Summary: This is a message in a series of sermons from the book of Lamentations. This particular message is a survey of the book.
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.