I. NAME OF THE BOOK
A. In Hebrew (MT) the title is the first word of the book which is "Ah How" (‘echah, cf. 1:1, 2:1, 4:1). This was a common term used at funerals.
B. In the Septuagint (LXX) it was titled "wailings" from the Greek root "to cry aloud."
C. The Talmud called it "Lamentations."
D. The Vulgate entitled it "It comprises the lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet."
A. It is in the specialized list of books from the Writings section of the Hebrew canon called the Megilloth (five scrolls). Each one was read at an annual feast day.
1. Song of Songs – Passover
2. Ruth – Pentecost
3. Ecclesiastes – Booth of Tabernacles
4. Esther – Purim
5. Lamentations – fall of Jerusalem and destruction of Solomon's Temple
B. The Writings section of the Hebrew canon puts Song of Songs after Psalms, Proverbs, and Job and before Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. The English Bible follows the order of the LXX.
C. Lamentations is read on the 9th of Ab (mid July) in commemoration of the destruction of Solomon's Temple by the army of Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 b.c. In later Judaism it also commemorated the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman general, Titus in a.d. 70.
A. Each of the five chapters is a separate lament/funeral dirge. These types of poems are common in the Ancient Near East, going back to Sumer. For Israel they express sorrow over current conditions but hope for the future.
B. The first four poems are acrostics. Each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This may have been a symbolic way of expressing complete grief.
C. Hebrew poetry is based on thought parallelism, not rhyme.
1. The line, not the words, is the literary key.
2. The parallelism is usually two or three lines.
a. synonymous parallelism — the lines express the same thought in different words
(1) Ps. 3:1; 8:40; 83:14; 103:3
(2) Pro. 20:1
(3) Lam. 1:2, 3
(4) Isa. 1:3
(5) Amos 5:24
b. antithetical parallelism — the lines express the opposite thoughts by the use of contrast or stating the positive and negative of an issue.
(1) Ps. 1:6; 90:6
(2) Pro. 1:29; 10:1, 12; 15:1; 19:4
c. synthetic parallelism — the lines develop the thought
(1) Ps. 1:1-2; 19:7-9
(2) Lam. 1:4
A. The book itself gives no author. It is obvious that it was written by an eyewitness to the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c.
B. Baba Bathra 15a and the Targums of Jer. 1:1 ascribe authorship to Jeremiah.
C. The Septuagint prefaces the book with, "and it came to pass after Israel had gone into captivity, and Jerusalem was laid waste, that Jeremiah sat weeping and composed this lament over Jerusalem and said. . ." It placed the book after Jeremiah.
D. The Vulgate prefaces the book with, "It comprises the lamentation of Jeremiah the prophet."
E. The Peshitta (a 5th century a.d. Syriac translation) entitled the book, "The Book of Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet."
F. Evidences of authorship:
1. for Jeremiah:
a. Jeremiah is thought to have been the author because of II Chr. 35:25. But notice this refers to a lament for Josiah, not Jerusalem.
b. Many passages in Jeremiah speak of his grieving over the situation of his day, 7:29; 8:21; 9:1,10,20 (cf. Lam. 3:48-51).
c. There is a similarity of vocabulary.
d. The "I" of 3:1 may refer to Jeremiah.
e. The author was obviously an eyewitness of the fall of Jerusalem.
2. against Jeremiah:
a. Jeremiah says God sent Babylon to judge but 3:59-66 seems different.
b. Jeremiah would not have said prophetic messages have ceased, 2:9c.
c. Jeremiah would not have advocated help from Egypt, 4:17.
d. Jeremiah would not hope in Zedekiah, 4:20.
e. These acrostic poems are highly structured which is very different from Jeremiah's spontaneous style.
f. The structured style of each of the 5 poems is also different. Some have long lines, some short. The number of lines that begins with the same letter differs. The metaphors change from poem to poem. All this points toward more than one author.
V./VI. DATE/HISTORICAL SETTING
A. The historical situation is the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian army in 586 b.c.
B. For the historical setting read II Kings 25:8-12 and Jeremiah 52.
C. Some see this book as relating to Jews who remained in Judah and annually remembered the fall of Jerusalem, Jer. 41:4-5.
VII. LITERARY UNITS
A. Jerusalem personified, wife to slave, chapter. 1
B. Privilege brings responsibility, YHWH's covenant wrath, chapter 2.
C. Grief individualized, chapter 3.
D. Privilege brings responsibility, the covenant peoples sin, chapter 4
E. Trust and hope in the Covenant God, chapter 5.
VIII. MAIN TRUTHS
A. These poems express the grief and sense of loss that the people of God felt at:
1. the loss of Jerusalem
2. the destruction of the Temple
3. YHWH's dissolving of the Mosaic Covenant. These were felt so sharply because of God's promises in:
a. II Sam. 7:10-16
b. Isa. 37:30-35
B. These poems emphasize:
1. God's sovereignty,
2. God's justice,
3. God's judgment,
4. God's promises of restoration.
C. Judah is destroyed because she broke the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 27-28). The defeat by Babylon is not the weakness of YHWH, but the sin of His people. YHWH will bring victory out of His power in a future time (3:22-23, 25).
D. God's promises are both conditional and unconditional. The concept of covenant demands an appropriate response.
IX. TERMS AND/OR PHRASES AND PERSONS TO BRIEFLY DEFINE
A. Terms and/or phrases
1. "all her lovers," 1:2, 19 (NASB & NIV)
2. "the virgin daughter of Judah," 1:15 (NASB & NIV)
3. "His footstool," 2:1 (NASB & NIV)
4. "The Lord has become an enemy," 2:5 (NIV, "The Lord is like an enemy")
5. "clap their hands. . .kiss. . .shake their heads," 2:15 (NIV, "clap. . .scoff. . .shake")
6. "lift up your hands to Him," 2:19; 3:41 (NASB & NIV)
7. "should women eat their offspring," 2:20; 4:10 (NASB & NIV)
1. "I am the man," 3:1
X. MAP LOCATIONS
1. Judah, 1:3
2. Zion, 1:4
3. Jerusalem, 1:7
4. Uz, 4:21
XI. STUDENT CONTENT QUESTIONS
1. Explain the literary structure of Lamentations.
2. How does this book of the Bible help us deal with suffering and confusion?
3. To what does the book attribute the cause of the exile? (1:5, 18)
4. How is 2:17 related to Deuteronomy 27-28?
5. Why is 3:19-38 so important?