godly response to pain and grief in our lives, looking to God who gives mercy and comfort.

EXEGESIS OF LAMENTATIONS

A WIDOWED CITY

Lamentations 1:1-22

Chapter one of Lamentations has two major divisions. In Lamentations 1:1-11 the prophet laments the present condition of Zion. Twice in this unit the prophet alludes to his own personal agony over the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:11). In Lamentations 1:12-22 the city itself laments over its condition. Both units end in prayers which call upon God to take note of the plight of Zion and to execute vengeance upon the enemies of Zion. The entire chapter is written in acrostic style, every fourth line beginning with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

LAMENT OVER THE CITY

Lamentations 1:1-11

The prophet’s lament over the condition of Jerusalem moves through three stages. Lamentations 1:1-7 contains a lengthy description of the present condition of Jerusalem and of her former inhabitants. This description is followed by an explanation of the present condition in Lamentations 1:8-9 b. The lament closes with a prayer which calls upon God to take note of the plight of His people.

Description of the Present Condition (Lamentations 1:1-7)

Physical Plight (Lamentations 1:1-3)

Depopulation (Lamentations 1:1): How sad that the city, once filled with people, sits alone; that she who was great among the nations has become like a widow; that she who was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem begins with the exclamation “how” or “how sad,” a word frequently used to begin a funeral dirge. (See Lamentations 2:1; Lamentations 4:1; Isaiah 1:21 : Jeremiah 48:17.) Jerusalem is personified as a widowed princess who sits alone in the night weeping over the loss of her husband and children. The loneliness of widowhood is emphasized in this lament. The once populous city is now empty. That city which had once enjoyed no small degree of notoriety among the nations is now obscure. The proud princess of provinces has been reduced to the state of abject poverty and slavery.

Desertion (Lamentations 1:2): She weeps bitterly by night, tears on her cheek; she has no one to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously against her, becoming her enemies. Every night the widowed city weeps over her plight but she has no one to wipe the tears from her cheek. Her “lovers” (political allies) and her “friends” (neighboring nations) have deserted her. Those who had once courted her assistance and who had so willingly offered themselves to her have now become her most bitter enemies.

Explanation (Lamentations 1:3): Judah has gone captive out of affliction and great servitude; she dwells among the nations but finds no resting place; all her pursuers have overtaken her in the straits. The children of Zion have been carried away captive by the Chaldeans and now dwell on foreign soil. Even though this deportation was in a sense a relief from “affliction” —the miseries of war, famine and pestilence—and “servitude”—the bitter bondage to cruel oppressors like Neco (2 Kings 23:33) and Nebuchadnezzar—still the children of Zion found no real rest. Living among Gentiles they find themselves plagued by worry and doubt, depressed by homesickness, surrounded by idolatry, tormented by the realization that their God has inflicted this great punishment upon them because of their spiritual rebellion. From this captivity there is no escape. This is the point of the figurative expression “all her pursuers have overtaken her in the straits.” Narrow mountain passes make it almost impossible for a fugitive to escape from those who would pursue him. So also is escape only a remote possibility for those living in foreign exile.

Spiritual Plight (Lamentations 1:4-5)

Mourning (Lamentations 1:4): The roads to Zion mourn because no one comes to the appointed feasts; all her gates are desolate, her priests sigh continually, her maidens are sorrowful and she herself is in bitterness. The roads leading to Zion are said to weep because pilgrims no longer travel them. The solemn festivals of the law of Moses were no longer observed for the city had been destroyed. The city gates, which formerly had bustled with business, now lay desolate. The priests mourn because they can no longer sing their beautiful hymns or play their instruments (Psalms 68:24-25) in the Temple.

Humiliation (Lamentations 1:5): Her foes have become her head, her enemies are happy because the LORD has made her suffer because of the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone into captivity before the foe. The enemies of Zion now have the upper hand. They mockingly rejoice over the misfortune which Jerusalem has experienced. Even little children have suffered at the hands of the cruel oppressor as they have been forced to walk that long, weary road to exile. Why does Zion suffer and her enemies prosper? Jerusalem’s troubles are due to the multitude of her transgressions. Zion’s God in righteous indignation has inflicted these penalties upon His people.

Mental plight (Lamentations 1:6-7)

Flight (Lamentations 1:6): From the daughter of Zion all beauty has departed. Her princes have become like harts that cannot find a pasture; they have fled without strength before the pursuer. The widowed daughter of Zion is ugly, weak and helpless. All her beauty—that which made her the envy of other nations—is gone. The princes of the nation are so destitute of strength that they are compared to wild harts which can find no pasture. Unable to withstand the pursuers the princes have fled.

Memories (Lamentations 1:7): In the days of her affliction and wanderings Jerusalem remembers all the precious things which were hers from days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the foe and there was no one to help her; the foe watched, gloating over her demise. The weakened and widowed condition of Jerusalem is aggravated by the bitter recollections of past privileges. She remembers the “precious things,” the gracious gifts which the Lord had bestowed upon her when she dwelt within her own land. Since Jerusalem had despised both the gifts and the Giver she was forced to enter into a period of affliction and wanderings. But no one commiserates with her in her agony. Her former friends, having become her foes, gloat over the demise and downfall of Zion. One of the miseries of sin in this world and hell in the next will be the constant recollection of the days when one enjoyed the blessings and graces of God.

Explanation of the Present Condition of Zion

(Lamentations 1:8-9 a)

Shameful sin (Lamentations 1:8): Jerusalem sinned grievously and therefore she has become filthy; all who once honored her now despise her, having seen her nakedness; even she herself sighs and turns away. Having hinted at the reason for Zion’s present misery in v 5, the poet now develops that theme. The root of Jerusalem’s trouble lay in the fact that she had sinned grievously against her God. Those who once honored Zion now have no respect for her. As God began to strip Zion of her splendor only filth could be seen, the filth of blatant sins and vices. An individual or nation that commits iniquity forfeits the respect of others. Sin results ultimately in contempt. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Even Zion herself moans and turns away in shame as her filthiness comes into public view.

Thoughtless sin (Lamentations 1:9): Her uncleanness was in her skirts! She did not remember her end and so her fall is terrible, she has no one to comfort her. When one begins to gain some insight into the true character of sin he is shocked and shamed. He cannot stand to face the gaze of others let alone the scrutiny of God. For a time Zion was able to conceal her filthiness beneath skirts of external prosperity. Her sin was an inward perversity. She was as morally unclean as a menstruous woman was ceremonially unclean under the law of Moses. Yet during the period of her prosperity she gave no thought to her latter end, i.e., the ultimate consequences of her evil ways. She lived only for the present and deceived herself into believing that God’s repeated threats of national destruction simply could not come to pass. This is what made her final fall so shocking, so inconceivable, so terrible. That plus the fact that she had no one to comfort her or extend sympathy to her. How much more bitter one’s grief and loss when no one else really cares!

Prayer for Present Condition of Zion (Lamentations 1:9-11)

Observe the affliction (Lamentations 1:9 b): Behold, O LORD, my affliction, for the enemy has exalted himself. Keenly feeling Judah’s affliction as his own Jeremiah cries out in desperation to God. In narrative prayer he summarizes the present plight of Zion. The enemy has become haughty and overbearing.

Observe the humiliation (Lamentations 1:10): The foe has spread forth his hand over her precious things. She has even seen the Gentiles entering her sanctuary, those whom You have forbidden to enter Your congregation. All of the precious things, the gracious gifts that God had given Judah, had fallen into the hand of the enemy. Gentiles had even desecrated the sacred precincts of the Temple.

Observe the dismay (Lamentations 1:11): All of her people are sighing as they seek bread; they trade their precious things for bread. Behold, O LORD, and observe! For I am dismayed. The people of Jerusalem groveled for enough food to keep alive. They were forced to trade their most valuable possessions for their daily bread. As the spokesman for his people Jeremiah calls upon God to take note of the misery of His people and the dismay of His prophet.

LAMENT BY THE CITY

Lamentations 1:12-22

In Lamentations 1:12-22 the lonely, tearful widow takes up her lament. She appeals to passers-by (Lamentations 1:12-16), to neighboring nations (Lamentations 1:17-19) and to God (Lamentations 1:20-22).

Appeal to Passers-by (Lamentations 1:12-16)

Magnitude of Zion’s suffering (Lamentations 1:12): Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there exists any sorrow comparable to that which has been brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted upon me in the day of his fierce anger. Unable to bear any longer the weight of her misery Zion cries out in desperation to the caravaners and travelers who walk the busy trade routes near Jerusalem, “Is it nothing to you?” Do you not care what has happened to me? Have you no sympathy to offer me? Zion challenges the passers-by to name one city which they have observed in their wide travels whose sufferings are comparable to that of Jerusalem. Zion apparently feels that her suffering is unique and unparalleled. After all it is the Lord, Zion’s God, who has administered the painful and fatal stroke in the day of His fierce anger.

Yahweh’s judgment on Zion (Lamentations 1:13-15)

Fire and net (Lamentations 1:13): From on high he has sent forth fire into my bones and it prevailed over them; He spread a net for my feet making me turn back; He has made me astonished with sorrow all the day. The Lord has sent the fiery bolts of His wrath upon them from heaven. The very bones of their body seem to burn within them. Perhaps the city’s misery is here being compared to a burning fever. The Lord has also spread nets for the feet of Zion causing them to fall into the hands of her enemies. Her sorrow is so great that she is astonished, i.e., has entered into a state of stupefaction.

Yoke (1:14): The yoke of my transgression was bound by His hand; they were fastened together, placed upon my neck. He caused my strength to fail! The Lord gave me into the hands of those whom I cannot resist. God had taken all of their unforgiven sins and had woven them together in a yoke which was so heavy that the strength of the nation was dissipated in trying to bear it. Weak and weary from trying to bear the yoke of accumulated sins Judah was easy prey for her enemies.

Winepress (Lamentations 1:15): The Lord has despised all my mighty men in the midst of me; He convoked a solemn assembly against me to crush my young men. The Lord has trodden as a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah. At the appointed time the Lord had convoked a solemn assembly of foreign powers for the purpose of fighting against and destroying Jerusalem. Zion’s mighty men as well as the flower of her youth were cast into the winepress of God’s wrath. The once pure and undefiled virgin daughter who had been loved and treated so tenderly in the past now was trampled under foot by the Almighty.

Zion’s confusion (Lamentations 1:16): Because of these things I weep, my eye, my eye flows with tears; for a comforter who can refresh my soul is far from me! My children are astonished because the enemy has prevailed. Because of these terrible blows Zion weeps with inconsolable sorrow. No one would even attempt to comfort her. Zion’s children, her inhabitants, have been thrown into a state of complete shock because the Chaldean enemy has prevailed over them.

Appeal to Neighboring Nations (Lamentations 1:17-19)

Abandoned by neighbors (Lamentations 1:17): Zion spreads forth her hands, but there is none to comfort her. The LORD has given commandment concerning Jacob that his neighbors are to be his foes. Jerusalem has become a filthy thing among them. Zion turns in desperation to the neighboring nations. She spreads forth her hands in a gesture that is an appeal for help. But no aid is forthcoming from the neighboring peoples, the reason being that the Lord has commanded them to be hostile toward Jacob i.e., the nation of Judah. Jerusalem is now regarded by these neighbors as a filthy thing, literally, a menstruous woman.

Abandoned by Yahweh (Lamentations 1:18): Righteous is the LORD, for I have rebelled against His word! Hear now, all you peoples and behold my sorrow. My maidens and young men have gone into exile! Regaining some measure of composure Zion acknowledges that she has been justly punished for her sins against God. But the very thought that she has rebelled against the word of God causes Zion again to burst forth into uncontrollable sobbing. In prayer-like fashion she calls upon the neighboring peoples to hear her wail and behold her sorrow. For their benefit Zion reviews a few of the more agonizing details of her misery: The young people of Zion have been carried off into exile.

Abandoned by allies (Lamentations 1:19): I called unto my lovers, but they have deceived me. My priests and elders perished in the city while they sought food for themselves that they might preserve their life. Zion’s lovers—the foreign nations and gods to whom she had turned—had not lived up to expectations. Zion’s priests and elders are perishing because they cannot find enough food for themselves. Thus does Zion earnestly appeal to her neighbors for sympathy and help but there is no answer. Earthly friends often are unavailable just when they are needed most.

Appeal to God (Lamentations 1:20-22)

Description of calamity (Lamentations 1:20): Behold, O LORD, for I am in distress, my inward parts are troubled, my heart is turned within me because I have grievously rebelled. In the streets the sword has caused loss of life, in the house there is death. Finally the weeping widow turns her face heavenward and presents a petition before the Lord. In the hearing of God she reviews her predicament and acknowledges her sin. Zion turns to the Lord with a contrite heart because she now realizes that there is no one else to whom she can turn. She makes no attempt to excuse her sin. She accepts her punishment as just.

Mockery by foes (Lamentations 1:21): They hear that I sigh, that I have no comforter. All of my foes have heard of my misfortune; they rejoice that You have done it, have brought the day You announced. But they shall be like me. The ruthless enemy had slain men in the streets and houses and then had rejoiced over the ruin which the Lord had sent upon Jerusalem. Yet Zion still has confidence in divine justice. One day that enemy will experience a fate similar to that of Jerusalem.

Imprecation (Lamentations 1:22): Let all of their evil come before You! Deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my transgressions! For my sorrow is great and my heart is sick. In a morally ordered universe no transgressor can go unpunished forever. The prayer “Let all their evil come before You” is a recognition of the fact that sin must be punished. Zion’s prayer is in harmony with what God had previously stated He would do to the nations (Isaiah 10:12-21; Habakkuk 2:5-17; Jeremiah 25:12-14). The execution of God’s wrath upon the enemies of Zion would in effect be an act of mercy on behalf of suffering Zion. Thus the appeal to God is not so much vindictive imprecation as a plea for mercy.

Further Comments on Lamentations One

The Fallen City

by Mark Garner

Lamentations begins with an honest, forthright depiction of the city of Jerusalem in the wake of its capture and destruction by the Babylonian army. The faithful prophet Jeremiah is well aware that this devastation and anguish have come about as a result of the nation’s own sin and selfishness, and he fully understands that a loving God had no option but to discipline them in order to bring hope for the future. At the same time, the prophet’s sympathetic nature makes it impossible for him to look around without feeling a deep sense of regret and sorrow. The scene as a whole illustrates for us in memorable fashion the inevitable results of sin.

Amongst the many pertinent thoughts in this chapter, a number of general points stand out in particular. It is impossible not to feel a sense of emptiness (see, for example, Lamentations 1:1 and Lamentations 1:4). Jeremiah feels keenly both the loss of population and the loss of activity that goes with it. The very roads and gateways seem to mourn their sudden lack of purpose, for there are few persons left to make use of them. Indeed, large portions of the city must have felt like a ghost town.

Such a sight would be rather eerie, yet physical desolation is not nearly so sad as spiritual desolation can be. Human beings are created to be vessels for God to fill, to love, and to use. Yet we can so easily allow ourselves to become soulless creatures living only in pursuit of shallow, worldly aims. To God, this looks every bit as bleak and sad as a once-great city that has suddenly been deprived of its residents and the activity they brought to it.

This desolation also contrasts sharply with the city’s past glory. Once Jerusalem was glorious, respected, and even feared, but now it has been brought low (Lamentations 1:1 b, Lamentations 1:6). Former enemies are now masters, and former friends have abandoned or betrayed her (Lamentations 1:2 b, Lamentations 1:5; Lamentations 1:19). The blessings that the people took for granted are now gone, and they are left with a sense of loss that is made even worse by the dawning realization that they themselves are responsible.

Our own lives are filled with a wide variety of experiences, both good and bad. Sometimes we experience undeserved blessings, while at other times we, like Jeremiah, suffer for the sins of others. But at all times, we are better off when we trust God and remain close to God. During the tough times, God provides precious hope and gives meaning to our lives. During pleasant experiences, a relationship with God reminds us of his compassion for us, and reminds us that there are even greater joys waiting in the next life.

Then, painful as it may be to acknowledge it, we should learn to perceive the connection between sin and spiritual desolation. In Lamentations, this connection is indisputable (Lamentations 1:8-9; Lamentations 1:20). God’s rewards and punishments are not crass, short-term reactions, such as the ways that worldly persons repay one another. Let us then not allow God’s patience and forbearance to cloud our minds and hearts. By writing the book of Lamentations, the compassionate prophet gives us a chance to learn from the mistakes of others, so that we can serve the living God in joy and peace.

REVIEW

1. What are the two major divisions of the first poem?

2. What is the significance of the word “how” which begins ch 1, 2 and 4?

3. How does memory play a part in the punishment for sin? See Lamentations 1:7.

4. What vv in ch 1 indicate the poet’s awareness of the reason for Zion’s suffering?

5. What eternal lesson concerning the consequences of sin is found in Lamentations 1:8?

6. What was the crowning act of Humiliation for Zion? Lamentations 1:10.

7. To whom does Zion tearfully appeal for aid and comfort in Lamentations 1:12-22?

8. Why is the yoke an appropriate symbol for sin? Lamentations 1:4.

9. Did the poet feel that God had not dealt fairly with His people ? Cite a verse which supports your answer.

10. Who are the “lovers” mentioned in this chapter and how had they deceived Zion?

11. What is the spirit in which Lamentations 1:22 was written?

Lamentations Chapter Two

God’s Anger At Sin

Lamentations 2:1-22

“When other helpers fail and comforts flee; help of the helpless, O abide with me.” This is one of the lines from the song we sing, “Abide With Me.” The first poem of Lamentations wailed over the lack of comfort and help in the midst of their grief over Jerusalem’s destruction. We noticed that we are called to pray to the Lord, even if all we can express is sorrow over our circumstances. God wants to hear our prayers and listens to our cries. God is the only place for comfort. God is the God of all comforts.

The second poem reveals a dramatic shift in the message of the author. In the first poem we noted the repetition that there was no one comfort. The repeated message in the second poem is the anger of the Lord. “How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” (Lamentations 2:1). “He has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger” (Lamentations 2:1). “In his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah” (Lamentations 2:2). “He has poured out his fury like fire” (Lamentations 2:4). “In his fierce indignation has spurned king and priest” (Lamentations 2:6). “You have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity” (Lamentations 2:21). “On the day the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived” (Lamentations 2:22). The intensity of this poem is on the anger of the Lord.

God’s Anger Revealed (Lamentations 2:1-10)

Lamentations 2:1-2 sets us for reading about how God’s anger against the nation has brought about this devastating judgment. Lamentations 2:1 begins by declaring that they are no longer in the privileged presence of the Lord. The splendor of Israel has been cast down from heaven to earth. This is a reference to the temple of God and the ark of the covenant that was contained inside (Isaiah 64:11; Psalms 78:60-61). The ark of the covenant was also called God’s footstool in scripture (1 Chronicles 28:2). The point is that the temple has not been the key to their deliverance. Remember when Solomon completed the temple that the dedication declared that God would hear the people’s prayers for forgiveness if they turned their faces to the temple with repentant hearts. But now the temple is gone. The sense of doom is great. Thus the city and people are under a dark cloud (Lamentations 2:1). Verses 6-7 carry the idea further. God has spurned king and priest (Lamentations 2:6), scorned the alter, and disowned the sanctuary (Lamentations 2:7). Spurning king and priest is very serious for this refers to the Davidic king line and the Aaronic priest line. It appears that all hope for forgiveness is completely gone. They are spurned, scorned, and disowned. But we must remember that the people did this first to God. The people first spurned, scorned, and disowned God. Listen to Jeremiah:

“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’ (Jeremiah 16:10-13 ESV)

The people thought they had the temple and therefore they were safe. Jeremiah records what the people were saying in that day.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ (Jeremiah 7:3-4 ESV)

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? (Jeremiah 7:8-10 ESV)

The people thought that their sinning was acceptable because they had the temple. God was with them and therefore God was fine with their sins. But we learn that we must never think that God is not wrathful against sin. Listen to what the New Testament says about the wrath of God against sin.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:5-6 ESV)

We cannot make the same mistake as them and hold baptism or going to church as our talisman that we think will cause us to avoid the wrath of God. Just because we are the people of God does not mean that the wrath of God will not affect us. This should be the obvious lesson we learn from the nation of Israel in the scriptures. God’s anger is never explosive, unreasonable, or unexplained. We do not begin to understand the restraint and the longsuffering of God. God’s anger is his firm expression of real displeasure with our sins. God is not indifferent toward sin. Even though we experience the benefits of God’s patience (which is not to be confused as apathy or complete indifference), the restraint God shows will finally end when we refuse to change our ways. This is the point the writer of Hebrews made to the Christians he wrote to:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27 ESV)

When we refuse to change our ways, there is no more forgiveness but the fearful expectation of judgment. As Israel was seeing, God carries out his word. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (Lamentations 2:17). God said he would bring judgment for this behavior back in the book of Deuteronomy. But the people rejected God’s warning. Listen to what they were saying in the days of Jeremiah.

Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ (Jeremiah 18:11-12 ESV)

God said disaster was coming. The people said that there was no point to changing their ways. They will follow their own plans and follow their own stubborn hearts. Friends, we must never think that God will not execute judgment.

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5 ESV)

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:7 ESV)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)

Our sins will be judged if we have stubborn, unrepentant hearts. We must turn our hearts back to the Lord. God’s judgment is to bring us to our knees in our sorrow for our sins and the consequences we pay because of what we have done. It is important to see that the author of this poem understands this. He understands that what has happened is because God is right and just and they are deserving because of their sins.

Hope In Grief

So what are we to do? Notice what the author says to do.

18 Their heart cried to the Lord. O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! 19 “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.” (Lamentations 2:18-19 ESV)

The author says to let your tears flow. Exhaust every effort to plead with the Lord. Rise and cry out to the Lord in the night. Lift your hands to him in prayer. Plead to the Lord. The author says in verse 11 that he has cried until the tears no longer come. His heart is broken. Consider that this is what God wants even in our sins. Whatever the cause for our grief, let your tears flow to God. Even if we have been disobedient to God and are paying the righteous consequences for our actions, let your pleas rise to God. How awesome that we get to articulate our sorrows and grief to God! Not only are we allowed to do this, but we are commanded to do this.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

Underline these words: “Because he cares for you.” Hear those words in your grief. God cares for you. Even when we are disobedient God cares for you. Someone made this point on Twitter that is absolutely beautiful and true: “On your worst day, God does not love you any less. On your best day, God does not love you any more.” Listen to how the psalmist saw this truth:

7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalms 77:7-9 ESV)

No, God is still compassionate even though God’s anger is right and due upon us. It is on this basis that the author exclaims the final words of this poem in Lamentations 2:20-22. Look and see what has happened. The reason he wants God to see this is because he desires the God of compassion to look on them with mercy and compassion. In your trouble, pain, and grief let your heart pour out like water to God before the presence of the Lord (Lamentations 2:19). Be persistent in prayer. How often Jesus called for us to continue in prayer and told parables that we would pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1)! Pray in your grief and do not stop. Tell God what is happening. God is a God of compassion who loves his people. Turn your heart to him!

CHAPTER TWO

BROKEN PEOPLE

Lamentations 2:1-22

In content, form and theology ch 2 is a continuation of ch 1. Like ch 1, the second ch is also a national lament but the focus here is on the entire nation rather than just on the city of Jerusalem. The poem is in acrostic form which is almost identical to that used in the first ch except that the sixteenth and seventeenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet are transposed. Since this transposition does not interrupt the train of thought it must be viewed as intentional rather than accidental as suggested by some commentators. The same phenomenon occurs again in chs three and four.

Theologically this ch again emphasizes the fact that Judah’s punishment came as a result of sin and that the punishment was entirely justified. In Lamentations 2:1-10 the prophet describes the divine judgment upon his people. In Lamentations 2:11-16 he expresses his sincere sympathy for his people in their sufferings. He exhorts them to present their case before God (Lamentations 2:17-19) and sets the example for them by offering a model prayer on their behalf (Lamentations 2:20-22).

WHAT THE PROPHET SAW

Lamentations 2:1-10

The way the prophet emphasizes that the destruction of his people was an act of divine judgment is striking. In spite of the fact that God administered the stroke against Judah the prophet is not bitter. He knows that the judgment was proper and appropriate in view of the terrible sin of his countrymen. The detailed account of these verses points to the fact that the writer was an eyewitness to the catastrophe which he describes. The first ten verses of chapter two should be read with the warning of Heb 10:31 constantly before the reader: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Judgment in General (Lamentations 2:1-6)

Cloud and fall (Lamentations 2:1): How sad that the Lord in His anger has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud! He has cast down from heaven to earth the glory of Israel! He did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger. Jeremiah almost exhausts the possibilities of human language in describing the burning wrath of a holy God against His apostate people. A great cloud of calamity settled down over the daughter of Zion in the day of His wrath. Like a star falling from the heavens so the glory of Israel fell to earth that day. God did not even spare His own footstool, the Temple or perhaps the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. It is possible that the phrases “daughter of Zion,” “glory of Israel,” and “His footstool” are to be regarded as progressive phrases designating the nation as a whole, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple or alternatively, Jerusalem, the Temple and the ark of the covenant.

Devoured and defiled (Lamentations 2:2): The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the inhabitants of Jacob. He has cast down in His wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah, bringing them to the ground. He defiled the kingdom and her princes. The Lord has consumed the dwelling places and destroyed the strongholds of His people. He has caused the princes of the land to be profaned i.e., captured, mutilated, and slain by ungodly forces.

Withdrawn support (Lamentations 2:3): He has cut off in His burning wrath all the horn of Israel. He has withdrawn His right hand in the face of the enemy. He has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob consuming all around. He has cut off the horn (power) of Israel by withdrawing His powerful right hand of defense as the enemy approached. He has caused the territory of Jacob to be put to the torch.

Bow and fire (Lamentations 2:4): He has bent his bow like an enemy, standing with His right hand like a foe. He has slain all that were pleasant to the eye. In the tents of the daughter of Zion he has poured out his wrath like fire. After the capture of Jerusalem in 587 BC the city was burned to the ground (Jeremiah 52:13). Judean resistance to the Chaldean onslaught of 587 BC was useless from the start because the real adversary was none other than God Himself. Through the instrumentality of Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers the divine archer drew His bow against Jerusalem and slew “all that were pleasant to the eye” i.e., the finest young men of the Judean army. Even in the tent of the daughter of Zion (the Temple) He poured out His fiery wrath.

Devouring and mourning (Lamentations 2:5): The Lord has become like an enemy, swallowing up Israel. He has swallowed up her palaces, destroyed his strongholds. He has caused mourning and lamentation to increase in the daughter of Judah. It is none other than the Lord who has caused all the destruction and death and resulting lamentation in the land.

Destruction and repudiation (Lamentations 2:6): He has torn down His tabernacle like that of a garden, destroying His meeting place. The LORD has caused solemn assembly and Sabbath to be forgotten in Zion. In His fierce indignation He has repudiated both king and priest. He has not hesitated in destroying His tabernacle, His meeting place, any more than a gardener might destroy a watchman’s booth when the harvest season was over. The mockery of Judah’s festivals and sabbaths He has brought to an abrupt halt. Even the kings and priests, normally spared the indignities of war, have felt the blast of divine indignation and judgment.

Judgment on Places (Lamentations 2:7-9 a)

Sanctuary and palaces (Lamentations 2:7): The LORD has scorned His altar, disowned His sanctuary. He has given into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces. They made noise in the house of the LORD as on the day of an appointed feast. How can the Lord allow the sacred city to be so humiliated? Because the Lord has scorned His altar and disowned His sanctuary. It takes more than outward ritual to prevent divine judgment. The Lord has turned the city over to the enemies of Judah. A shout has been heard in the precincts of the Temple—not the shout of joyous worshipers but of looting enemy soldiers.

Walls (Lamentations 2:8): The LORD determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. He stretched out the measuring line; He did not withdraw His hand from devouring. He has caused the rampart and wall to lament; they languish together. The destruction of Jerusalem was no afterthought; it had been predetermined by God. The Lord had marked off the city for destruction with a measuring line. The outer defenses of the city, the rampart and wall, had fallen to the enemy after incessant bombardment.

Gates (Lamentations 2:9): Her gates have sunk into the earth; He has destroyed and broken her bars. The heavy gates of the city and the powerful beams which secured them during siege have been battered to the ground.

Judgment on Populace (Lamentations 2:9-10)

Kings and prophets (Lamentations 2:9 b): Her king and her princes are among the nations where there is no law; even her prophets have not been able to find a vision from the LORD. Zion’s king and princes are in exile among the heathen who know not the law of God. The prophets are without vision.

Elders and maidens (Lamentations 2:10): The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence; they cast dust upon their heads having put on sackcloth. The maidens of Jerusalem have brought their heads down to the ground. The sagacious elders of Jerusalem have no advice or counsel to offer. They sit silently with sackcloth about their loins and dust upon their head as a sign of bitter mourning. The bright young maidens of Judah hang their heads in remorse.

WHAT THE PROPHET FELT

Lamentations 2:11-16

In Lamentations 2:1-10 the prophet described what he saw when Jerusalem fell in 587 BC. In Lamentations 2:11-16 he describes what he felt as he looked upon the pathetic plight of his kinsmen.

Grief over the Little Ones (Lamentations 2:11-12)

He saw their plight (Lamentations 2:11): My eyes are spent with weeping, my inward parts are troubled, my heart is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies have fainted in the streets of the city. The prophet’s eyes shed tears till they could shed no more. His inward parts (lit., bowels) and heart (lit., liver) were overwhelmed by anguish. The tender-hearted prophet is particularly upset as he recalls the agonizing death of starvation to which the innocent babes and infants were subjected.

He heard their cries (Lamentations 2:12): To their mothers they said, Where is the grain and wine? as they faint like wounded men in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out upon the bosom of their mothers. He hears their pitiful cry for food which had to remain unanswered. He sees them dying, some in the streets where they have been abandoned by their despairing mothers, others clutching to the breasts of their mothers who are helpless to do anything to preserve the young life.

Grief without Comfort (Lamentations 2:13-14)

No comfort in comparisons (Lamentations 2:13): What shall I testify to you? To what shall I liken you in order to comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For vast as the sea is your destruction! Who shall heal you? The prophet tries desperately to think of a word of instruction, edification or comfort which he can bring to those people who had to live through the horrible days of Jerusalem’s fall. He tries to think of some like catastrophe with which to compare the present plight of his people. Search as he may he cannot find any tragedy equaling the destruction of the daughter of Zion. Her ruin is as unlimited and unfathomable as the ocean itself. The lament of the prophet reaches a climax with the question asked at the end of v 13, Who shall heal you? Certainly Zion’s wound, by human standards, is incurable.

No comfort in prophetic oracles (Lamentations 2:14): Your prophets have seen for you falsehood and foolishness; they have not exposed your iniquity in order to reverse your fortunes but have seen for you false and misleading oracles. The prophets are certainly not able to help for they have never been able to correctly assess the situation in Zion. For a number of years they have actually encouraged the national hypocrisy and wickedness of their false and foolish visions. They have made no effort to expose iniquity, encourage repentance which would permit God to reverse the miserable condition of Zion. Their false and misleading oracles (lit., whitewash job) could not heal the wound of Zion.

Grief over Gentile Mockery (Lamentations 2:15-16)

Passers-by (Lamentations 2:15): All who pass by clap their hands at you. They hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying is this the city which was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth? Much less could the caravaners and travelers who passed along the busy highways do anything to aid Zion. They have actually joined in the mockery of the fallen city by contemptuously clapping their hands, hissing and wagging their heads. Having looked upon the city which had been renown for its beauty they jeer, “1s this the city which was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?”

Enemies (Lamentations 2:16): All your enemies rail against you, hissing and gnashing their teeth. They have said, We have swallowed her up! Ah, this is the day we longed for; we have found it! We have seen it! Still less would neighboring nations be able to heal the broken nation of Judah. They had actually been looking forward to the day when Jerusalem would fall and they would be able to swallow up the territory she once possessed. Who then can heal the wound of Zion?

EXHORTATION TO THE PEOPLE

Lamentations 2:17-19

Reason for their Plight (Lamentations 2:17): The LORD has done what He planned. He has fulfilled His word which He decreed in days of old. He has torn down without pity, made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the horn of your foes. In preparing to answer his own question, who can heal you, the prophet reminds the people of a basic fact. The destruction of Zion was not due to the power and cunning of Zion’s enemies but was in fact the fulfillment of threats made centuries earlier (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15 ff). By disobeying the commandments of God the people had violated the terms of the covenant and thus had incurred the penalties for disobedience specified therein. This is the real reason Israel had been brought so low and the horn or strength of their enemies had been exalted.

Appeal for Prayer (Lamentations 2:18-19)

Appeal for earnest petition (Lamentations 2:18): Their heart cried unto the Lord! O wall of the daughter of Zion! Let tears run down like a river both day and night! Give yourself no rest! Let not the pupils of your eyes cease! Because the Lord is responsible for the destruction of Zion He alone can restore her fortunes. In bold personification the prophet calls upon the broken wall of Jerusalem to cry unto the Lord in supplication day and night. Without respite those walls should continue their pleadings with the Lord for reconstruction.

Appeal for continual petition (Lamentations 2:19): Arise! Cry in the night at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord! Lift up your hands unto Him for the sake of your children who faint for hunger at the head of every street. The people must continue to pray right on through the night. The beginning of the three night watches, sunset, should find them still pouring out their heart like water before the Lord and lifting up their hands toward heaven in expectation of receiving divine blessing. If they become weary in the work of prayer they should remember the little children who are suffering immeasurably on every street of the ruined city.

Jeremiah makes no promises but his exhortation implies that God will hear the agonizing cry of His penitent people just as he heard their cry when they suffered during the Egyptian bondage (cf. Exodus 3:7).

PRAYER FOR THE PEOPLE

Lamentations 2:20-22

In Lamentations 2:20-22 the prophet prays the prayer he has been urging the nation to pray and in so doing teaches them how to properly approach the throne of God. These vv remind one of Jeremiah 14:17-19. The prophet boldly presents all the cogent arguments of which he can think in his effort to influence God to aid the people of Judah.

First Grounds of Appeal (Lamentations 2:20): Behold, O LORD, and consider to whom You have done this! Shall women eat their offspring, babes who are carried in the arms? Shall priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? First, the prophet asks God to consider that it is His own people who are suffering (cf. Exodus 32:11-13). Divine judgment has caused the people of Judah to sink into the lowest kind of human behavior, cannibalism. Surely God will intervene when men are driven to the point of consuming one another! Priests and prophets who have been anointed to the service of the Lord are being slain in the sacred precincts of the Temple.

Second Grounds of Appeal (Lamentations 2:21): On the ground in the streets lie the young and old. My maidens and young men have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of Your anger, slaughtering without mercy. Surely God will intervene when religious massacre is taking place! Young and old, male and female, lie dead on the streets of Jerusalem, slain by the sword of the divinely appointed enemy of Zion.

Third Grounds of Appeal (Lamentations 2:22): You called, as in the days of a solemn assembly, my terrors round about. On the day of the anger of the LORD there was not one who escaped or survived. Those I carried in the arms and raised up my enemy has consumed. Surely God will intervene when outrage is committed in public without regard to sex or age. The terrors of war—famine, sword and pestilence—have been summoned by God against Judah just as He might summon His worshipers to a festival. In that day of the Lord’s anger no one escaped or survived. The enemy has even consumed the babes in arms! So the prayer ends as it began, with a reference to the slaughter of the innocents. This rehearsal of Judah’s tale of woe is an implied request for mercy and deliverance. The matter is left in the hands of the Lord in the firm belief that the Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right.

Further Comments on Lamentations Two

The Day of Divine Anger

By Mark Garner

Most humans eagerly embrace the Scriptures’ teachings about God’s love, grace, and blessings, but we are usually reluctant to accept and understand his unchanging righteousness and his unalterable opposition to sin and selfishness. Thus, in the second of his five laments, the sorrowful prophet Jeremiah makes it emphatically clear that what has happened to Jerusalem has come to pass according to God’s will. It was a regrettable necessity, but this misfortune was no accident. God’s people must realize this if they are to recover and rebuild spiritually.

This is, in many respects, a shocking chapter. It overtly depicts God pouring out woes on his unfaithful people, and it makes clear that God is well aware of their sufferings and deprivations. In a number of places (such as Lamentations 2:4 and Lamentations 2:5), the writer even states that God has openly become an enemy to his people. The call to us, as faithful readers many centuries later, is to determine and understand why God acted in this way. For we also must learn to accept this side of God’s character, however much at odds it may be with our personal wishes.

From God’s viewpoint, one of the tragedies of the situation is that he has had to destroy the things he himself had lovingly given to his people. Because they persistently took his blessings for granted, accepting them as earned rewards rather than as gracious gifts, he had to take them away so that they could adjust their thinking. The glory he himself had given them had to be withdrawn (Lamentations 2:1). The strength he had carefully nurtured in them had made them prideful rather than grateful, so he had to cut them off from it (Lamentations 2:3; horns are a symbol of strength). He even allowed pagans to desecrate the temple, its altar, and its sanctuary (Lamentations 2:7).

We likewise must never forget that we are nothing without God. Without God’s grace, we could not continue to live for even a minute. None of our accomplishments or abilities or blessings have been earned or deserved; they all come by God’s grace. Let us remember this always and praise him for it, so that he will not have to withdraw these things from us as well.

Now, with harsh discipline having been rendered, God is well aware of the widespread despair, pain, and confusion among the people. As compassionate as he is, he must temporarily refrain from ending his people’s suffering. He is not cold-hearted, and it grieves him to see his people’s tears (Lamentations 2:11), their hunger (Lamentations 2:12), and their other sufferings. But their calls for help will be in vain until they realize why this all has happened.

All these calamities have occurred because the people strayed from God. He allowed the world to harm them, by simply taking away his protection, which they had come to take for granted. It is easy to see the many lessons that these events hold for us. Wise believers will learn to appreciate a little more each day just how dependent we are on God, and just how gracious he is to us. Since all it costs us is our pride, why should we not eagerly take this lesson to heart?

REVIEW

1. Does this chapter reflect a bitterness toward God because He has allowed and permitted the destruction of Zion?

2. In what sense was God responsible for the calamity of 587 BC? Lamentations 2:1-10.

3. What is meant by the phrases daughter of Zion, glory of Israel, and his footstool? Lamentations 2:1.

4. From what sources would Zion not find healing? Lamentations 2:13-16.

5. What is the poet encouraging his people to do in Lamentations 2:17-19?

6. What arguments does the prophet present in Lamentations 2:20-22 to influence God to aid His distressed people?

Lamentations Chapter Three

Great Is Your Faithfulness

The third poem in Lamentations is the pinnacle of the mountain of this book. You will notice that there are 66 verses instead of the 22 verses that the other poems in this book have. This third poem is still an acrostic, but there are three lines that begin with each successive letter of the alphabet, rather than one line like the previous two poems.

Hope Lost (Lamentations 3:1-20)

The first 20 verses of this poem (Lamentations 3:-20) describes the intensity of the author’s pain. His grief is so great that he is physically ill and has physical pain. “He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones” (Lamentations 3:4). Now his flesh was not falling off of him nor were his bones literally broken but he is using imagery to describe the physical anguish he feels for the pain he is in. Broken bones picture a loss of hope in the future. In the Old Testament the bones of the righteous are not broken which means they have hope in the future of what God will do (cf. Psalms 34:20; contrast Isaiah 38:13). Further, the author is swallowed up in bitterness (Lamentations 3:5). He feels walled in, chained down, and blocked off (Lamentations 3:7-8). God has shot arrows through his body, even into his bowels, crushing his emotions (Lamentations 3:10-13). His pain is so great that he says, “I have forgotten what happiness is” (Lamentations 3:17). The crowning statement for this section is in Lamentations 3:18.

So I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:18)

Has life made you feel this way? If you have been alive long enough I think you are able to declare that you have felt this way. We have been through such turmoil that are grief and sorrow have destroyed us from within. We have forgotten what happiness is. We are so surrounded by the darkness that there seems no hope for the future. Therefore, our strength and endurance have perished, and with that strength waning away, so has our hope. We must see the devastation the author is feeling. His grief is incalculable, his strength is gone, and his hope is lost. But notice that this is not the end of the poem nor is this the end of the book. Too many times people stop right here. They are consumed by grief and wallow in their pain and sorrow. But we are learning that this is not where we stop! We cannot stay in this situation. Even though our days are filled with bitterness and tears, we cannot end our day on this note. The author, even in the midst of great pain and grief, is going to teach us how we can go forward through our sorrows.

Hope Renewed (Lamentations 3:21-24)

Listen to Lamentations 3:21 because what the author does here is very important for handling our times of deep despair and grief. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Notice the author commits to an act of the will, rather than acting on his emotions and feelings. He does not say that all is hopeless and therefore he will give up in his hopeless despair. Not at all! He says that he will put something in his mind while he is in this state of pain and grief. He is going to put hope in his heart because he is going to put his mind on something in particular. Lamentations 3:22-24 records what he is going to think about. Essentially, the author is going to preach to himself in his time of despair. Here is what he preaches to himself:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV)

The first thing he preaches to himself is that the steadfast love of the Lord never ends. God’s faithful, covenant love never stops. His compassion and his mercies never come to an end. They never fail. The author recalls the multiple proofs of God’s faithful love. He calls to mind how God’s love never ends. Think about how God has been faithful to you. Think about how God has done good for you repeatedly in the past. His love never fails toward you. This is the knowledge we have to help us in our time of grief and despair.

Second, the author preaches to himself that the steadfast love and mercies of the Lord are renewed every morning. Every day presents a new opportunity to experience a fresh outpouring of God’s great love and compassion! Each day offers new hope for the compassion of God to be on display in your life. While the future looks dark and all seems hopeless, each day is another day to see the steadfast love of the Lord. The author is calling upon himself to live one day at a time. Just see the mercy of God for today. Do not worry about tomorrow’s difficulties and issues. Live in the compassion and mercy of God today. Great is the faithfulness of God! He will get you through today. God is faithful toward us each and every day.

Third, you will notice that the author speaks to himself again in Lamentations 3:24. His soul says, “The Lord is my portion.” A portion relates to the land allotted by God to each Israelite. Notice that the author says the Lord is his portion. He declares his dependence on the Lord for his provisions and his survival. God will take care of me is what he is preaching to himself. Therefore, the author’s conclusion is: “Therefore I will hope in him.” We have a saying in our culture: “Hope springs eternal.” If you have been in sorrow and grief then you will know that this is not the case. What is true is this, if we can modify the saying: Hope springs eternal only when hope is focused on the Lord. This is how we give ourselves the hope and courage we need in times of pain and grief.

Hope Proclaimed (Lamentations 3:25-39)

Now the author takes his hope and proclaims to the rest of the people who are in grief and pain. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25-26 proclaims the need to wait for the Lord and seek the Lord. Wait for his deliverance. Wait for his salvation. The Lord will help but we must seek him and wait for him.

Now the author gets to preaching to himself and the people in Lamentations 3:27-30. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” This is a reference to the yoke of suffering and pain because it is instructive and is helpful to a person. The earlier we learn from this yoke, the more valuable it will be for later in life. Accept God’s will and refuse to complain (Lamentations 3:28). Bow before the Lord and be humble in heart and mouth (Lamentations 3:29). Remember that we are servants of the Lord (Lamentations 3:30). Remember who you are. Submit to the Lord. Bow and have hope.

His message continues by building faith. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” Even in grief, God will have compassion because of his abundant steadfast love.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19 ESV)

Here is a great picture of the character of God. “For he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). The punishment for the people’s sins is not from his heart. It is not willingly. He does not want to have to judge people but he must because God is just. This is the point of Lamentations 3:34-36. God is just and does not approve of our sinful ways. This takes us back to the first point the author made in the first poem. God is always right. You see this idea in Lamentations 3:37-39. Who are we to complain against God? We are the ones who are full of sins! God is in the right. God is always just. God is pure and holy. We are only getting what we rightfully deserve. In fact, we are not receiving what we should for our sins because of the steadfast love of the Lord toward us. This keeps our minds in the right frame of mind. This keeps us in humility when we see that we deserve nothing and everything we have in life is a grace poured out from God.

Hope In Prayer! (Lamentations 3:40-51)

With this, the author declares that we need examine our ways and pray to the Lord. Any time we examine ourselves and look at our lives honestly, it should cause us to pray because we know that we have woefully fallen short of God’s glory. So we turn to the Lord, tearing our hearts before our God (cf. Joel 2:13). So the author will continue to pour out his tears and prayers to the Lord until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees. Remember this was what the author cried in the first poem. He had no words in his prayer except, “Look, O Lord.” He will continue to pray because he has hope in the steadfast love of the Lord whose mercies are new each morning.

Hope For Restoration (Lamentations 3:52-66)

Notice the feelings of despair that continue in the heart of the author and in the hearts of the people in Lamentations 3:52-54. The despair is so great that it is as if water has closed over his head and he is drowning. He says that he is lost. But listen to what happens. In the depths of his despair he cried to the Lord and the Lord heard his plea (Lamentations 3:55-57). God came near when he cried out to the Lord and gave him the hope and courage he needs. Hope comes from calling on the name of the Lord, turning to him in prayer without rest. Now the author sees that God is near him and has taken up his cause. God sees what has happened to this one who cries out to God. God sees the evil of those who are afflicting him (Lamentations 3:58-63).

Here is the author’s hope: God will repay (Lamentations 3:64-66). God is going to take care of all of this suffering, pain, and grief one day. Because God is a just and faithful God and because he compassionate toward those who wait for him and seek him, he knows that God will act faithfully against those who have brought this pain to him.

Messages From The Lament

God’s people recognize that their lives are not determined by some cold, impersonal fate or destiny. Our lives are in the hands of the living God, who is good, who hears our cries, and will act for his people. Our praise and hope are motivated by the knowledge of this truth: the Lord is good and the Lord is faithful. God’s goodness is intrinsic to his glory (cf. Exodus 34:6-7; Mark 10:18). The compassion of God is particularly helpful for us to consider in grief. The compassion of God is an aspect of his love which focuses particularly on the depth and tenderness of his feelings toward his people when they are in need. This is the author’s hope. Even though he feels that all hope is lost, he is able to tell himself and others that God’s faithfulness is great and his mercies are new every day.

CHAPTER THREE

SUFFERING PROPHET

Lamentations 3:1-66

Again in chapter three the poet has adopted the acrostic style but in a slightly different form from that of the previous chs. In chapters 1 and 2 only the first line of each stanza of three lines began with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In chapter 3 all three lines of each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter. Chapter 3 is actually the same length as chapters 1 and 2 though the verse numeration makes it appear longer. In the first two chapters three lines of Hebrew verse comprise one verse of English text; in chapter 3 each line of Hebrew text has been counted as one verse of English text. Thus the verses of chapter 3 are only one third as long as those of chapters 1 and 2 and there are three times as many of them.

The major exegetical problem arising in chapter 3 is whether this is an individual lament or whether the individual here is a personification of the nation. In favor of the individual interpretation of the ch is the fact that the speaker is called a man (Lamentations 3:1; Lamentations 3:27; Lamentations 3:35; Lamentations 3:39). Furthermore, some of the vv of this ch have an intensely personal tone (e.g., Lamentations 3:14 and Lamentations 3:53). On the other hand the shift from “I” to “we” in Lamentations 3:22 and Lamentations 3:40-47 suggests that the first person singular is but a stylistic device which the poet has used to speak of the suffering of the entire nation. According to this view Jeremiah is here speaking as an individual member of the nation who has become identified with his people in the midst of their affliction. Their trouble, suffering and grief are his as well. In truth the chapter seems to contain both the individual “I” and the collective “I” and it is not always easy to ascertain which use of the first person is intended. In the comments which follow the shifts in the usage of the first person will be noted where possible.

In relationship to the suffering prophet one can see in this chapter: (1) his cry of desperation (Lamentations 3:1-18); (2) his confession of faith (Lamentations 3:19-39); (3) his appeal for repentance (Lamentations 3:40-47; (4) his personal suffering (Lamentations 3:48-54) ; and (5) his prayer for deliverance (Lamentations 3:55-66).

HIS CRY OF DESPERATION

Lamentations 3:1-18

Theme (Lamentations 3:1): I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. The opening verse sets the theme for chapter 3. The poet identifies himself as an individual who has experienced in his own life what the nation has experienced. I am the man who has seen affliction is a general statement of his misery. By the rod of His wrath can refer only to God although God is not specifically mentioned until Lamentations 3:18. Having identified himself and set forth the basic thesis of the chapter the prophet begins to develop his theme in a series of brilliant similes and metaphors.

Metaphors for Suffering (Lamentations 3:2-18)

Darkness (Lamentations 3:2): He has led and brought me into darkness and not light. The prophet compares his experience to a terrifying walk in Stygian darkness. Darkness is probably symbolic here of the inability to comprehend the judgment which God has brought upon the nation.

Smitten (Lamentations 3:3): Surely against me He keeps on turning His hand all day long. The prophet compares his affliction to being smitten by the hand of God. The OT refers frequently to the hand of God (e.g., Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 53:4). No matter what the poet tried to do it seemed that God’s hand was against him. Surely the prophet here is speaking as a representative of his people.

Decrepitude (Lamentations 3:4): He has made my flesh and skin to waste away; He has broken my bones. The prophet compares his trouble to old age with its wrinkled skin and fragile bones. Broken bones are one of the curses of old age for they do not heal easily.

Siege (Lamentations 3:5): He has hemmed me in, surrounding me with bitterness and anguish. The prophet compares his trials to the siege of a city. He has been surrounded and bombarded by bitterness and anguish. There is no escape. It is a struggle to merely survive.

A lost man (Lamentations 3:6): He has made me dwell in dark places like those who are forever dead. The prophet compares his situation to that of a lost dead man. Such a one is described as dwelling in dark places (cf. the outer darkness of Matthew 25:30). “Those that have been long dead” (ASV) and “the dead of old” (KJV) is better rendered “those who are forever or eternally dead.” Following physical death the wicked experience the second death and hence can be spoken of as eternally dead. This verse is a duplicate of Psalms 143:3.

Prisoner (3:7-8): He has built a wall about me and I cannot get out. He has put heavy chains upon me. (8) Even when I keep on crying and calling for help He shuts out my prayer. The figure changes in Lamentations 3:7-8 to that of a prison. The poet feels hedged in by an insurmountable wall and weighted down by heavy and unbreakable chains of brass. Although he cries out in his anguish, there is no answer to his cry for God shuts out his prayers.

Obstacles (3:9): He has walled up my ways with hewn stone and my paths He has made crooked. In a similar entrapment figure, the poet contends that a block has been thrown up across the path of his life. God has placed a wall of carefully prepared and closely fitting hewn stone to blockade his way. Since the straight and easy road to his life’s goals was blocked he had to look for alternative routes. Walking the uncharted by-paths, the poet found himself in a maze of crooked paths most of which turned out to be blind alleys. He felt he was walking aimlessly without knowing his ultimate destiny.

Wild beast (Lamentations 3:10-11): He is to me like a bear lying in wait, a lion in hiding. (11) He turned aside my ways, tore me in pieces and made me desolate. In still another figure the poet depicts God as a lion or bear lying in wait for prey. Suddenly, unexpectedly the Lord has seized him and torn him to pieces. Amos (Amos 5:19) and Hosea (Hosea 13:8) use this same figure.

Target (Lamentations 3:12-13): He bent His bow and set me up as a target for His arrow. (13) He sent into my inward parts the shafts of His quiver. The poet feels that he has become the target for the divine archer. The arrow of tribulation and persecution has found its mark in the inward parts (lit., the kidneys) and thus the poet is doomed to suffer a slow and painful death. The arrow metaphor is not uncommon in the OT (Psalms 38:1-2; Job 6:4; Job 16:12-14).

Laughingstock (Lamentations 3:14): I am an object of derision to all my people, their song all the day. The prophet briefly drops the metaphors to complain as the representative of the believing individual that he is mocked and ridiculed by his people. All day long they made him the object of their taunt songs. Pleasure-mad throngs cannot stand those who rebuke and warn of judgment.

Food and drink (Lamentations 3:15-16): He has filled me to the brim with bitterness, caused me to drink wormwood. (16) He has ground my teeth with gravel and covered me over with ashes. The poet compares his sorrow and anguish to food and drink. His food was bitterness which he was forced to eat until he was filled to the brim (lit., sated, nauseated); his drink was wormwood, a bitter substance usually associated with gall. As a sign of his disgrace and mourning the poet has heaped ashes upon himself. In so doing has gotten grit into his mouth.

Inward feelings (Lamentations 3:17-18)

Turmoil (Lamentations 3:17): You have deprived my soul of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. The prophet was overwhelmed by the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem, In his great suffering he has lost all inner peace. He cannot even remember what it means to enjoy the blessings of life.

Shaken faith (Lamentations 3:18): And I said, My strength has perished and my expectation from the LORD. The poet is in the depths of despair. His strength, physical and spiritual, has perished. The confidence which he had previously placed in the Lord has been shaken and, in fact, has disappeared.

Yet all is not lost for the prophet. The moment he announces that he has lost his confidence in the Lord he has done something very significant. He has pronounced the precious name of God. The mention of the name of the Lord in this moment of deepest misery and despair helps the poet to find solid footing for his faith. To this Lord he turns in confident prayer (Lamentations 3:19-39).

HIS CONFESSION OF FAITH

Lamentations 3:19-39

The mention of the name of the Lord in Lamentations 3:18 served to jog the memory of a grief-stricken prophet. His thoughts are turned from self to the Savior. By turning his thoughts to God (Lamentations 3:21-25) and by reflecting upon the nature of suffering (Lamentations 3:26-39) the prophet is able to gain a great personal victory.

Reflections about God (Lamentations 3:19-25)

Call for remembrance (Lamentations 3:19-20): Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall. (20) My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. Since the poet’s outlook was bleak he tries the up-look. He calls upon God to remember his predicament because he himself is not able to forget about it. Mental and physical miseries are not easily forgotten especially when they continue to press in upon an individual. But while the poet could not for a moment forget his sufferings he did not allow himself to be done in by them.

Confidence in God (Lamentations 3:21-25)

Bert Hall sees in Lamentations 3:21-25 three pillars upon which the prophet reconstructed his faith: the nature, the person and the gifts of God.

Nature of God (Lamentations 3:21-22): This I will call to mind; therefore, I still have hope. (22) The lovingkindnesses of the LORD are the reason we have not been consumed; for His mercies never fail. The poet first brings to mind the boundless mercy and compassion of God. If it were not for His lovingkindness all men would be instantly consumed. The Hebrew word used here is difficult to render by a single English word. The word is akin to the New Testament word for grace. The plural form of the word indicates the magnitude and repeated manifestations of His lovingkindness. His mercies or compassions-sympathetic love especially toward the helpless and suffering—never fail.

Gifts of God (Lamentations 3:23): They are new every morning; great is ‘Your faithfulness. The expressions of God’s love and mercy are new every morning. Life, breath, opportunities, food, raiment—how often they are taken for granted; how seldom is thanks offered for them. As the prophet meditates upon the ceaselessness of God’s mercy he breaks forth in a triumphant strain: Great is Your faithfulness! This verse and the one which preceded it (Lamentations 3:22) furnished the inspiration for Thomas Chisholm’s magnificent hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” This great affirmation of faith came from the lips of a man who had recently suffered what few others before or since have suffered. It was a time when men had only the most meager provisions. Every morsel of bread, every cup of water, every tattered garment was regarded as an evidence of the mercies of God.

Person of God (Lamentations 3:24-25): My portion is the LORD, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him. (25) The LORD is good to the soul who waits for Him, to the soul that seeks Him. Even though the poet had nothing of this world’s goods to make him happy and secure, still he was satisfied for the Lord was his portion. The knowledge that he possessed God and God possessed him was the foundation for the hope of the prophet (Lamentations 3:24). To those souls who put their trust in Him God is good (Lamentations 3:25). God never forsakes His people!

Reflections about Suffering (Lamentations 3:26-39)

Growing out of his reflections about God the poet makes several observations, some practical and some philosophical, about human suffering.

Patience pays dividends (Lamentations 3:26): It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Patience and hope open the channels of salvation and deliverance. Boisterous complaint against the human predicament only tends to aggravate the situation. The believer should quietly wait in faith for the deliverance of the Lord.

Self-discipline has positive benefits (Lamentations 3:27-30)

Toughens (Lamentations 3:27): It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. If a young person can learn to bear the yoke of suffering he will not easily despair when he is old.

Teaches patience (Lamentations 3:28): Let him sit alone and remain silent for He has laid it on him. Suffering teaches one patience and hope (Romans 5:3-5) and helps one bring forth the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). Such a one however must learn to suffer in solitude and silence. He should not grumble against the God who sent the tribulation nor should he yield to the temptation to appeal for the sympathy of others by discussing with them his aches and pains.

Requires self-abasement (Lamentations 3:29): Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope. The sufferer must bite the dust in self-abasement humbly to hope that there is hope.

Requires submission (Lamentations 3:30): Let him give his cheek to the one who smites him; let him be filled with reproach. The sufferer should willingly submit himself to whatever injustices life has to offer. Even though he may be filled with reproach he should not pour it forth upon his antagonist (cf. Matthew 5:38-39).

Affliction is measured and purposeful (Lamentations 3:31-33)

Affliction temporary (Lamentations 3:31): For the Lord will not reject forever. Present affliction does not mean that God has ultimately rejected His people for the Lord does not reject forever.

Yahweh is God of mercy (Lamentations 3:32): For though He may afflict, yet He will have compassion according to the multitude of His lovingkindness; Even in periods of chastisement Yahweh remains the God of mercy.

Yahweh limits affliction (Lamentations 3:33): for He does not desire to grieve and afflict the children of men. Yahweh does not permit one trial or temptation beyond what a man can endure. God takes no delight in seeing men suffer. Nevertheless, He permits men to suffer and sometimes administers the stroke against them in order to accomplish His own sovereign purposes in their lives.

God hates unjust punishments (Lamentations 3:34-36): To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth, (35) to turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, (36) to subvert a man in his cause, the LORD does not approve. God does not approve of punishment which is not just or purposeful. Political atrocities (Lamentations 3:34), injustice in legal proceedings (Lamentations 3:35) or, in fact, any social inequities (Lamentations 3:36) arouse His displeasure and demand His punishment. The phrase before the face of the Most High points to the fact that human judges are viewed as representatives of God.

Yahweh’s sovereign control (Lamentations 3:37-39)

General statement (Lamentations 3:37): Who is it that speaks and it comes to pass if the Lord has not commanded it? Nothing is done in this world without God’s permission. No one is able to make plans about the future and carry out those plans without the permission of the Lord.

Yahweh pronounces punishments (Lamentations 3:38): Do not pronouncements of misfortunes and prosperity proceed from the mouth of the Most High? God has clearly set forth in His word the conditions of blessing and the consequences of disobedience.

Wrong-doing a matter of choice (Lamentations 3:39): For what reason does a living man complain, each man because of the punishment for his sins? A man is not forced to choose wrong with its resultant punishment. On what basis then does a man complain when he is punished for his sin?

HIS APPEAL FOR REPENTANCE

Lamentations 3:40-47

Demonstration of Repentance (Lamentations 3:40-41)

Self-examination (Lamentations 3:40): Let us search and examine our ways and return to the LORD. Rather than complain about their suffering the prophet urges the people to repent of the sins which have brought about the suffering. Repentance begins with self-examination and honest analysis of their situation. Every individual must search (lit., dig into) and examine (lit., test or try) his heart. The objective of this rigorous self-examination is to discover and remove any impediments which may be preventing them from returning to the Lord. The Hebrew preposition translated to has the idea of actually arriving at the goal. The poet is urging upon his hearers a complete and whole-hearted return to God.

Prayer (Lamentations 3:41): Let us lift up our hearts and hands unto God in heaven. Self-examination should be followed by sincere prayer. Hands uplifted towards heaven seems to have been one of the popular postures for prayer in OT times. But Jeremiah urges his hearers to lift up their heart as well as their hands to the Lord. Proper posture does not always mean proper prayer! In genuine prayer inward submission always accompanies outward acts of supplication. Perhaps they had heretofore prayed in the mechanical and formal sense. The prophet now urges them to put their heart into the exercise.

Words of Repentance (Lamentations 3:42-47)

In Lamentations 3:42-47 the prophet speaks the words which the people ought to use in their prayer of repentance.

Confession (Lamentations 3:42): We have transgressed and rebelled; You have not forgiven. The prayer begins with a confession of sin: “We have transgressed and rebelled!” The pronoun “we” is emphatic. There is no effort here to cover up or minimize the enormity of the sin. From this forthright confession of sin the prayer moves to description of the consequences of sin. (1) Sin cuts off the mercies of God. God had not pardoned nor could He pardon until the nation manifested some sign of genuine repentance.

Acknowledgment of just punishment (Lamentations 3:43-46)

Wrath (Lamentations 3:43): You surrounded yourself with wrath and pursued us; You have slain without pity. Sin stirs up divine wrath. The punishment against sin is swift, thorough, and relentless.

Unanswered prayer (Lamentations 3:44): You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. Sin cuts the communication lines to heaven. God wraps Himself in a cloud through which no prayer can pass. Only when men turn from sin can God hear their prayers (Psalms 66:18).

Humiliation (Lamentations 3:45): You have made us as dung and refuse in the midst of the peoples. Sin ultimately brings humiliation. Judah became like dung and refuse among the nations of the world because of sin.

Ridicule (Lamentations 3:46): All our enemies rail against us. Judah’s enemies railed against her with impunity.

Panic (Lamentations 3:47): Panic and the pit have come upon us, devastation and destruction. Sin results in panic and ruin. In the day of judgment one calamity after another befalls the sinner until he is finally destroyed.

HIS PERSONAL SUFFERING

Lamentations 3:48-54

Description of the Outburst (Lamentations 3:48-50)

Copious (Lamentations 3:48): With streams of water my eyes flow because of the destruction of the daughter of my people. As the weeping prophet contemplates the judgment which has befallen his people he bursts into tears anew.

Ceaseless (Lamentations 3:49): My eyes flow without ceasing, without any pause. Without a moment’s pause he continues his sorrowful intercession.

Purposeful (Lamentations 3:50): Until the LORD sees and looks down from heaven. He is determined to pray until the Lord looks in tender compassion upon the affliction of His people.

Explanation of the Outburst (Lamentations 3:51-53)

Defilement of maidens (Lamentations 3:51): My eyes afflict my soul because of all the daughters of my city. The poet continues to be disturbed by the sight of the shameful defilement of the young maidens of Jerusalem.

Personal suffering (Lamentations 3:52-54)

A problem arises with regard to the interpretation of Lamentations 3:52-54. Many commentators feel that Jeremiah speaks here as a representative of the people of Judah and that he here is describing in figurative terms the experience of the nation. Others feel that Jeremiah is alluding here to his own experiences in the empty cistern before the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 38:6-13) or to some more recent similar experience. If allowance is made for poetic imagery there is no reason why Lamentations 3:52-54 could not refer to the actual experience of the prophet.

Hunted down (3:52): Those who had no reason to be my enemies have hunted me down like a bird. Without justification the national leaders considered Jeremiah as a traitor to his nation. They hunted him down like a fowler hunts his prey.

Thrown into a pit (Lamentations 3:53): They have cut off my life in the pit and have cast a stone on me. The leaders planned to get rid of the prophetic pest permanently by casting him into a dungeon and then covering the mouth of that pit with a stone.

Near death (Lamentations 3:54): Waters flowed over my head. I said, I am cut off. Jeremiah sank into the mire of that empty cistern and the waters of death, as it were, flowed over his head. In the midst of his despair he cried out unto the Lord: I am cut off i.e., “I am as good as dead.”

HIS PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE

Lamentations 3:55-66

The closing section of chapter 3 is a prayer for deliverance which is filled with expressions of confidence that the prayer will be answered. The prophet here prays in the first person singular. But the “me” of these vv is in reality “us.”

First Petition (Lamentations 3:55-56): I called on Your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit. (56) You have heard my voice! Do not close Your ear to my sighing, to my cry for help! As the prophet recalls the cistern experience and how God delivered him from that certain death his faith begins to grow. Just as God heard his cry from the dark dungeon of death (v 55) so he asks God not to ignore his present pleas for help (Lamentations 3:56).

Second Petition (Lamentations 3:57-59): You have drawn near in the day I called upon You. You said; Do not be afraid. (58) You have pleaded the causes of my soul, O Lord; You have redeemed my life. (59) You have seen, O LORD, the wrong done unto me. Judge my cause. In the past God had answered his prayers by drawing near and whispering Be not afraid! (Lamentations 3:57). God had intervened on behalf of His servant, had taken up his cause, and had redeemed his very life (Lamentations 3:58). On the basis of God’s past response to his petition Jeremiah again calls upon God to hear and answer his prayer. Jeremiah is praying as an intercessor. He is praying for his nation and as part of his nation. The enemies for whose destruction he prays must then be the Chaldean conquerors of Jerusalem. The petitioner realizes that God already knows the desperate plight of Judah, the wrongs which have been suffered. Therefore, Jeremiah calls upon the Lord to judge his cause i.e., judge those who have committed wrongs against the Jews (Lamentations 3:59).

Third Petition (Lamentations 3:60-63): You have seen all of their vengeance, all of their plots against me, (62) the lips of those who rise up against me and their murmurings against me all the day. (63) Observe their sitting down and rising up. I am their song. Yahweh had seen the vicious and vengeful plots against his people (Lamentations 3:60), the taunting and ridicule of the enemy (Lamentations 3:61-62). The prophet asks that Yahweh will observe the actions of Jerusalem’s enemies. All day long the Jews are the subject of Chaldean taunt-songs (Lamentations 3:63).

Fourth Petition (Lamentations 3:64-66): Repay them, O LORD, according to the deeds of their hands. Give them blindness of heart! Let Your curse be on them! (66) Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the LORD. The prophet asks God to repay Jerusalem’s enemies in accordance with the deeds they have done (v. 64). He prays that these opponents might experience blindness of heart i.e., intellectual confusion, and that God’s curse might rest upon them (Lamentations 3:65). He asks God to destroy these enemies from off the face of the earth (Lamentations 3:66).

Lamentations 3:64-66 reflects that imprecatory mood which is so difficult for Christians to comprehend. However, these verses are best regarded not as a prayer for vengeance, but as a plea for justice. If a holy and just God rules this world then wrong must be punished and inequities must be eliminated. The petitioner was confident that God was just and therefore did not hesitate to call for God to act in accordance with His justice. There is no personal animosity in these words. The prophet prays as a representative of his people. In praying for the destruction of the Babylonians he prays that God will fulfill the threats already made against the conquerors of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 29:10; also chapters 50-51).

Further Comments on Lamentations Three

A Man Who Has Seen Affliction

By Mark Garner

Upon the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a series of laments that are collected in the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah was an especially appropriate observer of this era of Israel’s history, for he combined an unfailing faithfulness to God with a nearly inexhaustible supply of compassion and sensitivity. Even as he had proclaimed the coming doom of faithless Judah, he did so sorrowfully. Yet the prophet’s very nature convicts us of the absolute necessity of remaining faithful to the truth, regardless of our personal feelings, wishes, or preferences.

The third lament is the most personal, and many commentators point out how Jeremiah here looks beyond his own sufferings, and observes the ruins as if he were a kind of ’everyman’ character. The thoughts expressed in this chapter could represent the perspective of anyone who had lived through the disaster and then humbly turned to God as a result.

In this lament more than any of the others, the writer openly expresses his feeling that God has personally attacked him and harmed him. Over and over in the first 20 verses, he says things like "He (God) has driven me away", "He has besieged me", or "He has walled me in". The faithful writer knows the whole truth of what has happened, of course, but his pain and sorrow are so great that he must express these thoughts in order to strengthen his faith in God and to learn the lessons God is teaching.

Almost everyone, from the loudest self-proclaimed atheist to the most faithful believer, has moments when he or she blames God for some or all of life’s misfortunes. The irony of this is that many so-called atheists openly blame God for many of the horrors in the world, and yet claim that he does not exist - a rather obvious contradiction. Meanwhile, many believers try to hide their moments of doubt and spiritual anguish, because they would prefer to maintain appearances. But we have the examples of David, Jeremiah, Paul, and many others in the Scriptures to show us that the first step in resolving our doubts is to be honest about them.

And in fact these expressions of agony soon give way (beginning in Lamentations 3:21) to the awareness that God has never left his people, and that God is ready to show compassion to those who turn to him. Amongst the many other insights in this section is Lamentations 3:22-24, which forms the source of a popular devotional song, and which express the central theme of the book. In saying, "the Lord is my portion", the writer understands that God himself (and God alone) is the ultimate reward and the true source of hope for the faithful.

At the heart of these insights is the awareness of the all-encompassing wisdom of God’s will. Whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, exciting or terrifying, everything that happens is subject to God’s rule (see, for example, Lamentations 3:38-39). In times of ease and plenty, we ought to give lavish thanks to God for his kindness. In times of suffering and fear, we ought to commit ourselves that much more to doing God’s will. For in all cases, the presence of God will help us to understand, to accept, and to hope.

REVIEW

1. How does the acrostic pattern in this chapter differ from that of the first two chapterss of Lamentations?

2. Is the third chapter of Lamentations an individual or a collective lament?

3. What is the meaning of the expression those forever dead? Lamentations 3:6.

4. Does God always hear and answer prayer? Lamentations 3:8.

5. What is “the wormwood and gall”? Lamentations 3:19.

6. What thought about God became the foundation upon which the poet was able to reconstruct his hope?

7. In what sense are the mercies of God new every morning? Lamentations 3:23.

8. What is the yoke which a man should bear in his youth? Lamentations 3:27.

9. In what posture did people in Old Testament times often pray? Lamentations 3:41.

10. Does Jeremiah refer to his own personal experience in the cistern in Lamentations 3:53-54?

11. Is it right for a Christian to pray for the destruction of his enemies? Lamentations 3:64.

Lamentations Chapter Four

Time To Reflect

Lamentations 4:1-22

If we thought that the astonishing words of hope and assurance found in the heart of chapter 3 (the third poems of Lamentations) might lead to a happy ending, we are brought back to a crashing, painful reality in the fourth poem (Lamentations 4). This book of Lamentations is not a “Pollyanna” book with sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. This is real pain and a description of how real pain and grief invades the life of the believer in the Lord. The fourth poem will have nothing to do with the idea that things are all better now. They are not. Though the author’s hope is in the Lord, the anguish and despair that he feels has not subsided.

We are also looking at another aspect of the destruction in this poetry. The first poem spent most of its time describing the destruction of the city. The second poem mainly described the destruction of the temple. The third poem was a description of the personal pain of the prophet. This fourth poem describes the devastation of the inhabitants of the city.

God’s Wrath Poured Out (Lamentations 4:1-11)

The description of the destruction of God’s people is almost too much to bear to read. Can you imagine looking at this devastation as this prophet did? While verse 1 sounds like he is talking about the gold on the buildings, Lamentations 4:2 reveals that he is talking about the look of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These are “the precious sons of Zion.” But now they have been regarded as earthen pots. The whole population has been discarded as broken pottery by the potter. Lamentations 4:3 describes the abandonment that has occurred like ostriches that abandon their eggs.

The infants and children are starving and thirsting in the streets (Lamentations 4:4). The rich are now perishing in the streets (Lamentations 4:5). Their punishment is greater than Sodom because for Jerusalem there are so many left in the streets to suffer in the streets till they die (Lamentations 4:6; Lamentations 4:9). Their bodies are blackened and their skin has shriveled to their bones (Lamentations 4:7-8). Compassionate women are now eating their own children because the situation is so awful (Lamentations 4:10). The Lord has poured out his full wrath against his people (Lamentations 4:11).

Reflecting On Our Pain (Lamentations 4:12-20)

Lamentations 4:13 is the hub of this lament. Notice that the author is reflecting on the reason why all this has happened to them. He says, “This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests.” The reason for this disaster is because of the sins of the people. There is now an ability for the author to quantify the problem and express it so that he can give it in his prayer to God. He has the ability at this point to look at his own circumstances and learn from them. Pain, grief, and suffering affords the opportunity to look at your own life situations and see what can be learned from them. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to go through pain and suffering and not look for what we can learn about God and our relationship to him. This is why James opens his book the way that he does:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

To count trials as joy means that there must be time for reflection. I have to consider the joy from my experiences. Reflection on what has happened in how trials allowed by God can have their full effect in our lives so as to produce steadfastness and maturity. We accept what has happened to us and consider what we can learn for spiritual transformation and growth.

This is what the author does in Lamentations 4:13. He looks and considers that the disaster that has fallen upon them is the wrath of God due to them because of their sins. In fact, he identifies one particular sin that was supremely damaging and caused their downfall. Listen to Lamentations 4:13 again.

This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous. (Lamentations 4:13 ESV)

The supreme problem was the sins of the priests and the prophets who shed the blood of the righteous. Those who were charged with being the teachers of the law of the Lord and the proclaimers of God’s very words were the worst of the violators. Instead of proclaiming and teaching the ways of the Lord, they were soft-pedaling a message that the people wanted to hear (cf. Jeremiah 2:8; 5:4-5; 6:13; 8:8=12; 23:11-36; 26:7-24; 28:1-17). Inadequate spiritual leadership led to their doom. They certainly had not learned this lesson by the time of Jesus. Listen to what Jesus had to tell the leaders in his day.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14 ESV)

The context of the above reading is that Jesus being criticized by the Pharisees and scribes because his disciples did not wash their hands according to the traditions of the elders. So Jesus called them hypocrites whose hearts were far from God. Then he declared that they were blind guides causing the spiritual ruin of others. Spiritual leaders are charged with the important task of proclaiming the pure, clear word of the Lord, not what people want to hear. God’s word is often not what he want to hear but what we need to hear to get us back to walking in the light of the Lord again. Notice that the author uses this very same imagery in Lamentations 4:14. These priests and prophets had so corrupted themselves they were blind and unclean. They were supposed to be examples of purity. The disaster is placed on their heads for leading the people away by not proclaiming the full and complete message of God. We must trust in God’s word and nothing else.

Let’s bring this back full circle to the reflection that the author has. He recognizes the wrath of God has been vented against God’s people because of their sins, the catalyst being that the priests and prophets no longer proclaimed the word of the Lord to the people. Inadequate spiritual leadership brought their demise. Therefore, their sins had made them worthless before God, like broken pots cast aside (4:2). Their value to God is tarnished and judgment must come.

Sins Will Be Punished (Lamentations 4:21-22)

We must never think that God’s wrath will not come because of our sins. We must never think that God will not start his judgment with us. We are not getting away with our sins. No one is getting away with their sins. This is the message of Lamentations 4:21-22. Edom is sitting on the sidelines with glee over the fall of Jerusalem. But listen to the author in Lamentations 4:21-22. In Lamentations 4:21 he says that this cup of wrath will come to them also. In Lamentations 4:22 God will uncover their sins and punish them. For anyone to think that God will not judge a person because of his sins has simply not read and thought about the scriptures. God is just and he will judge for sins. It is important that we reflect on this truth. This is not an Old Testament truth but declared again under Christ’s covenant. Listen to the apostle Paul:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV)

Notice the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness. But also notice what our temptation is. We will try to suppress this truth in our own unrighteousness. We do not want to reflect on the wrath of God for our sins and so we will ignore and suppress that truth. We want to hear how to be happy in life and to be told that we do not have to change our lives. This is suppressing the truth. We are doomed because of our sins. The author of Lamentations recognized this also. Look at Lamentations 4:17.

Our eyes failed, ever watching vainly for help; in our watching we watched for a nation which could not save. (Lamentations 4:17 ESV)

No one can help and no one can save. Only God can save us. We cannot save ourselves. Other people cannot save. Nothing we do can save us. God must deliver us from the wrath we deserve because of our sinful ways. Looking to others for help is a vain exercise. Our sins are uncovered before the Lord. Nothing is hidden from his sight. There is nothing that we are getting away with. Therefore, all that we are left to do is to cry out to the Lord and reflect on our sinfulness. We are to learn from our sins and turn our hearts to God, crying out for mercy. This is what makes the gospel beautiful.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 NASB)

It is in our helpless state that Christ comes and dies for us so that we do not have to receive the wrath of God that is rightly appointed to us because of our sins. Christ becomes our hope. In the days of Jeremiah we see their human kings failing in righteousness and destroying their hope of God blessing the world through them. This loss of hope in their king is expressed in Lamentations 4:20. So we long for the perfect King of righteousness who will restore our hope and make us a blessing to the nations. We need someone to comfort and restore us to God. So while we where helpless in our sins, at the perfect time appointed by God, the Father sent Jesus to die for us. Through Jesus atonement is made for our sins. Notice that Lamentations 4:22 is the fear for all people. Our sins are uncovered before God. But in Christ we have atonement, which is the picture of our sins covered.

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7 ESV)

Let our times of grief and pain causes us to reflect. Reflect on what we can learn through our difficult so that we can count our pain and trial as joy. Reflect on what God has done to carry you through knowing that your sins are covered in Christ which will carry you through your times of difficulty.

CHAPTER FOUR

A RUINED KINGDOM

Lamentations 4:1-22

The fourth poem is an alphabetic acrostic like that found in chs 1 and 2 with the exception that the stanzas here have two lines instead of three. Here also the sixteenth and seventeenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet are reversed, but without any interruption in the thought sequence. No satisfactory explanation of this reversal of letters has yet been suggested. The ch emphasizes the suffering of the people of Jerusalem during and following the Chaldean siege. The poet uses the technique of contrast as he compares the former glory of the kingdom of Judah to the present wretched condition of the land. The poem falls into three parts. (1) The poet first gives an eyewitness account of the horrors which accompanied and followed the siege of Jerusalem (Lamentations 4:1-10). (2) Then the prophet offers an explanation for this overwhelming calamity (Lamentations 4:11-20). (3) Finally, the poet offers a ray of hope for his people, placing in contrast the future of Edom and the future of Israel (Lamentations 4:21-22).

DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDGMENT

Lamentations 4:1-10

Account of the Horrors (Lamentations 4:1-10)

Temple stones (Lamentations 4:1): How sad that the gold has become dim, the best gold changed! Holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street. The poet begins his lament by contrasting the former brightness of Judah with the present dark days. The golden Temple ornamentation which formerly glistened in the sunlight now is blackened and tarnished. The stones of the Temple lie scattered about at the head of every street leading from the Temple area.

Sons (Lamentations 4:2): The precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold, how sad that they are regarded as clay vessels, the work of the potter’s hands. The youth of Zion, the most valuable asset of the nation, lie dead and scattered about like broken bits of pottery.

Children (Lamentations 4:3-5)

Abandoned (Lamentations 4:3): Even the jackals draw out the breast to give suck to their young. The daughter of my people has become cruel like the ostriches in the wilderness. The remaining portion of the poet’s description of the judgment on Jerusalem focuses on the famine which the city experienced while under Babylonian siege. The children have suffered above all. The tortured and tormented mothers of Judah treat their babies worse than the wild animals treat their young. Wild and roving jackals (not sea monsters as in KJV) do not forget their offspring. But the famine has made the mothers of Jerusalem cruel like the ostrich. The ostrich was regarded by the ancients as the symbol of maternal neglect and cruelty (Job 39:13-17).

Foodless (Lamentations 4:4): The tongue of the suckling child clings to thereof of his mouth for thirst; young children ask for bread but no man breaks it for them. The babes of Jerusalem have no breasts to suckle and hence die from lack of nourishment. Young children ask for bread but no one takes note of their need.

Affluent (Lamentations 4:5-6): They who were accustomed to eating delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple resort to the dunghill. (6) For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater than the punishment of Sodom which was overturned suddenly, untouched by any hand. The wealthy also suffer in the famine. What a pitiful sight it must have been to see those who were accustomed to the finest foods and garments perishing (Lamentations 4:5). The lingering agony of the starving city causes the poet to make a painful comparison. Jerusalem has experienced a more severe fate than ancient Sodom. Sodom’s fall was sudden but Jerusalem’s agony and suffering was prolonged over a period of several months (Lamentations 4:6).

Princes (Lamentations 4:7-9): Her princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; they were more ruddy in body than coral, as sapphire was their form. (8) Blacker than soot has their appearance become, they are not recognized on the streets. Their skin hugs their bones having become dry like a stick. (9) Those who were slain by the sword were better off than those who were slain by the famine, for these pine away, stricken through for want of the products of the field. The nobles of the land (or perhaps the Nazirites) also suffered greatly from the famine. Once they were the picture of health— rosy cheeks, fair complexion, stately appearance (Lamentations 4:7). But as a result of the pangs of hunger these nobles have been reduced to skin and bones. Their fair skin is now black and leathery. No one can even recognize these once famous personages on the streets of the city (Lamentations 4:8). How much better off were those that had died suddenly by the sword in battle than those who wasted away day by day (Lamentations 4:9).

Women (Lamentations 4:10): The hands of tenderhearted women have boiled their own children; they became their food in the destruction of the daughter of my people. Most pitiful of all are the women of Judah. Once tender-hearted and loving mothers, these women have been so crazed by hunger that they have forgotten their maternal affection. In order to preserve their own lives they were boiling and eating their own children!

EXPLANATION OF THE JUDGMENT

Lamentations 4:11-20

In Lamentations 4:11-20 the poet begins to explain the horrendous calamity which has befallen Judah.

God’s Wrath (Lamentations 4:11-12)

Devastating (Lamentations 4:11): The LORD has given vent to His wrath. He has poured out His fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion, which has consumed her foundations. The ultimate cause of Zion’s downfall was the burning wrath of the Lord.

Unexpected (Lamentations 4:12): Neither the kings of the earth nor the inhabitants of the world believed that the adversary and the enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem. The leaders of the city, and in fact all the inhabitants of the world, believed that Jerusalem was invulnerable. The idea that the Lord would not destroy His special abode probably was based upon the miraculous last-minute deliverance of Jerusalem from the armies of the Assyrian Sennacherib in the days of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37).

Religious Leaders (Lamentations 4:13-16)

Their sin (Lamentations 4:13): It was because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests who shed the blood of innocent persons in the midst of her. Not only were these leaders guilty of perverting the word of the Lord, they were also guilty of murder, perhaps not directly, but indirectly. Because of their counsel and encouragement many innocent people had been executed by the government.

Their punishment (Lamentations 4:14-16)

Confusion (Lamentations 4:14): They staggered like blind men in the streets. They were polluted with blood so that none could touch their garments. When Jerusalem came under the Chaldean siege and the city eventually fell these leaders who had confidently predicted divine deliverance were thrown into confusion. They were so defiled by blood that men could not touch them.

Exile (Lamentations 4:15): Turn back! Unclean! men cried to them; Turn back! Turn back! Do not touch! When they fled away and wandered, men said among the nations, They shall no more sojourn there. Their countrymen treated the former leaders as though they were unclean lepers. People who met them in the way applied to them the warning cry which lepers were to use if anyone approached them. Shunned by their own countrymen these discredited religious leaders fled to foreign lands. But even there these priests and prophets were not wanted. They were forced to become vagabonds wandering from one land to another.

Repudiation (Lamentations 4:16): The face of the LORD has scattered them, He will no more regard them. They do not respect priests nor do they favor elders. It is the face of the Lord, i.e., His anger, which has scattered these worthless leaders. Because they are not worthy of their office the Lord no longer regards them as prophets, priests, and elders nor do the people show to these leaders the respect and favor which the dignity of their office would normally evoke.

Stubbornness of Jerusalemites (Lamentations 4:17-20)

The poet points to the stubborn and stupid resistance of the inhabitants of Jerusalem as the second explanation of the severity of Jerusalem’s judgment. Having committed the fundamental error of disobedience to the word of God the people of Judah stumbled on through those last years trusting confidently in false theological premises and human ingenuity. The poet points out four specific ways in which the nation had been deluded and deceived.

Trust in foreign alliances (Lamentations 4:17): Our eyes failed continuing to look for our help in vain; in our watching we watched for a nation which could not save. To the bitter end they had put their trust in foreign allies, particularly Egypt. On one occasion Pharaoh had made an attempt to come to the aid of Jerusalem but his forces were driven off by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem’s hope that Pharaoh Hophra could defeat the Babylonians proved vain. The troops of Nebuchadnezzar returned to the siege.

Trust in Jerusalem’s walls (Lamentations 4:18): They hunted our steps preventing us from walking in our streets. Our end drew near, our days were filled up because our end had come. The nation had been led to believe that they could successfully resist the might of Babylon. But with each passing day it became ever more obvious that the end had come. Missiles hurled into the city from Chaldean siege towers made any public assembly within the city hazardous. It was stupid to continue to resist.

Trust in flight (4:19): More swift were our pursuers than the eagles of the heavens. Upon the hills they chased us, in the wilderness they laid in wait for us. The inhabitants of Jerusalem also mistakenly thought they could flee the falling city if worse came to worst. But flight was in vain. The enemy like eagles swooping down upon the prey pounced upon any who tried to escape the siege.

Trust in their king (Lamentations 4:20): The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was captured in their pits, the one of whom we had said, Under his shadow we shall live among the nations. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were deceived in believing that they could find protection by adhering to Zedekiah the king of Judah. Because the life of a kingdom depends upon having a king, Zedekiah is called by the poet the breath of our nostrils. Zedekiah was the anointed of the Lord and the current representative of the house of David. The people were supremely confident that God would never allow the house of David to be completely overthrown. But Zedekiah was captured by the Chaldeans and deported to Babylon, a blind and broken man.

The people had been misled by their leaders into thinking that Jerusalem was inviolable and the dynasty of David unconquerable. They had placed their trust in man and had persistently refused to heed the word of God. They have no one but themselves to blame for the severity of Jerusalem’s sufferings.

EXPECTATION ABOUT JUDGMENT
Lamentations 4:21-22

Edom and Judah were traditional enemies. During the western rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar in 589 B.C. Edom had remained loyal to the Chaldean king. When Jerusalem was going through her death throes Edom had acted in a most hostile and haughty way. Edom’s sin began with indifference. She showed no concern over what was befalling her neighbor. From indifference Edom went on to rejoice over the destruction of the people of God. At some point the Edomites actually entered the weakened and helpless city of Jerusalem. They had reveled and caroused in the Temple mount. They had even helped the Chaldeans capture the poor fugitives who tried to escape the calamity of their nation (Obadiah 1:10-16). Ezekiel mentions that Edom tried to annex some of Judah’s territory at this time (Ezekiel 35:10-12).

Edom’s Inappropriate Joy (Lamentations 4:21): Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, who dwells in the land of Uz! But to you also shall the cup pass. You shall become drunk and make yourself naked. This ancient enemy, Edom, is ironically urged to rejoice and sing i.e., to enjoy their moment of triumph. But their joy will be short-lived! The cup of divine wrath is about to pass to Edom. Jeremiah had prophesied that Edom along with most of the other nations of Syria-Palestine would have to taste of the cup of God’s wrath through the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:15-28). Edom is reminded that she must drink that dreaded cup till she becomes intoxicated and experiences shame, confusion, sorrow, and destruction. She will be stripped of all her power and glory.

Edom’s Coming Judgment (Lamentations 4:22): The punishment of your iniquity is complete, O daughter of Zion! He will no more cause you to go into captivity! But your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, He will punish, He will uncover your sins. Judah has been severely punished but her punishment is over. A ray of hope illuminates the darkness of Judah’s present situation. For her a better day is dawning. Once she has returned from exile she will never again be carried away captive as a nation. The deliverance here predicted finds it fulfillment in the Messianic age when God granted salvation to His people, the New Israel, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Edom’s future, on the other hand, is not so bright. Her sin is about to be punished. The last remnant of Edom perished during the revolt against Rome in the early years of the Christian era, AD 70-71.

Further Comments on Lamentations Four

The Gold Has Lost It’s Luster

By Mark Garner

Amongst many other lessons, Jerusalem’s fall revealed the useless nature of the things in which the nation had placed its trust. Rather than relying on God and trusting his teachings, the people had put their confidence in worldly wealth, worldly leaders, and worldly standards of success and goodness. This policy is always spiritually disastrous, whether in ancient times or in today’s world.

Throughout this fourth lament, Jeremiah points out the numerous sources of false hope and false confidence that have been exposed by the fall of the city. At the same time, he expresses ongoing sorrow and suffering, to portray how the people are gradually coming to understand the reasons for the disaster, even as they continue to bemoan their misfortune.

The lament first indicates the uselessness of material things that the people had once valued highly. The precious gems littering the streets (Lamentations 4:1) dramatically illustrate the uselessness of gold and wealth. The people’s wealth was useless, both in curing their spiritual ailments and also in warding off God’s discipline. This lesson must usually be learned anew by each generation.

Likewise, the people had undue pride and undue confidence in themselves: in their strong young men (Lamentations 4:2), in royalty and nobility (Lamentations 4:7-8), and in their spiritual leaders (Lamentations 4:13, Lamentations 4:16). In all these cases, the surface appearance of strength, purity, and spirituality was only an illusion. Given the many spiritual problems in the community, they should have seen through the illusion, but like so many persons they simply believed what they wanted to believe.

They had also taken considerable pride in being God’s people, to the point that they had come to consider themselves to be invulnerable. For God had truly rescued them from many perils that, without his presence, would have destroyed most nations. Indeed, now that Jerusalem has fallen, even the unbelieving nations can hardly believe that Jerusalem has really been destroyed (Lamentations 4:12). But now it is clear to everyone that belonging to God’s people does not confer immunity from the negative consequences of sin.

Every individual and every nation has its own list of false sources of hope and confidence. Sometimes we can see them for what they are, but cannot bring ourselves to give them up: material wealth and popularity are examples of this. At other times, we allow worldly influences to prevent us from even questioning our sacred cows. In our own society, for example, it is taken as a given that things such as ’democracy’, capitalism, and the ’rule of law’ are sources of blessing. Yet all of these things are contrary to the teachings of the New Testament, and they lead countless persons astray in their search for God. We receive our blessings from God alone, and it is blasphemous to credit them to human philosophies or human forms of government.

The lament ends on a positive note, comparing Israel with its pagan neighbor Edom (Lamentations 4:21-22). When God punishes his people, it is not fatal and it is never final. God’s people can know that the time of suffering will end, for God will not prolong it even a moment longer than is needed for his people to learn what he wishes to teach them.

REVIEW

1. Judged according to form, to what other chapter in Lamentations does chapter 4 most nearly correspond?

2. Why did Jeremiah compare his people to an ostrich? Lamentations 4:3.

3. In what respect was the punishment of Zion greater than that of Sodom? Lamentations 4:6.

4. What is the evidence of the severity of the famine in Jerusalem?

5. What was the attitude of the poet toward priests and prophets? 4:13.

6. What was the nation to which Zion looked for help in her desperate hour? Lamentations 4:17.

7. To whom is the poet referring in Lamentations 4:20?

8. Why is Edom told to rejoice over the fate of Zion? Lamentations 4:21.

9. What is the contrast between the future of Zion and the future of Edom ? Lamentations 4:22

Lamentations Chapter Five

Time To Pray

Lamentations 5:1-22

This is the final poem of the great book of Lamentations. In the fourth poem we read the description of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their suffering during the fall of the city and temple. The suffering and pain that is being experienced offered a time for the prophet and for the people to reflect on what has happened and why. This was their opportunity to learn that their unwillingness to listen to the truth of God’s messengers has caused their judgment. The prophets and priests, who were to be the teachers of God’s messages, were the ones committing sins, shedding the blood of the righteous in the streets. In Lamentations 4:17 the author reflects on how there was no one to help deliver them. Only God can deliver. Only God can save. The prophets and priests (Lamentations 4:13) as well as the kings (Lamentations 4:20) have failed the people. Therefore the people are looking for true prophets, priests, and kings would be able to save them.

This reflection leads the author to prayer. We saw the author in the first poem understands that the first place to turn in grief and pain is to the Lord in prayer. No one can help except God. No one can comfort except God. So the final poem is the author’s prayer to God. For the first time in the book of Lamentations the author does not use an acrostic. But the poem has the appearance of an acrostic, having 22 lines just as there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. As we read this prayer poem, look for what the author is asking for and what the basis of his prayer is.

Remember (Lamentations 5:1-18)

As you read the first 18 verses it sounds like the same refrain that the author has declared in earlier poems. But if we look carefully we will see that this is not the author just saying the same thing all over again. Look at verse 1 very carefully and notice how it begins.

“Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us.” (Lamentations 5:1)

Why does the author ask the Lord to remember as he opens this prayer? It is not that the author thinks that God does not know what has happened or has already forgotten what he said in the earlier poems. When you read about people in the scriptures asking God to remember something, the thing that they always want God to remember is his covenant promises. Lord, remember the promises that you made to me. Remember the promises you made to us as a nation. Why do they ask God to remember these promises? They want God to act on those promises. The author is saying we know that you are a faithful God who keeps his covenant promises. Look at what has happened to us! Act upon your faithful promises toward us and restore us! Remember what you said! God had made a very important promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:13-16.

13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:13-16 ESV)

God said that the throne of his kingdom would be forever. God said his steadfast love would never depart even though he would commit sins. God said the house (which is the temple) and the kingdom would be sure and established forever. But now the throne has ended, the temple is destroyed, and the people are ruined. God, remember your promises! Remember, Lord, and look at what has happened to us!!! This is the reason the author retraces all that has happened to them. He is invoking in his prayer the faithfulness of God to keep his word.

So what is the author doing in Lamentations 5:7? While it sounds like he may be exonerating the present generation and blaming the past generations for their sins, we know this is not the case because he declares often in this book that they themselves have sinned (Lamentations 1:8; Lamentations 2:14; Lamentations 3:39; Lamentations 3:42; Lamentations 4:13). Even in this poem the author states again that they are ones who have sinned (Lamentations 5:16). The point is not to exonerating themselves but to make the point that the ax of judgment should have fallen long ago, back when their fathers sinned. But God has been gracious to wait this long before bringing judgment. So the only cry the people have is that which is stated in Lamentations 5:16 : “Woe to us, for we have sinned!” The only appeal that can be made to God is that in his grace he would restore us. All we can say is, “God be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13).

The Lord Reigns (Lamentations 5:19-22)

Lamentations 5:19 appears to be the key to the prayer. “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” We are in your hands, Lord. You reign. You exercise sovereign control. Even in desolation God still reigns and remains in control. The book of Revelation carries the same message. Christians are being killed for the cause of Christ. Yet the book of Revelation opens with the Lord on the throne (Revelation 4) and closes with Jesus riding on a white horse destroying the enemies (Revelation 19). God reigns and is in control.

Therefore, the author cries out asking why they have been forgotten for so many days. Notice that being forgotten is in reference to God’s covenant promises. You have forgotten what you promised us. The author is not saying that the all-knowing God has actually forgotten. The point is that what God has done shows that he has forgotten his covenant promises to them. Therefore, restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! (Lamentations 5:21)

How great it is that we can go to God in prayer and push on his own words for him to be faithful to!!! We see people in the scriptures doing such. Think about Abraham when he asks God if he will really destroy the righteous when Sodom and Gomorrah about to be destroyed. The reason Abraham can barter with God is because the faithful God is not going to sweep away the righteous. We can press into God with our requests by holding on to the faithful promises of God. We read in Philippians 4 that we do not have to be anxious because in everything we can make our requests known to God. This is what the author of Lamentations is doing. We can do the same.

God, you said that you would never leave me or forsake me in Hebrews 13:5 but I feel alone so please help me. God, you said that you would be my helper in Hebrews 13:6 and I really need help right now. God, you said that you would be faithful to forgive any sin if I confess to you in 1 John 1:7. Please forgive me of my unrighteousness and wickedness. The whole point of God’s promises is to give us an anchor for life through difficulties, pain, and grief. Hold on to those faithful promises. This encourages us to read the scriptures so that we can know his promises to be an anchor for our lives. Lamentations 1 taught us that when we do not have the words to pray or know what to pray, we can simply say, “Lord, look and see.” Lamentations 5 tells us to pray with faith, depending upon God’s promises to be carried out.

Comfort From the Lamentations

The first poem of the Lamentations was the cry to the Lord for comfort because there was no comfort anywhere else. Our first move in the times of grief and pain is to cry to the Lord in prayer, knowing that only he can comfort, even if we do not have the words to express what we need. The second poem of Lamentations showed us that we can wail with a broken heart to the Lord. We do not have to restrain our emotions but can speak with raw honesty to the Lord in our pain. The third poem revealed that we can still trust in the Lord during pain and grief because of God’s faithfulness. His mercies are new every day and with each new day is another opportunity for the refreshing of the Lord to carry us through. God will get you through today. The fourth poem taught us to reflect on what has happened. The only way we can count in all joy when we fall into trials and the only way that we can be gold refined by the fires of pain and suffering is if we reflect on what has happen and learn from our difficulty. We use our hardship to transform our lives to be more in keeping with the Lord’s commands. How can I change for the Lord? What is God teaching me through this pain and grief? We trust in our Savior who loves us and gave himself for us. Finally, we learn in the fifth poem that we pray for restoration, knowing that God keeps his word to forgive us of our sins and place us back into a right relationship with him. Our greatest need is reconciliation to the Father because of our sins. Christ is the fulfillment of God’s word to save the world and give us what we need so that we can avoid the wrath of God and be his children.

CHAPTER FIVE

PENITENT NATION

Lamentations 5:1-22

The form of the fifth poem differs in at least two respects from the four which precede it. First, this poem is not in the acrostic form. But like chapters 1, 2 and 4 it does have twenty-two verses which indicates that these five poems belong together. Secondly, chapter 5 is a prayer and not a dirge. While the poem does contain a recital of the miseries recently suffered by the people, the purpose of the poet here is to appeal to the compassion of God so as to gain His help. The poem consists of two unequal parts. (1) In Lamentations 5:1-18 the poet describes the present reproach of Zion, and (2) in Lamentations 5:19-22 he requests the restoration or renewal of Zion.

REPROACH OF ZION DESCRIBED

Lamentations 5:1-18

Petition (Lamentations 5:1): Remember, O LORD, what has come upon us! Take note and observe our reproach. That chapter 5 is a prayer is indicated by the language of v 1. There is a sense of desperation and urgency in these words. Of course God has not forgotten His people. He is not oblivious of their suffering. But when God hesitates to deliver one from reproach and difficulty it often seems to the sufferer that He has forgotten. The words of v 1 also reflect the hope and faith of the poet. He stands as a petitioner before a judge to present his case. He is sure that if he can present a convincing picture of the desperation and repentance of Israel that the Judge of all the earth will intervene on their behalf. The prophet is pleading with God to demonstrate by divine intervention that He is aware of what has happened to His people.

Jerusalem’s Reproach (Lamentations 5:2-10)

Lost inheritance (Lamentations 5:2): Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to foreigners. The condition of Israel was truly pitiable. Their reproach was great. They had lost everything. Their “inheritance” (land) and their houses had been given to strangers probably as payment for aiding in the Chaldean conquest of Jerusalem.

Decimated population (Lamentations 5:3): We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. With the male population practically decimated, those who remained were virtually widows and orphans.

Scarce essentials (Lamentations 5:4): We drink our water with silver, our wood comes to us for a price. Such essential items as water and wood were so scarce that they had to be purchased from the captors.

Ruthless oppressors (Lamentations 5:5): Our pursuers are upon our necks; we are weary, but we have no rest. They were cruelly oppressed. The Chaldean troops that occupied the land gave the people no rest. They were “breathing down their neck” all the time. The Jewish remnant was constantly forced to labor for the enemy and were given no time to rest.

Cruel extortion (Lamentations 5:6): We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria, in order to get bread. In order to obtain food the Jerusalemites had been forced to give their hand in solemn pledge of surrender and servitude to Egyptian and Assyrian traders who passed through the land.

Painful confession (Lamentations 5:7): Our fathers sinned but they are dead. We have borne their iniquities. This is not a complaint but a confession. The poet is not claiming that his generation has been punished unjustly for the people confess their guilt in Lamentations 5:16. The Jerusalemites recognize that the sins of the past have caught up with them. This v is an acknowledgement of the principle that sin often has consequences which extend from one generation to another. Of course the OT clearly teaches that every individual sinner is punished for his own sin (Jeremiah 31:30; Ezekiel 18:1 ff); but if children continue to walk in the footsteps of their wicked fathers and even surpass their fathers in wickedness they may expect to be punished with ever increasing severity (see Jeremiah 16:11-12). The consequences of sin are cumulative. The passing of time gives more opportunity for hearing and obeying the word of God. Therefore, the generation of Jeremiah was even more guilty than previous generations because they had neglected more opportunities, more warnings, and ignored more judgments than their fathers. Lamentations 5:7, then, is not an excuse for the people but an explanation of the severity of their suffering.

Inept rulers (Lamentations 5:8): Slaves rule over us! There is no one to deliver us from their hand. Babylonian mercenaries, some of whom had been former slaves of the Jews, now ruled over the land.

Inescapable danger (Lamentations 5:9): At the risk of our lives we bring our bread because of the sword of the wilderness. With no stable government to restrain them, marauding Bedouin tribes who lived on the fringes of the desert raided the valley farms. Only at great risk of life could the harvest be brought in.

Hunger (Lamentations 5:10): Our skin is hot like an oven because of the fever of hunger. A virtual famine continued to exist in the land and the people suffered greatly because of it. Malnutrition has resulted in disease with attendant fever.

Suffering of Specific Groups (Lamentations 5:11-14)

All sections of the population had suffered immeasurably.

Women and maidens (Lamentations 5:11): Women were ravished in Zion, maidens in the streets of Judah. The women of Judah had been raped. It was unsafe for a maiden to walk the streets of Jerusalem.

Princes and elders (Lamentations 5:12): Princes were hanged by their hands; elders were not respected. The princes of the land had been impaled and left to die a slow and shameful death. The cruel enemy had no respect for the older people of the land.

Young and old (Lamentations 5:13-14): Young men carried the mill and youths staggered with wood. (14) Elders have left the gate, young men their songs. What few young men survived the siege and capture of Jerusalem were forced to grind grain which was usually the work of women or slaves. Even the younger boys were compelled to serve the enemy by carrying huge loads of fire wood (Lamentations 5:13). Elders no longer assembled to conduct their business in the gates of the city. Young men could no longer get together to make merry (Lamentations 5:14).

Mental Condition (Lamentations 5:15-18)

In these verse the passage reaches its climax as the poet acknowledges the justice of the present sufferings.

Joy lost (Lamentations 5:15): The joy of our heart has ceased, our dance has changed to mourning. The once joyous people were now experiencing only bitter sorrow.

Glory lost (Lamentations 5:16): The crown of our head has fallen! Woe now to us, for we have sinned. Like a crown toppling from the head of a deposed monarch, so the glory of Judah has suddenly and completely been removed. The nation experiences misery and woe because we have sinned against God.

Temple lost (5:17-18): For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are darkened; (18) because of Mount Zion which is desolate, jackals walk on it. The heart of the people is sick with sorrow, their eyes darkened by tears because of the national loss (Lamentations 5:17). The sacred hill of Mount Zion where once proudly stood the Temple of Solomon is now desolate. Jackals have made their home in the ruins of God’s Temple (Lamentations 5:18). Sin always pays off in wages of death and destruction.

RESTORATION OF ZION REQUESTED

Lamentations 5:19-22

Having presented his case before the divine Judge Jeremiah enters his appeal.

Approach to God (Lamentations 5:19-20)

Praise (Lamentations 5:19): You, O LORD, are enthroned forever! Your throne is from generation to generation. The appeal is first anchored securely in a basic theological truth: the everlasting sovereign rule of Yahweh. The emphatic position of the pronoun suggests a contrast. The poet has described at length in Lamentations 5:1-18 the destruction and loss of all the temporal blessings which God had given His people. Earthly things may pass away but God remains. Though conditions of earth may seem to deteriorate, the Eternal is still on His throne. His Temple on earth may be destroyed but His heavenly throne cannot be overthrown. When the disillusioned and down-trodden recapture this basic truth they have laid the foundation upon which hope can be reconstructed and petition presented before God.

Perplexity (Lamentations 5:20): Why have You forgotten us forever, forsaken us for so many days? The appeal to God takes the form of a question. To those who had recently come through the siege of Jerusalem the prospects of fifty more years of servitude to Babylon (Jeremiah 25:12) seemed like an eternity. It seemed to them that God had forgotten and forsaken them forever. Suffering always leads to a sense of abandonment.

Petition to God (Lamentations 5:21-22)

Assistance in repentance (Lamentations 5:21 a): Turn us, O LORD, unto You that we may return! In desperation and complete submission they call upon God to help and aid them to properly repent. The people realize that restoration and renewal are dependent upon complete return to God and they are most anxious that their repentance meet with divine approval.

Assistance in restoration (Lamentations 5:21 b): Renew our days as of old. The suffering people ask God to restore Judah to its former state.

Assistance based on prior promises (Lamentations 5:22): Unless You have utterly rejected us, are angry with us exceedingly. An utter and complete rejection would not be in harmony with the promises that God already had made about the future of Israel (Jeremiah 27:19 ff; Jeremiah 29:10 ff). If God still rules, if the people are willing to submit to Him, if He has not utterly rejected them, then God must intervene on behalf of His people.

Thus the sad book of Lamentations closes with a fervent appeal for God’s aid and a confident expectation that He would indeed intervene on behalf of His people.

Further Comments on Lamentations Five

Renew Our Days

By Mark Garner

After its lengthy expressions of sorrow, regret, and pain, the book of Lamentations closes on a quiet note of hope for the future. Even as the faithful observer Jeremiah describes the sadness and horrors around him, he is fully conscious that God’s nature itself provides an undying promise of hope and mercy. The prophet knows that God does not discipline with the goal of punishment for punishment’s sake, but in order to renew his people when they stray from him, and to prepare them for better things in the future.

This fifth and final lament contains, in fact, some particularly important points that the sorrowful observer wants to make. The original Hebrew text emphasizes this by changing to a different format for this chapter only. Although the English translations cannot, unfortunately, render the change conveniently clear, it is still worthwhile to be aware of it.

The first four chapters of Lamentations are acrostics, in which each verse begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (the first verse begins with aleph, the second with beth, and so forth). The third chapter goes even further, in having each group of three verses begin with the same letter, in the same pattern (three starting with aleph, three starting with beth, and so on). But in this final lament, the author abandons this technique, as if to say that his closing thoughts must be rendered as directly as possible, without literary enhancement.

The message of the lament is rather simple. Most of it recites and recapitulates the sufferings God’s people have endured since the fall of Jerusalem (Lamentations 5:1-18). The style is more concise and straightforward than it is in the previous laments, because the purpose is different. The writer used the earlier laments to work through his (and the people’s) spiritual confusion and agony, but now he is moving towards a conclusion. Thus the same things are now recounted for a new purpose: rather than expressing emotion and asking for help, the writer knows that it is now time to accept everything that has happened and to move on according to God’s will.

The closing verses thus form a sober expression of our need for God and our dependence on God (Lamentations 5:19-21). If God’s people had taken these lessons to heart earlier, they could have spared themselves many sufferings. But it is time to put the past behind. They have had their time of self-reproach and self-pity, but these will no longer serve any purpose. In his compassion, God knows that we need time to recover from disappointments and disasters, but he also knows that there comes a time when we must put things behind us.

The closing thoughts are summarized in Lamentations 5:21, "Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old . . ." The desire for restoration with God is crucial to spiritual recovery. The awareness of the need to return to him provides a course of action for the spiritually struggling. And the knowledge that only God can truly renew us provides the humility that weak believers (that is, all of us at one time or another) will need in order to appreciate the blessings that God has in store for us.

REVIEW

1. In what respect is the fifth chapter of Lamentations different from the previous four chapters?

2. What did the inhabitants of Zion have to do in order to secure the necessities of life? Lamentations 5:4-6.

3. Is Lamentations 5:7 a complaint against the injustice of Zion’s punishment?

4. What is meant by “the sword of the wilderness”? Lamentations 5:9.

5. For what is the prophet praying in Lamentations 5:21?

The Book of Lamentations

By Ralph L. Starling

The "writer’s" words describes the deepest grief

For Jerusalem is now a miserable heap

The people’s suffering is beyond belief

Even children are cooked to provide meat

Still Judah hadn’t learned the lesson

Although Jerusalem became a great city

But when the messiah came they crucified Him

And in A.D. 70 Rome plundered them

The punishment is credited to God’s anger

Still Judah would no to Him surrender

Jeremiah felt that God had not heard his prayers

Still he felt God did what they deserved

What a moving conclusion to Jeremiah’s weeping

That should bring repentance to all that’s reading

Some has said, "History is written

That History need not be repeated."

 
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