The Lamentations of Jeremiah

How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave” (v. 1).

- Lamentations 1:1–14

In the history of God’s people, few events have been as traumatic as the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. Though the Lord promised that His people would be removed from the Holy Land for impenitent and flagrant sin (Lev. 26:14–39; Deut. 28:15–68; Jer. 27), few in the old covenant community of Judah believed it would happen even after Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Even those who understood that God would bring the ultimate covenant curse of exile upon His disobedient people struggled with the degree to which the Lord allowed foreigners to decimate the descendants of Jacob (Hab. 1:12–17; see Jer. 39:1–10; 52:1–11).

Assuming that the ancient traditions surrounding the book of Lamentations are correct, then even the prophet Jeremiah, who saw Babylon’s conquering of Judah as entirely just, was amazed by the horrors that the Babylonians inflicted upon Jerusalem. Today we are beginning our study of Lamentations as we continue our overview of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. According to the most ancient references to Lamentations, Jeremiah wrote this book and there are few good reasons why we should believe this attribution is incorrect. The issue of authorship is nothing to be dogmatic about, since Lamentations nowhere identifies its author; however, Jeremiah is a good fit because Lamentations reflects both sadness over Jerusalem’s fall and an understanding that the punishment was deserved (Lam. 1:5, 8, 18). Jeremiah likewise wept on behalf of the Lord for Judah even though he affirmed God’s justice in exiling His people for their idolatry (Jer. 9:1–11; 30:10–11). The vivid descriptions of Jerusalem’s destruction likewise mean that its fall in 586 B.C. is the best inspiration for the book (Lam. 1:1; 2:11–12), making an author such as Jeremiah, who witnessed this destruction, the most likely candidate as the author of Lamentations.

Lamentations shows us that there can be a godly grief over the fate of a people even when that fate is deserved. If even God Himself does not delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 18:21–23), then certainly we should never rejoice in another person’s pain. We can take pleasure that the Lord uses such things to set us and others back on the right path. We can rejoice at the display of the Lord’s justice. Yet what we are not to do is rejoice in others’ suffering for the sake of suffering itself. Like Jeremiah, we can rightly mourn when the wicked fall even when their punishment is deserved (Lam. 1:1–14).

Coram Deo

Loving our enemies is the most difficult call that the Lord has laid upon us. It is hard for us to seek justice in a manner that is not vindictive or that truly wishes for an offender to benefit as a result of his punishment. Books like Lamentations show us that rejoicing in justice and righteousness do not preclude mourning for those who suffer because of their sin. Loving sinners means that we seek justice when appropriate, but it also means that we mourn for those who have gone astray.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 45:1–15
1 Samuel 15:35
Luke 19:41–44
Romans 9:1–3

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