The five chapters of Lamentations are five poems, each lamenting the destruction and desolation that came to Jerusalem as a result of the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The first chapter, for example, is an acrostic poem; each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The poems function as a formal ritual by which the exiles could grieve over the calamity, over their pain and loss.
Traditionally the book has been ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, although no name is attached to it. No matter who wrote it, as one scholar noted, “the whole song stands so near the events that one feels everywhere as if the terrible pictures of the destruction stand still immediately before the eyes of the one lamenting.”
Orthodox Jews read aloud the entire book on the ninth day of the month Ab, the traditional date of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. In Christian traditions, Lamentations is often read during the days of Holy Week.
(Contemporary English Version)
The Prophet Speaks:
1Jerusalem, once so crowded,
lies deserted and lonely.
This city that was known
all over the world
is now like a widow.
This queen of the nations
has been made a slave.
“It was common in the Old Testament for cities to be portrayed as women,” says the footnote for this verse in The Archaeological Study Bible.
2Each night, bitter tears flood her cheeks.
None of her former lovers
are there to offer comfort;
her friends have betrayed her and are now her enemies.
The “lovers” and “friends” refer to foreign allies who had promised to help Judah, but did not.
3The people of Judah are slaves,
suffering in a foreign land,
with no rest from sorrow.
Their enemies captured them
and were terribly cruel.
Yes, we have read of the offenses the people of Israel endured from the Babylonians — their Temple ransacked and burned, the city walls of Jerusalem destroyed, the people carried off into exile, the king blinded . . .
4The roads to Zion mourn
because no one travels there
to celebrate the festivals.
Before the fall of Jerusalem, the people of Israel celebrated seven annual feasts:
- Passover – to remember how the Lord rescued his people from bondage in Egypt
- Feast of Unleavened Bread – to avoid yeast, a symbol of evil; to be ready to follow God
- Offering of Firstfruits – to celebrate God’s gracious provision at the beginning of the barley harvest
- Pentecost – to show gratitude for the wheat harvest
- Feast of Trumpets – to usher in a month with particularly significant holy days
- Day of Atonement – to fast, pray, and confess on the holiest day of the year
- Feast of Booths – to recall life in the wilderness by constructing small huts and camping out while also praising God for the year’s harvest
The city gates are deserted;
priests are weeping.
Young women are raped; Zion is in sorrow!
5Enemies now rule the city
and live as they please.
The LORD has punished Jerusalem
because of her awful sins;
he has let her people be dragged away.
6Zion’s glory has disappeared.
Her leaders are like deer
that cannot find pasture;
they are hunted down
till their strength is gone.
7Her people recall the good life
that once was theirs;
now they suffer and are scattered.
No one was there to protect them from their enemies
who sneered when their city was taken.
8Jerusalem’s horrible sins
have made the city a joke.
Those who once admired her
now hate her instead–
she has been disgraced;
she groans and turns away.
9Her sins had made her filthy,
but she wasn’t worried about what could happen.
And when Jerusalem fell,
it was so tragic.
No one gave her comfort when she cried out,
“Help! I’m in trouble, LORD! The enemy has won.”
Psalm 25:18-19 (English Standard Version)
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
10Zion’s treasures were stolen.
Jerusalem saw foreigners
enter her place of worship,
though the LORD
had forbidden them to belong to his people.
11Everyone in the city groans
while searching for food;
they trade their valuables
for barely enough scraps to stay alive.
Jerusalem shouts to the LORD,
“Please look and see how miserable I am!”
12No passerby even cares.
Why doesn’t someone notice
my terrible sufferings?
You were fiercely angry, LORD,
and you punished me worst of all.
Lamentations 1:12 (NIV)
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering?”
The first time this verse registered with me was during a season of Lent sometime when I was in high school. The local Methodist church put a cross out, draped in a purple cloth, with a sign that read, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” I see it clearly in my mind’s eye still, and I answer — Yes, Lord, your crucifixion is something to me! It is your wounds, and my healing! It is your sorrow, and my joy! It is your death, and my life! Thank you with all my heart!
13From heaven you sent a fire
that burned in my bones;
you set a trap for my feet
and made me turn back.
All day long you leave me
in shock from constant pain.
14You have tied my sins
around my neck, and they weigh so heavily
that my strength is gone.
You have put me in the power
of enemies too strong for me.
15You, LORD, have turned back my warriors
and crushed my young heroes.
Judah was a woman untouched,
but you let her be trampled like grapes in a wine pit.
16Because of this, I mourn,
and tears flood my eyes.
No one is here to comfort or to encourage me;
we have lost the war–
my people are suffering.
The Prophet Speaks:
17Zion reaches out her hands,
but no one offers comfort.
Isaiah 1:15 (New International Version)
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
The LORD has turned the neighboring nations
against Jacob’s descendants.
Jerusalem is merely a filthy rag to her neighbors.
18The LORD was right,
but I refused to obey him.
Now I ask all of you to look
at my sufferings–
even my young people have been dragged away.
19I called out to my lovers,
but they betrayed me.
My priests and my leaders died
while searching the city for scraps of food.
20Won’t you look and see
how upset I am, our LORD?
My stomach is in knots,
and my heart is broken
because I betrayed you.
In the streets and at home,
my people are slaughtered.
21Everyone heard my groaning,
but no one offered comfort.
My enemies know of the trouble
that you have brought on me,
and it makes them glad.
Hurry and punish them, as you have promised.
22Don’t let their evil deeds escape your sight.
Punish them as much as you have punished me
because of my sins.
I never stop groaning–
I’ve lost all hope!
Where to go for comfort? Where to go for hope? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
1 Peter 1:3 (NIV)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” sung by Deborah Liv Johnson.