The book of Lamentations is a poetic and reflective memorial book , with 5 poems of Lament. The author is anonymous, although often attributed to Jeremiah. The historical context is around the time of 586 BC, just after the fall of Jerusalem; the city was under siege and taken into exile by Babylon. There are 3 voices in the book, the author, the City Zion and the people.
The poems have an acrostic style; this literary pattern adds interpretive depth, for example, in the last book, the chaos experienced was even written into the structure of the writing.
The main messages found within this book are about the deep personal suffering bought about by consistent sin, and the physical, emotional and spiritual agony in the aftermath of long-term disobedience. It shows too how the whole community is affected.
The beloved city and people of God are devastated and the book highlights the catastrophic consequences and the aftermath warned of by His prophets, giving a memorial voice to those who journeyed through these heart-wrenching events. God's restorative justice is seen as He finally pours out His wrath and brings in His judgement.
We also find the message of hope that springs from remembrance. The author recognised that he has come to the end of himself; however, hope dawns within him, as he recalls the character of God . God has walked with them, He has steadfast love, His mercies are new each morning, and that His light and faithfulness is always available. In reflecting, he also considers how much pain could have been avoided, had he listened to God in his youth.
There is also the asking for Israel's enemies to be punished, saying they were equally deserving. He also reminds God that many innocents are caught up in the disaster.
God is verbally silent throughout the narrative, and the book ends, with no explanation to the heart-wrenching questions asked, as it is for so many who grieve and are left with unanswered questions.
The book is a stark warning to remember that disobedience is walking into darkness and obedience is walking into the light. God is just and He will act.
Why was the book written and how does it contribute to the Old Testament Story? (150)
David Pawson suggests it was so others could lament with them, suggesting these writings were taken to their fellow Israelites in Babylon, uniting them in the grief over distance with verse and song.
These writings contribute to the Old Testament with reality about God's chosen people and God's justice and faithfulness. He had made covenant with them and they were supposed to be a light to the nations, yet they were not. The Promised Land and the city lies devastated; even God's dwelling destroyed in the two-year siege, they were hoping God would intervene but He did not. Even though God seemed silent, He had not abandoned them. In remembering who's they were and what He had done for them in the past, a doorway to hope flickered.
God's judgment and justice was also shown to be final, yet also restorative. It caused an awakening to sin, shows how to deal with guilt and a turning back to God. In its own way, it outlines and shows the gospel basics. The severity became necessary for leading one into true repentance and in so doing a convergence occurs; conviction helps to open a door of hope.
What Questions did the book raise in my mind:
There were many questions, surprises, disturbances and encouragements in this book.
The extremes in the book were quite shocking and very disturbing. I saw, extreme devastation, extreme emotions and extreme measures. I think because it is a book of extremes, it shows the result of living a life turned away from God - it is a stark warning from a loving God that there will be a time of judgement, so turn now.
I think there are glimmers of answers. Looking back shows the long distance outcome of walking in selfishness and following the other nations, God has a different path for His people. I think this is memorial book, so that we don't make the same mistakes and remembering the walk and journey of God's faithfulness, showing us there is always hope, even in the darkest of times and even when there is no understanding of how or why devastation has occurred.
The laments are disturbing, describing incredible suffering, physically, emotionally and spiritually, as Gods, chosen people face the loss of everything they held dear. The laments offer heart and soul felt protests, about the shattering events and are expressed both to God and to others. The laments let the readers in to witness emotions being processed, guilt being dealt with, bringing into focus a better understanding of selfishness and the cost of sin in a fallen world. There is also hope found in the midst of judgment, the restorative nature of judgment, as CS Lewis would say," God's megaphone to a deaf world".
I was surprised at how much this book can help us to understand grief. It prompts us to remembrance, it has warnings that jump out of the pages, engage the heart and imagination, thereby helping those who grieve to have a renewed hope in God and the future. This also speaks about how vital it is to express emotion, how cruel it is not to allow grief a voice. It is also instructive in pray both for the individual and for intercessory pray.
Encouragingly, the book shows the faithfulness of God, even when He seems silent. It presents a way through grief and back to a God where always hope can be found. Disturbingly, within its heart, the book speaks of the cost of disobedience and the devastation it causes and that it can be a slow fade, one little mistake not addressed after another, finally leading to complete breakdown and devastation. Encouragingly, it does however, offers hope and shows that there is a way back, when we think there is not. The glimmer of this restoration is found in the middle of the book however its outcome is not seen in Lamentations. Disturbingly whilst realistically, the book ends leaving open questions, just as so often our own grief does, in so doing it is honest and gives a sacred dignity to the human experience.
Throughout the book, we see God's character; a future hope is found when His character is remembered. His justice, His patients and long-suffering prior to judgement. His wisdom and redemptive nature, as we witness the outcome of the judgement, turned hearts. God's faithfulness to His name, even when His reputation is on the line, He associates Himself with His rebellious people.
In looking for Jesus within Lamentations, I see the glimpse of the story of the prodigal son. Here we have the prodigal nation and God waiting for them to come to their senses. In Lamentations, it seemed God was silent but in His wisdom, He was waiting for His people to be in a place that they could hear; His compassion in the waiting, He carries them silently and mysteriously.
I also see the gospel message here for the individual, so often it takes catastrophe to awaken a soul to their need for God. He sends out his people to invite, to warn, to explain, but people ignore and continue in their selfish ways. Eventually, their life unravels and devastation envelopes their life and in the midst, they remember the warnings, the seeds planted, they turn, seek God and find that He can be found and is waiting for them.
I also see Jesus in Lamentations 2: 13 it says, "For your ruin is vast as the sea; who can heal you? Now we have the whole bible in place, we know this is Jesus.
Matthew 7.7 "….. knock, and it will be opened to you. " The doorway of hope in the middle of the book, reminds me of this passage. The peoples deep exposed sin and the shock of their plights, was like a loud knocking. For many it takes the loud knock of catastrophe, for them to open the door.
2 Practical points for Application
This book helps to remind us that at times some will feel that there is no way to recover, no way to restore the past and all they can do is lament. I am reminded of a Selwyn Hughes lecture, "you don't bury emotions dead, you bury them alive". Lamentations helps us see that God can handle these emotions and how important it is, to pour them out to Him.
This book has much help on grieving. It shows that at critical times, most don't need advice and probably can't even pray and are considering the silence of God? This book helps to point out that God is there. Below I found some grief language and advice:
" Time to process without suggestions
" Grief is very tiring
" No energy for normal things
" Incapable of logic
" Emotional language: crushed, devastated, desolate, lonely, afflicted; mourning ; isolated, suffering; helpless; defenceless; no companionship; no comforter; no rest; no power; loss of dignity; painful pictures that flash
" Feels like there is no way to rebuild the future; survival worries
" Joy is vacant even doing things that usually bring joy.
" The process of grief and in no particular order nor for any particular time frame: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, acceptance. Then all over again.
" Questions, where are you God, what are you doing God? Did I do something wrong?
In the valley of despair, is the doorway of hope . The book ends without answer, keep reading, keep going, keep hoping. The story is not over.
Bible Project: Internet Source
Book of Lamentations: The Bible
Unlocking the Bible: David Pawon
How to Read the Bible Book by Book : Gorden Fee