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Arno Clement Gaebelein

In the Public Domain

                         THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS


     In the Hebrew Bible, the small book which follows in our English 
Bible the book of Jeremiah, is placed in the portion which is called
"Kethubim" (the writings). It is one of the five, so-called "Megilloth." The Septuagint 
translation begins with a brief paragraph which is not found in our 
version: "It came to pass that, after Israel was taken captive and 
Jerusalem was made desolate, Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented with this 
lamentation over Jerusalem, and said ...;" then the first chapter begins. 
The Vulgate (Latin) translation has adopted this statement and also the 
Arabic version.

     There can be no question that Jeremiah is the inspired author of 
these outbursts of grief, as well as confession of sin and dependence on
Jehovah. Yet this has not only been seriously questioned, but positively 
denied. Critics claim that probably chapters 2 and 4 must have been
written by an eye-witness of Judah's conquest; they deny that it was 
Jeremiah and think it must have been one of the exiles. The claim is 
made because it appears to them that these two chapters lean strongly on 
Ezekiel and parts, they say, must have been copied after Ezekiel's 
writings. The other chapters, they say, are much later. Critics like 
Budde and Cheyne put the third chapter in the pre-Maccabean period 
towards the end of the third century. All is nothing but guesswork, 
which is proved by the different theories of these scholars, which clash
with each other. To show the superficial method of these men we shall 
give a few of the star arguments against the Jeremianic authorship of 
Lamentations. They say that 4:17 could hardly have been written by 
Jeremiah because the writer includes himself with those who had expected 
help from Egypt. But the critic does not see that the prophet identifies 
himself with the nation, as Daniel did. Then again, they object to 4:20, 
because it speaks of Zedekiah in such a way as Jeremiah would never have 
spoken of him. But how do they know? Zedekiah was still the Lord's 
anointed, even as David recognized down to the sad end of Saul, the king 
as the Lord's anointed. Instead of being an argument against the 
authorship of Jeremiah, it is one for it.

     Then these "literary" critics claim that the smooth and beautiful 
style cannot be Jeremiah's. "The whole style of these poems, though
exquisitely beautiful and touching, and studded with the thoughts of the 
great prophet, is absolutely different to anything we find in the long 
roll of Jeremiah's great work. It is too artificial, too much studied, 
too elaborately worked out" (A.B. Davidson). If A.B. Davidson and other 
critics had just a little faith in divine inspiration they would not 
write such puerile criticism. As if the Spirit of God could not change
the style and manner of the writings of one of His chosen instruments!

     The Lamentations are correctly divided into five chapters in a very 
remarkable way. Chapters 1 and 2 consist each of twenty-two verses
of three lines each. All is written in a certain meter. Each verse 
begins in both chapters with the successive letters of the Hebrew 
alphabet. They are acrostics. The third chapter has instead of 22 verses, 
66 verses, that is 3 x 22. The first three verses of this chapter begin 
each with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the next three with 
the second letter, so that in these 66 verses the Hebrew alphabet is 
again followed. The fourth chapter is also arranged in the same manner, 
acrostically, each of the 22 verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew 
alphabet. The last chapter shows no such arrangement. We doubt not that 
in all this there may be a hidden, a deeper meaning, which no saint of 
God has yet discovered.

     The message of this book is extremely precious. It is a pity that 
so few of God's people have ever paid a closer attention to this book.
Here is indeed a great mine of comfort and spiritual instruction which 
will prove very wholesome to all those who walk with God.

     When Israel suffered in Egypt the Lord said: "I have surely seen 
the affliction of My people" (Exodus 3:7). Lamentations shows the same 
blessed fact, that Jehovah has a loving and deep interest in the 
afflictions of His people through which they pass on account of their 
sins. He who had to chastise His people is nevertheless moved with 
compassion in their behalf. Yea, in their affliction He Himself is 
afflicted and He yearns over them. The feelings, deep emotions of sorrow 
and humiliation, expressed by the mouthpiece of Jehovah, Jeremiah, were 
produced by the Spirit of Christ, in the heart of the prophet.

     "There is nothing more affecting than the sentiments produced in 
the heart by the conviction that the subject of affliction is beloved of
God, that He loves that which He is obliged to smite, and is obliged to 
smite that which He loves. The prophet, while laying open the affliction 
of Jerusalem, acknowledges that the sin of the people had caused it. 
Could that diminish the sorrow of his heart? If on the one hand it was a 
consolation, on the other it humbled and made him hide his face. The 
pride of the enemy, and their joy in seeing the affliction of the 
beloved of God, give occasion to sue for compassion on behalf of the 
afflicted, and judgment on the malice of the enemy" (Synopsis of the 

     Prophetically we may look upon these lamentations as embodying the 
soul-exercise of the godly remnant of God's earthly people passing in 
a future day through the great tribulation. That beautiful prayer found 
in the last chapter will then be answered, "renew our days of old" and 
all the glorious promises given to Israel will then be fulfilled.

     No further division of this book is needed; the division into five 
chapters is perfect.

                              CHAPTER 1

      Jerusalem's Great Desolation and the Sorrow of His People

     The chapter begins with an outburst of grief over Jerusalem's
desolation. Once she was a populous city; now she is solitary. Once she 
was great among the nations, like a princess among provinces, and now 
she is widowed. Then in the next verse we hear her weeping; she weeps 
all night long; none is there to comfort her; her friends have turned 
against her, they have become her enemies. She was disobedient to her
Lord, she rejected His Word, she gave up her holy place as His separated 
people and now "she findeth no rest." The Lord's hand is upon her for 
the multitude of her transgressions. The hopeful note we find in verses 
8-11. Here is confession of her guilt and shame; here is humiliation and 
appeal to the Lord on account of the enemy. "See, O LORD, and behold; 
for I am become vile." Such humiliation and self-judgment is pleasing in 
the Lord's sight.

     In verse 12 Jerusalem speaks: "is it nothing to you, all ye that 
pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, 
which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day 
of His fierce anger." The passer-by who beholds the ruins of Zion is 
asked to look upon the desolations and then to consider that the Lord in 
His righteous anger smote her, who is still His beloved. Well may we 
think of Him, who had to say, "See if there be any sorrow like unto My 
sorrow," who was smitten and afflicted, upon whom Jehovah's rod rested,
over whose blessed head all the waves and billows of Divine 
judgment-wrath rolled, He who is the Beloved, the Son of God, our Lord. 
Again the prophet breaks out in weeping, "His eye runneth down with 
water." He is deeply affected over the desolation and judgment which has
taken place. But a greater One, greater than Jeremiah, stood centuries 
after before the same city, brought back from the ruin of Jeremiah's
time. And as He beheld that city He wept, because His omniscient eye 
beheld a still more appalling judgment for city and nation.

     Forsaken, uncomforted, distressed, humiliated, sighing and crying, 
owning her rebellion, vindicating Jehovah and His righteousness, 
Jerusalem sits in the dust, "abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there 
is death."

                              CHAPTER 2

                       What the Lord Has Done

     The great catastrophe continues in vivid description throughout 
this chapter also. Not an enemy has done it, not Nebuchadrezzar and his
Chaldean hordes, but the Lord is the executor of all. The beauty of 
Israel He cast down; He swallowed up the habitations of Jacob; He burned 
against Jacob like a flame; He bent His bow like an enemy; He poured out 
His fury like fire; He was as an enemy. These are a few of the many 
expressions with which the righteousness of the Lord in judging His 
people is acknowledged.

     And what a great description of Jerusalem and her inhabitants we 
read in verses 8-16. Gates broken down; king and princes among the 
Gentiles; law abandoned; no more visions! Elders on the ground in 
sackcloth and ashes; virgins hanging their heads; children and sucklings 
swooning in the streets--and all that pass by clap their hands, hiss, 
and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem.

     "The LORD hath done what He had devised; He hath fulfilled the Word 
that He had commanded in the days of old." Oh! that the people today 
would hear and believe that God will yet fulfill other judgment messages 
and deal with the world on account of its sin. The chapter ends with a 

                              CHAPTER 3

                The Prophet's Suffering and Distress

     This chapter is intensely personal. None but Jeremiah could have 
written these wonderful expressions of sorrow, the sorrows of the people 
of God into which he entered so fully, in such a way that they become 
his own. He shared all their afflictions, bore them himself and then was 
hated by them. It was the Spirit of Christ who created these feelings in 
the heart of the prophet. In reading these words of deep distress and 
the words of faith and waiting for Him, we must look beyond Jeremiah and 
see a picture of our Lord, "the Man of sorrows and acquainted with 
grief," His sorrow and His afflictions, the emotions of His holy soul, 
as well as the experiences and soul exercise of the believing remnant of 
Israel in days to come.

     The prophet speaks of himself as one who is smitten by the rod of 
God's wrath, the man that hath seen affliction. He had not deserved that 
wrath; the wrath and affliction have come upon a sinful people, but he 
identifies himself with them. What must have been the suffering and the 
affliction of our Lord when He, at the close of His blessed life, 
suffered and died the death of the cross! The rod of righteousness fell
on Him. More than Jeremiah did, He tasted that wrath, when He who knew 
no sin was made sin for us. "He (God) hath bent His bow, and set me as a 
mark for the arrow. He hath caused the arrows of His quiver to enter 
into my reins. I was a derision to all my people and their song all the 
day" (verses 12-14). He speaks of "the wormwood and the gall" 
(verse 19); of the "smitten cheek filled with reproach" (verse 30).

     Through such suffering Jeremiah passed as well as the godly of all 
ages, as well as those in the future. Jeremiah's affliction but faintly 
foreshadows the afflictions of the Afflicted One. But while Jeremiah 
suffered with Jerusalem and for Jerusalem, he was not destitute of 
comfort. He knew the Lord and He sustained him in his affliction. How 
beautifully he speaks of the mercies of the Lord, of His compassions 
which never fail, of the greatness of His faithfulness (verses 22, 23). 
Such is the comfort still of all those who know the Lord; it is the song 
in the night: "The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I 
hope in Him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul 
that seeketh Him." All His saints speak thus when they feel the 
chastening hand of the Lord. He has full confidence in the Lord and 
knows "He doth not afflict willingly," and that "the LORD will not cast 
off for ever." And again, "though He cause grief, yet will He have 
compassion according to the multitude of His mercies."

     Beginning with verse 40, a real return is described. There is 
self-examination: "Let us search and try our ways and turn again to the 
LORD." This is followed by prayer: "Let us lift up our hearts with our 
hands unto God in the heavens." Then comes confession: "We have 
transgressed and have rebelled; Thou hast not pardoned." It describes 
prophetically the repentance of a Jewish remnant when this present age 
ends and the Lord is about to be manifested in visible glory. Jeremiah's 
lament over Jerusalem's condition and the nation's state is once more 
recorded in verses 45-47. "Thou hast made us an offscouring and refuse 
in the midst of the people. All our enemies have opened their mouths 
against us. Fear and snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction." 
Such will also be the complaint of the suffering remnant. This chapter 
ends with an imprecatory prayer. "Render unto them a recompense, O LORD, 
according to the works of their hands. Give them sorrow of heart, thy 
curse unto them. Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD." It is 
like the imprecatory prayers in the Psalms, prayers which will be prayed 
when the godly in Israel suffer under their enemies in the great 

                              CHAPTER 4

              The Departed Glory and the Cup of Shame

     This new lament begins with a description of the former glory of 
Zion and its present wretchedness; the glory is departed:

  How is the gold become dim! 
    The most pure gold changed!
  The stones of the sanctuary are poured forth 
    at the top of every street.
  The precious sons of Zion, 
    just like fine gold--
  How are they now esteemed like earthen pitchers:
    the work of the potters' hands!
  Even the jackals draw out the breast, 
    giving suck to their young--
  The daughter of my people is become cruel, 
    like the ostriches in the wilderness.
  The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth 
    to the roof of his mouth for thirst.
  The young children ask bread, 
    no man breaketh it unto them.
  They that did feel delicately 
    are desolate in the streets.
  They that were brought up in scarlet 
    embrace dung hills.

     What degradation and shame! The Lord had called Zion to be like the 
pure gold, precious and glorious. In his beautiful parable, Ezekiel
speaks thus of Jerusalem's glory: "Thus wast thou decked with gold and 
silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen and silk and broidered work, 
thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding 
beautiful, and thou didst prosper in a kingdom" (Ezekiel 16:13). The 
gold is become dim, the pure gold changed. Instead of the linen and silk 
there is sackcloth and ashes; instead of the flour, the honey, and the 
oil, there is want and famine. When the golden-glory departed from Zion,
then the Lord revealed that Nebuchadnezzar is "the head of gold," the 
starting point of the times of the Gentiles. The glory had departed and 
Zion had to drink of shame and want to the full on account of her sins 
(verse 6). And what a contrast now between what the Nazarites and nobles 
of the nation were once and what they are now. They were purer than snow, 
whiter than milk, and now they are blacker than coal. They were ruddy in 
body; and now their skin cleaveth to their bones. What a horrible 
transformation sin had wrought! Sin is a robber; sin brings its wages. 
It robs of glory and gives nothing but suffering, shame and death. All 
that God had spoken long ago, the very curses generation after 
generation had read in the book of the law (Deut. 28:56, 57; Lev. 26:29), 
had come upon them. The kings of the earth, the inhabitants of the world, 
knew that Jerusalem was unconquerable, for the Lord of all the earth was 
Zion's King and Lord. What no earthly power could have done, to enter
Jerusalem and spoil the city, the Lord had done, "on account of the sins 
of her prophets, the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood 
of the just in the midst of her." Jerusalem was built again. Once more 
after the seventy years the city was restored, the temple rebuilt. Then 
the just One came, the Messiah of David, the Lord of Glory. They shed 
the blood of the just One, and now, as verse 14 says, "They wander about 

     And Edom! She had rejoiced at Zion's overthrow, even as Gentiles 
have despised Israel. But there is judgment in store for the nations,
mercy for Israel, when the punishment is accomplished. "He will no more 
carry thee away into captivity."

                              CHAPTER 5

                         The Prayer of Hope

     The lamentations end with a prayer: "Remember, O LORD, what is come 
upon us; consider and behold our reproach." It is the prayer of 
confession and of hope, which reaches the heart of the God of Israel. 
The prophet, in behalf of the nation, pours out his confession: "The 
crown is fallen from our head; woe unto us that we have sinned." And 
there is hope in the Lord who remaineth, whose throne is from generation 
to generation. The prayer, "Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall 
be turned; renew our days as of old." (verse 21) will some day be 
blessedly answered. The Eightieth Psalm contains the same prayer a 
number of times, and there He is mentioned who will yet save His people 
Israel from their sins. "Let Thy hand be upon the Man of Thy right hand, 
upon the Son of Man whom Thou madest strong for Thyself. So will not we 
go back from Thee; quicken us and we will call on Thy Name. Turn us 
again O LORD God of hosts, cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be 

     "The prophet now presents in this chapter the whole affliction of 
the people to God, as an object of compassion and mercy. This is an
onward step in the path of these deep exercises of heart. He is at peace 
with God; he is in His presence; it is no longer a heart struggling with
inward misery. All is confessed before Jehovah, who is faithful to His 
people, so that he can call on God to consider the affliction in order 
that He may remember His suffering people according to the greatness of 
His compassions. For Jehovah changes not (5:19-21). The sense of the
affliction remains in full, but God is brought in, and everything having 
been recalled and judged before Him, all that had happened being cleared
up to the heart, Jeremiah can rest in the proper and eternal relations 
between God and His beloved people; and, shutting himself into his 
direct relations with his God, he avails himself of His goodness, as 
being in those relations, to find in the affliction of the beloved 
people an opportunity for calling His attention to them. This is the 
true position of faith--that which it attains as the result of its 
exercises before God at the sight of the affliction of His people (an
affliction so much the deeper from its being caused by sin).

     "This book of Lamentations is remarkable because we see in it the 
expression of the thoughts of the Spirit of God, that is, those produced 
in persons under His influence, the vessels of His testimony, when God 
was forced to set aside that which He had established in the world as 
His own. There is nothing similar in the whole circle of the revelations 
and of the affections of God. He says himself, How could He treat them 
as Admah and Zeboim? Christ went through it in its fullest extent. But 
He went through it in His own perfection with God. He acted thus with 
regard to Jerusalem, and wept over it. But here man is found to have 
lost the hope of God interposing on His people's behalf God would not 
abandon a man who was one of this people, who loved them, who understood 
that God loved them, that they were the object of His affection. He was 
one of them. How could he bear the idea that God had cast them off? No 
doubt God would re-establish them. But in the place where God had set 
them all hope was lost forever. In the Lord's own presence it is never 
lost. It is in view of this that all these exercises of heart are gone 
through, until the heart can fully enter into the mind and affections of 
God Himself indeed, this is always true.

     "The Spirit gives us here a picture of all these exercises. How 
gracious! To see the Spirit of God enter into all these details, not 
only of the ways of God, but of that also which passes through a heart 
in which the judgment of God is felt by grace, until all is set right in 
the presence of God Himself. Inspiration gives us not only the perfect 
thoughts of God, and Christ the perfection of man before God, but also 
all the exercises produced in our poor hearts, when the perfect Spirit 
acts in them, so far as these thoughts, all mingled as they are, refer 
in the main to God, or are produced by Him. So truly cares He for us! He
hearkens to our sighs, although much of imperfection and of that which
belongs to our own heart is mixed with them. It is this that we see in 
the book of Lamentations, in the Psalms, and elsewhere, and abundantly, 
though in another manner, in the New Testament" (Synopsis of the Bible).

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