Book of Lamentations
Lamentations or the Book of Lamentations is a Biblical text comprising of poetic laments that focus on the destruction and fall of Jerusalem. In Hebrew Bibles, Lamentations appear as a part of Ketuvim and follows Book of Jeremiah in Christian Old Testament. Originally regarded to as Eikhah in Hebrew, the Book of Lamentations was believed to have been composed by the “Weeping Prophet” Jeremiah, although no such association is made in the present and the book’s author is regarded as anonymous. It is commonly assumed that the fall of Jerusalem in Babylonian hands in 586 BC forms the basis of the poetic compositions.
The Book of Lamentations consists of five poems, each of which makes its five chapters. Each of the chapters except chapter 3 has 22 verses; only chapter 3 is written in 66 verses. Chapters 1 to 4 of the Book of Lamentations are composed as acrostics. Chapter One describes the turmoil and suffering Jewish people had to go through as the First Temple was destroyed. We see that the great city of Jerusalem is in ruins and that her enemies are rejoicing their victory. A vivid image of a crying widow is presented. She is forsaken by her friends and has no one to support and comfort her.
The people of Judah have now been exiled and live among the nations in subjugation and servitude. The desolated Zion presents a bleak picture; the large numbers of pilgrims who once swarmed her gates are no more present. Lamenting on the glorious olden days, Jerusalem reflects on the fact that other nations didn’t come to her aid in this troubled times. The friendly nations Jerusalem depended on also changed sides and rejoiced the fall of this glorious city. The poet believes that Jerusalem is herself responsible for her fall as the degenerate people of the city failed to foresee their city’s decline.
In chapter two of the Book of Lamentations, the poet presents a detailed picture of the suffering of Jerusalem’s people. Children are begging their dear mothers for food and then eventually dying of hunger on their mothers’ bosoms. False prophets are held responsible for the suffering of Jews as they fooled people into harboring a delusional sense of security. The enemies of Jerusalem treat the city’s inhabitants with mockery and derision.
The prophet further laments that he has the unfortunate luck of witnessing conditions that the earlier prophets had only predicted of. As God has chosen to turn a deaf ear, the prophet goes through significant emotional stress by being a witness to the suffering of Jewish people. In the midst of such pain and derision, he turns to the Lord and prays for His help and guidance. At this point, he is filled with inspiration and hope as he understands there is a silver lining to such suffering. It teaches us to take responsibility and use our free will. Believing in God and seeking Him out will ultimately lead to salvation. Then God will listen to the prayers of Jewish people and carry out divine retribution.
Chapter four of the Book of Lamentations reveals another grim picture of Jerusalem’s suffering. Children who once lived in luxury now have to pick food from garbage dumps. Merciful women cooked and boiled their own children. People who died by the sword had better fortunes than those who are left to starve and die slowly. The streets are filled with bloodied corpses. The Egyptians did not come to lend their support in time. The enemies of Zion were lighter than eagles and were successful in killing Jewish people both in mountains and deserts. Chapter four ends by predicting the destruction of the Second Temple.
Chapter five of the Book of Lamentations presents a pleading for faith, prayer and hope. A desolate picture of suffering is portrayed that is reminiscent of the rest of the chapters. The last scene describes foxes wandering about the desolate Mount Zion.