This Book of Lamentations is a short collection of five poetic laments about the destruction of Jerusalem. In the Hebrew Bible it is considered part of the Ketuvim, the Writings, the Five Scrolls. In the Christian Old Testament, it follows the Book of Jeremiah. Although Jeremiah was considered its traditional author, this is no longer generally accepted. The destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BCE forms the background to these poems. This book is partly a traditional lament about the destruction of Jerusalem and partly a bleak funeral bereavement.
Lamentations consists of five distinct poems, corresponding to its five chapters. The first four are written as acrostics. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 each have 22 verses, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew consonant alphabet. The first lines begin with the first letter of the alphabet, the second with the second letter, and so on. Chapter 3 has 66 verses, so that each letter begins every three lines. Finally, the fifth poem is not acrostic, but still has 22 lines.
The language fits the exile period of 586–520 BCE. These poems probably originated from Judeans who were not exiled. There may be one or more authors. There is a change from a first person point of view, singular and plural, as well as a feminine and masculine narrative, despite the fact that it was one style.
In the first lamentation poem, Jerusalem sits as a desolate weeping widow overcome with miseries. After the Greek introduction that maintains that Jeremiah was the author, this author laments Jerusalem, the lonely and weeping city. The people of Judah have been exiled. Zion is suffering because of the captivity. All the princes have fled Jerusalem, but it remembered its sins and its unclean state. The attackers had invaded its sanctuary. The remaining Judeans lacked food. There was great sorrow in Jerusalem after the devastating fire and the crushing defeat of Zion. The people of Jerusalem bore the yoke of their sins. After this crushing defeat, they are weeping in Jerusalem, but there was no one to comfort them. Yahweh is just, but he was a deceived lover. While Jerusalem was distressed, her enemies were happy about her personal guilt.
In the second lamentation poem, these miseries are described in connection with the Israelite national sins and the anger of Yahweh, their God. Judah was destroyed. There was a great fire in Jerusalem. Yahweh had become their enemy. He brought great destruction as he destroyed his own Temple and scorned his altar. The walls of Jerusalem were ruined. The kings and princes were exiled, so that only those mourning remained in Jerusalem. Thus there was the personal lamentation about the fainting children. Does anything compare to the pain of Jerusalem? They had suffered from the false visions of their prophets. The enemies of Jerusalem have derided them. Yahweh did what he wanted to do, despite the cry of Zion and its children to Yahweh for help. Yahweh caused the death of many in Jerusalem in the day of his anger.
In the third lamentation poem, this author speaks of hope for the people of God. The punishments would only be for their own good, because a better day would dawn for them. They would have their own personal suffering and distress. This author felt walled in with this situation. Vicious animals were all around him. He had become the laughing stock of this people. He had forgotten happiness because he only had bitter thoughts. However, he was waiting for the faithful love of Yahweh. He knew that silence was good. Yahweh would have compassion on him. Yahweh in his power would care for him. He had made a proclamation of guilt to the impenetrable Yahweh. His enemies had left him with crying eyes, because he was a lost hunted one. He prayed from the bottom of the pit for the saving redemption of Yahweh, despite all the taunts of his enemy. In the end, he wanted his enemies destroyed.
In the fourth lamentation poem, this author laments the ruin and desolation of Jerusalem and its Temple, but traces it to the people’s sins. They were like dimming gold. The precious children of Zion were suffering. No one was caring for the young ones as there was starving children. The dead people were lying in the streets for their punishment. The wonderful Jerusalem princes were transformed into a bleak dark situation. Death would be better than famine. Thus they turned to cannibalism. The fire of Yahweh tore down the strong gates of Jerusalem because they had been lead by sinful prophets and priests. These blind wandering leaders were like immoral lepers. The disgraced priests and elders were like blind people. Their days were numbered as they were being pursued. Their anointed king was gone, but Edom would also receive punishments.
In the fifth lamentation poem, there is a prayer that Zion’s reproach may be taken away. They want to repent so that the people might recover. This is often attributed to Jeremiah himself. They knew that they deserved their punishments. There were so many orphans and widows who had a hard life. They had inherited the sins of the ancestors as they now bad living conditions. There was disrespect for people with rapes all over the place. They had to change their work habits. The joy was gone since they were sick. Yahweh had talked and acted on the Judeans. However, there was a hope of restoration.
Beginning with the reality of disaster, Lamentations concludes with the possibility that Yahweh may have finally rejected Israel. In fact, Yahweh caused this disaster. This poet acknowledges that his suffering was a just punishment. His hope came from his recollection of Yahweh’s past goodness. This he cried to God to deliver them. There was no guarantee that he would. Despite all, he affirms his confidence that the mercies of Yahweh will never end.