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An Argument of the Book of Lamentations

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I.1 A--First Dirge--A Vivid, Dramatic Description of the Desolation of Jerusalem and Its Misery Because of Her Sin: Through the voices of the prophet and a personified city Jerusalem’s desolation is described as being both physical and covenantal because of the sin of the people, but throughout the descriptions are repeated calls for Yahweh to deliver them 1:1-22

A. The Prophet’s Description of the Desolate City: Jeremiah laments the fall of Jerusalem from a position of a prominence to one of servitude and covenant cursing, and yet pleads for Yahweh’s deliverance 1:1-11

1. The Fall a Prominent City: 1:1-9

a. Description of the Fall: 1:1-9a

b. Refrain--A Call for Yahweh to Look at Their Distress: 1:9b

2. The Loss of Covenant Blessings: 1:10-11

a. Description of the Loss: 1:10-11a

b. Refrain--A Call for Yahweh to Look at Their Distress: 1:11b

B. The People’s (Zion’s) Description of the Desolate City: A personified city (Zion) describes her judgment as just from Yahweh, laments that there are no comforters, confesses their guilt in misplaced trust, and cries to Yahweh for deliverance 1:12-22

1. A Just Judgment from Yahweh: 1:12-15

2. There Are No Comforters: 1:16-17

3. A Confession of Misplaced Trust in People and Foreign Alliances 1:18-19

4. A Petition for Yahweh to See Their Distress and Judge Their Enemies 1:20-22

II. B--Second Dirge--A Description of the City’s Desolation from the Vantage Points of Yahweh and the Prophet (Jeremiah): The Lord describes the desolation of Jerusalem as that which He has actively done against His own, and the prophet confirms that her desolation is due to her sin, but he urges the people to seek the Lord in prayer, and the Lord to look upon the tragic state of His people 2:1-22

A. The City’s Desolation from Yahweh’s Vantage Point: Like a Master against His possessions and the Covenant God against His covenantal institutions, the Lord has caused the destruction of Jerusalem so that no one knows what to do 2:1-10

1. The Lord against His Possessions: God (Adonai, yn*da , “Lord”) has turned against his own possessions as an owner/enemy 2:1-5

2. The Lord against His Institutions: God (YHWH, hwhy) has turned against His covenantal Institutions and no one knows what to do 2:6-10

a. The Temple and Theocratic Administrators: 2:6

b. The Altar and Feasts: 2:7

c. The Covenant City: 2:8-9a

d. No one knows what to do: 2:10

B. The City’s Desolation from the Prophet’s Vantage Point: The prophet laments over the devastation of the city which was brought upon her by her sin, exhorts the people to cry to the Lord for help, and calls upon the Lord to look upon them in their inhumane state of death 2:11-22

1. The Prophet Laments over the City: The prophet cries over the city whose suffering is typified in the suffering of little children, who were led astray by false prophets, whose enemies are now in control, and who are experiencing the fulfillment of Yahweh’s word in judgment 2:11-17

a. The Suffering of Little Children: 2:11-12

b. The Deceit of False Prophets Who Led the Nation Astray: 2:13-14

c. Enemies Are Now In Control: 2:15-16

d. God’s Word Has Been Fulfilled in Judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 28): 2:17

2. A Call for the People to Cry Out to God: The Prophet urges the people to cry out in prayer to God because all of their lives are dependent upon this 2:18-19

a. Exhortation to Constantly Pray: 2:18

b. All of Their Lives Depend on Their Praying: 2:19

3. A Call upon God to See the State of the Nation: The prophet urges the Lord to see the tragic state of affairs in the city as dead children are eaten, and priests, prophets, and the people of God are slaughtered 2:20-22

a. An Exhortation for the Lord to See the Nation’s Inhumane State of Affairs: 2:20a

b. An Exhortation for the Lord to See the Slaughter of Those Who Administer the Covenant (Priests and Prophets): 2:20b

c. An Exhortation for the Lord to See the Slaughter of the Covenantal People: 2:21-22

III. C--Third Dirge--The Response of the Prophet (Jeremiah) to the Destruction of Jerusalem:2 As a representative of the community the prophet laments God’s judgment upon him, yet expresses his hope in God and urges the nation to repent and confess their sins also praying for vengeance upon their enemies in view of their present suffering 3:1-66

A. Personal Suffering:3 The Prophet, as a representative of the people, laments God’s judgment upon him 3:1-19

1. Suffering at God’s Hand: 3:1-3

2. The Life of Suffering and Hardship: 3:4-7

3. Ineffective Prayers: 3:8

4. No Escape: 3:9-13

5. Total Humiliation: 3:14-15

6. Total Depression: 3:16-18

7. A Call for the Lord to Remember His Afflictions: 3:19

B. Consolation and Hope of Grace in God: The prophet expresses his hope in God in the face of dark suffering 3:20-39

1. He has been humbled: 3:20

2. Hope Because of the Lord’s Loyal Love ( dsh ):4 3:21-23

3. A Remembrance of the Promise of Restoration through Yahweh: 3:24-38

a. Yahweh Inspires Hope: 3:24

b. Yahweh Is Good to a Seeker: 3:25

c. Suffering Can Be Good: 3:26-27

d. The Endurance of Suffering Is Necessary: 3:28-30

e. Suffering Is Not Forever: 3:31-38

4. A Need to Suffer in Silent Faith: 3:39

C. Exhortation of the Nation to Penitence:5 The prophet confirms that confession and repentance are proper for the nation to do 3:40-42

1. An Exhortation for the Nation to Examine Itself: 3:40

2. A Reminder that the Nation is Rebellious 3:41-42

D. An Imprecatory Prayer for Vengeance in View of Desolation: The prophet returns to the desolate state of the people and prays for vengeance on the enemy 3:43-66

1. An Affirmation of the Nation’s Just Judgment for Her Sin: 3:43-51

2. An Affirmation of Personal Deliverance by the Lord: 3:52-58

3. A Plea for the Lord to Bring about Judgment upon His/Their Enemies: 3:59-66

IV. B’--Fourth Dirge--The Lord’s Anger in View of Zion’s Former Glory and Present Misery: Unstoppable Judgment from Yahweh made the blessed people of Judah into a suffering people because of the sins of the religious leaders, but the nation of Edom who mocked them in their captivity will also be destroyed 4:1-22

A. A People of Contrast: Judgment from Yahweh has made the people of Judah a people of contrast in that they were blessed, but are now suffering severely 4:1-11

1. Once Honored, Now Humbled: 4:1-2

2. Unnaturally Cruel and Uncaring Mothers: 4:3-4

3. Once Rich, Now Destitute: 4:5

4. Once Strong and Healthy, Now Weak and Sickly: 4:6-8

5. Longing for Death Due to Hunger: 4:9

6. Once Compassionate, Now Cannibalistic: 4:10

7. The Judgment Is from the Lord: 4:11

B. The Sin of Leaders: Although all used to consider Jerusalem impregnable, it was the sin of the religious leaders which caused God to bring judgment, and the leaders are despised 4:12-16

1. Impregnable Jerusalem:6 4:12

2. The Sins of the Religious Leaders Brought Destruction: 4:13

3. The Religious Leaders Are Now Despised: 4:14-15

4. The Judgment Is from the Lord: 4:16

C. The Completion of Judgment: Although no one could have helped Judah because of Babylon’s readiness, and this became evident with the capture of their king, the nation of Edom who mocked Judah will itself experience judgment 4:17-22

1. No Ally Could Have Helped the Nation: 4:17

2. Babylon’s Stalking: Destruction was certain as the Babylonians patiently waited until the fall 4:18-19

3. The King Captured:7 When the king was captured it was proof that the nation was being judged for breaking the covenant 4:20

4. Mockery of the Edom: Although the nation of Edom laughed at Judah’s complete destruction, they too will be destroyed 4:21-22

V. A’--Fifth Dirge--The Repentant Remnant Pleads with Yahweh for a Merciful Remembrance of Them: Once again reminding the Lord of the condition of His people, the prophet confesses trust in Yahweh’s sovereignty and asks that He might restore them 5:1-22

A. A Final Description of Desolation & Prayer for Remembrance: The prophet urges the Lord to remember and see His people who are extremely downcast because of their condition which occurred as a result of their sin 5:1-18

1. Introductory Petition: The prophet urges the Lord to Remember and See what has occurred to His people in the land 5:1

2. First Lament:

a. No Property: 5:2

b. Helpless People: 5:3

c. Only Necessities of Life in the Land: 5:4

d. Oppressed People: 5:5

e. A Dependent People to Survive: 5:6

f. Confession of Sin as the Cause: 5:7

3. Second Lament: 5:8-16

a. No Hope of Deliverance: 5:8

b. Constant Famine and Hunger: 5:9

c. Women Are Raped: 5:11

d. Leaders Are Humiliated: 5:12

e. Endless Work for the Strong: 5:13

f. No Joy in the City: 5:14-15

g. Confession of Sin as the Cause: 5:16

4. The Result of the Lament: The people are depressed because Zion is destroyed 5:17-18

B. A Tribute and Plea to Yahweh: Confessing that Yahweh is sovereign, the prophet also requests that He will not abandon the nation, but restore them 5:19-22

1. Confession of Trust: 5:19-20

a. Yahweh Is Sovereign: 5:19

b. Why is Yahweh forsaking His Covenant People so Long? 5:20

2. Petition of Yahweh:

a. Asks for Restoration: 5:21

b. Trust that Yahweh Has Not Totally Rejected the Nation: 5:22

1 This outline is adapted through my own study from the analyses of Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 373; Charles H. Dyer, Lamentations, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1211; H. L. Ellison, Lamentations. The Expositor's Bible Commentary VI:701; R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction & Commentary, 205; Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Lamentations, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets [Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990], 150-53; Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 335; John A Martin, An Outline of Lamentations, unpublished class notes in 304 preexlic and exilic prophets, (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1983).

Concerning the Structure of the book Dire notes the significance of a Chiastic structure:

A Jerusalem's Desolation (Lam 1)

B God's Judgment (Lam 2)

C Jeremiah's Response (Lam 3)

B' The Lord's Anger (Lam 4)

A' Remnant's Response (Lam 5)

The Book of Lamentations has a definite structural balance. Chapters 1-2 and 4-5 parallel each other and are arranged in a chiasm pattern. Thus chapters 1 and 5 focus on the people while chapters 2 and 4 focus the Lord. Chapter 3 provides the pivot for the book, pointing to Jeremiah's response in the midst of affliction....

The structural symmetry is balanced by a definite progression in the book. The first four chapters are acrostics; chapter 5 is not. The first four chapters frequently use the qinah, or limping meter; chapter 5 does not. Three of the first four chapters begin with 'ekah (chap. 3 is the only exception among the acrostic chaps.); chapter 5 does not. In many ways chapter 5 'breaks the mold' established in the other chapters and offers a response to the suffering. It is no accident that the chapter begins and ends as a prayer ('Remember, O Lord,' 5:1; 'Restore us to Yourself, O Lord,' v. 21). In chapter 5 Jeremiah presented the response that the remnant needed to make to God. It thus formed a fitting ending to the book. God's chastisement was intended to lead to repentance (Charles H. Dyer, Lamentations, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1211).

Heater also comments on the structure of the book when he writes, The chapters are not uniform in their use of the alphabet. Chapters one and two are the same: there are sixty-six lines (thee [sic] lines per verse) and each verse begins with a letter of the alphabet. Chapter one also breaks the sense in the middle of the alphabet. Thus A to K is the author speaking of the awful fall of Jerusalem. L-Z (L-T in Hebrew) personify Zion who speaks of her desolation.

Chapter 3 (the middle chapter) intensifies the use of the alphabet. There are still sixty-six lines, but each line begins with a letter of the alphabet. The subject matter of chapter 3 is also somewhat general. The writer expresses his dismay, his contrition and his hope of restoration. This then is the 'peak' chapter in the book.

But just as crescendo can express emphasis, so can dimuendo, and this is what takes place in the remainder of the book. Chapter 4 reverts to the pattern of chapters 1--2, with the difference that there are only two lines per stanza instead of three. In this chapter the writer relives the agony of the destruction.

The volume of the composition drops to a whisper in chapter 5. Here there are no letters used at all, although the 22 lines represent the 22 letter alphabet. Moreover, verses 19-20 are themselves a mini-acrostic used to express the highest praise for Yahweh in the book followed by a tentative, but hopeful cry for help.

Yahweh is sovereign!

A--Thou, O Lord, dost rule for ever;

K--Thy throne is from generation to generation

But O Lord do not abandon us!!

L--Why dost thou forget us forever;

Z--Why dost Thou forsake us so long?

Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Lamentations, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets [Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990], 148-49.

2 Childs writes, Chapter 3 stands apart from the other chapters, both in form and content, but it plays a crucial role in interpreting the whole book. The chapter begins with the lament of an individual which reflects the stereotyped features of this genre similar to that of the Psalter (Pss. 6, 88, etc.). The psalmist describes his trouble (vv. 1-18) and appeals to God for relief (19-21). In vv. 22-24 the psalmist confesses his faith in God's mercy in a formulation which makes free association with Israel's traditional 'creeds' (Ex. 34. 6f.; Num. 14.18; Ps. 86. 15). There follows in vv. 25-30 another confessional statement more akin to the wisdom saying of Ps. 37. Again the theme of God's mercy is picked up in the form of instruction not uncommon to the lament and concludes with a series of rhetorical questions (vv. 37-39).

The influence from Israel's liturgical service is everywhere strong; the older forms, however, have been blurred together in a free composition. What is of particular significance is the change of perspective which ch. 3 now brings to bear on the book. A shift has been effected from the communal focus to an individual, and from the events of 587 to an individual's personal history. This is not to suggest that the writer has moved from historical concerns into a timeless area--the historical quality of the lament is dominant--but rather that he has incorporated history within liturgical language. The suffering of one representative man is described in the language of worship which transcends any one fixed moment in history. The effect is that historical suffering is now understood metaphorically in the Psalter, but its actuality is in no way diminished....

To summarize, the function of ch. 3 is to translate Israel's historically conditioned plight into the language of faith and by the use of traditional forms to appeal to the whole nation to experience that dimension of faith testified to be a representative figure. The promises of God to Israel have not come to an end, but there are still grounds for hope (3.22ff.) (Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 594-95).

3 Heater writes, These words are reminiscent of Job in a number of details. He concludes the unit by calling upon Yahweh to Remember his afflictions (19) (Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Lamentations, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets [Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990], 151).

4 This appears in the middle of the book to emphasize hope in the midst of judgment.

5 Heater confirms that this section asserts the prophet's confidence in God's forgiveness for those who will acknowledge their sinfulness and humbly return to Him since He will receive and pardon them (Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Lamentations, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets [Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990], 151).

6 Martin writes, This has tremendous theological significance. The thought was that Jerusalem could not be taken because it contained the house of YHWH. Now it has become known to the whole world that it can be conquered. The people of God realize that it was conquered because of YHWH. Those who are not of God misunderstand and think that YHWH was not able to save the city (John A Martin, An Outline of Lamentations, unpublished class notes in 304 preexlic and exilic prophets, (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1983), 4).

7 The king symbolized God's blessing on the House of David (cf. Jer 39:5-7).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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