Book of Lamentations


Authorship, date, and background The book of Lamentations, until the last several centuries, was attributed to Jeremiah the prophet. Various dates and unknown authors have been assigned to the book by those who do not think Jeremiah wrote it. The book itself makes clear that the author was an eye eyewitness who experienced what he was describing. Jeremiah was surely the best qualified to fit the circumstances and to account for the contents of the poems. He had been predicting the captivity and destruction of Jerusalem for forty years before it happened. Beholding the destroyed city, en route to Egypt, his soul was moved with anguish over what had happened and the memory remained with him as he wrote the poems between 586 B.C. and 538 B.C.

The book of Lamentations was one of five books included in the Megilloth (meaning scroll or roll). The Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Esther are the others of the scroll. Lamentations was read publicly on the ninth of Ab at an annual religious festival. The shortness of these five books made their public reading possible at Purim (Esther), Pentecost (Ruth), Tabernacles (Ecclesiastes), and Passover (Song of Songs), as well as the ninth of Ab. Chapters one, two, four and five have twenty-two verses. Chapter three has sixty-six. Part of the book follows an alphabetic acrostic. For example, in chapters one and two each verse starts with a Hebrew letter of the alphabet in order. This cannot be seen, of course, in the English versions. Chapter five does not use the acrostic form.

Characteristics and content Jeremiah, in writing this book, speaks of Jerusalem's former glories and present desolation. The contrast is marked. He acknowledges the righteousness of God in judgement even as the divine wrath is poured out in vengeance for sin. He accepts suffering with the knowledge that God who is the author of good and allows evil is responsive to the contrite of heart. Suffering, however, has its origin in man's transgressions and has for its ultimate purpose bringing the people of God to repentance. Jeremiah's description of the siege of Jerusalem is filled with pathos as he portrays the effect on the lives of the inhabitants. Using words like "we," "our," and "us" in the closing chapter, Jeremiah makes confession for the sins of God's people as he beseeches God to restore them to their inheritance.