The Lamentations of Jeremiah - Introduction

I. The Title -

As we began the study of Jeremiah, we noted that the book is unique among the prophets, in that it reveals not only the prophetic purposes of God, but also the burdened heart of His servant. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, shed tears over the hardness of his people who refused to heed the Word of the Lord which he faithfully proclaimed for more than forty years.

As the book of Jeremiah closes, the predicted judgment has fallen. The city lies in ruins. Its people have been carried away captive to Babylon, and the few who remained are preparing to flee to Egypt disregarding God's counsel that they should stay in the land. Jeremiah might have lifted himself above the fallen people and cried "I told you so." But instead, we find him upon his face, weeping inconsolably for their ruin. (Lam 1:1,2,12,13,16; 2:11)

From where do those tears flow? Is it merely from the prophet's sensitive nature? No, the well is much deeper. For Jeremiah's words were not his own (Jer 1:9).

So, today our witness, or teaching or preaching, should not be in our own wisdom or power, but as we hear and are moved by Him. Our prayer should ever be:

Lord, speak to me that I may speak,
     in living echoes of thy tone,
A word in season, as from thee,
     to erring children lost and lone.     [Hymn]

On this point, Dr. J.V.McGee, of Thru the Bible Radio, offers these illustrations:

Dr. G.Campbell Morgan tells the story about Dr. Dale of Birmingham who used to say that Dwight L. Moody was the only man who seemed to him to have the right to preach about hell. When someone asked Dr. Dale why he said that, he replied, "Because he always preaches it with tears in his voice." That is the type of man God wants today. We have too many who are not moved by the message they give.

David Garrick, one of the great Shakespearean actors of the past, told about the day he was walking down the street in London and found a man standing on the corner just yearning over the people. Garrick said: "I stood on the outside of the crowd, but I found myself imperceptibly working myself in, until I stood right under the man, and there came down from his breast hot tears." He went on to say that there was a woman there, pointing her shaking, withered finger at the man who spoke, and she said, "Sir, I have followed you since you preached this morning at seven o'clock and I have heard you preach five times in the streets of this city, and five times I have been wet with your tears. Why do you weep?" That preacher was George Whitefield, a cross-eyed man who was burlesqued on the English stage and denounced from almost every pulpit in the country. David Garrick went on to say, "I listened to George Whitefield, and as I listened to him I saw his passion and his earnestness. I knew that he meant that without Christ men would die. As I listened to him, he came to the place where he could say nothing more. He reached up those mighty arms, his voice seemed almost like a thunderstorm as he said one final word: 'Oh!'" Why, he could break an audience with that word! When George Whitefield said "Oh!" men bowed before the Holy Spirit like corn bows under the wind. Garrick went on, "I would give my hand full of golden sovereigns if I could say 'Oh!' like George Whitefield. I would be the greatest actor the world has ever known." The [great] difference was that George Whitefield was sincere - he was not acting. Jeremiah was that kind of a preacher.

The first word of Jeremiah's Lamentations is, in effect, "Alas!" The Hebrew word {ekah} asks "How could it have come to this?" This is the first word of chapters 1, 2 and 4. It was also the original Hebrew title for this book: Ekah (Alas!). Later, rabbis gave it the Hebrew title "Qinot," meaning "dirges" or "laments," from which we have the title in our Bibles.

II. The literary style and pattern -
The first four chapters are acrostic poems. The 22 verses of chapters 1, 2 and 4 each begin with the next consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which has 22 letters). Chapter 3 has 66 verses because every three lines (eg., vs. 1-3; vs. 4-6, etc.) begins with the next Hebrew letter.

Why did Jeremiah use this acrostic form? Perhaps as an aid for memorization. The lessons of Israel's judgment are too valuable to be forgotten. Perhaps, also, to emphasize the completeness of the judgment which the Lord had poured out on them, "from A - Z."

In the Hebrew original, the first four chapters are also written in the halting metre of a dirge, as though words alone could not express the emptiness of the overwhelming grief that had overtaken the nation. This is referred to as the "qinah" {dirge} metre.

The fifth chapter breaks away from that sorrowful rhythm, as the believing remnant breaks into prayer. Although it also contains 22 verses, the fifth chapter is not acrostic, for their prayer is not rote from memory but spontaneous from the heart, calling upon the Lord to remember (5:1) and to turn their hearts again to Him (5:21).

The five chapters fit together in a unique pattern, showing the tension between Judah's sin and God's righteousness. Judah's sinful condition, judgment and need for salvation is illustrative of the need of all mankind. The provision of the Lord for Judah's need will also satisfy the need of all people. There is but one means to reconcile sinful man to God.

Man's perspectiveReconciliationThe Lord's perspective
1- The desolation of sinful men under judgment. 1:1,2,8,18..
..2- The righteousness and justification of the Lord in judgment. 2:1,2,17
.3- A man's hope of reconciliation: The Lord, who is faithful in judgment, is faithful in mercy. 3:1, 21-25.
..4- The severity and completion of the Lord's judgment. 4:1,6,11,22
5- The desperation of sinful men awaiting salvation. 5:1-3,19-22..

III. The Lord's heart for His people -
As we observed earlier, these Lamentations are not Jeremiah's alone. His words express the affliction of the Lord's heart in behalf of His people (Isa 63:9).
     "He who in these five elegies {ie., dirges} weeps because of the destruction of Jerusalem is He who wept because of her desolation (Luke 13:34 and 19:41).
     "He identifies Himself with the guilty city, burdens Himself with her guilt, and suffers the Divine wrath as a consequence [Isa 53:6] (Lam 1:12-14 and 3:1-21).
     "Again, as High Priest, He makes His people's griefs His own, and personifies their sorrows (3:22-66 and ch. 5)." [eg., 3:22-24,48-50; 5:1,21]
     [in quotes, except for in brackets [ ], from 'The Student's Commentary on the Scriptures,' by George Williams]

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