What does it say?

The Book of Lamentations appears immediately after Jeremiah in our English Bibles. The Hebrew Bible includes it between Ruth and Ecclesiastes as part of the Megilloth, or scrolls, a collection of five books read on five feast days in Israel. Lamentations is read in mid-July to commemorate the temple’s destruction in 586/7 B.C.

Tradition ascribes this book to Jeremiah, though there is no internal evidence that he is the author. What is clear is that the author is an eyewitness to the fall of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah is clearly the best guess as author.

Lamentations is just that – a series of five laments (funeral or mourning songs). The first four are acrostics, meaning that the 22 verses of chapters 1, 2 and 4 each begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3 has 66 verses and each group of three verses begins with the same consecutive letters of the alphabet.

Chapter 1 reveals Jerusalem empty, alone, its people dead or gone. God has judged the city for its sin. Chapter 2 is more of the horrible scene of Jerusalem destroyed and her enemies gloating.

What does it mean?

Even today the Jewish people are completely committed to learn from the past. Holocausts memorials and museums exist in several key places and the motto that goes forth is “Never again!” As a people they have learned the value of remembering history. What we are reading in Lamentations is the origin of this attribute. The reality of Jerusalem’s destruction for its adulterous and idolatrous ways is a stark reminder each time Lamentations is read in the synagogue. Following this horrific event, the Jewish people have never returned to the idolatrous pagan ways of their neighbors.

We love to celebrate good memories – anniversaries, victories, birthdays and the like. From this passage we can learn the value of remembering our low spots in life and the lessons we need to learn from them. As we read these two chapters of intense poetry, let’s allow ourselves to experience some of the painful emotions that are evident. Remembering pain is valuable, not in a morbid way, but as a lesson to be constantly applied.

How will I respond?

What are the two or three worst times of my life? What can I or what have I learned from them? How can I establish a practical way to remember them each year?