What is Lamentations doing in the middle of the books of the “great” prophets? To the left of it is Isaiah and Jeremiah, the greatest prophets of the time leading up to the exile of all Israel, to the right is Ezekiel and Daniel, the greatest prophets in the period of the exile, and right in the middle is Lamentations with its 5 little chapters. Why is it amongst the books of the major prophets? [No, it’s not just because most attribute its authorship to Jeremiah.] One way to look at it is that Isaiah and Jeremiah explain conditions leading up to judgment, Ezekiel and Daniel expound on the situation after judgment, but only Lamentations tells what it was like during judgment. Lamentations has been described as “the hinge on a great big door—small, but the crucial mechanism that allows the door to swing both ways”. Lamentations teaches how we should respond when we’ve experienced God’s judgment for the life-choices we’ve made and desire to be reconciled to Him. It’s a manual for the back-slidden.
Lamentations is not just 1 long poem repeating the same thing over and over—each chapter covers a distinct topic:
- Chapter 1: Recognition. Those having experienced God’s judgment are finally seeing with their eyes for the first time the truth of their spiritual condition that was the cause for judgment. Nowhere in Lamentations is the name of the nation or its ruler mentioned who conquered and enslaved them; they finally recognize they were just a tool of God’s judgment which was fully justified because of unfaithfulness.
- Chapter 2: Acknowledgment. Essentially this is the necessary next step after recognition, in this case acknowledgment of God’s judgment, its cause and purposes.
- Chapter 3: Hope. It is recognized that just as God and God alone is the author of judgment, God and God alone is the only source of mercy. It’s the beginning realization that everything has not yet come to an end and that there is still an opportunity to return to Him.
- Chapter 5: Repentance. The work of God’s judgment is completed. The goal of His judgment is not destruction but restoration.
In chapter 4 which we’re studying here, the theme is “The Beginning of Wisdom”. It is the point at which one learns from past mistakes, changes one’s behavior to incorporate those lessons into one’s life, and begins the process of firmly affixing one’s steps on God’s path leading to reconciliation.