Introduction to Lamentations
The short book of Lamentations is included among what many call the Major Prophets because it is actually sort of an appendix to the book of its author Jeremiah. Three of its five chapters begin with “How?” (Hebrew Eykah, which was the Hebrew title of the book). In context, the essential question is “why?”
Jeremiah wrote his “lamentations” after he witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian armies. Though he had predicted it, it was a great sorrow to him to see his prophecies actually come to pass.
Each chapter is composed as an acrostic poem, with twenty-two verses corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each verse beginning with its successively appropriate letter of the alphabet. The middle chapter, however, has sixty-six verses, devoting three verses to each letter. Because of this unique structure and style, some authorities say that someone other than Jeremiah must have written it. Such a notion, however, is contrary to uniform Jewish tradition and opinion. Even though the book itself makes no mention of the name of its author, there is no good reason not to ascribe it to “the weeping prophet.”
The book closes on a note of hope, with a prayer to the unchanging God somehow to bring about a spiritual revival of His people (Lamentations 5:19; 5:21).
1:1 How. The book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Jeremiah, contains five poetic “laments,” three of which (Lamentations 1, 2, 4) begin with the sad exclamations “How!” The theme of the book is the prophet’s broken-hearted amazement at the terrible plight of the people who had been specially chosen and singularly blessed of God, but who now had been judged so severely for rejecting their God.
1:10 The adversary. The reference here is to the enemies of the Jews—the Babylonians and others who had sacked the city and destroyed the temple. The secondary inference is that Satan himself was gloating at the scene. Although the Hebrew word is different, the name “Satan” actually means “The Adversary.”
1:12 nothing to you. The world at large, in every century, has not only been indifferent to the suffering of God’s chosen people, but has often joined in their persecution. Perhaps this scene also is a parable of the suffering Savior, who suffered and died, not for His own sins, but for the sin of the world. Yet the world at large passes Him by, in utter indifference. How indescribably sad!
1:22 all my transgressions. The prophet is here placing himself in the place of his people, taking the blame on himself for their sins. In this, he even becomes, in a measure, a type of Christ.
1:22 my heart is faint. It is noteworthy that Lamentations 1 has twenty-two verses, and so do Lamentations 2, 4, and 5. Each is an acrostic dirge, with each verse beginning with the corresponding letter of the twenty-two letter Hebrew alphabet. The implication is, apparently, that it would take the whole language (from A to Z, as it were) to express adequately the amazingly anomalous scene Jeremiah attempts to describe. No people had ever experienced such great blessing as Israel had experienced—nor such patient longsuffering and divine mercy, and now such deep humiliation. Furthermore, it was to this people alone that God had given the Law, and the entire written Word—and He had done that in their own twenty-two letter holy language. Yet they had rejected that divine Word. The very structure—as well as the sad theme—of these lamentations would burn this into their memory.