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Book of Lamentations

Book of Lamentations
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

The book of Jeremiah is followed in the Bible by the book of the Lamentations of Jeremias, which was written soon after the devastation of Jerusalem. Delivered in five chapters, the Book of Lamentations offers a sustained lament over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. It was the Lord who brought this disaster on his people because of their sins. But because of the Lord's promises to Moses and David, the psalmist is certain that, if Israel repents, confesses her guilt, and trusts in the Lord, she can count on his mercy and forgiveness. There will come a time of restoration.

Each of the five chapters is an individual psalm which is complete in itself The first four are "acrostic," that is, each of the 22 sets of verses begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, one after the other--AA, BB, CC, etc. The purpose of this acrostic device seems to be to establish some sense of divine order in the midst of suffering and social chaos.

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The basic movement of each psalm is as follows:

  1. Two speakers, the psalmist and Zion herself, lament the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. The psalmist and Zion describe the Day of the Lord that has happened.
  3. An individual laments and expresses his hope for deliverance.
  4. The people express a communal lament in which they survey the desolate city.
  5. The community humbly appeals to the Lord from its present pitiable state.

The five psalms express the viewpoint of someone standing in the desolate city, in the midst of the ruins of the Temple, who raises his sorrowing heart to the Lord. They recognize the prophetic truth that there is a direct connection between sin and suffering. Because Judah was not faithful to the Covenant with the Lord, she is punished with destruction. The prophets, like Jeremiah and Isaiah, had warned her again and again, but to no avail.

The Lord, however, is faithful; He is merciful and compassionate and will restore His favor to His people when they have a change of heart. So the poem is not all despair; it contains an undercurrent of hope and trust in God, which become explicit in the fifth chapter or psalm.

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Detailed Outline.

  1. First Lament 1:1–22
    1. Jerusalem destroyed 1:1–7
    2. Destruction follows sin 1:8–11
    3. A plea for mercy 1:12–22
  2. Second Lament 2:1–22
    1. God’s hostility towards His people 2:1–9
    2. Sufferings consequent upon famine 2:10–13
    3. True and false prophets 2:14–17
    4. A tearful prayer to God 2:18–22
  3. Third Lament 3:1–66
    1. The lament of the afflicted 3:1–21
    2. Divine mercies recalled 3:22–39
    3. A call for spiritual renewal 3:40–42
    4. The consequences of sin 3:43–54
    5. Comfort and imprecation 3:55–66
  4. Fourth Lament 4:1–22
    1. Earlier days recalled 4:1–12
    2. Sin and its results 4:13–20
    3. Punishment promised for Edom 4:21–22
  5. Fifth Lament 5:1–22
    1. A plea for mercy 5:1–10
    2. The nature of sin 5:11–18
    3. A plea for divine restoration 5:19–22

We continue with the Holy Prophet Jeremias by turning to the Book of Baruch.

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