Lawrence Boadt provides this introduction to Lamentations in his book, Reading the Old Testament….
One of our most important sources of information about the terrible conditions in Jerusalem and Judah after the Babylonian attack comes from the Book of Lamentations. It is a short book of five chapters, each of which is a poem built upon the letters of the alphabet, and which expresses the deep pain and grief of those who survived in the land. The alphabet form, called “acrostic” in books of Hebrew poetry, starts each line or stanza with the next letter in order. This gives a very strong sense of controlled emotion in which anger, anguish and agony all struggle to burst out but cannot find a way. To intensify the grief the author or authors of these poems have chosen the forms of funeral laments as well. This adds to the power they have on the reader. It is truly grief for what is dead—Jerusalem, the temple, the king, the way of life.
But instead of picturing the city of Jerusalem as the dead body, Lamentations describes it as the widow. Personified as “daughter Zion,” she weeps bitterly. Alone and afflicted by her total loss of everything and everybody, she finds no one who can comfort her….
The poets give us a stark and terrifying picture of the conditions in the land after Jerusalem has fallen….
But even in the midst of disaster, Lamentations holds out hope that God will turn from his anger and wrath and restore his people. There is no hiding from the truth that God punished them justly…. Nor do they try to deny that God can be very hard…. And yet in the same breath they can express their trust that God will not leave them forever….
Because such expressions are so vivid and real, no one has ever doubted seriously that the authors were eyewitnesses of the fall of Jerusalem. The pems date from a time shortly after 586 and were written down in Judah itself, but we cannot be sure who exactly was the author. A very ancient tradition associates the book with Jeremiah, and so our modern Bibles, following the Greek Septuagint and other ancient authorities, usually place Lamentations right next to the Book of Jeremiah. One biblical passage actually remarks that Jeremiah had written several laments (2 Chr 35:25)—but these were over Josiah and not over Jerusalem. Still many of the phrases in Lamentations do resemble the style of Jeremiah….
However, it is diddicult to believe that Jeremiah would have trusted in Egypt or Babylon as a hope (Lam 4:17) or had much sympathy with the fate of the king (Lam 4:20) or mourned greatly over the fates of the prophets and priests who had led the people astray (Lam 2:20). But whether Jeremiah actually had any role in writing Lamentations or not, the language and thought of both books are close together and reveal much the same picture. To understand what Jeremiah was seeing in his visions of God’s judgments, one needs to read Lamentations.
In the midst of despair, Lamentations 3:21-26 stands out all the more strikingly as one of the most encouraging passages in Scripture. Many years ago, friends of mine lost their seventeen-year-old son in an automobile accident. At the memorial service, after the casket was closed, the congregation was led in singing these words from Lamentations 3. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in attending a funeral, and certainly one of the greatest testimonies of faith in the midst of darkness, issued from the heart of a grieving parent.
It is easy to sing about God’s faithfulness when all is well. The real test is whether we still can sing this song from Lamentations 3 in the midst of great trial and difficulty. Only the Lord himself can help us to do it.