Author and His Times
Author is not mentioned. Most assume Jeremiah was the author – the literary form and historical context match.
This prophecy is made soon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Lamenting the 2 year siege which ended in Jerusalem’s destruction/exile, this book expresses personal pain and spiritual dismay of famine, thirst, cannibalism, rape, and slaughter.
The siege lasted for two years, as tens of thousands huddled in Jerusalem, hoping that Yahweh would intervene. Instead, the Babylonian troops finally breached her walls, raped her women, and slaughtered many of her inhabitants (How to read the Bible Book by Book, 167).
The book is written from the perspective of those left behind in the desolate and unprotected remains of Jerusalem.
Lamentations expresses the crumbling of Judah’s theology and identity. Without YHWH or the land where he resided, they no longer know who they are. The punishment is received as just, a flickering hope in YHWH’s character shines out, and everyone is left wondering if other nations will receive their do as Judah has.
I. (1-2) Mourning the fall of the Jerusalem (narrator and Zion voice)
II. (3) Personal Suffering & Meaning (Jerusalem is personified in the narrator voice – their suffering is inseparable)
III. (4-5) Agony for those left in Jerusalem (narrator and people of Zion voice)
Written in acrostic structure. All chapters have either 22 or 66 verses – each verse begins with a sequential letter of the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 5 is not an acrostic, but it does have 22 verses. This is a great book for giving voice to the random emotions that take place during mourning a loss.
How to Read It
Watch the tension build successively through chapter 3, somewhat reside in 4, and end with a whimper in 5. Topics jump regularly due to the acrostic formula. For similar form and content, reference Psalms 74 & 79. Reference II Kings 25 for the actual event being agonized over. Habakkuk and Obadiah also wrestle with whether other nations will receive their due.