Lamentations is a short, anonymous book that is typically associated with the prophet Jeremiah because of its gloomy tone and subject matter: the fall of Jerusalem. This is why the book is found after the book of Jeremiah in the Christian canon. (It is grouped with other books in the Jewish canon.) The fact that 1 Chronicles 35:25 speaks of laments written by Jeremiah “lamenting” for King Josiah further suggests the link between Jeremiah and this book, though not all are convinced.

Lamentations is a collection of reactions to the fall of Jerusalem, written in poetic style. Each of the five chapters contains twenty-two verses. This is no accident, for the Hebrew alphabet has twenty-two letters. The first four chapters are written in a style known as acrostic: each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That style is completely lost in English translations, obviously. In contrast to these first four chapters, chapter 5 is not an acrostic.

The tone of the book is like a funeral dirge and its main message is that Jerusalem’s fall was well-deserved punishment. Some of the imagery is quite graphic, especially where Jerusalem is depicted as a dead woman or a widow and mother who have been stripped naked. The book ends by explaining that Jerusalem’s fall was not because Yahweh was unable to stop it, but because his anger was “beyond measure” (5:22).

– Peter Enns