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Introduction to the Book of Lamentations

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Title of the Book

Originally having no title, the book was generally known by its first word in Hebrew, Eikhah, meaning “Ah, how”. In the Septuagint (LXX) it was given the title “Wailings”. The Latin Vulgate added the sub-title, “The Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet”.

Place in Old Testament

In the Hebrew Scriptures, this book is the third of the five Megilloth or Rolls. These are contained in the Ketubim, or Writings, the third major section of the Scriptures. Each of the five rolls is associated with a different Jewish festival. Lamentations was read in synagogues on the day in mid-July when the destruction of the temple was commemorated each year.

In the Septuagint, the book was moved and placed immediately after Jeremiah. This position was continued in the Latin Vulgate and in most modern translations. It is now included with the major prophets, even though it is not a prophetical book.


The Book of Lamentations is anonymous, with no author named. The author gives details as an eyewitness of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (1:13-15, 2:6,9, 4:1-12) and fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC (2:12, 4:10).

In both Jewish and Christian traditions it is normally accepted that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations. The Babylonian Talmud gives Jeremiah as the author of three books, Jeremiah, Kings and Lamentations. “Jeremiah wrote the book which bears his name, the Book of Kings, and Lamentations.” Tractate Baba Bathra Folio 15a

There are a number of close parallels in wording and theological themes to the Book of Jeremiah in Lamentations:
Virgin daughter of Zion (Lam 1:15, Jer 8:21)
Weeping and tears (Lam 1:2, 16, 2:11, Jer 9:1,18)
Abandoned by former lovers (Lam 1:2, Jer 30:14)
Drinking the cup of judgement (Lam 4:21, Jer 49:12)

Jeremiah accused the prophets of prophesying falsely, and predicted the end (Jer 5:31, 23:11-12). The author recognised that it was Judah’s sins against her God which underlay her calamity (2:14, 4:13). “It was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed the blood of the righteous in the midst of her” (4:13).

The Greek Septuagint added this heading before the text: “And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive, and Jerusalem made desolate, that Jeremias sat weeping, and lamented with the lamentation over Jerusalem, and said ...”. The Latin Vulgate adds: “with a bitter spirit sighing and wailing”.

The tradition of Jeremiah’s authorship fits well with other things we know about Jeremiah’s life and ministry from the OT.

1. Jeremiah wrote laments for public use. “Jeremiah uttered a lament for Josiah, and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a custom in Israel; they are recorded in the Laments.” (2 Chr 35:25).

2. Jeremiah was present as a witness during the final siege of Jerusalem, being held in the court of the guard until the city was taken (Jer 38:28).

3. After the Babylonians captured the city, by orders of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah was taken from the court of the guard and entrusted to Gedaliah son of Shaphan (Jer 39:11-14). Jeremiah was present and witnessed these dreadful events.


The poems were written during or soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, in the midst of the grief that immediately followed. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in July 586 BC, then the city and temple were burned the following month. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt before the end of the year (Jer 43:1-7), so it is most likely that the book was completed before then.

Type of literature

Lamentations is a corporate national lament for the death of a nation. It is similar in style and themes to a Babylonian document called the Lament for Ur. This is a lament over the invasion and destruction of the city of Ur by the Sumerians around 2000 BC.


The Book of Lamentations has an elaborately organised poetical form which contrasts with its contents of emotionally passionate and dramatic outpourings of grief. Within this form a dirge rhythm is used to express grief.

It consists of five separate poems or dirges, each of which form one chapter in modern translations. Each has a different form and emphasis. The first four poems are in alphabetical acrostic form, using the 22 consonants of the Hebrew alphabet in order.

Acrostic literature was used by the Hebrews and by other ancient cultures. In this book, acrostic is used to express the full range of suffering and grief (A to Z). It is also an aid to memorisation. Other well-known examples in the OT are Psalm 119 and Proverbs 31, as well as the not quite complete acrostics in Psalms 9 and 10 together, 25, 34, 37 and 145.

The first poem has 22 three-line stanzas, each group of three beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Jerusalem is mourning her destruction and crying to God for vengeance.

The second poem has the same pattern of 22 three-line stanzas arranged acrostically, except two of the consonants are reversed (Ayin and Peh). The author now looks at the cause of the destruction of the city, particularly focussing on the failure of the prophets to warn of the approaching disaster. This is similar to Jeremiah’s complaint about the prophets and priests, when they say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14, 8:11). There will only be hope for the future following genuine national repentance (2:18-19)

The third poem has 22 stanzas arranged acrostically, but with a different arrangement within each stanza. For each consonant, there are groups of three single lines, each line beginning with the same consonant. The nation is personified and urged to turn to God in repentance, and trust in his divine mercy for its restoration and the punishment of the enemies. In translation, this poem is given 66 verses, compared with 22 for the other four poems.

This poem has a distinct change of emphasis part way through. The first part is a mournful lament, from one under God’s wrath, and the severe suffering of God’s judgement (v1-18). This is followed by a change to expressing hope and praise to God for his faithfulness and compassion (v19-39). The well- known very positive passage comes at this point, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion”, says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (v22-24).

The fourth poem again has 22 stanzas arranged acrostically, but each has two lines. The author describes the horror of the siege, blaming this on the sins of the priests and prophets, then looks ahead to restoration and punishment of enemies, including the Edomites.

The fifth poem also has 22 stanzas, each containing a single line, but they are not arranged acrostically. It takes the form of a prayer, asking that the people would be delivered from their suffering, and restored to peace and prosperity before God. It is similar to psalms of corporate lament (Ps 44, 80).


Lamentations is probably the saddest book of the OT. It expresses suffering at a national level. It is the funeral of a city, as Jerusalem has died and now lies desolated. In his five “dirges of death” Jeremiah expresses the horror and helplessness of seeing the Jews’ proudest city reduced to rubble. The horrors of defeat, slaughter and ruin threatened for so long and continually ignored have now fallen from the hands of the brutal Babylonians. And yet, even as the prophet’s heart breaks with weeping, with life seeming to have no hope, he pauses to proclaim a ringing testimony of deep faith in the goodness and mercy of God. Though the present is bleak with judgement, the future sparkles with the promise of renewal and restoration, a promise as certain as the dawn.


1. The cry of grief and mourning over the woes that have befallen sinful Judah, and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. God’s promised judgement for sin had finally come. Jeremiah in his sorrow speaks for himself, the captives, and the personified city.

2. Confession of sin and acknowledgement of God’s righteous & holy judgement upon Judah.

3. Hope in God’s future restoration of his people. God has never failed him in the past. God has promised to remain faithful in the future. In the light of the God he knows and loves, Jeremiah finds hope and comfort.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.