Do you know what it means to lament? A central subject in the book of Lamentations, lament is an outpouring of grief before the Lord. In a recent article in Themelios, Robert S. Smith observed that the contemporary church is out of practice with this emotion. Why does this matter? Grieving over sin and its consequences should be part of our spiritual lives. As Smith explains, “The path to praise passes through lament.”
The Book of Lamentations shows us what it means to lament, as the prophet Jeremiah grieved over Judah’s conquest and exile. Doors and gates that should have been an entry point for worship had been opened to reveal idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness. As a result, the protective function of the city gates of Jerusalem had been overthrown (v. 9) and they’d been burned (Neh. 1:3). The conquest and exile were devastating especially because Jerusalem and the temple symbolized God’s presence with His people.
The first nine verses of today’s reading are a poetic picture of God’s judgment and righteous anger. This inexorable flood of negative verbs and images depicts Him as an enemy (v. 5). Ultimately, the conquest was His doing, not Babylon’s. He even destroyed His own temple: “The Lord has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary” (v. 7).
The author, traditionally Jeremiah, was leading the people in repenting and lamenting their sins (vv. 10–11). Nowhere is God accused of being unjust. He’d graciously warned them many times through His prophets. Jeremiah called Israel to repent, because God was the only One who could righteously, justly, and lovingly do anything about their situation.
>> Often the only verses in Lamentations we know are the ones about God’s mercies (3:22–23). To understand the bigger picture, we encourage you to read the entire book (just five chapters) at your earliest opportunity.