We begin our study of Jeremiah in Lamentations. This is where Jeremiah ends, in the destruction of the nation, it's capital Jerusalem, and the Temple. Jeremiah is the story of how it all came to this.
Lamentations is powerful poetry. Five poems. Four are acrostics. Chapters 1,2 & 4 are alphabetic acrostics: v1 begins with 'a', v2 with 'b', v3 with 'c' ....v22 'z' (there are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.) Chapter 3 is an acrostic where each group of three verses begins with the same letter at the start of each verse - aaa,bbb...zzz. Chapter 5 has 22 verses but is not an acrostic - perhaps indicating that things are falling apart.
Lamentations is a 'lament' - think of the music from Schindler's List. This book is read every year on the 9th Ab (in the Jewish calendar) in the Synagogue to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC and AD 70, and to remember other dreadful events such as the Holocaust.
Carl Trueman asks: "What can miserable Christians sing?". The Psalms contain many laments. You need look no further than Psalms 3,4,5,7,10, 12...22...74...79...137. The Psalms allow us to "express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship." The book of Lamentations reminds us that life is not one long celebration or street party.
Lamentations does for us corporately what Job does individually. Both are Biblical 'theodicy'. Defined in the 'New Dictionary of Theology' as:
THEODICY (from the Greek theos, ‘God’, and the root dik, ‘just’,) seeks to ‘justify the ways of God to man’, showing that God is in the right and is glorious and worthy of praise despite contrary appearances. Theodicy asks how we can believe that God is both good and sovereign in face of the world’s evil .
This is why the most famous verse is Lamentations 3:23b 'great is your faithfulness'. Attention is drawn to this as it comes in the central and longest chapter.
Who wrote Lamentations? An eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
Jeremiah? We know that he wrote laments - 2 Chron 35:25 Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah;
There are no clues in the text so we cannot be sure who wrote it.
LAMENTATIONS CHAPTER ONE
v1-11 the poet speaks about Jerusalem; v12-22 Jerusalem speaks about herself. The whole chapter is full of the disaster and distress that has come to the city. Note the word all - in 14 of the verses, emphasises the totality of the disaster, with none to comfort: v2,9,16,17,21.
v1-11: The Desolate City Pictured as a Weeping Woman
v1-3: The utter distress and loneliness of Jerusalem:
v1 In Hebrew the opening word is 'alas' the title of the book. A princess who was great among the nations, now lonely: bereaved, childless, widowed, and enslaved.
v2 Weeping, comfort less, betrayed.
v3 The nation in exile....afflicted, hard-labour, restless and distressed
v4-6: Zion's former splendour is remembered:
v4 The roads mourn their loss of pilgrims, no one passes through her gates, no one seeks a priest, or a bride. The city suffers bitterly.
v5 The enemy prospers. The children are captives. Why? Why has all this happened? Where was the Lord? It was HE who brought this about for the multitude of her transgressions.
v6 The majesty has gone. Princess have become like thin, starving, frightened deer.
v7-9: Jerusalem desolation is a result of her sins:
v7 All that's left are the memories. No one came to the rescue. The enemy has won and gloats and mocks.
v8 Job did not suffer because of his sin, Jerusalem does. The world despises the Lord's people when they sin grievously.
v9a 'Buy now pay later'! How will you pay when the day of reckoning comes? Jerusalem gave the matter no thought. Again the fact she has no comforter is highlighted.
v9b The first direct appeal to the Lord. O LORD behold my affliction.
v10-11: The enemy that defiles and despises:
v10 The Temple is defiled. An argument for God to act - those whom you forbade to enter...
v11 Food is scarce and worth more than treasure. An appeal to the Lord to look and see.
Though he may be cross with us we may still appeal to him: v9&11.