Our world today has many books within reach, both fiction and nonfiction. However, does a person fully understand what the author is trying to convey in their meaning and message to the audience? The same goes with the Bible, particularly, Lamentations, which is found in the Old Testament Scriptures. An individual has to understand where the book originated from, and what each chapter implies as well as what message the author was trying to convey then and now. Origin Title The word Lamentations means to weep, and the sorrow, which was caused “by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 587.
” (Reyburn, 1992). Authorship According to tradition, many believe that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, which include the church father, despite his name not located anywhere in the text. A couple of witnesses are also the Septuagint and Vulgate. Some more evidence is displayed in 2 Chronicles 35:25; consequently, it refers to King Josiah’s death. Since he greatly loved Jerusalem and the people, this shows that he is quite qualified to write the book (Keil, Delitzsch and Wiesmann, 1956). Date Jeremiah most likely was the author (Goldingay, 2003). He most likely saw Jerusalem’s destruction due to eyewitnessing and lamenting over it.
“There is almost universal agreement that the book was written soon after 587 B. C. , while the events were still vivid in the author’s memory. Attempts to prove that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations prophetically after King Josiah’s death in 609 have no merit (Rudolph, 1962). Some unconvincing evidence is when others have attempted to date the book many years later, especially during the Maccabean period (Rudolph, 1962). Background of the Book. One name appears in Lamentations, and that is Edom, which is found in 4:22. However, when the Chaldeans overthrew Jerusalem and made them fall in 586 B. C.
, this is what brought about the book of Lamentations. 2 Kings 25 is a connection that cannot give about any other conclusions. The siege that lasted for eighteen months brought about terrible suffering, but spiritually, they lost Zion as well the Temple, which also made it devastating psychologically (Smith, 1992). Theme of the Book. Lamentations has four laments from chapters one to four as well one prayer that is noted in chapter five, which is intended to help the audience understand how the people felt once Jerusalem fell. The writer basically shared his experience with the people by not using much imagination in the process.
In general, this book contains a detailed description of what occurred nationally in regards to suffering (Smith, 1992). Structure of the Book Lamentations consists of five poems. Each poem is unique because a theme “of sorrow over Jerusalem’s fall, though from different perspectives” (Gottwald, 1985). On other occasions, the grief is individual. “The funeral mood was communicated to those who first heard or read Lamentations by the dirgelike meter (Qinah meter) that characterizes much of the book” (Budde, 1883). To break it down, two lines are the simplest, but the first three are syllables as well as two for the second.
When it was heard, the sound was mournful (Budde, 1883). No one can explanation with full agreement in regards to the acrostic structure with the five poems in the book. “Some think they were composed as a pedagogic device to teach schoolboys the alphabet. Some think the acrostic was intended to facilitate memorization of the poems. Some believe it reveals a belief in the magical powers of letters. Others believe the poems were deliberately structured as acrostics with a view to liturgical usage to commemorate Jerusalem’s destruction in solemn religious services” (Kraus, 1960). Historical Setting
“The Babylonians’ capture of Jerusalem in 587 B. C. was not the first time the city had experienced invasion and plunder by enemies (cf. 1 Kgs 14:25–26; 2 Kgs 14:13–14; 23:33; 2 Chr 21:16–17; 2 Chr 25:22–24; 33:11)” (Hayes, 1997). However, “In 588 King Zedekiah” chose to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar, so that Judah can have its independence. Jerusalem was taken and completely destroyed eighteen months later (Hayes, 1997). “Many of its inhabitants were put to death, enslaved, exiled, or fled to Egypt. King Zedekiah and other leaders were taken to Babylon (Jer 39:1–10; 52:29)” (Hayes, 1997). Theological Values
A theological dilemma came about due to the low morale in Judah, which is more devastating than the temple’s destruction due to the catastrophe. “Human suffering always precipitates probing questions about God. The faith of many Jews must have been shattered by the events. They had believed that Jerusalem was inviolable and that God’s temple could not be destroyed because he dwelt there (cf. Jer 7:1–8)” (Gottwald, Weiser, Kraus and Moore, 1983). God would fight the battles for his people. He later delivered Jerusalem in 701 B. C. from Sennacherib as seen in 2 Kings 19 (Gottwald, Weiser, Kraus and Moore, 1983).
Individuals were shocked that God did not help them, but thought in their minds that He abandoned them. Maybe a select few realized it was the Lord punishing them due to the recent events because they refused to obey the warnings from various prophets during that time, so His wrath was upon them both as a nation and for the people. For those who understood the prophets’ words, they realized that a remnant is spared, so that a nation is rebuilt as seen in Jeremiah 24:5–6; 29:10, 14 and Ezekiel 6:8–9; 11:17 (Gottwald, Weiser, Kraus and Moore, 1983).
Purpose of the Book. In general, Lamentations is not the lone book found from ancient times. Several bemoans over great cities that fell were unveiled in the heart of Mesopotamia (Smith, 1992). The book of Lamentations gave the people a reason to express their pain over what had happened to them, so as to help them out psychologically. However, the poems serve to allow the Israelites could express their grief over the sorrow of what was lost nationally from a liturgical point of view (Smith, 1992). Foreshadowing
“Jeremiah was known as the ‘weeping prophet’ for his deep and abiding passion for his people and their city (Lamentations 3:48-49). This same sorrow over the sins of the people and their rejection of God was expressed by Jesus as He approached Jerusalem and looked ahead to her destruction at the hands of the Romans (Luke 19:41-44). Because of the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah, God used the Roman siege to punish His people” (Book of Lamentations, 2009). The Lord does not find it joyous when He has punish His own children, but later offered Jesus as a final sacrifice for everyone’s sins (Book of Lamentations, 2009).
Key Verses Three key verses are worth noting. One, Lamentations 2:17 (New International Version) says, “The LORD has done what he planned; he has fulfilled his word, which he decreed long ago. He has overthrown you without pity, he has let the enemy gloat over you, he has exalted the horn of your foes” (Book of Lamentations, 2009). The second verse is Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV), which says that because of God’s wonderful love no one is consumed because He never fails us because they are always new and faithful (Book of Lamentations, 2009).
Last is Lamentations 5:19-22 (NIV), which says, “You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure”(Book of Lamentations, 2009). Meaning 1:1–22 The author uses lots of imagery to express the current state of Jerusalem, which is the city of Zion. “Babylon, Egypt, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon,” and Judah was close friends with them (Hughes, 2001).
The roads were now deserted as seen in 1:4. “Like Zedekiah, Israel’s leadership fled from Jerusalem (1:6; cf. Jer. 39:4–7). The siege conditions in Jerusalem were reflected in 1:11, when people exchanged their precious treasures for food. The figures of “fire” (meaning “total destruction”) and a “trap” (that is, “captivity”) describe the calamities that befell Jerusalem (1:13)” (Hughes, 2001). In the Hebrew, the word “Allies” (1:19) is easily translated to “lovers” as seen in 1:2. The author of Lamentations prayed for God to bring Babylon’s judgment on “the day”(1:21; cf. Jer.
50–51) (Hughes, 2001). 2:1–22 Zion’s sorrows came about because of judgment from the Lord. They experienced a famine as mentioned in Lamentations 2:11–12, which happened because of warfare (Hughes, 2001). “The false prophets had predicted a return to peace and prosperity (2:14; cf. Jer. 14:13). Jeering and scoffing were ancient gestures of malicious joy and contempt (Lam. 2:15). In ancient times the night was divided into three four-hour periods (2:19)” (Hughes, 2001). During each of the periods, the writer of Lamentations wanted the people to wake up, so weeping could continue.
A judgment that was placed on them due to their disobedience was cannibalism through starvation of the Judeans, who lived in Jerusalem, which was prophesied in Deuteronomy 28:53 (Hughes, 2001). 3:1–66 Many personal experiences took place in the life of the author’s ministry. Much encouragement was received and consolation through reflecting on God’s faithfulness through the ages (Goldingay, 2003). The writer used hyperbole frequently, which is to exaggerate in hopes to emphasize the important points.
For example, “unfailing love,” when it is translated from the Hebrew, it means “stork,” and upon breaking it down more so indicates motherly love (Hughes, 2001). 4:1–22 Jeremiah made much reflection on what he saw with his own eyes in the heart of Jerusalem, especially when the Babylonians siege in Jerusalem took place (Goldingay, 2003). “Those ‘who once lived in palaces’ (Lam. 4:5) were the wealthy. No one helped Sodom (4:6). After their true character was recognized, the false prophets and wicked priests were condemned as ‘defiled’ like lepers (4:15; cf. Lev.
13:45–46)” (Hughes, 2001). 5:1–22 Jeremiah confessed on behalf of the nation their sins, and then asked the Lord for a complete restoration. One can become confused on 5:6, when there is a reference to Assyria unless a person understands it was in reference to Babylon. At one time, the Empire inherited Assyria. “According to Jewish custom, the request of 5:21 is repeated at the conclusion of the book in order to avoid ending on an unpleasant note. But history has shown that God had certainly not rejected his people (Rom. 11:1–5)” (Hughes, 2001). Message Old Testament Application
God made it clear back then that the people who lived in the heart of Judah needed to follow and obey Him. This meant that they could not worship other gods, commit adultery, covet, and so forth. These people needed to understand the depth of God’s love for them, but He made them face judgment, so that they would turn to Him, and this is seen frequently throughout the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Judges, God placed them in a cycle. This cycle consisted of a Judge would prophecy about the coming judgment, they would face judgment, and then all would turn back to God through repentance of their sin.
Throughout Scripture, God never rejected anyone. He demonstrated His love for them in every book that is mentioned in the cannon. No one is perfect, but each day is a learning process to strive to live for Him, and not for the pleasures of this world. The issue back then is that the Judeans lived for what the world had to offer instead of what God has done for them, and continues to do. He deserves the glory, and not us. A similar concept is used today when it comes to God’s wrath, and for all of us to repent of our transgressions. Today’s Application
The book of Lamentations applies to our setting today too. One, when people are wicked a society eventually disappears. Two, a person should not ask for a blessing that happened from the past, and continue to live in sin in the midst of it. Three, all countries of the world and churches will face judgment, if they do not remain faithful. Fourth, the Lord sticks to His Word, and make it come to pass. Fifth, many solutions are possible in the midst of suffering, but ultimately it comes down to a total faith in God (Hughes, 2001). Here are some more ways of looking at the book as well in a contemporary context.
In attempting to understand what the book is trying to convey to the audience who reads it, then much can come from studying Lamentations. “First, the book can speak to any, including Christians, who feel alone or even abandoned by God. In this respect it is like those Psalms which we have called ‘laments’. It is good to give honest expression to such feelings and to know the reassurance of God’s grace in the midst of them” (Carson, 1994). Lamentations also can help the reader to identify with those around them, who are facing difficult situations.
For example, our world faces daily disasters, such as wars and famines, which are constantly brought to our attention through the media on television. For us humans, all of us have the tendency to ask, “Where is God in the midst of our circumstances? ” Of course, we can wonder more so, when our brothers and sisters are caught up in the chaos of it all as well, but end up sympathizing with them through identifying their pain. “The book of Lamentations enables us to express our grief, not only on our own behalf, but also on behalf of others” (Carson, 1994).
Another possibility is that an individual requires discipline. Much discipline goes into writing a phenomenal book, which can help in the present. A decision that a person makes is in seriousness, so that he or she is disciplined, so that problems, which are sometimes difficult to face are dealt with at the time. God’ Word can help us by teaching us how to deal with difficult circumstances by allowing us to express our hurts that are at times too deep as well as coaching our mind and heart throughout it too (Carson, 1994). Confession is difficult for anyone, this goes for both believer and non-believer.
“The people of Judah knew that their exile was due to their disobedience to the covenant made by their ancestors with God. We cannot treat all suffering in the same way. Nevertheless, here too we can identify with our ancestors in faith, by simply recognizing that human sin—in which each of us has a part—is the root cause of the world’s grief” (Carson, 1994). When someone questions, this too is an act of confession. God grants both justice and mercy while judging others. His justice does not finally issue only in judgment, but also, and decisively, in mercy (Carson, 1994).
Even in terrible judgment, God is a God of hope (Lamentations 3:24-25). No matter how far we have gone from Him, we have the hope that we can return to Him and find Him compassionate and forgiving (1 John 1:9). Our God is a loving God (Lamentations 3:22), and because of His great love and compassion, He sent His Son so that we would not perish in our sins, but can live eternally with Him (John 3:16). God’s faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23) and deliverance (Lamentations 3:26) are attributes that give us great hope and comfort.
He is not a disinterested, capricious god, but a God who will deliver all those who turn to Him, admit they can do nothing to earn His favor, and call upon the Lord’s mercy so that we will not be consumed (Lamentations 3:22) (Book of Lamentations, 2009). How are we to live in our current day and age? “We must live with realism, and we must live by faith” (Cameron, 1994). A person needs to look deep into themselves as well as circumstances. When an individual looks beyond what is happening in their lives, and then he or she will have faith because of what God has done for them.
The church is quite sad, and God is the final judge of it all. For example, “How the gold has grown dim,” which is seen in Lamentations 4:1. However, we are disgraced as the church has become secularized, and our inheritance is given to strangers (5:2). No joy is present in our lives because it has turned into mourning. In our world, which includes the church, we will find it difficult to rejoice (Cameron, 1994). All of us seek answers to life’s questions, particularly from Psalm 137: 4, which states (NIV), “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land”(Cameron, 1994)”
When a person walks and talks with God, then he or she receives full joy in the Lord. The book of Lamentations may come across sad while reading what happened to the Judeans, but they soon realized that He wanted a relationship with them all along, so they eventually turned back to Him despite the current judgment that was upon them. In Lamentations 3:22, which says (NIV),‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end” (Cameron, 1994). To describe what it means for steadfastness, this is to indicate that the Lord is faithful with His enduring love.
He is the same forever. God is wonderful to those who confess and turn to Him for their hope. We can praise God for His faithfulness from the past to the present. All of us are a testimony to His love because there is courage to face the future of whatever it is to come. He will supply our every need, and has proven it throughout history, which includes Lamentations. No need to worry because He already knows (Cameron, 1994). References Cameron, C. M. (1994). Lamentations. Retrieved February 21, 2009, from Biblestudies. org. uk: http://www. biblicalstudies. org. uk/lamentations. php Carson, D.
(1994). New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th edition. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 281-289. Goldingay, J. (2003). Old Testament Theology (Volume 1 ed. ). Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 295-305. Gottwald, N. (1985). The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction. Philadelphia: Fortress. Hayes, J. a. (1988). A New Chronology for the Kings of Israel and Judah and Its Implications for Biblical History and Literature. Atlanta: John Knox. Hughes, R. B. (2001). Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers. Keil, C. a. (1956). The Prophecies of Jeremiah.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, . Kraus, H. (1960). Klaelieder (Threni). Neukirchen: Neukirchener. Reyburn, W. D. (1992). A Handbook on Lamentations. New York: United Bible Societies. Richards, L. (1991). The Bible Readers Companion. Wheaton: Victor Books, 65-68. Rudolph, W. (1962). Das Buch Ruth, Das Hohe Lied, Die Klagelider. Gutersloh: Gutersloher Verlaghaus Gerd Mohn. Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets. Joplin: College Press, 123-134. The Book of Lamentations. (2009). Retrieved 21 February, 2009, from Gotquestions. org: http://www. gotquestions. org/Book-of-Lamentations. html
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