I would like to take a few moments to discuss a subject that many times we would just prefer to ignore. That’s the subject of sin. At some time or another we all have allowed ourselves to enjoy the short-lived pleasures of sin. I would venture to say many of us have found ourselves enjoying these brief pleasures. Perhaps in the midst of this straying we might have had a passing thought of the consequences for our indulgences. That’s all they were, just a passing thought. Because we soon found ourselves dismissing those thoughts as we began to rationalize why there was really nothing wrong with what we were doing. The big problem is that we all have a sinful nature. We have the tendency to push from our minds the reality of the effects of our sin, so that we can better enjoy those momentary pleasures. All too often we do not realize that one sin leads to another and another and another. Before we know it, we find our lives spiraling out of control down the wrong path. With this in mind we can begin to understand why the Lord has preserved the Lamentations of Jeremiah which graphically details the consequences of Judah’s continued rebellion against God. As we journey through this book we will find ourselves asking if the momentary enjoyment of sin is worth the price tag that it carries. The wages of sin not only affects us but all those around us. Sin is a matter that we cannot allow ourselves to take lightly. The record of Jeremiah’s sorrow over Judah will allow us to see this like no other book in the Bible. Let’s prepare to journey through this ancient diary and see what lessons we can learn from Judah’s mistakes.
I. An introduction to the book of Lamentations.
A. How did the book get its name?
1. Its title in the Hebrew Bible is ʾekâ (“how!” or “in what way?”), the first word in 1:1; 2:1; and 4:1, a stereotyped opening word for a dirges in ancient times.
2. In the different Jewish rabbinic writings such as the Talmud the book was called qinot which means dirges or lamentations.
3. The Septuagint translators called the book Threnoi (“dirges”) of Jeremiah and placed it after the Book of Jeremiah.
4. Jerome also placed it after Jeremiah in his Latin translation (the Vulgate). He added to the title Threni a subtitle, Id est Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae (“that is, Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet”).
B. The author of Lamentations.
1. In the Hebrew Scriptures the author of the book is left anonymous.
2. The Septuagint begins: "And it came to pass after Israel had been taken away into captivity and Jerusalem had been laid waste that Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented this lamentation over Jerusalem and said" (The Latin Vulgate adds: "with a bitter spirit sighing and wailing";).
3. The tradition that Jeremiah was the author of Lamentations is quite ancient among the Jewish people as well as the church fathers, although his name is nowhere found in the book.
4. Jeremiah was well qualified to be its author, both as an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC and as a known composer of elegiac poetry.
5. We can know he was an eyewitness to Jerusalem’s fall, a skillful poet, a person who had deep feelings about his people, and one who loved his country; this qualifies Jeremiah as the author of Lamentations.
C. When was Lamentations written?
1. Because of the emotionally charged nature of the laments over Jerusalem’s destruction, the author must have been an eyewitness to the city’s fall.
2. There is almost universal agreement that the book was written soon after 587 BC, while the events were still vivid in the author’s memory.
D. Understanding the setting behind the book.
1. The Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 587 BC which was not the first time that the city had experienced being invaded and plundered but this was the first time they had experienced such total destruction including the leveling of Solomon’s temple.
2. In 588 BC King Zedekiah, with some encouragement from the Egyptians, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar in an attempt to reassert Judah’s independence.
3. After an eighteen-month siege by the Babylonian army, Jerusalem was taken, looted, and then destroyed. Many of its inhabitants were put to death, enslaved, exiled, or fled to Egypt. King Zedekiah and other leaders were taken to Babylon
4. More devastating to the morale of Judah than the destruction of the temple and loss of independence was the theological crisis created by the catastrophe.
5. Human suffering always precipitates probing questions about God. The faith of many Jews must have been shattered by the events.
II. A brief survey of the book of Lamentations.
A. Chapter one personifies the city of Jerusalem as a woman who has recently been widowed.
1. Jerusalem had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. The once-proud city had been looted and destroyed.
2. Disease, famine, and death are the usual consequences for a defeated people; but for Jerusalem an even more painful affliction was added: God seemed to pay no attention to the cries of the suffering survivors.
3. This first lament stresses that Jerusalem’s suffering has been “decreed” for her by the Lord in his general judgment against the nation of Judah.
4. Although there is a recognition that God has punished Jerusalem for her sin that does not lessen the pain.
B. Chapter two places a much greater emphasis on the LORD’s role in the destruction of Jerusalem.
1. The Babylonians receive no credit at all for what has happened. This is strictly an act of divine wrath.
2. There is no confession of sin or appeal for human sympathy as in the preceding lament. This text relates a dark day in the history of Jerusalem: God’s hand of blessing has been withdrawn.
3. The Law now has no place in Jerusalem and God no longer gives visions to her prophets.
4. The withdrawal of God’s hand from Jerusalem has left nothing but chaos behind.
5. The second lament then concludes in ways that remind one of the first lament, as Jerusalem herself expresses grief over the loss of her inhabitants, implicitly seeking the Lord’s mercy.
C. Chapter three presents the personal experience of the writer who understands the sorrow and the suffering of the entire nation.
1. The author seems to be saying that not only can he identify with Judah’s pain but he shares it.
2. Even in the midst of such intense suffering and sorrow Jeremiah seems to say he finds hope in God’s unceasing mercy.
3. This chapter contains a mixture of complaints about present sufferings at the hands of Israel’s enemies and petition for vindication through divine judgment on those enemies.
4. This chapter is most notably recognized for verses 22–26, which speak of the Lord’s love and faithfulness and the people’s hope in the “salvation of the Lord.”
D. Chapter four differs from the previous chapters by dwelling more on the sufferings of various classes of leaders (princes, prophets, and priests).
1. This lament shows quite explicitly that these sufferings are a result of the nation’s sin.
2. The first part describes the many stark contrasts between life in Jerusalem in its former times of glory and life in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege and destruction.
3. The second part spells out the fact that their present circumstances are a result of their continued sin.
4. The third part expresses the collective sense of futility felt by the people, as they witness the collapse of their beloved city and capture of their king.
5. The chapter ends with a curse being pronounced on Edom who seems to be one of Judah’s jeering neighbors.
E. Chapter fives presents a prayer for mercy and deliverance.
1. This fifth lament although it still has twenty-two verses differs greatly in structure from all the others.
2. The writer speaking on behalf of the people describes the suffering endured by the people as he appealed to God for relief.
3. As the people are voicing their petition there seems to be a sense of doubt mixed in as if they feel they are wasting their breath.
4. The lament closes with a prayer of hope that God would restore them to their days of old.
III. Is there any relevant application for Christians today?
A. Consider the situation that the Jewish people find themselves in as a result of their sin.
1. By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137:1—NIV)
2. The psalmist reflects on the time when the Judeans lived by "the rivers of Babylon”.
3. For many Judeans life in Babylon was good. They lived by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and enjoyed regular harvests due to the advanced irrigation system and fertile soil.
4. But all was loss for the godly in exile. Babylon may have been a pleasant country, but the Judeans were aliens in a foreign land, being far removed from Jerusalem.
5. To these exiles the tragic consequences of continued sin and disobedience is all so fresh in their minds.
B. As the Israelites found out sin always fails to deliver on its promises.
1. Sin lures us with the promises of lasting joy and satisfaction, but all it is able to deliver is a temporary joy and it robs us of all that makes life truly worth living.
2. Lamentations stands as a reminder that the path of sin and disobedience leads us away from God toward destruction and heartache.
3. The road toward God brings peace, joy, contentment and eternal life.
4. The question we all need to ask is, “What path are we currently traveling? Is it worth the cost?”
Someone tells the story of a boy who was rebelling against his dad constantly. This boy was destroying his own life by his rebellion, but he refused to heed his father’s words.
One day, the dad said to the boy, "I want to show you what you’re doing to your life. I’m going to put a wooden post in our front yard. Every time you rebel, I will put a nail in this post. Every time you obey, I will pull out one nail."
The first thought from the boy was, "I’m going to do everything I can to fill that post with nails." And he did. In two months’ time, he filled that post with nails. But he also began to feel the damage he was doing to his own life and to his parents’ lives.
With true remorse, the boy began to obey his father. One by one, the nails came out. When the last nail came out of the post, the boy broke down in tears. The dad asked, "Son, why are you crying?"
And the boy replied, "I got rid of the nails, but I can’t get rid of the holes."
God the Father saw the nails and the posts of our lives, and He saw our helplessness against sin. So He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to gather the nails and the posts from those who would let Him. And because of His love for us, Christ allowed Himself to be nailed on the posts, where He willingly paid the consequence of our sin.
Romans 6:23 tells us, "For the [consequences] of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." And this gift comes with God’s Spirit to train us to live holy lives.