Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet, is the likely author of Lamentations. He wrote this sorrowful compilation of poems after Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Babylonians (likely around 585 B.C.). Jeremiah served as a prophet to the people of Israel, boldly warning them about the destruction that was to come at the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, and almost killed multiple times for his efforts.
Why was Jeremiah lamenting? The answer was really quite simple: Israel was reaping the consequences of violating the Mosaic Covenant that God made with His people. What unfolds as the Israelites lose their sacred city and fall into Babylonian captivity is really Deuteronomy 28 coming full circle. Had Israel kept up their end of the covenant, they would have been blessed. Because they wandered far from it, they were cursed instead. Their downfall was ultimately their own doing. As Jeremiah looked around and saw the evil, pain, and suffering all around him, it is easy to draw comparisons to the book of Job. However, unlike Job (which deals with unexplained suffering), this situation was not just predictable, but predicted by Jeremiah himself.
Since Jeremiah had tried to warn them, all he was left to do was lament and, over a stretch of five different poems we’ll see him do just that. As we read these five chapters, we’ll see the heaviness and weight of disobedience, as well as glimmers of hope along the way. This book (in chapter 3) includes one of the most quoted, most referred to passages in all of scripture that reminds us of God’s new mercies for us each and every day. While we should (and must) lament the weight of our own sin and disobedience, let us also cling to the hope we have in Jesus as well.
Interested in a more comprehensive explanation of Lamentations? Click here to watch the Bible Project’s overview of the book!
Read Lamentations 1
1How 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.
2 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.
3 After affliction and harsh labor,
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.
4 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.
5 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.
6 All the splendor has departed
from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer
that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled
before the pursuer.
7 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.
8 Jerusalem has sinned greatly
and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
and turns away.
9 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.”
10 The enemy laid hands
on all her treasures;
she saw pagan nations
enter her sanctuary—
those you had forbidden
to enter your assembly.
11 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.”
12 “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?
13 “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.
14 “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.
15 “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.
16 “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.”
17 Zion stretches out her hands,
but there is no one to comfort her.
The Lord has decreed for Jacob
that his neighbors become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
an unclean thing among them.
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.
19 “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.
20 “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.
21 “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.
22 “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 portrays the sorrow and anguish of a man defeated. The common assumption is that Jeremiah was the likely author of this book. He surrendered his life to speak out against a regime that hated him and a people that shunned him. Yet as he grieves and laments, something is missing.
As we read through the text, the question becomes obvious: Where is the bitterness, the righteous indignation, the self-satisfied appearance of justice that seems to mark so much of our own experience? In today’s culture, which seems to be veering wildly into the consequences of ungodliness, what marks many believers is anger and disgust. What fills many social media posts are words of gleeful judgment and delight when our cultural foes meet their comeuppance.
Too often, our hope for this godless culture is its destruction rather than its repentance. As Christians, we are in the position of Jeremiah, a voice of God’s love towards an obstinate people. And yet, how often have we replaced godly lament for self-righteous angst? How much does our heart mirror Jeremiah’s distraught sorrow? How much do we delight instead of distress when we are proven right? Jeremiah was daily driven deeper into prayer for, not against, his countrymen.
He writes in Lamentations 1:9, “Look, Lord, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.” Jeremiah suffers together with the people of Jerusalem, crying out to God on their behalf. His heart was always and forever for their repentance and redemption. Are we able to say the same?
- When you think about engaging our culture that has turned it back on God, are you marked primarily by anger or sorrow?
- How often do you pray for the repentance of the godless rather than their demise?
- How can we as modern-day believers uphold God‘s truth and justice and yet not let our hearts become hardened against mercy? Are you willing to hold space to lament with those who suffer?
By the Way
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