The book of Lamentations

Philip North

This book, believed to be written by the prophet Jeremiah between 586 and 585 B.C., is centered around the aftermath of the first destruction of Jerusalem, due to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied of Jerusalem's destruction for forty years, before it finally took place. Since Jeremiah is known as "the weeping prophet," then we can conclude in all probability that he authored the book. The word "lament" itself means, "To mourn; sorrow; especially about the past."

Lamentations is divided into five chapters: (1) Destruction and desolation of Jerusalem, (2) God's anger with Jerusalem, (3) Prayer for God's mercy on Jerusalem, (4) Repentance of Jerusalem, and (5) Prayer for God's restoration of Jerusalem. As with everything else in life, this writer caught something in the way of a lesson seen in everyday life in the main theme of each chapter. Actually, all five chapters together show a particular cycle of life, where sin is concerned, particularly grievous sins, which nearly always result in worse consequences than do some other sins.

First, when sin, grievous or otherwise, arrives at its stage of punishment, the sinner, whether being of a penitent heart or not, will then lament the consequential results that have come about. Suddenly, things are seen through different eyes. Tears will be shed, sadness felt, and a feeling of gloom will overshadow that person. This is most always the immediate result---a reaction, so to speak. It's a "why did I do this?" kind of thing, or, "I can't believe this happened." Maybe too, "I didn't expect all of this to occur" is felt. The exclaim by the wrongdoer, along with others as well is, "just look what has happened here!" Alas, reader! This is sin's ugly picture when its true colors are revealed. This is what one might call the initial exposure to the results of sin. Indeed, Jeremiah lamented about Jerusalem's sins before God, along with the people's desolation.

Second, one spends time, often a lot of it, lamenting while suffering the total aftermath (condition) of what has occurred when payday for sin is upon them. Anger and resentment is felt by the one(s) wronged, and some sort of justice or retribution is sought towards the wrongdoer. What was once fun has now become hurt. What was previously enjoyable has since produced pain. What was such a strong and seemingly uncontrollable thought now reeks of regret. Rock bottom is hit. Reality has now set in. The overall picture of what has happened due to sin now "comes home" to that individual. The more one sees of the fruits of his sins, the more one grieves, as sin's ugliness is more and more manifested. This empty gut feeling has now surpassed that initial exposure mentioned in the last paragraph. To the one wronged, "this means war!" Especially is this the case for the truly penitent liar, murderer, rapist, robber, adulterous one, etc. Things aren't the same now, nor will they ever be. True, forgiveness can be obtained, but never, ever can sin go unpunished or be in any way inconsequential. So, when righteous Jeremiah saw all the destruction that took place in Jerusalem, he lamented over their now sad state of affairs, having seen God's anger revealed. The prophet was now an eyewitness on the scene.

Third, the one who has sinned possessing a genuinely sorrowful heart for what has been done will cry out to God and the one(s) wronged for mercy. (One will also ask for mercy from those making up civil law!) Actually, there are two kinds of repentance, that being convenient sorrow and godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). To illustrate, one can be sorry that he got caught, or be truly sorry in this heart he committed the wrong. Either way, both by the wrongdoer and those pleading on his behalf, cries of mercy are made and heard ever so verbally. Jeremiah cried to God for mercy on behalf of Jerusalem.

Fourth, when realization sets in as to just what all has occurred, a sorrowful kind of reminiscing takes place with the one who has a burning conscience of the evil committed. Each individual sin is recalled and lamented over, including those committed in the past that had nothing to do with the particular situation at hand. I speak of being haunted about one's past, as well as one’s present. It all comes back at a person like a ton of bricks. As they say in court, "the book" has been thrown at them. Sorrow for both sin and punishment are felt, often leading that person to repentance. Jerusalem felt such a way. Jeremiah lamented over the condition of Jerusalem, due to their not listening to his many pleas to them to cease their idolatry.

Fifth, prayer and pleading is made for total restoring of how life was previously. A desire is felt to atone, hence, an attempt is sought after to "pick up the broken pieces" and start over in rebuilding one's life. Restitution, if it can be is also done. The wrongdoer wishes for things to be back to normal, and hopefully, this person plans to look the next time before he leaps, thus, promising to “straighten up and fly right". Hopefully, lessons have been learned. Some of returning to how life was before is possible, and some isn't, depending on the degrees of sin that have been committed. Jeremiah prays to God for Israel's restoration.

Verse 8 of chapter 1 says, "Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward." This verse tells that Jerusalem's sin was very bad, and so, desolation came. Verse 2 of chapter 2 says, "The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof." God was indeed angry with His people, and He let them know it, finally and at last, in no uncertain terms, after repeated warnings from Jeremiah, as said, for 40 years. In verse 41 of chapter 3, we read, "Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." Jeremiah was pleading to God for mercy to be extended to Jerusalem, due to their destruction being so great. Punishment was immense. Consequences were felt in spades. Verse 17 of chapter 4 declares, "As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us." Needing help in deliverance from their calamities seems to indicate repentance here on the part of Jerusalem. They didn’t really feel so independent of God after all. Verse 1 of chapter 5 says, "Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach." Verse 21 tells us, "Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old." The last part of this verse would show that Jeremiah was praying for Israel's total restoration, for he said, "renew our days as of old."

Lamentations is an eye opener. This book shows mankind how not to live. Israel had been pleaded by the prophets to cease their idolatrous living, which was the reason for their immorality. They didn't listen. The much admonishing by the prophet Jeremiah, likewise along with warnings from other prophets cited in many other places of the Old Testament, went repeatedly unheeded. So, the destruction of Jerusalem took place. The generations following, for the most part, did not learn from the mistakes of their ancestors. This led to their second and final destruction in A.D. 70, when a Roman captain named Titus besieged the city. This was prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 23:37-39, chapter 24:1-35, and Luke 23:27-31.

This awful demise happened to the nation of Israel because they ignored warning after warning after warning to put sin out of their lives. Because of allowing themselves to become slaves to sin, they will never, ever again be the great nation they once were. May we all read, believe, and learn from this. Disobedience to God is sin, and sin is disobedience to God. Sin’s only result can be destruction.