The Book of Lamentations
Author and Time of Writing
Although the Lamentations do not bear any name of an author they have been ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah in the oldest tradition already. The Book of Lamentations in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT, around 200 BC) begins with the following words: "And it happened after Israel had been led captive and Jerusalem had been destroyed that Jeremiah sat and lamented with the following lamentation and said: How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!" Most researchers - included the ones who refuse Jeremiah as author - would agree that the author must have been an eyewitness of Jerusalem's destruction (compare with Jer. 39). Jeremiah's authorship is underlined by a number of stylistic parallels in the two consecutive books.
Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonians in the year 586 BC, which is described in the Lamentations by Jeremiah as eyewitness, is decisive for the date of writing. The time of writing therefore will have to be set shortly after this incident and in Jeremiah's last years of life.
Purpose of Writing
In most of the modern Bible editions the Lamentations follow upon the book of Jeremiah. In the Hebrew Bible however they are set in the third part, the so-called "writings" (Hebr. Ketubim). There they belong to the so-called "rolls" (Hebr. Megillot), which are read on certain festive days. The reading of the Lamentations happens on the 9th day of the month of Ab (July/August) that is the fasting-day on the occasion of Jerusalem's destruction (compare Jer. 52:6).
The Lamentations are written in poetry. The five chapters form five stanzas of one elegy over Zion's fall.
- The two first stanzas (chapters) are composed of 22 verses each and the initial letter of each verse follows the alphabetical order.
- The third stanza (chapter) is constructed identically with the difference that each verse of the succeeding set of three begins with the same Hebrew letter. This is why chapter 3 contains 66 verses.
- The fourth stanza (chapter) is constructed as stanzas 1 and 2 with the difference that each verse contains of two instead of three lines.
- The fifth stanza (chapter) contains of 22 single lines, which however are not in alphabetical order. With this we find here one of the few cases where chapters and verses are inspired! Compare with paragraph 3. Peculiarities, a) Hebrew Poetry, in the Book of Psalms.
The Lamentations are the expression of a heart full of love for the earthly people of Jehovah, a people punished for their sins by loosing their kingdom, their land, their city and their sanctuary. Jeremiah considers himself as part of these people but thereby repents and puts his hope in spite of all mourning in God.
Christ in the Lamentations
Similar to the Psalms we may also see in Lamentations a prophetical preview of the sufferings of the Jewish remnant in the last time of trouble before Christ's appearing. As Jeremiah identified himself with the sad condition of the people under God's judgment so will also the Lord Jesus have compassion with Israel's woe, and especially so with the remnant's woe.
This is why various parallels are to be seen. Jeremiah lamented over Jerusalem and the Lord Jesus did so as well (Math. 23:37-38; Luke 19:41-44).
Further parallels are:
Lam. 2:15-16 - Math. 27:39
Lam. 3:8 - Math. 27:46
Lam. 3:19 - Math. 27:34
Overview of Contents
I. Lamentations 1: Lamentation over Jerusalem's Destruction
II. Lamentations 2: Reason for God's Wrath
III. Lamentations 3: Lamentation of the Prophet
IV. Lamentations 4: Sufferings during the Siege
V. Lamentations 5: Prayer for Mercy