Temple at Jerusalem

SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS PAGE

Book of Lamentations

 

  1. Background

 

  1. Title

The title of the book in Hebrew is hkya (Rud. Kittle, ed., Biblia Hebraica -- see also the figure below). It is also the first word of Lamentations 1:1; 2:1, and 4:1 and appears later on in 4:2.. Translated into English, the word means, "In what manner?" or "How!" or "Where?" (See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1st ed., page 32.) The title probably expresses how difficult it was for the author to confront the circumstances of Israel at the time the book was written.

The Greek Old Testament provides the title, qrhnoi (The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha with an English Translation, Zondervan 4th printing), which in English means "dirge (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, page 363)."

The Talmud calls the book, "Lamentations (H. L. Ellison, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 6:695)."

The Latin Vulgate provides this subtitle: Id est lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae (R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, page 1065).

 

  1. Date

The text obviously describes the period following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem at approximately 587 B.C.

 

  1. Author

The Hebrew text of Lamentations does not provide the identity of the author. The Greek Old Testament provides a note before the text:

And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive, and Jerusalem made desolate, that Jeremias sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said . . . (The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha with an English Translation, Zondervan 4th printing).

However, the Septuagint was written hundreds of years after the events of the text and so the note is not definitive.

One is reminded of Jeremiah 38:6 as he reads Lamentations 3:53-55. However, in Lamentations the author is in a pit but in Jeremiah the author is put in a cistern. In Lamentations there is water but in Jeremiah there is no water, only mud.

2 Chronicles 35:25 associates Jeremiah with this type of literature. However, the passage is not talking specifically about the Book of Lamentations. Jeremiah's lament was for Josiah in 2 Chronicles. Josiah died more than twenty years prior to the writing of Lamentations (John H. Walton, Chronological Charts of the Old Testament, page 58).

While there are no reasons why Jeremiah could not have written Lamentations, we cannot be certain he was the author.

 

  1. Recipients

H. L. Ellison believes Lamentations was written to be used during the annual remembrance of the two destructions of the temple, Tisha b'Av (Lamentations, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 6, page 697). The existence of such a remembrance is revealed in Zechariah 7:1-3, 5; 8:19. Compare 2 Kings 25:8-9. Apparently the anniversary of the first temple's destruction was kept even during the existence of the second but with joy rather than with lament. Zechariah was written around 66 years after the first destruction (using the date in Ryrie Study Bible, page 1414) and the context indicates the fast had been kept in earlier years. So it is not impossible that the fast is the setting for Lamentations.

The fast is kept today (e.g., July 18, 2002) by Jews (http://www.jewfaq.org/holidayd.htm).

 

  1. Style

The text uses parallelisms and figures of speech like all Hebrew poetry. Each chapter is a separate poem.

Lamentations is unique because chapters 1, 2, and 4 start each verse with a Hebrew letter in the order of its alphabet. This pattern is an acrostic. Something is in an acrostic style when letters from a place in a line form the alphabet or a word or a phrase. He is a example from Lamentations 1. The colored letters are in the order of the alphabet. These figures are from Rud. Kittle, ed., Biblia Hebraica. In Hebrew, one reads from the right to the left:

Lamentations 1:1-2

 

Also, chapter 3 starts each triad of verses with a Hebrew letter in the order of the alphabet:

Lamentations 3:1-6

Chapter 5 does not incorporate an acrostic.

 

  1. The Palestinian and New Covenants

The Palestinian Covenant is found in Deuteronomy 27:1-30:20. The covenant basically says that as long as the nation of Israel is obedient to God, the nation will be blessed (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But when it is disobedient, it will be cursed (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68). There is also a promise of a future restoration (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). The future restoration is made possible by the New Covenant (see below).

 

  1. Curses

The context of Lamentations is Israel being cursed by God. John A. Martin found fifteen fulfillments of the curses in Lamentations (quoted in Charles H. Dyer, Lamentations, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, volume 1, pages 1208-1209). Three of the fulfillments are described below:

The Palestinian Covenant

The Curses

Deuteronomy

Fulfillment of the Curses

Lamentations

28:41

"You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity."

1:18c

"My young men and maidens have gone into exile."

28:53

"Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you."

2:20

"Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for?"

28:56-57

"The most gentle and sensitive woman among you . . . will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For she intends to eat them secretly during the siege."

4:10

"With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children."

 

  1. Restoration

 

  1. The Old Covenant

However, there are also the themes in Lamentations of hope that God will restore Israel (Lamentations 3:21-42), of petition to God for that restoration (Lamentations 5:1, 19-22), and of assurance that Israel will be restored (Lamentations 3:31-32: 4:21-22).

One of the conditions for restoration is for a national return to obedience (Deuteronomy 30:2). The author of Lamentations takes the part of his nation and confesses its sins to the Lord and requests restoration based on that confession (1:18-22). But the Palestinian Covenant only promises restoration once God changes the citizens' hearts so they can be obedient (Deuteronomy 30:2, 6, 17). This ability will come to the citizens in the future under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33) which was initiated by our Lord through His crucifixion (1 Corinthians 11:25). But in the time of Jeremiah, their hearts were not obedient (Jeremiah 17:9). For this reason the author of Lamentations was unsuccessful in moving the Lord to restore the nation of Israel (Lamentations 3:8, 44).

 

  1. The Gospel of the Kingdom

Likewise, when our Lord presented Himself as the Davidic King Whose kingdom was about to be restored, none of the citizens of Israel could reach the absolute standard of righteousness specified by the Gospel of the Kingdom that was required for entry. Judgment resulted in the form of Titus's destruction of the temple in AD 70. The Lord that took the role of the Savior and instituted the New Covenant with His work on the cross.

 

  1. The New Covenant

The New Covenant is also applied to the Church. While believers during the church age are given greater abilities to lead the godly life because of Christ's cross work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, they lead a frustrated life because of the friction between their old and new men. Apparently the old man is removed through resurrection. All believers enter the eternal state fully obedient to God and leading a completely godly life.

 

  1. The Figure

The following figure attempts to represent God's progressive revelation concerning how one lives the godly life. It is simplified and cannot represent every theological nuisance. God's purpose, as seen in this progression, is to show it is all of Him.

A Tentative Time-Line of the Theology of the Godly Life

1410 BC

597 BC

586/5 BC

6-4 BC

AD 28

AD 30

AD 30-?

AD ?

AD ?

Palestinian Covenant Given (Deuteronomy 27:1-30:1

New Covenant Prophesied (Jeremiah 30:1-33:1-26)

Lamentations Written

First Advent

Sermon on the Mount Preached

Crucifixion and Resurrection

Church Age

Second Advent

Millennium and Eternal State

Old Covenant in Effect

Gospel of the Kingdom in Effect (The Gospels)

New Covenant in Effect (1 Corinthians 11:25)

Old Covenant Overlap

 

Evil Hearts (Jeremiah 17:9)

Law Written on Hearts (Jeremiah 31;33)

Keep Commands (Deuteronomy 28:1)

Keep More Severe Commands (Matthew 5:48)

Progressive Sanctification (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Relying on God (The Law of Christ--Galatians 6:2)

  • By the Empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13)

  • By Trusting in Christ's Work (Romans 6:6-7)

  • By Grace, Not Law (Galatians 5:4)

Positional Sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Ultimate Sanctification (1 John 3:2)

Old Man?

Old Man + New Man (Ephesians 4:22-24)

New Man?

Failure (seen in the judgments, below)

Partial Success (1 John 1:8)

Success (Jude 24-25)

Hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-36)

Frustration (Romans 7:15-25)

Joy (Matthew 25:21, 23)

 

Judgment of Those Under Old Covenant--Destruction of Temple--586 BC

 

The Lord Laments Over Jerusalem Anticipating the Judgment to Follow His Rejection as King (Matthew 23:37-39)

Judgment of Those Under The Gospel of The Kingdom--Destruction of Temple--AD 70

The Modern Day Wailing Wall is a Parallel to Lamentations

 

 

  1. Interpretation

The following is an interpretative outline of Lamentations:

 

Summary of Book : to exhort/Jews/to fast because it will promote their repentance that will ultimately result in God's restoration of their nation and revenge against their enemies

 

Chapter 1: to exhort/Jews/to fast for God's revenge against Jerusalem's enemies because they were used by Him to curse the city for the sins of its inhabitants

Fasting/Lamenting: 11d-e, 16a-b, 20a-c, 22c-d

Desire for Revenge: 21d-22b

Divine Curse: 5c, 12d-15, 17c-d

Cause of Curse: 5d, 8a, 9b, 18a-b, 20d

 

Chapter 2: to exhort/Jews/to fast to gain God's notice of the miserable condition of Jerusalem's inhabitants so that He might lift His anger against them for their sin

Fasting/Lamenting: 10-11, 18-19

Seeking God's Notice: 20a

God's Anger: 1a-b, 2-8

Request Anger be Lifted: 20b-f

Cause for Anger: 14, 17 (compare Deuteronomy 28-30)

 

Chapter 3: to exhort/Jews/to fast for personal repentance because God is prone and would then be obligated to lift His anger that brought about the disaster

Fasting/Lamenting: 19-20, 29-30

Personal Repentance: 39-42

God's Proneness: 33-36

Covenant Obligation: 21-26, 31-32 (compare Deuteronomy 28-30)

Divine Wrath: 1-18

God's Sovereignty: 37-38

 

Chapter 4: to teach/Jews/that God will punishment those whom He used to apply His wrath against sinning Jews so that they may return from exile

Punishment of Enemies: 21, 22c-d

Divine Wrath: 11, 16a-b

Sinning Citizens: 6, 13

Return from Exile: 22a-b

Verses 13-16 are difficult to interpret. The leaders of Israel are condemned for their sin. Apparently once the sinfulness of the leaders was discovered by the citizens, the leaders were shunned.

 

Chapter 5: to exhort/Jews/to fast to gain God's notice of their confession of sin and petition for restoration because He is able to remove their distraught circumstances

Fasting/Lamenting: 16b

Seeking God's Notice: 1

Confession of Sin: 16b

Petition for Restoration: 20-22

God's Sovereignty: 19

Distraught Circumstances: 2-18

It is not the intent of verse 22 to introduce a real possibility that God could step aside from the Palestinian Covenant and finally reject Israel. Rather the author might be like an elderly mother concerned about how her needs will me met. She may ask her children to support her and then emotionally influence a positive decision by suggesting that her children may want her to die. This would be hastened by withholding her needs. But all along she trusts that her children will meet her needs.

 

  1. Applications

 

  1. God will keep the promises He made with us.

The writer of Lamentations knew that God had cursed Israel according to the curses promised in the Palestinian Covenant. He also had trust that God would keep His covenant promise that the nation will be restored. Likewise modern believers can trust in God's faithfulness to keep the promises made to them like His promise never to stop loving them (e.g., Romans 8:31-39). Likewise, God can be expected to be faithful in His promise to chasten sinning believers (e.g., Hebrews 12:5-6).

  1. Lamentations is one milestone in the progressive revelation concerning our personal sanctification.

This knowledge comes from tracing the heart condition of God's people as studied through the writings of inspired authors of Scripture in chronological order. See the above discussion of the Palestinian and New Covenants. This study answers the inevitable questions that modern believers have: Why can I not completely stop sinning? When will I completely stop sinning? What do I do in the interim?

  1. We can have hope in an evil world because God has an exclusive ability to use evil doers for His good purposes.

This application is particularly important in this age when thousands of innocents are being killed by terrorists. God will accomplish a good purpose through all of the evil (Romans 8:38). Evil is not out of control. God is sovereign over evil (Lamentations 3:37-38; 5:1-19). See also above the ultimate fulfillment of the Palestinian Covenant. God used evildoers to punish Israel. But ultimately God will work things out so that the evildoers will be punished and the believing Jews and the Church will be confirmed in righteousness.


HOME 2002, Ken Bowles -- September 30, 2010, Edition -- The drawing at the top of the page is an artist's conception of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

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