The Hebrew word “lamentations” has been variously translated as, “alas” or “to cry aloud.” The theme of the book is based on the devastation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and pictures the city as a widowed and disgraced princess. Jeremiah, an eyewitness of the holocaust, acknowledges God’s righteousness and faithfulness throughout this ordeal. He writes with a prevailing tone of pathos, grief, and anguish. Vivid descriptions regarding the woes of the people are interspersed with exhortations to pray, repent, and confess.
The book consists of five poems, each one forming the contents of a chapter. These five poems express the anguish of the Jews as they view the desolation of their city and temple. The first four chapters are based on Hebrew alphabetical acrostics. While this device is employed to aid memorization, it is also symbolic of the completeness of the people’s sufferings and grief. Chapters one, two, and four each contain 22 verses. The first word of each verse begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet successively. Chapter three follows the same pattern, but three verses are allotted for each letter of the alphabet instead of two. The final chapter also contains 22 verses but it does not follow the alphabetic acrostic.
Vivid imagery is used throughout the book to illustrate intense mourning over God’s judgment, but include rays of hope for future restoration. The progression of thought in these five chapters is natural. In the first chapter, the people weep over the destruction of the city. In the next chapter, the cause of the destruction is described. Chapter three trusts God for mercy. Chapter four acknowledges sin as the cause of divine judgment and the final chapter is a prayer for deliverance.
1. Read Jeremiah chapters 39 and 44 and Second Kings 25 for a description of the siege and captivity of Jerusalem. List phrases which describe the barrenness and dreariness of the city.
2. From Lamentations chapter one, give the reason for the desolation of the city. What is the attitude of Jerusalem’s enemies? What is the city’s plea to God?
3. From chapter two, describe the ruination of the city. What is the attitude of Jehovah? Describe the punishment God inflicted by using the Babylonians as the instrument of divine wrath. What is the end result of rebellion?
4. From chapter three, describe how Jeremiah identifies with the despondency and misery of the people. What does he confess? What can we learn from this chapter regarding the compassion and mercy of God?
5. From chapter four, what does Jeremiah reiterate regarding the cause of Jerusalem’s demolition and the sufferings of her inhabitants? What future hope is expressed?
6. From chapter five, summarize the prophet’s prayer for the national need for repentance and restoration. What is Jeremiah’s final plea?