Summary: Following the destruction of Jerusalem, and the captivity of Judah, Jeremiah shows how we may find God’s presence at the heart of our sufferings.
Coping With Crisis
(Finding God’s Presence In The Midst of our Pain)
Aim: To show how the captivity of Judah revealed the character of God.
Introduction: The book of Lamentations is a dirge. It’s a funeral song. We might call it a requiem, and as such it is a book filled with remorse and sorrow. One commentator’s opening remarks on this book read. “Lamentations is the most depressing book in the Bible.” That would do little to encourage you to read it! Yet read it we must. These are the words of Jeremiah AFTER judgment finally fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and the people of the land were taken captive into Babylon.
The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the O.T. Scriptures, has a brief note on Lamentations suggesting that Jeremiah uttered these laments whilst sitting on a hill overlooking the desolate city of Jerusalem. Whether that is true or not, one thing is for sure these are the words of Jeremiah, and although he had predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of its people, he took no pleasure in the fact that he was vindicated in the end when his prophecy came to pass. I like that. Jonah sat on a hilltop and skulked because Nineveh was not destroyed, Jeremiah sat on a hillside and wept because Jerusalem was. Jeremiah, not Jonah represents the heart of God in this thing. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, nor does he draw any satisfaction from the chastisement of His own.
So what of the book itself? Well, it is a series of five dirges, and if you take a quick glance you will discover that every chapter of Lamentations contains twenty-two verses, except for the third and middle chapter which has sixty-six. Now that hints at something about the structure of the book. Each chapter of Lamentations is written as an acrostic. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and beginning with aleph, the equivalent to our letter “a”, the verses run successively through the alphabet. In the third chapter this happens in triplet, the first three verses begin with the first letter, the second three with the second letter, the third with the third etc., and hence sixty-six verses. The only chapter, which is excluded from this structure, is the fifth, although it also has twenty-two verses.
Now you might say, why would Jeremiah write this book in this way? Probably because this book was never written with an eye to private devotions, but always intended as a liturgy, and so it is. Certain books of the O.T are associated with particular events in Jewish history and are read to mark those events. These books are known in Judaism as the “Megilloth” or “Scrolls”, so called because each of them is written on a scroll to be read at certain Jewish festivals, so Song of Solomon is read at Passover, Ruth at Pentecost, Ecclesiastes at Tabernacles, Esther at Purim and Lamentations at the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem.
Certainly the book does not at first glance lighten the heart. In chapter 1 we read of Jerusalem’s plight, in the first half of that chapter the city’s is referred to in the third person, Jeremiah is speaking, but in the second half reference to the city is made in the first person, showing that the city bemoans herself.