The poems deal with the people’s suffering during the siege and in the days immediately after, when the Babylonians ruled over the few Judeans who remained in the country round about (2 Kings 25:1-26; Jer 40:1-41:18). Although Jeremiah is often assumed to be the writer of Lamentations, the book does not say who wrote it. Whoever the author was, he must have lived in the time of Jeremiah, for he was in Jerusalem during the siege that led to the collapse of the city. The poems give a vivid picture of the horrors of those days. (For events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem see JEREMIAH.) In three of the five poems, the twenty-two verses that make up the poem begin in turn with the twenty-two successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. One poem has sixty-six verses grouped in twentytwo sets of three. In this poem, which is the central poem in the collection, all three verses in each set begin with the same letter, and these sets of initial letters likewise follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet. The remaining poem (the last in the collection) again has twenty-two verses, but does not follow the usual alphabetical arrangement.
Contents of the book
The first poem pictures the plundered city now ruined and deserted. It was a pitiful sight, yet a fitting punishment for the city’s sins. The second poem pictures the widespread starvation in the city at the height of the siege, and shows how misleading were the false prophets’ assurances of deliverance. In the lengthy third poem the writer admits that Jerusalem’s sufferings are God’s righteous judgment, and urges the people to accept God’s discipline and seek his forgiveness. In the fourth poem there is a contrast between Jerusalem’s former glory and its present ruin, and in particular a contrast between the former luxury of the leaders and their present humiliation. The final poem, written a little later, shows the hardship and dangers faced by the people left behind in Judah.