The twenty-fifth book of the Bible is one that is rarely studied, taught, or preached on. This is a shame, because of many reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that this is inspired Scripture. It was given by God through His prophet, Jeremiah. There are lessons which can be learned from reading this short book, and ones which can easily apply today. An understanding of the overall concept of the book will be very helpful in understanding the book itself.
It’s 586 BC, and Jerusalem, the pride of the Jews, has just been completely destroyed. God’s chosen people have been captured, some brutally killed in the streets of the city, and the rest taken as prisoners of war by Babylon. The temple, a place designed by God Himself for the purpose of having a place for the people to worship Him, was abandoned by God and left in burning ruins. The people are in disbelief, scared, frightened, but at the same time, they are blaming God for their calamity. While God did indeed bring it upon them, Jeremiah constantly pointed out to them that it was their own fault that they had been taken captive, and that Jerusalem had been destroyed.
The Hebrew title for this book translates literally “How?” It is the first word of chapters 1, 2, and 4. It crystallizes the message of the book well. Jeremiah had been preaching for around 40 years to a people who would not listen. He had prophesied many times that Babylon would come destroy Jerusalem and take them captive, but no one would repent and do the things necessary to avert God’s punishment. How could this have taken place? How could those who were supposed to be God’s people act like God’s message was unimportant? How could God’s people think that by giving Him lip service, they would be saved? Perhaps a better question is how can Christians live and act in the exact same way today? Because many Christians indeed act exactly this way as if God will save them as long as they show up on Sunday morning.
Though for the most part the chapters and verses in our modern-day English Bible were added long after the books were written, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are an exception. This is a collection of five distinct Hebrew poems, each with specific verse divisions within themselves. In all but chapter three, the poems are 22 verses long, with each verse beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. These verses are in alphabetical order in the Hebrew. Chapter three is alphabetical like the others, but instead has three verses for each letter (i.e., Verses 1-3 is the first letter aleph, 4-6 is bait, and so on). This same structure also appears in some of the Psalms, most notably Psalm 119. Because of the mourning done by Jeremiah in these five laments, at least one person has said he was “weeping from A to Z.”[i]
These chapters have appropriately been termed “funeral dirges” by some, because Jerusalem has died. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of the destruction of Jerusalem. Chapter one deals with the fact of the destruction and the grief which came as a result. Chapter two deals with the anger of God towards Judah and their agony over the destruction of Jerusalem. Chapter three is a prayer for God’s mercy by Jeremiah, beginning with despair and ending with confidence in God. The fourth chapter describes the conditions during the siege of Jerusalem as well as the causes and consequences of the siege. The final chapter is Jeremiah’s prayer to restore Judah to a right relationship with God.
The final three verses of this book are appropriate in seeing the state of the people at this time. Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever and forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us, thou art very wroth against us (Lamentations 5:20-22). They feel forsaken, and say to God, “bring us back to you and we’ll stay faithful.” If only they had this willingness to be faithful when Jeremiah had been prophesying, they would not be in Babylonian captivity. Instead, since they rejected God, God rejected them. Now, Christian, are you being faithful to God? God has shown multiple times that He will indeed reject and destroy His people when they are not faithful to Him.
Examine yourselves as you examine the book of Lamentations.
[i] Open Bible, Expanded Edition: King James Version. Introduction to the “Lamentations of Jeremiah.” (page 760).