Introduction to Lamentations

Author : Keith Sharp

It is nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Behold and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
Which has been brought on me,
Which the LORD has inflicted
In the day of His fierce anger (Lamentations 1:12)

Title

The word “Lamentations” means “mourning aloud, wailing, expressing sorrow.” The title well describes the book.

Author

It is not certain who wrote Lamentations. Consistent tradition assigns the book to Jeremiah. This harmonizes with the internal evidence. The author was an eye witness of the destruction of Jerusalem (2:11; 4:17). Compare Jeremiah 38:6 with Lamentations 3:53-55.

Setting

The book was written in Jerusalem after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (1:3-4). Whereas the book of Jeremiah looks forward with warning to Judah’s impending destruction, Lamentations mourns aloud the accomplished doom.

Theme

The theme of Lamentations is mourning over Jerusalem’s destruction (1:12). In this doleful book the heart broken poet properly expresses the grief of the righteous in the face of great calamity brought on by the sins of his people. The author vents his grief but recognizes the justice of the punishment.

Form

The book consists of five poems, four of which are acrostic, that is, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in alphabetical sequence. This was a favorite form of Hebrew poetry, adopted to help the memory.

The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters. In chapters 1,2, and 4, each verse begins with a new Hebrew letter in alphabetical order, and in chapter 3 every third verse does. (To see the Hebrew letters and their names, look at Psalm 119, which is alphabetic. Each 8 verse section begins with a Hebrew letter in alphabetical order through all 22 letters, making 176 verses. The translators have put the Hebrew letter and its name at the beginning of each section.)

Outline

I. Zion Desolate – chapter 1
II. God’s Anger Destroyed Jerusalem’s Beauty – chapter 2
III. Jeremiah’s Grief – chapter 3
IV. Horror of the Siege – chapter 4
V. Remember, O Lord! – chapter 5

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