Orphans and widows (Lam 5:3-5:4)

“We have become

Orphans!

We are fatherless!

Our mothers are

Like widows!

We must pay

For the water

We drink!

The wood

We get

Must be bought.”

Assuming the first person plural, this author laments the situation of him and his friends left in Jerusalem. They have become orphans, without fathers. Their mothers have become widows. They have to pay for the water and the wood for their existence. Life is tough.

Yahweh causes the death of many in Jerusalem (Lam 2:21-2:21)

Shin

“The young

With the old

Are lying

On the ground

In the streets.

My young women

With my young men

Have fallen

By the sword.

In the day

Of your anger,

You have killed them,

Slaughtering

Without mercy.”

Suddenly, the author switches to the first person singular as Jerusalem itself laments the death of its people. Both the young and the old people were lying in the streets dead. Both the young men and the young women were killed by the sword. Now this author, speaking as Jerusalem, blames all of this on Yahweh. He claimed with a very strong accusation that on the day of his anger, Yahweh killed and slaughtered the people of Jerusalem without mercy. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Shin. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.

Does anything compare to Jerusalem (Lam 2:13-2:13)

Mem

“What can I say

To you?

To what shall

I compare you?

O daughter Jerusalem!

To what can I liken you?

How may I comfort you?

O virgin daughter Zion!

Vast as the sea

Is your ruin.

Who can heal you?”

Now the author laments about how to compare what has happened in Jerusalem. Is there anything comparable? How can he comfort Zion? This virgin daughter Zion is beyond healing. Her ruin is as vast as the sea. This author of the Lamentations really sounds like a distraught elderly widow who has lost her husband. Perhaps there is an element of exaggeration, as if no other city had ever suffered defeat or ruin. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Mem. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.

The lack of food (Lam 1:11-1:11)

Kaph

“All her people groan.

They search for bread.

They trade

Their treasures

For food

To revive

Their strength.

‘Look!

Yahweh!

See!

How worthless

I have become!’”

Once again, we have the shift from a third person description about Jerusalem to a first person singular Jerusalem itself praying directly to Yahweh, the God of Israel. All the people were groaning due to the lack of bread or nourishment. They were trading their treasures for food, which makes sense. They wanted to revive their strength. This verse ends with the first person singular plea to Yahweh. Jerusalem laments how worthless she has become. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Kaph. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.

The lonely city (Lam 1:1-Lam 1:1)

Aleph

“How lonely

Sits the city

That once was

Full of people!

How like a widow,

She has become!

She that was great

Among the nations!

She that was

A princess

Among the provinces!

She has become

A vassal.”

This first verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Aleph. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem. This author laments that this once inhabited city is now lonely like a widow. This city was great among the nations like a princess, but now it has become a vassal slave. Thus the tone for these lamentations has been set. Although not explicitly mentioned here, the obvious reference is to the lonely city Jerusalem.

The punishment (Jer 9:10-9:11)

“Take up weeping!

Wail for the mountains!

Take up a lamentation

For the pastures of the wilderness!

Because they are laid waste,

Thus no one passes through.

The lowing of cattle is not heard.

The birds of the air

Have fled.

The animals are gone.

I will make Jerusalem

A heap of ruins.

I will make it

A lair of jackals.

I will make the towns of Judah

A desolation without inhabitants.”

Now Yahweh reveals his punishment but he laments doing it. He wants them to cry and weep for the mountains and the pastures because they were going to become a wasteland. They will not hear the cattle, the birds, or other animals because they will have gone and fled away. Jerusalem will be a ruined heap and a home for jackals, while the towns of Judah will become desolate towns without anyone living there.

Vanity of vanities (Eccl 1:2-1:3)

“‘Vanity of vanities!’

Says Qoheleth.

‘Vanity of vanities!

All is vanity!

What do people gain

From all the toil

At which they toil

Under the sun?’”

This book starts with a poem to vanity. This is the superlative Hebrew usage of hebel. What is the worst vanity? This hebel is vapor or something unsubstantial, futile or vain. This term “vanity” occurs over 38 times here in this biblical book that shows the futility of humans. Is everything vain and futile? What is the reward for hard work? If all you do is work hard under the sun, what is your reward. This is somewhat reminiscent of Job and his laments.