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Series Theme: Why Read the Bible: Lamentations



INTRODUCTION to Lamentations


Why Read Lamentations: At first sight this book appears miserable, a catalogue of woes of the city of Jerusalem in ruins. However, the more you read it carefully, the more flesh is added to the skeleton of history. It might be helpful to consider you were a TV crew reporting on a disaster somewhere in the world.

The author – who is thought to be Jeremiah – brings to our attention so many aspects of this catastrophe, the most important of which has to be the firm declaration that what has happened has been the judgment of God on a sinful nation. [see below for details].

Written in the form of poetry, the writer sometimes has personified Jerusalem speaking out her anguish, and sometimes his own anguish. This anguish takes the form of

  • accounts of what used to be and
  • accounts of what has happened and
  • their present state, together
  • with the reasons for it, and
  • finally prayer to the Lord for His help.
The central chapter, chapter 3, is the high point of faith and hope. Having said that we should note elements of faith and hope as follows:

Chapter 1 – no elements of faith and hope, just anguish

Chapter 2 - no elements of faith and hope, just anguish

3:21-23 – there is hope because of God's love and compassion

3:25 – the Lord blesses those who wait on Him

3:31,32 – His discipline does not last for ever

3:33 – the Lord does not willingly bring such disciplinary judgments

3:55,56 – the Lord has heard his pleas

4:22 – their punishment in exile will be of limited duration

5:19 – the Lord reigns [over Israel, implied] for ever.



The Historical Context: Jeremiah has been prophesying in Jerusalem through the reigns of three of the final kings of Judah [Jer 1:2,3] – five in fact although two of them only ruled a matter of a few months. He had been warning each king and the people to repent and turn back to the Lord otherwise the Lord would bring a judgment of destruction upon them.


•  first attacked Jerusalem in 598BC and took Jehoiakim to Babylon along with Daniel and a number of other nobles [2 Chron 36:5,6]
•  then Jehoiachin, [2 Chron 36:10] was taken in  597BC, along with Ezekiel and some ten thousand other Jews, [2 Kings 24:12-17]
•  and then Zedekiah, in  587BC  with the fall of Jerusalem after a year's siege.


Jeremiah had prophesied about the sin of Israel again and again:

16:11,12 – forefathers had forsaken the Lord, they were worse

16:18 – the land full of vile images

17:2 – even their children know the Asherah pole idols

17:21 – ignoring the Sabbath day

18:15 – God has been rejected for idols

22.3 – oppression and injustice again

22:9 – the covenant broken and idols worshipped

22:17 – oppression, injustice and violence

23:1 – leaders don't care for the people

23:11 – godlessness in the Temple

23:14 – Jerusalem has become like Sodom and Gomorrah

25:4 – they refuse the Lord's words and continue to worship idols

etc. etc.


The record (2 Chron 36:17-20) of the fall of Jerusalem says of God, “He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord 's temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God's temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power.”


The book of Jeremiah has a more comprehensive record [Jer 52:4-27]:

“So in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army.

•  They encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
•  By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat.
•  Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled. They left the city at night through the gate between the two walls near the king's garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled towards the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued King Zedekiah and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured.
•  He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. There at Riblah the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah's eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death.
•  On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.
•  He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down.
•  The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem.
•  Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile some of the poorest people and those who remained in the city, along with the rest of the craftsmen and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. But Nebuzaradan left behind the rest of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields.
•  The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the Lord and they carried all the bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, sprinkling bowls, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. The commander of the imperial guard took away the basins, censers, sprinkling bowls, pots, lampstands, dishes and bowls used for drink offerings – all that were made of pure gold or silver.
•  The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and seven royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land, sixty of whom were found in the city. Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed.”


Clearly this was a terrible time and it was subsequent to this that Lamentations was written. It should be noted that most of the descriptions in the five chapters of Lamentations cannot be dated and so Jeremiah may have been referring to different times during these days, i.e. during the siege and after it. The chapters give no indication of chronological order.

The awfulness of the descriptions in Lamentations enables us to catch something more of the reality of what happened. We should also remind ourselves that Jeremiah prophesied the return of Israel to the land which was fulfilled in the reign of Cyrus.




1: Anguish for what has happened

2: Judgement of the Lord

3: Anguish & Hope

4: The Past Compared with the Present

5: Prayer over the Disgrace of Israel & Jerusalem