The Lamentations of Jeremiah

1:1 How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal. 

2 She weeps bitterly in the night,
   with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
   she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
   they have become her enemies. 

3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering
   and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
   and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
   in the midst of her distress. 

4 The roads to Zion mourn,
   for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
   her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
   and her lot is bitter. 

5 Her foes have become the masters,
   her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer
   for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
   captives before the foe. 

6 From daughter Zion has departed
   all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags
   that find no pasture;
they fled without strength
   before the pursuer. 

7 Jerusalem remembers,
   in the days of her affliction and wandering,
all the precious things
   that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into the hand of the foe,
   and there was no one to help her,
the foe looked on mocking
   over her downfall. 

8 Jerusalem sinned grievously,
   so she has become a mockery;
all who honoured her despise her,
   for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans,
   and turns her face away. 

9 Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
   she took no thought of her future;
her downfall was appalling,
   with none to comfort her.
‘O Lord, look at my affliction,
   for the enemy has triumphed!’ 

10 Enemies have stretched out their hands
   over all her precious things;
she has even seen the nations
   invade her sanctuary,
those whom you forbade
   to enter your congregation. 

11 All her people groan
   as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
   to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
   how worthless I have become. 

12 Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
   Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
   which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
   on the day of his fierce anger. 

13 From on high he sent fire;
   it went deep into my bones;
he spread a net for my feet;
   he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
   faint all day long. 

14 My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
   by his hand they were fastened together;
they weigh on my neck,
   sapping my strength;
the Lord handed me over
   to those whom I cannot withstand. 

15 The Lord has rejected
   all my warriors in the midst of me;
he proclaimed a time against me
   to crush my young men;
the Lord has trodden as in a wine press
   the virgin daughter Judah. 

16 For these things I weep;
   my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
   one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
   for the enemy has prevailed. 

17 Zion stretches out her hands,
   but there is no one to comfort her;
the Lord has commanded against Jacob
   that his neighbors should become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
   a filthy thing among them. 

18 The Lord is in the right,
   for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
   and behold my suffering;
my young women and young men
   have gone into captivity. 

19 I called to my lovers
   but they deceived me;
my priests and elders
   perished in the city
while seeking food
   to revive their strength. 

20 See, O Lord, how distressed I am;
   my stomach churns,
my heart is wrung within me,
   because I have been very rebellious.
In the street the sword bereaves;
   in the house it is like death. 

21 They heard how I was groaning,
   with no one to comfort me.
All my enemies heard of my trouble;
   they are glad that you have done it.
Bring on the day you have announced,
   and let them be as I am. 

22 Let all their evildoing come before you;
   and deal with them
as you have dealt with me
   because of all my transgressions;
for my groans are many
   and my heart is faint. 

2:1 How the Lord in his anger
   has humiliated daughter Zion!
He has thrown down from heaven to earth
   the splendour of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
   on the day of his anger. 

2 The Lord has destroyed without mercy
   all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
   the strongholds of daughter Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
   the kingdom and its rulers. 

3 He has cut down in fierce anger
   all the might of Israel;
he has withdrawn his right hand from them
   in the face of the enemy;
he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob,
   consuming all around. 

4 He has bent his bow like an enemy,
   with his right hand set like a foe;
he has killed all in whom we took pride
   in the tent of daughter Zion;
he has poured out his fury like fire. 

5 The Lord has become like an enemy;
   he has destroyed Israel.
He has destroyed all its palaces,
   laid in ruins its strongholds,
and multiplied in daughter Judah
   mourning and lamentation. 

6 He has broken down his booth like a garden,
   he has destroyed his tabernacle;
the Lord has abolished in Zion
   festival and sabbath,
and in his fierce indignation has spurned
   king and priest. 

7 The Lord has scorned his altar,
   disowned his sanctuary;
he has delivered into the hand of the enemy
   the walls of her palaces;
a clamor was raised in the house of the Lord
   as on a day of festival. 

8 The Lord determined to lay in ruins
   the wall of daughter Zion;
he stretched the line;
   he did not withhold his hand from destroying;
he caused rampart and wall to lament;
   they languish together. 

9 Her gates have sunk into the ground;
   he has ruined and broken her bars;
her king and princes are among the nations;
   guidance is no more,
and her prophets obtain
   no vision from the Lord. 

10 The elders of daughter Zion
   sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
   and put on sackcloth;
the young girls of Jerusalem
   have bowed their heads to the ground. 

11 My eyes are spent with weeping;
   my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
   because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint
   in the streets of the city. 

12 They cry to their mothers,
   ‘Where is bread and wine?’
as they faint like the wounded
   in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out
   on their mothers’ bosom. 

13 What can I say for you, to what compare you,
   O daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you,
   O virgin daughter Zion?
For vast as the sea is your ruin;
   who can heal you? 

14 Your prophets have seen for you
   false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
   to restore your fortunes,
but have seen oracles for you
   that are false and misleading. 

15 All who pass along the way
   clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
   at daughter Jerusalem;
‘Is this the city that was called
   the perfection of beauty,
   the joy of all the earth?’ 

16 All your enemies
   open their mouths against you;
they hiss, they gnash their teeth,
   they cry: ‘We have devoured her!
Ah, this is the day we longed for;
   at last we have seen it!’ 

17 The Lord has done what he purposed,
   he has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
   he has demolished without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you,
   and exalted the might of your foes. 

18 Cry aloud to the Lord!
   O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent
   day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
   your eyes no respite! 

19 Arise, cry out in the night,
   at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
   before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
   for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
   at the head of every street. 

20 Look, O Lord, and consider!
   To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
   the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
   in the sanctuary of the Lord? 

21 The young and the old are lying
   on the ground in the streets;
my young women and my young men
   have fallen by the sword;
on the day of your anger you have killed them,
   slaughtering without mercy. 

22 You invited my enemies from all around
   as if for a day of festival;
and on the day of the anger of the Lord
   no one escaped or survived;
those whom I bore and reared
   my enemy has destroyed. 

3:1 I am one who has seen affliction
   under the rod of God’s wrath; 
2 he has driven and brought me
   into darkness without any light; 
3 against me alone he turns his hand,
   again and again, all day long. 

4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
   and broken my bones; 
5 he has besieged and enveloped me
   with bitterness and tribulation; 
6 he has made me sit in darkness
   like the dead of long ago. 

7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
   he has put heavy chains on me; 
8 though I call and cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer; 
9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
   he has made my paths crooked. 

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
   a lion in hiding; 
11 he led me off my way and tore me to pieces;
   he has made me desolate; 
12 he bent his bow and set me
   as a mark for his arrow. 

13 He shot into my vitals
   the arrows of his quiver; 
14 I have become the laughing-stock of all my people,
   the object of their taunt-songs all day long. 
15 He has filled me with bitterness,
   he has glutted me with wormwood. 

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
   and made me cower in ashes; 
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
   I have forgotten what happiness is; 
18 so I say, ‘Gone is my glory,
   and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.’ 

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
   is wormwood and gall! 
20 My soul continually thinks of it
   and is bowed down within me. 
21 But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope: 

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end; 
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. 
24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
   ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ 

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul that seeks him. 
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord. 
27 It is good for one to bear
   the yoke in youth, 
28 to sit alone in silence
   when the Lord has imposed it, 
29 to put one’s mouth to the dust
   (there may yet be hope), 
30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
   and be filled with insults. 

31 For the Lord will not
   reject for ever. 
32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
   according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 
33 for he does not willingly afflict
   or grieve anyone. 

34 When all the prisoners of the land
   are crushed under foot, 
35 when human rights are perverted
   in the presence of the Most High, 
36 when one’s case is subverted
   —does the Lord not see it? 

37 Who can command and have it done,
   if the Lord has not ordained it? 
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
   that good and bad come? 
39 Why should any who draw breath complain
   about the punishment of their sins? 

40 Let us test and examine our ways,
   and return to the Lord. 
41 Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
   to God in heaven. 
42 We have transgressed and rebelled,
   and you have not forgiven. 

43 You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
   killing without pity; 
44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
   so that no prayer can pass through. 
45 You have made us filth and rubbish
   among the peoples. 

46 All our enemies
   have opened their mouths against us; 
47 panic and pitfall have come upon us,
   devastation and destruction. 
48 My eyes flow with rivers of tears
   because of the destruction of my people. 

49 My eyes will flow without ceasing,
   without respite, 
50 until the Lord from heaven
   looks down and sees. 
51 My eyes cause me grief
   at the fate of all the young women in my city. 

52 Those who were my enemies without cause
   have hunted me like a bird; 
53 they flung me alive into a pit
   and hurled stones on me; 
54 water closed over my head;
   I said, ‘I am lost.’ 

55 I called on your name, O Lord,
   from the depths of the pit; 
56 you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear
   to my cry for help, but give me relief!’ 
57 You came near when I called on you;
   you said, ‘Do not fear!’ 

58 You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
   you have redeemed my life. 
59 You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
   judge my cause. 
60 You have seen all their malice,
   all their plots against me. 

61 You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
   all their plots against me. 
62 The whispers and murmurs of my assailants
   are against me all day long. 
63 Whether they sit or rise—see,
   I am the object of their taunt-songs. 

64 Pay them back for their deeds, O Lord,
   according to the work of their hands! 
65 Give them anguish of heart;
   your curse be on them! 
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
   from under the Lord’s heavens. 

4:1 How the gold has grown dim,
   how the pure gold is changed!
The sacred stones lie scattered
   at the head of every street. 

2 The precious children of Zion,
   worth their weight in fine gold—
how they are reckoned as earthen pots,
   the work of a potter’s hands! 

3 Even the jackals offer the breast
   and nurse their young,
but my people has become cruel,
   like the ostriches in the wilderness. 

4 The tongue of the infant sticks
   to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
   but no one gives them anything. 

5 Those who feasted on delicacies
   perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
   cling to ash heaps. 

6 For the chastisement of my people has been greater
   than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
   though no hand was laid on it. 

7 Her princes were purer than snow,
   whiter than milk;
their bodies were more ruddy than coral,
   their hair like sapphire. 

8 Now their visage is blacker than soot;
   they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
   it has become as dry as wood. 

9 Happier were those pierced by the sword
   than those pierced by hunger,
whose life drains away, deprived
   of the produce of the field. 

10 The hands of compassionate women
   have boiled their own children;
they became their food
   in the destruction of my people. 

11 The Lord gave full vent to his wrath;
   he poured out his hot anger,
and kindled a fire in Zion
   that consumed its foundations. 

12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
   nor did any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
   the gates of Jerusalem. 

13 It was for the sins of her prophets
   and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed the blood of the righteous
   in the midst of her. 

14 Blindly they wandered through the streets,
   so defiled with blood
that no one was able
   to touch their garments. 

15 ‘Away! Unclean!’ people shouted at them;
   ‘Away! Away! Do not touch!’
So they became fugitives and wanderers;
   it was said among the nations,
   ‘They shall stay here no longer.’ 

16 The Lord himself has scattered them,
   he will regard them no more;
no honour was shown to the priests,
   no favour to the elders. 

17 Our eyes failed, ever watching
   vainly for help;
we were watching eagerly
   for a nation that could not save. 

18 They dogged our steps
   so that we could not walk in our streets;
our end drew near; our days were numbered;
   for our end had come. 

19 Our pursuers were swifter
   than the eagles in the heavens;
they chased us on the mountains,
   they lay in wait for us in the wilderness. 

20 The Lord’s anointed, the breath of our life,
   was taken in their pits—
the one of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow
   we shall live among the nations.’ 

21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom,
   you that live in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
   you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare. 

22 The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished,
   he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish,
   he will uncover your sins. 

5:1 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
   look, and see our disgrace! 
2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
   our homes to aliens. 
3 We have become orphans, fatherless;
   our mothers are like widows. 
4 We must pay for the water we drink;
   the wood we get must be bought. 
5 With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven;
   we are weary, we are given no rest. 
6 We have made a pact with Egypt and Assyria,
   to get enough bread. 
7 Our ancestors sinned; they are no more,
   and we bear their iniquities. 
8 Slaves rule over us;
   there is no one to deliver us from their hand. 
9 We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
   because of the sword in the wilderness. 
10 Our skin is black as an oven
   from the scorching heat of famine. 
11 Women are raped in Zion,
   virgins in the towns of Judah. 
12 Princes are hung up by their hands;
   no respect is shown to the elders. 
13 Young men are compelled to grind,
   and boys stagger under loads of wood. 
14 The old men have left the city gate,
   the young men their music. 
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
   our dancing has been turned to mourning. 
16 The crown has fallen from our head;
   woe to us, for we have sinned! 
17 Because of this our hearts are sick,
   because of these things our eyes have grown dim: 
18 because of Mount Zion, which lies desolate;
   jackals prowl over it. 

19 But you, O Lord, reign for ever;
   your throne endures to all generations. 
20 Why have you forgotten us completely?
   Why have you forsaken us these many days? 
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
   renew our days as of old— 
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure.

The Destruction of the First Temple

The Destruction of the Second Temple

Lamentations is recited annually by Jews on the fast day of Tisha B'Av ("Ninth of Av") (July–August),
mourning the destruction of both the First Temple (by the Babylonians in 586 BCE)
and the Second Temple (by the Romans in 70 CE).

In Christian tradition, readings from Lamentations are part of the Holy Week liturgies.


The first four chapters are written as acrostics. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 each have 22 verses, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the first lines beginning with the first letter of the alphabet, the second with the second letter, and so on. Chapter 3 has 66 verses, so that each letter begins three lines. Unlike standard alphabetical order, in the middle chapters of Lamentations, the letter pe the 17th letter) comes before (the 16th). In the first chapter, the Masoretic text uses the standard/modern alphabetical order; however, in the dead sea scroll version of the text,  c. 37 BCE – 73 CE), even the first chapter uses order found in chapters 2, 3, and 4... Given that they largely abandoned the Paleo-Hebrew script for the Aramaic script (which used  ayin-pe), it is not surprising that they also adopted the Aramaic letter order (around the same (exilic) time period). The fact that Lamentations follows the pre-exilic pe-ayin order is evidence for the position that they are not postexilic compositions but rather written shortly after the events described. The fifth poem, corresponding to the fifth chapter, is not acrostic but still has 22 lines. (Wikipedia)

Background on Lamentations

The Destruction of Jerusalem Recalled

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them from his presence.

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and they laid siege to it; they built siege-works against it all round. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city wall; and all the soldiers fled and went out from the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all round the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and all his army was scattered, deserting him. Then they captured the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him. The king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and also killed all the officers of Judah at Riblah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters, and the king of Babylon took him to Babylon, and put him in prison until the day of his death.

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. All the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vine-dressers and tillers of the soil.

The pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the basins, the ladles, and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service. The captain of the guard took away the small bowls also, the firepans, the basins, the pots, the lampstands, the ladles, and the bowls for libation, both those of gold and those of silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which King Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weighing. As for the pillars, the height of one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits; it was hollow and its thickness was four fingers. Upon it was a capital of bronze; the height of the capital was five cubits; lattice-work and pomegranates, all of bronze, encircled the top of the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates encircling the lattice-work numbered one hundred.

The captain of the guard took the chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah, and the three guardians of the threshold; and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the soldiers, and seven men of the king’s council who were found in the city; the secretary of the commander of the army who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land who were found inside the city. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And the king of Babylon struck them down, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah went into exile out of its land.

This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadrezzar took into exile: in the seventh year, three thousand and twenty-three Judeans; in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar he took into exile from Jerusalem eight hundred and thirty-two persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadrezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took into exile of the Judeans seven hundred and forty-five persons; all the people were four thousand six hundred.

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year he began to reign, showed favour to King Jehoiachin of Judah and brought him out of prison; he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the seats of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes, and every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table. For his allowance, a regular daily allowance was given him by the king of Babylon, as long as he lived, up to the day of his death. (Jeremiah 52)

Historical Background

The Third King of Israel was Solomon. It was he who built the First Jewish Temple. It was an immense undertaking over seven years. Completed in 953 BC that building was one of the wonders of the ancient world for 367 years. Destroyed on the 9th of Av 586 BC, that event is what motivated Jeremiah to write Lamentations. The population of Jerusalem was probably over a million people at the time. The city was under siege for two years with most able bodied perishing on the ramparts.

The Temple of Solomon was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The wealth of the temple was astonishing---100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver. (A talent weighted 75 pounds), From his own private fortune David also gave 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of high grade silver. This is an enormous quantity of gold and silver by any standard: 100,000 talents of gold = 3750 tons, value today = $45 billion; 1,000,000 talents of silver = 37,500 tons, value today = $10.8 billion.

In round numbers, the wealth of the first temple was about $56 billion. 3750 tons equals 12 x 2000 x 3750 ounces at $1800 per ounce = $160 billion today. 

Study Notes

Please read through the entire Lament. This will take about thirty minutes.

Note that in Chapter One, Jerusalem is pictured as a lonely widow. The men of Jerusalem have all been killed on the ramparts. The great wonder of the ancient word, Solomon's Temple has been pulled down, the gold and temple treasures carted off to Babylon and placed in pagan temples. Levitical priests serving in the temple have been slain. Dead bodies lie unburied in the streets. This widow bereaved of her husband is not a virtuous woman; she has had many lovers. In this lament there is grief and sorrow but no turning to God. Jeremiah also describes the surviving men and starving children--the final siege of Jerusalem lasted two years. History records women killing, boiling, and eating their own children just to stay alive longer. Foreign observers were appalled. Seventy years of desolation would pass before small numbers off Jews were allowed to return and rebuild (See Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther).

In Chapters Two through Four, Jeremiah tells us of his personal grief, the chastening he received from the Lord. He also has been tested severely. Even his close friends have died. He was not allowed to marry 50 years earlier; his sole companion has been God. His own relatives in Anatoth turned against him. He is no different from his fellow Jews except that he knows God. Finally, his own surviving countrymen hauled him to Egypt against his will, where he was martyred. It's not difficult see in this Lament the loss of national identity, purpose, aspirations when God strikes down a people. Yet, God suffers more than His people.

Don't miss the great breakthrough in Chapter 3 which brings us all hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end; 
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. 
24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
   ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ 

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul that seeks him. 
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord. 
27 It is good for one to bear
   the yoke in youth, 
28 to sit alone in silence
   when the Lord has imposed it, 
29 to put one’s mouth to the dust
   (there may yet be hope), 
30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
   and be filled with insults. 

31 For the Lord will not
   reject for ever. 
32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
   according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 
33 for he does not willingly afflict
   or grieve anyone. 

34 When all the prisoners of the land
   are crushed under foot, 
35 when human rights are perverted
   in the presence of the Most High, 
36 when one’s case is subverted
   —does the Lord not see it? 

37 Who can command and have it done,
   if the Lord has not ordained it? 
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
   that good and bad come? 
39 Why should any who draw breath complain
   about the punishment of their sins? 

40 Let us test and examine our ways,
   and return to the Lord. 
41 Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
   to God in heaven. 
42 We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven. 

Lamentations closes with a prayer:

5:19 But you, O Lord, reign for ever;
   your throne endures to all generations. 
20 Why have you forgotten us completely?
   Why have you forsaken us these many days? 
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
   renew our days as of old— 
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure.

The Application

Lamentations is about the death of a nation. Any nation! Yet Israel is a chosen people, a favored, privileged people. They are the only nation with a covenant relationship to Yahweh. Six hundred fifteen years later a greater prophet, Jesus, wept over Jerusalem knowing that forty years later the Second Jewish Temple would be destroyed, again with horrendous loss of life. The imminent fall of our nation ought not to surprise us! Therefore Lamentations is our Lament.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! |
How often I wanted to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you,
you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

(Matthew 23:37-39)

The Therapy of Trouble

by Ray Stedman

The book of Lamentations is sandwiched between the books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. This unusual book properly follows the book of Jeremiah the prophet and priest because it was written by him. It is the "Lamentations of Jeremiah" as he wept over the city of Jerusalem following its desolation and captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. In the Septuagint version of this -- the Greek translation of the Hebrew -- there is a brief notation to the effect that as Jeremiah went up on the hillside and sat overlooking the desolate city, he uttered these lamentations.

As you read through this book, you will find many foreshadowing of our Lord weeping over the city of Jerusalem. In the Lord's last week, when he went up to the Mount of Olives and sat looking out over the city, he wept over it saying,

"O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Matthew 23:37 RSV)

The tears ran down his face as he looked out over the city that had rejected him; this people that did not know the hour of their visitation, and had turned their backs upon the one who was their Messiah and their deliverer.

You will also find several foreshadowings of our Lord's ministry in the book of Jeremiah's Lamentations. For example, chapter 1:

How lonely sits the city that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become, (Lamentations 1:1a RSV)

This is highly suggestive of our Lord's weeping over the city. Farther on we read:

"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow..." (Lamentations 1:12a RSV)

This would certainly bring to the believing heart an immediate remembrance of the cross and those who watched the Lord as he hung there on it. Then in chapter 2, verse 15:

All who pass along the way
clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
at the daughter of Jerusalem; (Lamentations 2:15a RSV)

This recalls the mockery of the multitudes at the cross. Then in chapter 3, verses 14 and 15:

I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the burden of their songs all day long.
He filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood. (Lamentations 3:14-15 RSV)

Again in verse 19 of chapter 3:

Remember my affliction and my bitterness,
the wormwood and the gall! (Lamentations 3:19 RSV)

And verse 30 of that chapter:

Let him give his cheek to the smiter... (Lamentations 3:30a RSV)

This recalls Isaiah's prophecy, "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard." (Isaiah 50:6) This was fulfilled by the smiting of the Lord by the soldiers when Jesus was brought before Pilate for judgment. So this little book captures the agony and sorrow that was so much a part of our Lord's ministry at the cross that it earned him the title, "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)

The book of Lamentations is also unusual in the way it is put together. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, which begins with "aleph," the equivalent of our "a," and ends with "tau" which is the equivalent of our "t." (The letter "z," by the way, comes around the middle of their alphabet.) In this book of Jeremiah's Lamentations, chapters one, two and four form an acrostic, each chapter consisting of twenty-two verses, and each verse beginning with one of each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and ending with tau. Chapter three is interesting in that it consists of sixty-six verses in triads, or triplets, in which every verse making up each triad begins with the same letter of the alphabet, so that there are twenty-two groups of three altogether, one for each letter of the alphabet. These chapters have been written very, very carefully, according to the rules of Hebrew poetry. Chapter five does not follow this acrostic plan, although it does have twenty-two verses.

This is certainly an intriguing structure, but the real interest of this book is in its content. It is a study in sorrow, a hymn of heartbreak. This is the kind of book you might read when sorrow strikes your own heart, and sorrow comes to all of us at times. As Jeremiah was looking out over Jerusalem, he saw its desolation and he remembered the terrible, bloody battle in which Nebuchadnezzar had taken the city and sacked it, destroying the temple and killing the inhabitants.

Each chapter stresses and develops a particular aspect of sorrow. Chapter one gives us a description of the utter depths of sorrow, the desolation of spirit that sorrow makes upon the human heart, the sense of abandonment, of complete loneliness. Here you can see how vividly the prophet has captured this feeling as he pours out the feelings of his own heart. The people have been vanquished and taken into captivity; the city has been set on fire and totally destroyed. Verse 16:

"For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed." (Lamentations 1:16 RSV)

Chapter 2 describes the thoroughness of judgment. At the beginning of this chapter you have a description of how the armies of Nebuchadnezzar utterly devastated the city. Jeremiah, however, does not attribute this destruction to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, but to the Lord. He looks behind the immediate circumstance to what God is doing. As you read through the chapter you can see how he points out that everything has been destroyed, nothing is left. There is nothing he can put his hand on that has been preserved because of the thorough judgment of God.

Then in chapter 3 -- this long chapter of 66 verses where you have the triads of the alphabet -- the prophet speaks of his own reaction, his personal pain as an individual contemplating this devastation. He begins with these words:

I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago. (Lamentations 3:1-6 RSV)

In chapter 4 you have what we might call the incredibility of judgment, an attitude of unbelief as the prophet remembers all that happened. Anyone who has been through this knows about these aspects of the times of grief. First, there is a sense of utter desolation. Then comes an awareness of complete devastation and deep personal pain, and then, as Jeremiah seems to feel, a kind of unbelief that this could happen, a sense of incredulity as he contemplates the destruction of Jerusalem. Verse 2:

The precious sons of Zion,
worth their weight in fine gold,
how they are reckoned as earthen pots,
the work of a potter's hands! (Lamentations 4:2 RSV)

As he looks out and sees the bodies of the sons of Israel -- these precious young people who have been destroyed, turning to clay and dust in the streets -- he says:

Happier were the victims of the sword
than the victims of hunger [There had been a terrible famine in the city],
who pined away, stricken
by want of the fruits of the field. (Lamentations 4:9 RSV)

And so devastating had this siege been that,

The hands of compassionate women
have boiled their own children;
they became their food
in the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Lamentations 4:10 RSV)

This was of the most terrible sieges of all time. As the report went out, it was unbelievable (verse 12):

The kings of the earth did not believe,
or any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
the gates of Jerusalem. (Lamentations 4:12 RSV)

In chapter 5 there is the utter humiliation of judgment, the feeling that Jeremiah has been thoroughly disgraced. He hardly dares lift up his head again. He says (verses 1-5):

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
behold, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to aliens.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink,
the wood we get must be bought.
With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven;
we are weary, we are given no rest. (Lamentations 5:1-5 RSV)

He describes how in verse 13:

Young men are compelled to grind at the mill;
and boys stagger under loads of wood
The old men have quit the city gate,
the young men their music...
The joy of our hearts has ceased
The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned! (Lamentations 5:13-16 RSV)

What a description of the utter despair of the human spirit in the grip of deep distress and sorrow! And yet, in each of these chapters an insight is revealed, a lesson that God teaches through sorrow that otherwise would never have been learned. That is what we should look for in this book.

The book is designed to teach us through what might be called the therapy of trouble, what sorrow teaches us. All through scripture we are told that pain and suffering are God's instruments by which he teaches us. Through suffering comes strength of character. Do not be surprised that this is true. We read in Hebrews of the Lord Jesus, "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered." (Hebrews 5:8) There were things the Lord Jesus had to learn and could learn only by living as a man through times of suffering and sorrow. If he was not exempt, why should we expect to be?

This is why it is never right for a Christian to say, as so many of us do, when trouble strikes, "Why should this happen to me?" Well, why shouldn't it happen to you? As Hebrews 12, verse 10, reminds us, it is a mark of God's love. He sent it to discipline us, to teach us, and to train us.

Each chapter also reveals one particular aspect of sorrow as teaching one particular lesson of grace. In chapter 1 there is the sense of desolation and abandonment in spirit, when suddenly the prophet says in verse 18:

"The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word;" (Lamentations 1:18a RSV)

While he was looking out over Jerusalem and feeling this awful sense of desolation, he suddenly realized that this was a sign that God is right. So he says, "I have rebelled against his word."

That is the problem, and the lesson. Most of us are in the habit of blaming God, either directly or indirectly, for whatever happens to us, and our attitude is usually, "Well, I don't know why this should happen to me! After all, I have been doing my best. I have been trying hard, and still these kinds of things happen." And our implication is that God is unjust, God is not right.

The apostle Paul says, "Let God be true though every man be false." (Romans 3:4) It is impossible for God not to be right. It is impossible for man to be more just than God, because our very sense of justice is derived from him. It is impossible for man to be more compassionate than God, for our feelings of compassion come from him. You see, it is impossible for us ever to sit in judgment on God. God is right. When Jeremiah saw the utter desolation around him he learned this. As long as he had anything to prop himself up with, he could find fault with God, but when he was left utterly desolate he realized that the Lord was right.

In chapter 2 he gains more insight into this truth. He is made aware of the thoroughness of judgment, of how meticulously God has used the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to lay everything to waste In fact, how ruthless the Lord has been. But then he learns another insight (verse 17):

The Lord has done what he purposed,
has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
he has demolished without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you,
and exalted the might of your foes. (Lamentations 2:17 RSV)

In other words, God is faithful. Suddenly Jeremiah realizes that this is consistent with the character of God. If he says he is going to do something, he will do it. Nothing can make him change. If you look back over the history of Israel you discover that in the book of Deuteronomy, God had said to Moses, "Moses, if my people walk in obedience to me and love me and follow me, I will pour unlimited blessing upon them. I will open the windows of heaven and just simply bless them until they can't stand it. But if they turn, if they go aside, I will plead with them and send prophets to them and work with them and have patience with them." (And the record is that for four hundred years, God put up with the intransigence of Israel.) But God also promised that if Israel followed after other gods, he would raise up a nation to come in and devastate the land. That is exactly what God said and that is exactly what he did.

It is interesting that Jeremiah predicted how long that captivity would last. It would last seventy years. (Jeremiah 25:11 ) Why seventy? Well, in the law God required Israel to allow the land to rest fallow every seventh year. They were not to plow the soil or use it; they were to let it rest. (This is a very practical principle of agricultural conservation.) During the sixth year, to make up for the lack of food, the Lord would bless them with a superabundance of crops so they would have enough food to carry them through that seventh year.

But Israel never obeyed that command. They continued using the land from the time they entered it. In a sense they robbed God of seventy years of rest for the land. They used it continuously for 490 years so God sent them out of it and rested the land for 70 years.

How faithful God is to his promise. The Lord is utterly faithful. There is a widespread belief that God is so loving, so tenderhearted, that he just gives in when you pressure him a little; that he won't do what he says he is going to do. But that idea has been put to rest forever by one of the greatest verses in the Bible (Romans 8:32): "He who did not spare his own Son..." Think of that. When he was made sin for us, God did not spare him. That is how unflinching God is in following through on his word. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all..." And yet that verse ends in glory, doesn't it? "...will he not also give us all things with him?" One side of it is just as true as the other. Jeremiah learned that God is faithful by the thoroughness of judgment.

Then in chapter 3 where you read of Jeremiah's personal pain, we come to a tremendous passage. Suddenly, in the midst of a long wail, he says (verse 22-33):

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is thy 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 that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone in silence
when he has laid it on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust --
there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.
For the Lord will not
cast off for ever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. (Lamentations 3:22-33 RSV)

In many ways, this is one of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible. It reveals the compassion of the heart of God. Judgment, as Isaiah says, is his strange work. He does not like to do it. He does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. His mercies are fresh every morning. In his own pain Jeremiah remembers this: that behind all the desolation is the work of love. God destroyed Jerusalem because it was heading the wrong way. He destroyed it so that he could restore it later, and build it up again in joy and peace and blessing. The Lord does not cast off forever; though he causes grief, he will have compassion.

At the end of chapter 4, the prophet says in verse 22:

The punishment of your iniquity,
O daughter of Zion, is accomplished,
he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish,
he will uncover your sins. (Lamentations 4:22 RSV)

The daughter of Zion is Israel. The daughter of Edom refers to the country bordering Israel that was always a thorn in their flesh. Edom is always used in scripture as a picture of the flesh. The Edomites were related to Israel. They were the children of Esau, who is always a picture of the flesh. The prophet is saying, "God will set a limit to the punishment of his own. He never drives them too far. He never disciplines them too harshly. There is a limit. The punishment is accomplished. He will keep them in exile no longer; but as to the flesh, it has been utterly set aside and Edom will be punished."

Chapter 5 describes the humiliation of judgment, but in the end, Jeremiah comes to another flash of insight (verse 19):

But thou, O Lord, dost reign for ever;
thy throne endures to all generations. (Lamentations 5:19 RSV)

What does this mean? Well, it means that though man may even perish in sorrow, God endures. And because God endures, the great purpose and workings of God endure. God never does anything temporarily; all that he does endures forever. Jeremiah sees that what God has taught him in his grief will have a practical use. Even if he were to die in the midst of his grief, God's purposes endure. God is simply preparing now for a work yet to come. God is not limited by time. He is eternal. His throne, his authority, endures to all generations. In practical terms, the prophet is realizing that after he has been through this time of grief, he will have learned a truth about God that will make him absolutely impervious to any other kind of test. Once he has been through this, nothing can reach him, nothing can upset him, nothing can trouble him, nothing can touch him or overthrow him. He is now ready for anything. And in God's great purpose there will be an opportunity to use that strength.

I often think of those words of our Lord recorded in the fourteenth chapter of Luke when he tells his disciples the two parables about counting the cost. One involved the man who went out to do battle and met a king coming against him with an army. Jesus said, "What man of you will do that and not sit down first and count the cost?" Or, in the other parable about building a tower, who will not count the cost to see if he has enough to finish the building?

Usually we interpret this as our Lord saying to us, "If you are going to become a Christian, you should think it through. You should count the cost. You should see if you really mean business and are going to carry this through." Nothing could be further from the Lord's meaning. What he is saying is, "I am the one who has to count the cost. I, as your Lord and Master, do not go out to build a tower without sitting down first and counting the cost. Nor do I go out to do battle with a fierce king without first being sure that I have what it takes to win this battle."

In this passage, Jesus is explaining why he said to the disciples, "Except a man forsake his mother and father and son and daughter he cannot be my disciple." As they wondered at this, he said "You are wondering why I am so severe with you. I will tell you. It is because I am going out to do a great work of building. I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I am going out to do battle with a great foe, a foe of cleverness and ruthlessness, and I have to be sure that the men who follow me are men on whom I can depend. I have to count the cost."

In other words, "I have to get you ready for a battle that is going to go on far beyond this life. So I want men who will be mine. who will be absolutely, wholly mine so I can train them, prepare them, and bring them through trials and hardships, teaching them the great principles. When we finally get up against it, up against the real conflict, I will have men that I can depend upon. But I will have counted the cost."

That is what he is talking about. When we learn our lessons here -- when we learn how to handle sorrow and heartache and desolation of spirit in this limited way here -- we will be prepared so that nothing can overthrow us; we will be unconquerable in the battle that God faces in the subjugation of the entire universe.

I often think of this: What lies beyond? Is not God preparing us now to do a mightier work in the future? Is he not getting us ready to carry on a conflict that will extend to the uttermost reaches of this vast universe of ours? Of course he Isaiah God never does anything without a purpose. He never creates anything without intending to use it. And all this lies ahead of us. That is why it is so important that we learn how to face up to sorrow and to learn what God would have us to learn in the midst of it.


Our Father, thank you for this book of Lamentations. for its lesson to our hearts, that we may learn to be strong for your name's sake. to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, to be ready for that great day and that greater conflict yet to come. In Christ's name, Amen.

Lamentations: The Therapy of Trouble
JANUARY 16, 1966

Death of a Nation: Commentary on Jeremiah, by Ray Stedman

Is God Ruthless?

Lamentations (Wikipedia)

Notes by Lambert Dolphin 

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