The book of Lamentations consists of five poems that mourn or lament the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. to the Babylonians. It is filled with more emotion, feeling, and heart-cry than any other portion of the Word of God.
The author of the book is universally considered to be none other than the “weeping prophet,” the prophet of the broken heart, Jeremiah. The theme of the book is “the chastening of the Lord,” and the key verse is 1:18: “The Lord is righteous: for I have rebelled against His commandment: Hear, I pray you all people and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.” The most familiar verse in the book is perhaps 3:22: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.”
The late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee characterized the book of Lamentations as “the ‘Wailing Wall’ of the Bible.” The Hebrews call it EKHAH, or the Hebrew form of the first word of the book, our English word “HOW!” That exclamatory word might best describe the whole story of the book. The prophet surveyed the desolate city, the defeated people, and the desecrated temple, and about all he could say was “How!” “How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! How is she become a widow! She that was great among the nations and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!” (1:1)
The historical backdrop of of Lamentations is key to understanding the book, and 2 Kings 25:1-10, along with 2 Chr. 36:14-21, provide us with that background. “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending, because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought upon then the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age, He gave them all into his hand.” (2 Chr. 36:15-17)
The fall of Jerusalem, resulting in the deportation of masses of Jews to Babylon, was the result of (1) Idolatry, 2 Chr. 36:14; (2) The rejection of God’s Word, 2 Chr. 36:15; and (3) The violation of God’s Sabbaths, 2 Chr. 36:21.
God is holy and cannot overlook sin in the lives of His children. There is a price tag for every act of disobedience. These were the people of God; they had been called to holiness, but they forsook Him and therefore God brought judgment upon them: “So Judah was carried away out of their land.” (2 Kings 25:21)
The seed of this calamity was sown as recorded in I Sam. 8:5,6. The children of Israel early on begged for a king (man) to reign over them like other nations had. Heretofore, God had been their king in a theocratic rule. He had fought their battles, led them by day and by night, supplied their needs, and turned back their enemies. But in their human flesh, they were not satisfied with the direct rule of God and yearned for the rule of man. They got their wish, but forever after they would struggle and suffer as a nation. The result of asking for a king (man) was predictable, for God always keeps His Word. And His Word on the matter was first uttered as recorded in Deut. 28:1ff., where blessings for obedience—as enumerated to His flock—are followed by curses for disobedience.
Many of the things that befell Israel when Nebuchadnezzar came down and destroyed Jerusalem, taking them captive, were spelled out in Deuteronomy 28:15ff., about 1,000 years before they actually occurred: “The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there thou shalt serve other gods, wood and stone, and thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb and a byword, among all nations.” (Deut.28:36)
God continues, “Thou shalt begat sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them for they shall go into captivity.” (Deut.28:41) And, “The Lord shall bring a nation against them from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth, a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance which shall not regard the person of the old nor shew favor to the young.” (Deut.28:49)
Could it be any clearer? “The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son and toward her daughter: and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straightness.” (Deut.28:56)
With that historical backdrop, one can better understand the bitter lament of Jeremiah—an eye witness and survivor of the brutal siege of Jerusalem. Little wonder, then, that he began by simply exclaiming, in astonishment: “How!”
America is a nation whose motto has been, “In God we trust.” But surveying the America of the 21st century, one might exclaim, as did Jeremiah, “How!” How have we traversed so far away from God! How have we transgressed His Word! How have we embraced every perversion known to man! How have we come to call good evil and evil good! How have we set aside morality as encoded in God’s 10 commandments! How could we have begun as “One nation under God” and come to where we want, as a nation, to mute God in our marketplace today! How! How! How! If Israel of old could become an “astonishment, proverb and a byword,” what might America’s future hold?
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Ps.9:17)