Tradition holds that the book of Lamentations was written by Jeremiah. There is no direct evidence of this, but it definitely was written by an eyewitness (like Jeremiah) who lived through the results of the prophecies of Jeremiah. All the passages this week are like this… they reflect on the outcomes of Jerusalem’s destruction and the outpouring of God’s judgment on rebellious people.
From a literary perspective, Lamentations is very carefully and intricately constructed as a means of helping to emphasize the importance of its content. I wrote about a similar structure in Psalm 119 here. Each of the five chapters consist of sets of 22 verses, corresponding with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In Chapters 1 and 2, each verse consists of 3 lines, the first line of which starts with the corresponding letter (verse 1 aleph, verse 2 bet, etc.). Chapter 3 has 66 verses, where each verse in the set of 3 begins with the same letter (verses 1, 2, and 3 with aleph, verses 4, 5, and 6 with bet, etc.). Chapter 4 has 2-line verses similarly constructed to Chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 5 is different, though. There are still 22 verses, but they do not follow an acrostic pattern.
This structure required a lot of skill and planning to accomplish. It is a good example of how the Holy Spirit inspires the human authors of the Bible, and yet still allows for the human element of artistry and individualism to be present. The laments here express the deep anguish of the author (and the community at large) over the extent of God’s judgment on His people. It focuses on the physical destruction of the city and on the loss of life and freedom of its people. It ends (Lamentations 5:21-22) with a plea for God’s restoration (“Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days of old”), but also with a feeling of despair (“unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us”).
It can be very difficult to trust God when things aren’t going well. It’s easy to feel that He’s abandoned you and doesn’t care about the trouble you’re going through. You may feel, as the verses above illustrate, that you’re endlessly pleading with Him and wonder if He’s ever going to respond. I encourage you, though, to step back and rely on the confidence that the author of Lamentations placed in God. Almost in the center of the book (chapter 3:21-26), he writes
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
It takes discipline and faith to stand firm on God’s promises, but I encourage you to always choose that road. Even in the midst of their exile, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the rest of the Israelites who remained faithful to God trusted him to keep his promise, which was to return them from exile to their home and ultimately to restore a right relationship with him through his promised Messiah, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.