The book of Lamentations is composed of four acrostic poems. Jeremiah used each letter of the Hebrew alphabet as the start of a verse, four times over. He followed these poems of confession and repentance with a prayer for restoration. Jeremiah demonstrated literary skill, describing the personal anguish caused him by the fall of the city of David.
In Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem (ch. 1), Jeremiah employed the metaphor of harlotry to describe Judah’s transgression of the Mosaic covenant. Concerning the city he said, “There is no one to offer her comfort, not one from all her lovers” (Lam 1:2); “her uncleanness stains her skirts” (Lam 1:9); and “I called to my lovers but they betrayed me” (Lam 1:19).
In Lamentations 2, Jeremiah described the Lord’s judgment on Jerusalem in terms of military warfare. The prophet said, “In His wrath He has demolished the fortified cities of Daughter Judah” (Lam 2:2); “like an enemy He has bent His bow; His right hand is positioned like an adversary” (Lam 2:4); and “the Lord is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel” (Lam 2:5). Because Jerusalem and Judah had made the Lord their enemy, He made them His enemy—and allowed Judah’s enemies to have victory over His people (Lam 2:15-16, 21-22).
Despite all of this, in Lamentations 3 Jeremiah exalted God’s mercy toward His people. After several lines describing personal angst (Lam 3:1-21), the prophet announced a dawn of hope, stating, “Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: ‘The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him’” (Lam 3:22-24).
Though Jeremiah urged his companions to hope in the Lord, he was yet mindful of the current destitution of Jerusalem (ch. 4). Concerning the temple, Jeremiah wrote, “How the gold has become tarnished, the fine gold become dull! The stones of the temple lie scattered at the corner of every street” (Lam 4:1). Jeremiah’s lament concluded with a prayer for restoration, saying, “LORD, restore us to Yourself, so we may return; renew our days as in former times, unless You have completely rejected us and are intensely angry with us” (Lam 5:21-22).
Jeremiah’s prophetic lament provides a window into his soul and his understanding of the Lord’s sovereignty, justice, and mercy. In the storyline of Scripture, Jeremiah’s lament is used to describe the suffering of Christ, warn Christians against unfaithfulness, and provide a historical precedent for God’s future judgement.
(1) In Lam 2:15, the prophet wrote, “All who pass by scornfully clap their hands at you. They hiss and shake their heads at Daughter Jerusalem: Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?” The Evangelists noted that while Jesus hung on the cross, the crowds shook their heads at Jesus and mocked Him because, in their view, He failed to deliver on His promises (Matt 27:38-43//Mark 15:27-32//Luke 23:35-38).
(2) In Lam 2:3, Jeremiah wrote, “He has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire that consumes everything in its path.” Jeremiah’s words may have been on the mind of the author of Hebrews, who also understood the active justice of God. He thus warned his readers, as he had from the outset of his epistle (Heb 2:1-4), that they should not take the word of the new covenant lightly. He said, “See that you do not reject the One that speaks; for if they did not escape when they rejected Him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven…for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:25, 29).
(3) In Lam 3:64, Jeremiah wrote concerning those who opposed him and Judah, “You will pay them back what they deserve, LORD, according to the work of their hands.” Describing the great and final judgment, John reflected Jeremiah’s understanding of God’s righteousness, saying, “I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books” (Rev 20:12).