The book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah, after the fall of Jerusalem. He writes in the first person, both as himself, and also speaking on behalf of Jerusalem herself. The prophet truly entered into the suffering of the city; and he certainly speaks as an eye witness. The book was read out in Jewish synagogues on the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem.
v1: Jerusalem the queen or princess, had become a slave to Babylon. Her God given glory was lost. The first word (EYKA in Hebrew) is a powerful expression of shock and amazement. It occurs also in 2.1 and 4.1.
v2: She relied upon friends, heathen nations, and lovers, false gods; but they dealt treacherously with her (v19). She failed to trust in her God, and suffered the consequences.
v3: Judah in exile, dwelling among the Gentiles, far from her home.
v4: Religious practice in Jerusalem had ended, no feasts and no priests.
v5: The real problem was “her many sins.” This was the cause of the slavery, the bondage, and her grief; the Lord had afflicted her.
v6: The previous glory and splendour of Zion was lost.
v7: Jerusalem’s enemies mocked her downfall. She had to remember her treasures, for they had all gone.
v8: Her serious sins had serious consequences.
v9: She did not consider her future destiny, Deut 29.29; Ps 90.12. She forgot that sin has consequences on the earth; her folly was neglecting that truth. Jerusalem began by tolerating sin, and ended by promoting it.
v10: The precious things of God were defiled by the ungodly.
v11: One of the effects of the siege and defeat was severe famine.
v12-22: These words are attributed to Jerusalem, expressing her sorrow. They reflect Jeremiah’s own experience.
v12: Here is the lonely widow, the degraded princess, sitting at the side of he road, weeping and calling out. She has received her sorrow from the Lord Himself. Such suffering was not the natural consequence of her sins, but rather divine judgment is the inevitable consequence of sins. This is the first verse in which Jeremiah speaks as the city herself – a poignant testimony to his identification with the suffering of his people.
v13: Again, it was the Lord who brought all these things upon Jerusalem.
v14: The yoke of her transgressions, for sin brings bondage; Christ spoke of those who become slaves on sin (John 8.34). It was for this reason that Jerusalem could not withstand the attack of Babylon.
v15: God summoned the army of Babylon; and Jerusalem was trodden in the winepress of God’s wrath.
v16: Sorrow over suffering; the comforter, the Lord Himself, was far away.
v17: Zion stretches out her hands, pleading for a comforter. But there was none to help, no near neighbour who will come near; for she was unclean. As in v21, there is no one to comfort.
v18: Confession and sorrow for sins; Jerusalem had rebelled against the gracious commandment of the Lord; here she began to grasp her own responsibility for what had happened to her.
The events also stood as a warning to “all peoples.”
v19: Jerusalem’s new found allies, and their idols, proved unreliable. Her repeated forays into idolatry were detrimental. Priests and elders, who should have been a strength, died uselessly in the city.
v20: Jerusalem suffered great distress and torment; inside and outside men and women died; there was no escape for them. Those who were outside the city came across the Babylonian army, and were killed; inside the city there was famine, killing many.
v21-22: The expectation that wicked nations, gloating over Jerusalem’s disaster, would also fall under condemnation. Indeed, Jeremiah had addressed such nations (Jer 46-51). Jerusalem actually ran out of words, her mourning becoming mere groanings.