Lamentations was written anonymously, though many scholars believe it was written by the prophet Jeremiah. It is a collection of five lament or funeral poems offered on behalf of Jerusalem after its destruction by Babylon in 587 B.C. (2 Kings 24-25).
These lament poems can be found elsewhere in Scripture, like the Psalms, and are used as a form of protest, calling everyone’s attention to the injustice of what’s happening in the world, a way to process difficult emotions and a safe place to voice confusion about suffering.
Chapters one through four are acrostic poems; each verse begins with a sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s interesting that the author uses such an orderly structure when writing about such disorderly emotions, grief and suffering.
Chapter one explores the grief and shame of “Lady Zion.” The author personifies Jerusalem as a widow, or the daughter of Zion, who sits alone in her grief with no one to comfort her. She speaks of her utter distress, and the author describes her grief over her destruction like that of the death of a loved one.
In Chapter two, the author explains why this destruction came upon Jerusalem. It was a consequence of generations of sin and was brought about by God’s wrath and justice. The author laments the consequences of sin, and pleads with God to once again show mercy to His people.
Chapter three presents Jerusalem’s grief as a suffering man, representing the whole people. This character sees God’s purposes for allowing suffering, that it is a form of God’s justice, but this suffering man also looks to the truth of God’s justice as a source of hope.
Chapter four creates a striking contrast between what life was like before the siege of Jerusalem, and what life was like during it. The poet writes of how joy became mourning, wealth became poverty and honor became shame and disgrace.
The poet begins chapter five with a prayer for God’s mercy. The poet speaks on behalf of the whole nation of Israel and pleads for God to have mercy on them and to not abandon them, despite their sin. He asks God not to forget any of them.
The book ends without a resolution to Israel’s suffering. In Lamentations 5:19-22, the poet recognizes that God is the sovereign Lord, but His people are still grieving.
Grief: The book of Lamentations is full of intense emotions and overwhelming grief. It doesn’t shy away from the suffering Israel endured after its destruction by Babylon, but rather invites the reader to share in its suffering.
God’s wrath: Lamentations helps the reader develop a better understanding of what God’s wrath means. His divine wrath is a result of His divine justice. He is not a God who strikes against people for no reason and He is slow to anger and faithful, but He is also perfectly just.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Lamentations is a vital book in understanding our relationship with suffering. It shows God’s people the importance of turning to Him in prayer when our suffering and grief are great, and provides examples of how to process through grief and pain.
This book is a reminder that life does not come without suffering, rather it is an important part of our relationship to God. These poems show the reader that when our hurts are overwhelming, the healthiest response we can have is to cry out to God.