An Introduction to The Book of Lamentations

Nancy Hatcher, Volunteer Writer | June 3, 2024

We live in a very sad and hurting world. Wars, famines, natural disasters, and horrible divisive politics are the lead stories nightly on our news stations. The book of Lamentations is a bitter story of when Israel’s treasured city, Jerusalem, falls into the hands of the Babylonians, and the Israelites are exiled.

Just like we do today, Jeremiah, the assumed writer who laments* in the book of Lamentations, asks God questions about moving on with his future when he is so terribly broken by sadness, humiliation, pain, and anger. 

*What does “lament” mean? It means to express great sadness or feel sorry about something. For example, you might lament over the death of a loved one.

Jeremiah realizes this is a collective consequence of the Kingdom of Judah’s rebellion. The prophets had foretold of the destruction (Jeremiah 36:1–18), but the people continued to doubt that God would destroy their homeland and then exile them.

The acrostic poems of the Book of Lamentations give readers a glimpse into the depth of pain Judah experienced around 586 BC. 

At the beginning of the book Jerusalem is personified in the poem as a woman, and there is hard-to-process graphic imagery, including starvation, rape, and also cannibalism.

The book of Lamentations gives people who suffer a voice. In Lamentations 1:3,7,20, Jeremiah grieves the losses, as the woman in the poem turns towards God with her complaint instead of away. In this passage, there seems to be very little hope offered, and sins are compared to a heavy yoke or weight (1:14). 

This physical exile lasted for seventy years, but there is a great sense in this writing that the emotional exile lasted even longer.

It should also be noted that the suffering mankind experiences is not always a consequence of our sin, but sadly, sometimes it is.

God welcomes our anger, our bitterness, and all of our questions.

What can we Learn from the Book of Lamentations?

The word ‘lament’ is not commonly used today. As a noun, it means: “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow,” and as a verb, it means: “to mourn a person’s loss or death.” 

We all lament or grieve; as Christians, it is an important aspect of our faith. Other passages in the Bible, like the Psalms, Job and Habakkuk, show people of faith lamenting. And yes, these people in the Bible express their pain and even their doubts openly and honestly to God, friends and loved ones. 

If we choose to ignore lamenting through life’s difficulties and pretend we are fine, our relationship with God is stifled. We don’t give the Holy Spirit room to heal our hearts. The book of Lamentations tells us that God welcomes our anger, our bitterness, and all of our questions. Sometimes, even when we feel we have very little faith and it is hard to believe in a God who loves us, we still need to turn to Him and ask for help.  

Often, we can only groan.

Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit will groan with us and intervene on our behalf. Sometimes, lamenting also means admitting our sins to God (Lamentations 1:20). We are told in the Bible not to bear our burdens all by ourselves (Psalm 68:19-20). The Book of Lamentations gives us hope as we grieve loss in our world.

Examining Key Verses in the Book of Lamentations 

In Chapter 1, Jeremiah, through the imagined voice of a grieving woman, tells of how she is stuck between a “rock and a very hard place, lost everything, and of the massacres and starvation the streets and houses (1:3,7,20 MSG). In verse 12 MSG), the woman says, “Is there any suffering like my suffering?”   

In Chapter 2, the writer speaks of needing God desperately. His soul is tormented over the possibility of women destroying their own children (2:20 MSG). 

In Chapter 3, Jeremiah says he is living in a terrible darkness that he can’t escape and feels the enemy is tracking him down and using him for target practice. (3:5-13 MSG) Yet, in verses 3:19-24, some of the most loved verses in Christianity are penned. The author pivots and tells us that God’s love is new every morning and that he is holding on tight to the Lord, and because of this love, we will never be consumed. At the end of this chapter, we also see a great foreshadowing of what is to come. The prophet tells the people to offer their cheeks to those who would strike them (3:30 MSG), just as Jesus offered his whole life as a living sacrifice for our sins. 

In Chapter 4, the writer goes back to the structure of Chapters 1 and 2, recounting the horror of what is happening in the destruction of Jerusalem, and recounts their grief (4:6).  Again, another verse (4:20) foreshadows the coming of the anointed one, Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 5, Jeremiah’s grief and suffering are not wrapped up in a tidy bow or solution. The writer summarizes the horror of what Israel experienced in this final book and tells of the Lord’s continual reign on our planet (5:16).

It is a Sad story, but it is not the End of the Story!

In this historic, well-documented exile, the Jewish people were punished for their rebellion from God but eventually were able to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. In the book of Lamentations, the emotions of this real-life horror story are spoken of in great detail, and it helps us to understand God’s relationship with his people and the consequences of sin. 

When God sent his only son, Jesus, to the world years after this exile, Jesus became exiled from his home in heaven. Our world hated him and crucified him. Jesus knows what it is like to be an exile. 

But the miraculous happened on the cross.

Jesus took our exile for us. When he hung on the cross, our Heavenly Father turned his face away from his son. And Jesus took on all the sin that separates us from God. We can come home to God and live with God and Jesus forever if we choose to believe (John 3:16). 

In the end, the book of Lamentations teaches us that hope exists in the middle of despair if we turn from our sin, gaze into our Savior’s eyes, choose a new way, and follow him out of our exile.

A prayer to accept Jesus

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to Earth to rescue me from my sin. I choose to accept your gift of Jesus, his death on the cross for my sin. I am turning from my sin today and choose to follow you daily. Thank you for forgiving me and for the gift of eternal life, now and forever. It is in your name I will always pray. Amen    

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