Date: Sixth Century B.C.
Although the Book of Lamentations is anonymous, there has never been any real doubt that Jeremiah was its author. It was written by an eyewitness of the destruction of Jerusalem, lamenting that fact, hence its name, Lamentations. It is a funeral song, written in the rhythm and style of ancient Jewish dirges. The first line of the two-line couplets has three parts to it and the second line only two. The repetition of this rhythm, with the third element systematically missing, is a stylistic reminder of the absence of the loved one, in this case, the city of Jerusalem.
To the Jews of the Old Testament, Jerusalem’s fall was the loss of everything: their temple, priesthood, sacrificial system, capital city, nation, and large numbers of their loved ones. For the survivors of the destruction, it meant a forced march of about 2,000 miles to Babylon, where they then had to live in exile, servitude, and misery.
Theological Themes in the Book of Lamentations
The spirit of the Book of Lamentations goes beyond merely weeping over the past. Here we have an implicit warning that to transgress is to invite disaster. The prophets had predicted that God would judge the sins of his people if they did not repent. Now, the ashes of the city were testimony to the fact that God had spoken and was true to his word. History was thus a vindication of God and his righteousness. It was also a declaration of the wrath of God, never a popular concept. Most people choose to emphasize the softer side of God, and properly so, but that understanding must never obscure the fact that God is not to be trifled with. When we ignore the needs of those around us, trampling on justice, God will step in to right those wrongs. It is a grim reminder that it does not pay to rebel against God.
Lamentations has another side, however. Although the nation of Judah is cast down, it is not without hope. The people may yet trust God and find pardon. God is one whose mercies are renewed every morning, whose faithfulness is great (3:19-39). We see the value of patience, prayer, and confession of sin. God does not hold grudges and is willing to start over anytime we are willing to acknowledge our errors and resubmit ourselves to him.
Outline for the Book of Lamentations
- Judah’s desolation and sorrow Lamentations 1:1-22
- The vindication of God Lamentations 2:1-22
- Judah’s hope in God’s mercy Lamentations 3:1-66
- Judah’s future glory Lamentations 4:1-22
- A final prayer Lamentations 5:1-22