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Union Biblical Seminary

Paper Presentation

Lamentation
In partial fulfilment of the requirements of
Hope in Suffering and Joy in Liberation:
Study of Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature
Course Code:
BB019
Presented By:
Blessing, Chandan, James, Joyful, and Juntier
BD – IV, Semester - I
Date: 31st July 2017
Presented to: - Sir, Jagat Sandra

Contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 2
1. Authorship and Date ................................................................................................................ 2
1.1. Authorship ........................................................................................................................ 2
1.2. Date .................................................................................................................................. 2
1. Historical Background ............................................................................................................. 3
2. Peculiarities of Lamentations .................................................................................................. 4
2.1. The polyphonic Nature ..................................................................................................... 4
2.2. The use of ‘I’ and ‘We’ .................................................................................................... 4
2.3. Expression of grief and sorrows ....................................................................................... 5
3. Contents and Theological Themes .............................................................................................. 5
3.1. Contents ............................................................................................................................... 5
3.2. Theological themes .............................................................................................................. 6
3. Theological Significance ......................................................................................................... 7
Conclusion ...................................................................................................................................... 8
Bibliography ................................................................................................................................... 9
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Introduction
The Book of Lamentations is a detailed account of the sufferings of the people of Judah. The
horror of the suffering during the siege of Jerusalem clearly comes through the words of the 5
poems of Lamentations. In this paper we will be discussing on the historical backgrounds of
Lamentations, the peculiarities, the contents and theological theme and theological significance.

1. Authorship and Date


1.1. Authorship
Traditional view is that Jeremiah wrote this book. There are no internal and external
evidences to prove Jeremiah’s authorship. But what made the ancient interpreters attach this
book to Jeremiah. 1. Jeremiah was a wailing prophet. 2. He lived to see the destruction among
the canonical prophet who saw the destruction. 3. When Josiah died, Jeremiah 2 chronicles 35:25
says that Jeremiah wrote a lament. Circumstantial evidences prove Jeremiah’s authorship. The
books of Lamentations seek help from Egypt but as for Jeremiah. He was against such alliance.
Jeremiah had predicted the destruction of the temple. Lam 2:9 wonders why the destruction
happens but Jeremiah had the ans. Jeremiah had a clear vision in opposition to Lam 2:9. The
author of Lamentation view contradicts Jeremiah. Maybe, the author is an unknown author, who
has composed this song.1

1.2. Date
This book had written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC and before the second
temple 538BC. Somewhere between 587 to 538
A. Chapters 1-4 suggest an intensity which would have been right after the fall of
Jerusalem

B. Chapter 5 may describe a time when the “sharp pains of defeat had dulled into the
chronic ache of captivity”, but it need not necessarily describe a later period.

5. Literary Structure:
The entire book is poetic. The first, second, fourth and fifth laments all contain 22 verses,
reflecting the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In the first and second laments each
verse contains three poetic lines; in the fourth each verse contains two lines; and in the fifth each
verse contains but one line. The first four laments are alphabetic acrostics (see NIV text notes on
1:1; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1). In the first, second and fourth, each numbered verse begins with the letter of

1
J. Andrew Dearman, “The Niv Application Commentary”, (Michigan: Zondervan, 2002),
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the Hebrew alphabet dictated by the traditional order of that alphabet. The third (middle) lament
is distinctive in that while it too is made up of 22 three-line units (like laments 1 and 2), in it the
three lines of each unit all begin with the sequenced order of the letters of the alphabet (thus
three aleph lines followed by three beth lines, etc.) after the manner of Ps 119. The fifth lament
continues to reflect the alphabetic pattern in its 22-line structure, but the initial letters of these
lines do not follow the alphabetic sequence (see note on 5:1–22). Use of the alphabet as a formal
structuring element indicates that, however passionate these laments, they were composed with
studied care.2
1. Historical Background
The book was written in reaction to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians
in 587 B.C. The historical setting of the people of Jerusalem suffered the most intense hardships
during the final siege of the city, 588–586 B.C. The book of Lamentations is in the final days of
the kingdom of Judah, particularly the destruction of Jerusalem, with all its attendant evils, both
during and after the final siege of the city. After the death of good king Josiah, the political,
social, and religious situation failed rapidly under the successive reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim,
Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.3 According to the perspective of the biblical historians and prophets,
the Exile was the climax of a long struggle that pitted the people of Israel and Judah against their
God. God hand warned them long before through Moses that their present in the land
dependence on their obedience of the covenant relationship that he established with them on
Sinai (Deut. 28:15-68). Nonetheless, he remained faithful to them through long years of rebellion
and sin, sending prophet after prophet to call them back to a sincere and vital relationship with
him.4

The final spiral began with the death of Josiah in 609. Josiah and his supporters had tried to turn
the tide of religious apostasy by instituting reforms into the society and cult. His reign
experienced momentary relief from foreign domination, but when he was kill on the battlefield,
Judah become a pawn in the power of play between the great superpowers of the day: Egypt and

2
https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-lamentations/
3
Nichol, F. D, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary: The Holy Bible with exegetical and expository
comment. Commentary Reference Series (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978), 75-
78.
4
Raymond B Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament, (Michigan: Zondervan,
1994), 304-305.
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Babylon.5After the death of Josiah his younger son Jehoahaz become a king in his place. He
succeeds his father with the expectation that he will continue his father’s anti- Egyptian, pro-
Babylonian policy. Because of this political stance, when Neco, the Egyptian pharaoh, was
repulsed by Babylon, he tried to solidify his power base in the Levant by deporting Jehoahaz and
placing his brother Eliakim, whom he renamed Jehoiakim in the throne.6

Zedekiah made the final mistake of rebelling against Babylon, and this lead to the final
destruction of Jerusalem in the year 587 B.C. Lamentation was written in reaction to the physical
devastation of the city and express the psychological and spiritual suffering over God’s
abandonment of his people and hostility toward him.7

2. Peculiarities of Lamentations
2.1. The polyphonic Nature
The term polyphony, in simple terms and in literature, means writing in different voices giving a
diversity of points of views and voices. This term was introduced by M. Bakhtin who maintained
that a polyphonic text is a literary work that approximates a genuine dialogue. 8 When we look at
Lamentations as a literature, we can see its polyphonic nature where the speaking voices form a
very important key for the interpretation of the text. In the polyphonic text of Lamentations, the
shifting of the speaking voices occurs between Lamentations 1 and 4. In chapters 1 and 2, the
narrator stands outside the events and thereby offers the reader an objective perspective. Here,
the narrator talks of Jerusalem’s loss of greatness and the Lord’s wrath against Jerusalem from a
spectatorial point of view talking of the fate of Zion (Jerusalem) personifying it as a woman.
From chapter 3 onwards, he stands inside the scene, narrating it in the first person.
2.2. The use of ‘I’ and ‘We’
In conjunction with the polyphony of Lamentations, we can also see several laments in which the
narrator uses “I” and “we,” identifying himself with the people and the land. Even though the
narrator opens the book from the perspective of the third person, the use of the first person “I”
and its plural form “we” is injected into the narration in many places (For example 1:15-16, 19-

5
Richard Brooks, Great is Your Faithfulness, (London: Evangelical Press, 1989), 7-9.
6
Claus Westerman, Lamentation Issues and Interpretation, (United State of America: Augsburg Fortress Publishers,
1994), 61-63.
7
R.K Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentation: The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, (London: The Tyndale
Press, 193), 196-197.
8
Carol A. Newsom, “Bakhtin, the Bible, and Dialogic Truth,” The Journal of Religion, Vol. 76 (2), April 1996, 295.
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21). From chapter 3, the narrator fully identifies with the situation wholly using the first person,
identifying himself with the grief, sufferings and sorrows of the people and of Zion. This shows
the concern he has for God’s people and thus his laments. The writer “speaks of his own
afflictions at the hands of the Lord… However, the individual clearly expresses the pain of the
whole community.”9
2.3. Expression of grief and sorrows
The book of Lamentations, as its name indicates, is a book of sorrows and grief because of the
fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and the exile. Such a situation led the writer to
express his despair. The writer accepts that the suffering comes from God. Another point to note
is that the first four chapters are acrostic in nature where it appears that the writer “wanted to
express his feelings ‘from Alef to Taw.’”10 But then, the writer does not arrange his laments
systematically. Gottwald writes, “An aspect of grief is not systematically described, but comes
back again and again contributing to the passion and to the rugged power of the document.”11
Indeed, we therefore see complaint, petition and also praise to God through hope for restoration.

3. Contents and Theological Themes


3.1. Contents
Chapters. 1–2 each consist of a lament in the form of an acrostic poem of twenty-two three-line
verses, each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Ch. 1 portrays
Jerusalem as a widow, the “daughter of Zion” (1:6) bewailing her condition and eliciting the pity
of “all you peoples” (v. 18) and the Lord (vv. 20–22). In the second acrostic the poet narrates the
desolation of Jerusalem, whereby “the Lord has become like an enemy” and destroyed his people
(2:5); addressing the city directly, he implores it to “cry aloud to the Lord” (vv. 18–19; cf. vv.
20–22).12
Ch. 3 also is an alphabetic acrostic, of three-line (verse) stanzas with each line beginning with
the appropriate letter. The chapter is an individual objection wherein the poet—speaking perhaps
as “Everyman” or the personified community—depicts his personal suffering (3:1–18) and
hopelessness (vv. 19–20), yet still maintains trust in God (vv. 21–24). Reflecting God’s mercy,

9
D.A. Carson et al. (ed.) New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, (Hyderabad: Authentic, 2013), 712.
10
S. Paul Re’mi, God’s People in Crisis: A commentary on the bok of Amos and Lamentations, (Edinburgh: Hansel
Press, 1984), 79.
11
Norman K. Gottwald, Studies in the book of Lamentations, (Eugene: Wipf& Stock, 2009), 31.
12
Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary Old Testament, (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1987) 639.
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he implores the people to repent and return to God (vv. 25–41). The chapter concludes with
further lamentation (vv. 42–54) and supplication that the Lord will grant vengeance upon the
poet’s enemies (vv. 55–66).13
Ch. 4 is another acrostic dirge or lament of two-line stanzas, in which a survivor recounts the
catastrophic siege and sack of Jerusalem; it concludes with a slanderous accusation against Edom
(4:21–22). The final chapter is a communal complaint; although of twenty-two verses, it is not an
acrostic. The people describe lucidly their troubles and its causes (5:2–18) and appeal God for
restoration (vv. 19–21).14
3.2. Theological themes
In the survey on authorship and date has demonstrated, nearly every major work on
Lamentations has made some theological explanation about the book. At the same time, many of
these explanations do not necessarily draw out the book’s theological implications. However,
Westermann observed that these observations may be stated broadly into two basic positions: the
book states why the nation has suffered and how it may find relief from this suffering. Analysis
reveals that Lamentations utilizes texts on some major themes such as covenantal curses and
blessings, prophetic warnings and exhortations, and psalmic reflections on Jerusalem’s fall to
establish God’s righteousness and faithfulness, on the one hand, and on human sinfulness,
contrition, puzzlement, legitimate questioning, patience, and worship, on the other. Adaptation of
well-known forms provides the literary means by which the acrostics present these ideas.15

Gottwald argued that at the heart of the theology of Lamentations lies a single question: Why did
Israel suffer so greatly so soon after the reforms instituted by Josiah ca. 622 B.C.E..?. He
concludes that this question is asked “at the point in Israel’s life where the tension between
history and faith is, for the first time, most sharply posed”. How so? Because at this point in their
history the people had been schooled by adherents of Deuteronomistic theology to expect that
reform would bring blessing. Thus, when defeat and destruction followed reform, the people
sought an explanation. Israel expresses its dismay in Lamentations by using themes of reversal
that depict past glory and present pain and its hopes for the future by declaring that God can once
again reverse their fortunes, this time in a positive direction (53–60). In this way the nation

13
Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary Old Testament…, 639.
14
Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary Old Testament…, 639.
15
Duane Garrett, Word Biblical Commentary: Song of Songs/ Lamentations, (Dallas: Word Incorporated, 2004) 317.
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expresses its pain, its faith in God, its belief in meaningful history, and its belief in God’s
lordship over history (62). On the whole, the book participates in the great tradition of Israelite
prophetic thought yet also unites the priestly concern for liturgy with the prophetic desire for
covenantal faithfulness (114–19).16

3. Theological Significance
Although the book is one of the most tragic in the Old Testament, it is by no means devoid of
theological meaning. If Job relates suffering to personal considerations, Lamentations deals with
it in terms of national and historic crisis.17 The theological purpose of Lamentations is to
acknowledge God’s judgment against Jerusalem and move him to intercede for and restore his
people18
Over the past few decades a lively debate has sprung up concerning the theological traditions
that propel the book. Gottwald (1954) began the discussion when he proposed that the
theological message of the book may be found in the contrast between the Deuteronomic version
of faith and historical reality as represented in the destruction of Jerusalem. Deuteronomy
promises blessings, security, and prosperity to the people of God, but the people experience
God’s presence as an enemy (Lam 2:4). Albrecktson (1963), however, claimed that Gottwald’s
understanding of Deuteronomic theology is simplistic and facile. According to Albrecktson,
nowhere does Deuteronomy promise Israel unconditional blessing. When Israel sins, they will be
cursed, and Lamentations recognizes that God’s movement against them is the result of their
sin.19
The theology of Lamentations has been seen by Gottwald against a background of doom and
hope, the former constituting the logical outcome of the kind of divine activity characterised by
righteousness. The destruction of Jerusalem thus resulted from a defiance of the ordinances of
God, and the tragic nature of the situation was heightened by the realization that it could have
been avoided. Amidst all this it was to the fidelity of God that the poet could look for future
hope, for although Jerusalem undoubtedly deserved her fate, the deity who had brought this

16
Garrett, Word Biblical Commentary: Song of Songs/ Lamentations…, 317.
17
R K Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, (London: The Tyndale Press, 1970), 1071.
18
Raymond, An Introduction to the Old Testament…, 311.
19
Raymond, Introduction to the Old Testament ..., 311.
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destruction upon her was still the Covenant God, who required the unswerving trust and loyalty
of His people as a necessary prerequisite to blessing.20
The theological message of Lamentation is not purely negative. There is also hope, but it is of
minimal significance in the Book. In the heart of the book (3:22-33) the poet expresses his
assurance that God does not abandon those who turn to him for help. Although Israel has sinned
in the past (1:8, 14, 18; 2:14; 4:13), they appeal to God for help, expecting that he will forgive
and restore. His compassion is greater than his anger (3:31 – 33).21

Conclusion
In the paper we have discussed the historical background, its theological significance and
contents of the Book of Lamentations. From the above discussion it is clear that when God's
people abandon Him and depart from His Word, tragedy follows inevitably. The Book of
Lamentations portraits the painful suffering of the nation of Judah and the people of Jerusalem.
However, it is clear that the suffering of God's people is resulted from disobedience of Israel to
God’s law. Nevertheless, God loves His people and has promised to do what is best to bring
about their blessing as the poet expresses his assurance that God does not abandon those who
turn to him for help.

20
Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament..., 1071.
21
Raymond, Introduction to the Old Testament ..., 312.
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Bibliography
Andrew Dearman, J. The Niv Application Commentary. Michigan: Zondervan, 2002.
Brooks, Richard. Great is Your Faithfulness. London: Evangelical Press, 1989.
Carson, D.A. et al. (ed.). New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition. Hyderabad: Authentic,
2013.
Dillard, Raymond B and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament. Michigan:
Zondervan, 1994.
F. D, Nichol. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary: The Holy Bible with exegetical and
expository comment. Commentary Reference Series. Washington, D.C.: Review and
Herald Publishing Association, 1978.
Garrett, Duane.Word Biblical Commentary: Song of Songs/ Lamentations. Dallas: Word,
Incorporated, 2004.
Gottwald, Norman K. Studies in the book of Lamentations. Eugene: Wipf& Stock, 2009.
Harrison, R.K. Jeremiah and Lamentation: The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. London:
The Tyndale Press, 193.
Harrison, R K. Introduction to the Old Testament. London: The Tyndale Press, 1970.
Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary Old Testament. Michigan: Eerdmans, 1987.
Re’mi, S. Paul. God’s People in Crisis: A commentary on the Book of Amos and Lamentations.
Edinburgh: Hansel Press, 1984.
Westerman, Claus. Lamentation Issues and Interpretation. United State of America: Augsburg
Fortress Publishers, 1994.
Periodical

Newsom, Carol A. “Bakhtin, the Bible, and Dialogic Truth,” The Journal of Religion, Vol. 76
(2), April 1996.

Webliography

https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-lamentations/