“Introduction to the Book of Lamentations,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)
“Lamentations,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
The book of Lamentations reveals Judah’s pathetic condition following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, which occurred as a result of the people’s sins and disregard for prophetic warnings. By studying Lamentations students can gain insight into the sorrow, remorse, and consequences that can accompany sin. Students will also learn about the compassion and mercy the Lord extends to those who turn to Him in their sorrows.
The book of Lamentations was written by Jeremiah (see “Bible Dictionary, “Lamentations, book of”). Lamentations contains sorrowful reactions to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in about 586 B.C., which took place during Jeremiah’s lifetime.
Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations sometime after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. We do not know where Jeremiah was when he wrote this book, but he may have been in either Jerusalem or Egypt (see Jeremiah 43:6–7).
The entire book of Lamentations is written in carefully constructed poetry. The first four chapters form acrostics. An acrostic is a poetic form in which the first letters of each line or verse form a meaningful sequence. The book of Lamentations contains acrostic compositions that are based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Lamentations 1, 2, and 4 each contain 22 verses, each of which begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in alphabetical order. Lamentations 3 contains 66 verses. In this chapter the first three verses each begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next three verses each begin with the second letter, and so on. Lamentations 5 contains 22 verses but is not acrostic. (See Bible Dictionary, “Lamentations, book of.”)
Poetically, the use of acrostics gives structure and sequence to the expression of Judah’s overwhelming grief in circumstances that must have seemed chaotic, senseless, and devoid of any order. The use of this literary device also reflects the thoughtful use of language in crying out to God.
In its poetic expression of the people’s grief, shock, and suffering, Lamentations resembles other poetic books in the Old Testament, such as Job and Psalms (see Psalms 74; 79). However, unlike many books in the Old Testament, Lamentations does not contain any responses from the Lord; it captures only the suffering and longing that the people experienced before the Lord showed mercy to them.
Lamentations 1–2 Jeremiah laments the desolate state of Jerusalem following its destruction by the Babylonians. He acknowledges that Jerusalem was destroyed because the people rebelled against the commandments of the Lord.
Lamentations 3 Jeremiah prays for Judah’s deliverance and expresses hope in the Lord, whose mercy is upon those who trust in Him.
Lamentations 4 Jeremiah compares the conditions of the Jews before and after the destruction of Jerusalem. He sorrows as he considers the pitiful state of the people and acknowledges that these conditions are the result of sin.
Lamentations 5 Jeremiah prays for those who survived the destruction of Jerusalem, pleading for God to notice their desolation, forgive them, and allow them to return to the Lord and be restored as a people.