Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 9 2019 - Lamentations 1 – Weeping over Jerusalem

The Book of Lamentations, as the name suggests, expresses the lament of God's people over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Its authorship is unattributed though many think it was written by Jeremiah who witnessed the destruction of the city. That the author is unnamed does not affect the moving nature of this book or its lessons for us. It "offers compelling prayers that confess sin, express renewed hope, and declare total dependence on God's grace."  These prayers of confession and petition, like those in many of the psalms, are viewed as a means for restoring a broken relationship with God.

Chapter one of Lamentations is an acrostic poem. That is to say that its 22 verses start with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence – something impossible to represent in English translation. The careful form of the poetry suggests that it was not rushed off as an immediate response to Jerusalem's destruction but was composed with great thought and care. Its message demands similar thought and attention.

This chapter falls into two halves. Verses 1-11 describe Jerusalem's devastation followed by reports of her calls for help, verses 12-22.

The keynote in the description of Jerusalem in verses 1-11 is the utter contrast between what the city had once been and what it had now become. Once it was bustling with people going about their daily business; now it is deserted. Once it had a great and glorious reputation among the nations – the Queen of Sheba had travelled many hundreds of miles to see the splendour of its king and the treasures of his city; now, the splendour of the city has departed, its treasures plundered and the city is humiliated and enslaved. Once the roads to the city were crowded with pilgrims coming to celebrate the frequent festivals, pushing their way through the gates, anxious to get into the city; now those roads are empty of travellers and the gates of the city are torn down. Once the temple had been a holy place with rules governing who could enter different parts of it; now pagan nations have entered the sanctuary and stolen away its holy contents. 

The author of this lament is clear about why all this has happened, "Jerusalem has sinned greatly" (v.8); it is solely the fault of its unfaithful people. They had been warned time and again of the consequences of their idolatry and had been called to turn back to God before it was too late – not least by the prophet Jeremiah who had suffered greatly under opposition to his message.

In verses 12-22 Jerusalem is given a voice and cries out in sorrow. The city calls upon others to witness her suffering and to learn from her fate. Again there is no attempt to make excuses for what has happened: "The Lord is righteous, yet I rebelled against his command" (v.18). Because the Lord's hand has been against her, there is no-one left to comfort her.

In his musical meditation on the crucifixion of Jesus, John Stainer includes a moving recitative by Christ himself making use of words from Lamentations; "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger." Years after the devastation of Jerusalem recorded in Lamentations, the Jewish leaders sought to prevent the destruction of their city by the expediency of one man dying for the nation. But this person, unlike Jerusalem in 587 B.C., was holy and perfectly obedient to his heavenly Father. Was there ever suffering like his suffering and sorrow like his sorrow? It is through his suffering and death that we are freed from the consequences of our own sin and will one day be brought into the New Jerusalem, radiant with the splendour of God's holy and gracious presence and filled with myriads of people praising God and the Lamb.

Father, we recognise that we have sinned and fallen short of all that you created us to be. We thank you for our gracious Saviour who has rescued us from the wrath to come and will bring us safe to glory. Help us to tell others of him that they too may trust in him and find salvation in him.

Peter Misselbrook