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Lamentations

08.26.2010

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Lamentations is the ‘Homer the Heretic’ episode of The Simpsons where Homer is bored in church, it’s freezing inside because the heater is broken, and Rev. Lovejoy is droning on as he preaches from Lamentations.  Hopefully this intro will provide more of a reference than I previously had.

I had always thought that Lamentations was written by Jeremiah, but the authorship is unknown.  There is circumstantial evidence for Jeremaic authorship (I just made that up; sounds like we’re in seminary, huh?), and Jewish tradition supports that.  However many scholars (including, it seems, the ESV people) doubt this because he’s not listed, there’s no reference in the Book of Jeremiah to this Lamentation, there are key vocabulary differences, and the scene of the action is in Jerusalem (when, by this time, Jeremiah had been hauled off to Egypt).  What we do know about the authorship is that it is by an anonymous writer who developed similar themes to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.  Additionally, the scenes described in the book are eyewitness accounts to the suffering and misery, so the author did not write this after the fact.

Lamentations has five chapters, each of which contains a separate lamentation (imagine that!), which was a specific form of poetry in Hebrew literature similar to a Psalm.  It was meant to be sung and/or prayed as part of corporate worship.  Each lamentation is written in acrostic form, where each verse (or every other/third verse) begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  This structure provided two emphases to the content:  First, it demonstrated the extent of the suffering and sorrow in Jerusalem (from a-z, or aleph to taw); second, it provided a much needed structure for people who’s lives were undergoing intense flux.

Thematically, Lamentations demonstrates the process of Jerusalem coming to grips with its sin and with the punishment they had endured.  Through this process, they come to a place of remorse.  The illustration is thus of them, through repentance, emerging from despair into a state of hope and faith in God.

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