Introduction to the Book of Lamentations
and Study of Lamentations 1-2
August 3rd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2015

Lamentations (Overview)

The book of Lamentations is assumed to have been written by Jeremiah during the final siege of Jerusalem. The five chapters in this book express his personal grief on behalf of the nation. The book does not present any solutions for getting past the underlying problem but provides us with language to express grief and assurance that God is with us even in our deepest despair. We will divide the set of chapters in to two study days, as shown below:

References used for the study of this book include the following:

Lamentations 1-2 (Not Gonna Say I Told You So)

Please refer to the Bible version of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, links are provided below that take you directly to these chapters in multiple Bible versions:

Lamentations 1-2 (King James Version - KJV)
Lamentations 1-2 (New Revised Standard Version - NRSV)
Lamentations 1-2 (New International Version - NIV)
Lamentations 1-2 (The Message - MSG)

In addition, the link below takes you to the NAB version from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Introduction to Lamentations (New American Bible - NAB) (click the "next chapter" link on the site for chapters 1-2)

Key Verses

How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal

- Lamentations 1:1 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

The first chapter begins with a poetic description of an empty and sad city that contrasts with the bustling metropolis of its golden years. Jeremiah compares the city to a friendless widow who was once wealthy and is now a slave. Her friends have become her enemies and there is no one to console her. The roads that used to be filled with pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for feasts are now empty. Jeremiah acknowledges the root cause of these troubles, “The LORD has brought her grief because of her many sins (Lam 1:5 - NIV).”

The invasion by Babylon led to the destruction of the most holy site as the enemy entered the inner room of the temple – where only the high priests were allowed – and stole the treasures used in worship.

The people are so hungry that they traded their most prized possessions for crumbs of food. Jeremiah depicts the nations as holding its hands to God, but there is no safety net this time. The people had gone too far in their rebellion against their creator. The (former) leaders are impotent as they are dying of hunger, unable to even help themselves.

In the final verse of this first chapter, Jeremiah once again recognizes that the sins of the nation are the cause of this disaster, but asks for the same punishment to be pronounced on the enemies of Judah.

The second chapter begins a new poem along the same lines as the first one. This one begins with an emphasis of the depth of the LORD’s wrath and anger. He has become like an enemy to himself, as he destroys his own house and temple. He allowed the foreigners to enter the temple and shout – not in worship, but in a barbaric victory cry. As the walls and gates fell, the elders could do nothing but put ashes on their head and don sack clothes in a traditional mourning position.

The children were suffering because of the sins of their parents. They have no food and were fainting in the streets. Jeremiah reminds the folks that the prophets they had believed in were proven to be wrong. The false prophets had been forecasting sunny days 24/7/365, consequently their audience did not expect this tragedy. Jeremiah describes the reactions of observers who shake their heads in disbelief at the turn of events.

There is a river full of tears as there appears to be no relief in sight. Hungry people are driven to unimaginable levels of desperation. Jeremiah closes the chapter by noting that the disaster strikes everyone evenly:

Reflection and Application

Jeremiah shows great restraint in these chapters. In the original Hebrew, both chapters were written as acrostics – each line began with the subsequent letter of the alphabet. Although he shared in the hunger and misery he was able to discipline himself to write these chapters in a controlled way. You can see a Hebrew version of the text at the link below. You may not be able to read Hebrew, but can see that each verse 1 from both chapters begins on the far right with the same character (aleph, which looks like a fancy x). Likewise, each of the 2nd verses begins with bet, which looks like a backward c with a dot in the middle. These are the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The alphabetic acrostic style continues up to the 22nd line.

Lamentations 1-2 (The Westminster Leningrad Codex)

Jeremiah also showed great restraint in not shouting out, “I TOLD YOU SO!” He did point out the error of the false prophets, but stopped short of taking the next step. Presumably the people got the message.

How was he able to channel such control in adverse circumstances? He seemed to show a penchant for quick thinking under stress and discipline in times of distress. Maybe it was his genetic disposition, or maybe his close relationship with the LORD allowed him to draw patience and wisdom from the source. Isn’t this what God wants to offer us? If we are seeking to improve our performance under stressful situations then maybe we should plan to spend extra time in prayer. We don’t always know when these situations may arise, so we may want to spend a good portion of time every day seeking our LORD's presence.

How quickly the tables can turn. The family of the con man Bernie Madoff can probably relate to how the people of Jerusalem felt. They were flying high, attracting investors and money, surrounded by friends and admirers, but all for reasons that were built on falsehoods on top of lies. When the house of cards tumbled down in 2009, the family resembled the friendless widow in Lamentations whose former friends are now their enemies, seeking justice and revenge because Bernie had wiped out their life savings.

If we build our lives on lies we don’t have a safety net. If we focus our lives around God we can tap his wisdom and protection. This does not mean we will avoid all suffering on earth, but it does mean we have hope for an eventual restoration and can receive comfort during any storm of life.

God provides comfort, but he also delivers justice to those who perpetually oppose him. There is no limit to the types of punishments that God might carry out. His own people and temple were not exempt because the crime had been so extreme. He needed to cleanse the population and even the land itself, so he allowed the Babylonians to enter the Holy Sanctuary and do as they wished. Of course, they too paid a price for this. The takeaway for us is to remind ourselves that there is no limit on what God might do to correct the world. We should be careful not to assume we know where he will draw the line. We don’t know. Only God knows and for him, there is no line, no limit. We ought to fear and respect him – this is the beginning of our lesson in wisdom, as we learned in Psalms and Proverbs.

Our sins and mistakes are absorbed by our families and the people who depend on us. Let us choose the right path not just for ourselves but for those who depend on us, and then lead them by example.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What experiences have you had visiting cities or towns that were once prosperous but had fallen into despair and disrepair?
    2. What are some of the false assumptions of safety in our world?
    3. If you wrote an acrostic with adjectives about God, what would be the adjectives you would use for each letter of the alphabet?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you are the only safe choice. Help us make the right choice and tell others about it with the same enthusiasm and loyalty as Jeremiah.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People who have been swindled by hucksters and con artists

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Lamentations 3-5 (S.O.S)

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