The opening words of this book prepare the reader for what is to follow, ‘How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks’, 1. 1, 2. We are being prepared for a book of tears and immense heartache. We are going to listen to the words of a man whose tears express what words can never tell. Later on, the author of this book, says, ‘For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water’, 1. 16. Although there has been much debate on the subject, it will be assumed by the present writer that the author of the book was Jeremiah. There have been many tears shed in the streets of Jerusalem, but it is probably fair to say that, with one exception, none compare with those of Jeremiah in this short book. He sat in the streets of Jerusalem within a devastated city and temple and his heart just broke. On the seventh day of the fifth month, Nebuzar-adan, the captain of the guard of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had entered Jerusalem and plundered the house of the Lord, before setting fire to it. Additionally, he destroyed the houses in Jerusalem and broke down its walls, 2 Kgs. 25. 8-10. Jeremiah sat among the rubble, and his weeping, no doubt, was heard above all others. So be prepared to shed a tear as you read and study this engaging book.
Interestingly, the voice of God is not heard directly in any part of the book. An indirect reference is made to His words, ‘Fear not’, 3. 57. However, He was heard, of course, through the words of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, He allowed the city, personified as a widow, and the prophet to express their grief uninterrupted. This is not meant to imply that He was disinterested or unmoved by their laments. The very fact that He allowed them to express them proves otherwise. Sometimes we are too quick to enter into others’ grief and provide glib answers that leave them feeling even more distressed. The Lord listens to the groans of His people and answers them in His own time and way.
Several hundred years later, these same streets of Jerusalem witnessed the tears of ‘God … manifest in the flesh’, 1 Tim. 3. 16, that exceeded even those of Jeremiah for their intensity, ‘And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes’, Luke 19. 41, 42. Jeremiah’s tears looked back, whereas those of the Lord Jesus looked forward. Jeremiah had deep feelings for the city, but those of the Lord Jesus went deeper.
Jeremiah had to deliver some hard messages to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah during its gradual, yet certain, demise. They were messages that were far from popular. He endured great hostility from the people for delivering them. However, the book of Lamentations shows him to be a compassionate man. As he sat heartbroken among the rubble of Jerusalem, he revealed his deep feelings for the city and its people. He showed that, in spite of the people’s rebellion that had led to the current suffering and devastation, God ‘pardoneth iniquity… retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy… he will have compassion’, Mic. 7. 18, 19. His tender words have brought comfort and healing to the Lord’s people down the centuries, ‘It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness’, 3. 22, 23.
The book, therefore, assured the faithful remnant among the children of Israel that the Lord had not finished with His people, even though the circumstances appeared to suggest otherwise, ‘For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies’, 3. 31, 32. In the midst of a seemingly irretrievable and hopeless situation, Jeremiah cries, ‘therefore have I hope… The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him… It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord’, Lam. 3. 21, 24, 26.
Jeremiah prophesied during the days of good king Josiah. He enjoyed a happy relationship with him; however, Josiah’s reforms were only superficial as far as the people were concerned. They did not touch their hearts. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted into the reigns of the final kings of Judah; namely, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. These were disastrous times for the kingdom of Judah. Lamentations, therefore, finds its setting in the aftermath of the defeat of Jerusalem in 587 BC at the hands of the Babylonians and the carrying away of the people into seventy years of exile.
The work is anonymous, but there seem to be very few compelling reasons as to why it should not be regarded as the work of Jeremiah. The style is very similar to that of the prophecy that bears his name, and it is clearly the work of an eyewitness to the fall of Jerusalem and the descent of the people into captivity in Babylon, which Jeremiah was. However, in the last resort, it matters not who the author was if God does not state it. The message and the challenge it brings are of much greater importance.
As has already been noted, Lamentations reveals the heart of Jeremiah. The uncompromising message to Judah that came from his lips and from his pen was underpinned by a deep love and compassion for the people of God. He was a prophet who understood the heart of God and thus he declared a balanced message that reflected the character of God. Preachers need such an approach today. Cold, hard, formal, and uncompromising preaching will never touch the hearers’ hearts.
Jeremiah’s response in the book challenges us today as to how much we really care about the Lord’s work. When did a tear last stain our cheeks for the spiritual condition of the Lord’s things today? When did we last feel ‘emotional’ about the spiritual state of the Lord’s people?
The very title given to the book and the mention that, ‘the Lord… hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation’, 2. 5, tells us that we are beyond grief in this book. Grief tends to be the immediate outpouring of our pain. It is spontaneous and informal. Most of the Lord’s people will be familiar with grief and appreciate some of the strategies as to how to deal with it. However, less are familiar with lament. Maybe our comparatively comfortable and peaceful society militates against us learning how to lament. Believers who suffer intense persecution, poverty, and loss, wherever they might be in the world will know more about it than others. However, this book teaches us that there is a time to lament. David experienced it following the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, ‘And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son’, 2 Sam. 1. 17. A lament follows immediate grief. It is a more formal expression of grief. It can be written down, as it is in Lamentations. It touches the thoughts as well as the emotions. It is the thoughtful outpouring of our grief. Jeremiah is teaching us that, both individually and collectively, we should learn to lament.
As has already been noted, the voice of God is not heard directly in Lamentations. This encourages us to share with Him the struggles that we have in reconciling faith with suffering. In a single statement, the voice of God could have silenced the laments of the book. But God, in grace and mercy, allowed the sufferers to state their case. The inclusion of the book in the canon of scripture means that God is speaking to us through it today!
[Extracted from Old Testament Overview, Volume 5, Kings and Prophets Part 2 published by Precious Seed Books]
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