Scriptures

Lamentations 1

Introduction

The dictionary says that a lament is ‘a passionate expression of grief or sorrow’ and that’s what we find in the book of Lamentations. We find the heart-breaking outpouring of a human heart which is in deep sorrow, expressed in poetry. When you read through it, you can’t miss the grief being expressed and the heartache as the writer reflects after his beloved Jerusalem is totally destroyed and now lays in ruin.

The Author

Although not mentioned in the book itself, it’s widely accepted that Jeremiah was the author because of the similarities between the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Jeremiah itself, Jeremiah 7:21 / Lamentations 1:15 / Jeremiah 9:1 / Jeremiah 1:18 / Lamentations 1:6.

According to tradition, Jeremiah retired after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still there to this day and in the face of a rocky hill, on the western side of the city, the locals now call it ‘the grotto of Jeremiah’.

The Book

The Book of Lamentations is a kind of follow-up to the Book of Jeremiah in as much as it tells the grisly story of how the people died by the famine and by the sword. Lamentations shows the sorrow that Jeremiah felt at the fall of Jerusalem. There’s no doubt he was an eyewitness to the actual fall and we see him sitting on a hill, opposite Jerusalem, and giving us all the sad details of the fall. I suppose we could say that Lamentations is all the sad and gory details of the fall of his beloved city.

The Book Consists Of Five Separate Poems

In Lamentations 1 we see Jeremiah dwelling on the various miseries oppressed by which the city sits as a lonely widow weeping sorely. In Lamentations 2 we read about these miseries which are described in connection with the national sins that had caused them. In Lamentations 3 we read of hope for the people of God. The punishment would only be for their good, a better day would dawn for them.

In Lamentations 4 we read about his laments over the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple but realises it’s because of the people’s sins. In Lamentations 5 we read a prayer that Zion’s reprimand may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people.

Alphabetical Acrostics

An acrostic is a composition in which the initial letters of each line or unit, when taken together, spell something meaningful. An alphabetic acrostic starts with the first letter of the alphabet, and each successive line begins with each successive letter, until the alphabet is finished.

One of the many interesting rhetorical features of the Hebrew Bible is its use of alphabetical acrostics. These acrostics are not ‘hidden codes’, they are literary compositions in which the writer has used the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the initial letters for a sequence of verses. Psalm 25 / Psalm 34 / Psalm 37 / Psalm 119.

The first four poems, chapters, are acrostics, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth isn’t acrostic. The main reason they were written this way was probably because they would be easier to remember.

Summary Of Lamentations

Lamentations is basically a really a book of very sad poems, Jerusalem which once stood in all its splendour was now in ruins, God ‘lived’ there in the temple but this to also lay in ruins. Nebuchadnezzar had come in and totally destroyed it all, along with killing many Jews in the process. The young men were taken into captivity, the Babylonians raped the young Jewish women.

We must remember that Jeremiah saw all of this, he knew exactly what had happened, but he also recognised that God’s own people weren’t so innocent, they broke God’s laws time and time again, they became as evil, as the false gods they ended up worshipping and so God had to punish them, 2 Chronicles 36:14-17.

No wonder he’s heartbroken, but amongst all the heartbreak and sorrow there’s a glimmer of hope, he knew that God actually does care about His people and so he prays that one day, his people could return to their beloved city.

The Text

‘How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. After affliction and harsh labour, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish. Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease. The LORD has brought her grief because of her many sins. Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe. All the splendour has departed from Daughter Zion. Her princes are like deer that find no pasture; in weakness they have fled before the pursuer. In the days of her affliction and wandering Jerusalem remembers all the treasures that were hers in days of old. When her people fell into enemy hands, there was no one to help her. Her enemies looked at her and laughed at her destruction.’ Lamentations 1:1-7

We can almost hear the pain in Jeremiah’s voice as he describes Jerusalem as a woman whose husband and children have been taken away from her. She’s a city in great mourning and feeling extremely lonely, especially when she reflects upon her once greatness, Isaiah 47:8 / Revelation 17:7.

Those who were once her political allies are described as ‘her lovers’ and so in some way she feels as though they should have helped, but they didn’t, they weren’t able to and so she feels betrayed even by them, Jeremiah 40:11 / Isaiah 39:5-7 / Isaiah 47:8-9.

Oh, the heartache of this once vibrant city, where thousands of people travelled along the roads to join in with the feasts, now ceased to come, the feats had stopped, the priests had no one to serve and the city lay in ruin. The Israelites had now become slaves to the Babylonians and they in turn had become very wealthy.

Jeremiah is quick to point out that all of this was the Lord’s doing, the city was in ruin because of the people’s sins and as a result, God punished them. Just as Jeremiah speaks about Jerusalem as a woman, he also speaks about the people of Jerusalem as the ‘daughter of Zion’. The leaders of Jerusalem are described as ‘princes’ but Jeremiah says there is no leadership left, they’re gone.

We can imagine the Jews being in captivity, reminiscing over the good old days when things were going great and as a result of remembering their past, it’s easy to understand why they would cry out, when they came to understand this was all because of their sinful actions. They’ve now become the laughing stock of the nations around them.

‘Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honoured her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away. Her filthiness clung to her skirts; she did not consider her future. Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. ‘Look, LORD, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.’ The enemy laid hands on all her treasures; she saw pagan nations enter her sanctuary—those you had forbidden to enter your assembly. All her people groan as they search for bread; they barter their treasures for food to keep themselves alive. ‘Look, LORD, and consider, for I am despised.’ Lamentations 1:8-11

There’s no escaping the greatness of her sin, she is described as a woman who’s become unclean. Her once pure heart has now become a heart full of evil and weaknesses and her evil character wasn’t a secret anymore, it became known to all, and as a result everyone turned away from her.

It’s clear the people lived for the here and now and didn’t stop to consider their future, it’s also clear that they forgot God and what God had concerning their future if they disobeyed Him, Deuteronomy 28:24 / Jeremiah 25:9-11.

The Babylonians came, entered the temple and took all the treasures out of it, Jeremiah 52:18 / Daniel 5:2. Any treasure which was left over, the Jews used to bargain with for food in order to survive, 2 Kings 25:3, this is desperate times which need desperate measures.

‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger? ‘From on high he sent fire, sent it down into my bones. He spread a net for my feet and turned me back. He made me desolate, faint all the day long. ‘My sins have been bound into a yoke; by his hands they were woven together. They have been hung on my neck, and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has given me into the hands of those I cannot withstand. ‘The Lord has rejected all the warriors in my midst; he has summoned an army against me to crush my young men. In his winepress the Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah. ‘This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.’ Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her. The LORD has decreed for Jacob that his neighbours become his foes; Jerusalem has become an unclean thing among them.’ Lamentations 1:12-17

We read of a cry of desperation from Judah, to anyone who can help, the city is on its knees, begging for some kind of compassion. Again, we read of a hint of confession from Judah, they admit that it was because of their own sins that they are being punished. We can almost hear the sorrow in their words, the pain is like fire in their bones, God’s punishment has really broken His people.

Her punishment was so great, they feel like they’ve been given a yoke to wear around their neck. The young men either died in war or had been taken into captivity and so there was no relief from the sorrow and grief that the people were suffering.

Jeremiah says that the people couldn’t stop crying because no one came to comfort them. Others stay away from them just like they would avoid an unclean woman during her period, Isaiah 23:11 / Leviticus 20:18.

‘The LORD is righteous, yet I rebelled against his command. Listen, all you peoples; look on my suffering. My young men and young women have gone into exile. ‘I called to my allies, but they betrayed me. My priests and my elders perished in the city while they searched for food to keep themselves alive. ‘See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart, I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death. ‘People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my distress; they rejoice at what you have done. May you bring the day you have announced so they may become like me. ‘Let all their wickedness come before you; deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my sins. My groans are many and my heart is faint.’ Lamentations 1:18-22

If people want to get right with God they first have to admit they are sinners, and that’s what we see happening here, they openly admit that they have ‘rebelled’ against God, Jeremiah 9:21.

Like we often do today, especially with our children, they wanted others around to learn from their mistakes, they basically say, ‘the reason our city and our people are in the condition they are now, is simply because we sinned against God, please don’t make the same mistake because you reap what you sow’, Job 4:5 / Proverbs 22:8.

The nations that the Israelites trusted for deliverance, disowned them. Just like what happened to Egypt, the Israelites were punished for working against God’s plan to discipline His people for their rebellion. And so, when the disaster came, the character of the religious and civic leaders was revealed as they selfishly looked out for themselves in order to survive.

It seems, since they admitted their guilt, they finally would just accept God’s punishment upon them, they finally got it and understood why they were being punished. Just as a side note, Israel never committed idolatry again when they finally came out of captivity.

Remember that God had used His prophets not only to warn Israel about what would happen to them if they rebelled against Him, Deuteronomy 32:25, but He also used the prophets to warn other nations that He would bring swift judgment and punishment on anyone who tried to harm His people. We know that God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish His own people, but we mustn’t forget that those nations, didn’t see it that way, they wanted to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

But their arrogance became the basis upon which God’s judgment upon them was just. Those nations around who done nothing but rejoice at what was happening to Judah and Jerusalem were themselves going to suffer because they rejoiced at what was happening to God’s people.

Application

There are times in our lives when we must be broken for the healing process to begin, it’s during those dark, sorrowful times we must turn to God who will lovingly and gently restore us to Himself. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions, since we’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards, Romans 3:23, we need to recognise our own sinfulness.

As Christians we were blessed to obey the first law of forgiveness, which was at out baptism, Acts 2:38 and as Christians were blessed if we obey the second law of forgiveness, which is when we confess our sins to God, 1 John 1:9.

Go To Lamentations 2

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

1 John 1:9

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