The Book of Lamentations contains five of the saddest chapters in Holy Scripture. We see the author pouring out his grief over the devastation of the city of Jerusalem. The images of death, destruction, starvation, even cannibalism are so graphic and gripping that you know this is an eye-witness account. Unlike the Book of Job where the suffering comes uninvited, here it is plain that God’s anger has been poured out because of the sin of His people. Yet the central focus of the book in the middle of chapter 3 is still on that hope that can be found in the character of God.
The prophet laments the present reproach:
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people” (1:1)
“How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger” (2:1)
“How dark the gold has become” (4:1)
Yet in the midst of His anguish he still is able to look up and be comforted by the unchanging character of the eternal God – the God of Israel who will still be faithful to fulfill all of His loving promises
THE HEAVY HAND OF THE LORD’S DISCIPLINE FOR SIN BRINGS CATASTROPHIC DEVASTATION AND INTENSE GRIEF BUT STILL A WINDOW FOR HOPE AND RESTORATION
Lamentations 3:22-24 “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.”
(1:1) PRELUDE: GRIEF VS JOY
3 STARK CONTRASTS BETWEEN SPIRITUAL GRIEF AND SPIRITUAL JOY
I. (CHAP 1) FIRST DIRGE: SORROWS WITHOUT COMFORT
JERUSALEM LIES DEVASTATED WITH NO ONE TO COMFORT — 5 CRIES OF DESPAIR: (organized around the repetition of the same refrain)
II. (CHAP 2) SECOND DIRGE: GOD’S ALL-CONSUMING ANGER POURED OUT UPON JERUSALEM – MOURNING AND MOANING
THE DAY OF THE LORD’S ANGER CONSUMES JERUSALEM WITH TOTAL DESTRUCTION
III. (CHAP 3) THIRD DIRGE: REKINDLING OF HOPE
THE JOURNEY FROM DESPAIR TO HOPE HINGES ON THE CHARACTER OF GOD – HIS LOVINGKINDNESS, COMPASSION AND FAITHFULNESS
IV. (CHAP 4) FOURTH DIRGE: ANGRY JUDGMENT
THE ANGER OF THE LORD HAS PUNISHED HIS PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THEIR SIN – TRANSFORMING THEIR FORMER GLORY INTO DEVASTATION – AND THIS WRATH WILL FALL UPON THEIR GLOATING ENEMIES AS WELL
V. (CHAP 5) FIFTH DIRGE – APPEAL FOR RESTORATION
THE LORD’S UNCHANGING DOMINION AND PROMISE OF ULTIMATE RESTORATION SHOULD GIVE HOPE EVEN IN THE MIDST OF DESOLATION AS WE CONTINUE TO APPEAL TO HIS MERCY
WHY STUDY THIS BOOK?
• To find comfort when experiencing extreme times of sorrow and grief and suffering as we reflect on the character of God
• To understand the workings of the Lord’s heavy hand of discipline upon His own people because of their sin
• To motivate us to confession of sin and repentance
• To appreciate the abundant fountain of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses, compassions and faithfulness – no matter how bleak our circumstances might look
• To be confronted with how seriously God takes sin and the awful consequences of His anger
• To be reminded of God’s Sovereignty over all of the nations and His future promises yet remaining for the nation Israel
C. S. Lewis: In his classic treatment of suffering, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote: God whispers to us in our pleasures,speaks in our conscience,but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Donald Curtis: The author of Lamentations uses subtle literary devices to underpin his message. There are three that are clearly important and all, but one, are easily discerned in an English translation. First, the author uses acrostics to demark sections of the work. The acrostics are not all perfect, however, and we must understand that the author is speaking within the variation. Second, each section has different arrangements of its verses within the acrostic pattern. Third, there are changes in the pronouns and points of view.
Ray Stedman: This is certainly an intriguing structure, but the real interest of this book is in its content. It is a study in sorrow, a hymn of heartbreak. This is the kind of book you might read when sorrow strikes your own heart, and sorrow comes to all of us at times. As Jeremiah was looking out over Jerusalem, he saw its desolation and he remembered the terrible, bloody battle in which Nebuchadnezzar had taken the city and sacked it, destroying the temple and killing the inhabitants.
J. Sidlow Baxter: This pathetic little five-fold poem, the Lamentations, has been called “an elegy written in a graveyard.” It is a memorial dirge written on the destruction and humiliation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. It is a cloudburst of grief, a river of tears, a sea of sobs.
Walter Kaiser Jr.: In his book, A Biblical Approach to Personal Suffering, No book of the Bible is more of an orphan book than Lamentations; rarely, if ever, have interpreters chosen to use this book for a Bible study, an expository series of messages, or as a Bible conference textual exposition. Our generation’s neglect of this volume has meant that our pastoral work, our caring ministry for believers, and our own ability to find direction in the midst of calamity, pain, and suffering have been seriously truncated and rendered partially or totally ineffective.
McIntosh: The reasons for the neglect of Lamentations are not too hard to discover. To begin with, it is a book of great sadness, and we don’t often like to be around sadness, either other people’s or our own. Then again, it is sorrow that seems unrelieved throughout the book. When you read Job, you see great sorrow, but in the end Job comes out, if not unscarred, at least largely restored and vindicated. Lamentations does not have a happy ending. Then again, where Job’s message is focused around an individual, and for that reason easy to identify with, Lamentations is a national book. It treats the suffering of a whole country and the reasons for it.