The Lamentations of Jeremiah consists of five plaintive poems known as laments, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple when the Babylonian armies invaded in 586 b.c. These poems do not tell the story of that destruction, but instead they dolefully offer glimpses of the horrible conditions in the ruined city, ponder the reasons for this tragedy, and beg for God's mercy. Lamentations is one of five books in the Hebrew Bible that were grouped together under the title, Megilloth, meaning “scrolls,” each of which are traditionally read on one of the major Jewish festival days. Lamentations is read on the ninth of Ab, the day of remembering in sorrow the two destructions of Jerusalem (both 586 b.c. and a.d. 70).
The first, second, and fourth of these poems could be called funereal dirges, bewailing the death of the glorious and fabled city. The third is in the style of a lament by an individual mourner and the fifth voices the lament of a community. Despite the great sense of loss and the despairing tone in many places, Lamentations also expresses solid trust in the faithfulness of God and hope for the future. In the middle of the third lament, the poet declares: “It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (3.22,23). The final poem (chapter 5) is structured also as a prayer for God's mercy, spoken by the people of Jerusalem, who collectively implore God to look upon their anguish and come to their aid in this time of desperate suffering.
This book has anciently been closely associated with the prophet Jeremiah, who lived through the turmoil of the destructive times described before being carried off to Egypt by anti-Babylonian escapees. This understanding has resulted in the naming of the book The Lamentations of Jeremiah in many translations, a practice followed by the KJV. The book itself gives no indication of its author, but this association with Jeremiah apparently comes from the reference in 2 Chronicles 35.25 to an earlier lament composed by Jeremiah for king Josiah and to a written work known as the “Lamentations.” Based on an analysis of the language used, most scholars believe Lamentations, as we have it, was likely composed some time between 571 and 540 b.c.
First Lament: Lonely and Sorrowful Jerusalem (1.1-22)
Second Lament: the Lord God Was Like an Enemy (2.1-22)
Third Lament: All Is Desolate but There Is Still Hope (3.1-66)
Fourth Lament: The Punishment of Jerusalem (4.1-22)
Fifth Lament: A Prayer for Mercy (5.1-22)