Charles Dyer with Eva Rydelnik


In Christian Bibles, Lamentations follows Jeremiah, as the messages are directly connected. In the Jewish Bible, Lamentations is one of the "Five Scrolls" (megillot), read in synagogues on various Jewish holy days. Lamentations is read in the synagogue yearly on the Ninth of Av (Tisha b’Av), the day of fasting set aside to mourn the destructions of the first and second temples. The other scrolls are Esther, read on Purim; Song of Songs, read on Sabbath during the intermediate days of Passover; Ruth, read on the second morning of the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot); and Ecclesiastes, read on Sabbath during the intermediate days of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). Together these books/scrolls form part of the third section of the Hebrew Bible, the Ketuvim, ("the Writings"). When Lamentations is read in the synagogue, after the final verse (5:22) then verse 5:21 is repeated, so that the reading may close with a focus of hope in God: "Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old."

In Hebrew the title is taken from the book’s first word, ‘ekah, which is best translated "Alas" rather than "How." It is a cry of grief (2Sm 1:19; Jr 1:19). The Talmudic writers called the book by the name Kinot, (Bava Batra 14b), meaning "lamentations, dirges, or elegies." This title derives from the book being a cry of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and sorrow for the Jewish people who had been taken into captivity. The Septuagint translates the rabbinic title into the Greek for "lamentations" (thrēnoi). This title was carried over to the Latin Vulgate, as the "The Lamentations of Jeremiah" and from there into the English Bibles as Lamentations.

Author. The book does not specifically name Jeremiah as its author, but Jewish and Church traditions unanimously attribute the work to him. The Septuagint translation introduces the book, "And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive, and Jerusalem made desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and he said …" Also, the ancient rabbinic tradition, (i.e., Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 15a, as well as early Christian tradition (i.e., Latin Vulgate) attribute the book to Jeremiah. The internal evidence also points to Jeremiah as author, as the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations show a strong link. In both books, the writer’s eyes flowed with tears (Jr 9:1, 18; Lm 1:16; 2:11), and he claimed to be an eyewitness of Jerusalem’s siege and fall to Babylon (Jr 19:9; Lm 2:20; 4:10).

Date. The book was composed within a brief period of time after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC; cf. 1:1–11) and before Jeremiah was taken to Egypt (583–582 BC, cf. Jr 43:1–7). The vivid descriptions and deep emotions argue for a composition immediately after the events occurred, possibly in late 586 or early 585 BC.

Recipients. Jeremiah directed this message to the survivors of Judah after the fall of Jerusalem, including those taken into captivity to Babylon, those who remained in the land of Judah, and those who had fled to Egypt. All these individuals experienced the Lord’s ongoing judgment. Lamentations reminded them to maintain hope in God because "The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is [His] faithfulness" (Lm 3:22–23).

Theme and Purpose. There are two themes running together: the judgment of God and the faithfulness of God. Both call for hope in the Lord and obedience to Him.

The purpose of the book is to express grief over the fall of Jerusalem and confidence in the faithfulness of God. All the tragedy Jerusalem experienced had been predicted almost 900 years earlier when God warned of the fearful consequences of disobedience (Lv 26; Dt 28). Lamentations is a record of those consequences.

Yet this judgment makes the book of Lamentations a book of hope for Israel because it records God’s faithfulness in discharging every aspect of the covenant. Israel was punished for disobedience, but not destroyed. The same covenant that promised judgment for disobedience also promised restoration for repentance (Dt 30:1–10). Jeremiah’s message to Judah was for the nation to turn back to the Lord and "hope in Him" (Lm 3:24)

There are several key words in the book. "Zion" (15 times) and "Jerusalem" (seven times) are used synonymously to identify the Jewish people or the city. Zion or Jerusalem is connected to "the daughter of" frequently to denote the people. "Desolate" (seven times) emphasizes the grief of loss, and "hope" (five times) emphasizes the positive expectation that the God of the covenant gave His people.

Background. From 588 to 586 BC the army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. The long siege ended abruptly in July 586 BC when the walls were breached, the temple burned, and Judea was taken into exile (events detailed in the book of Jeremiah). Lamentations is a mournful postscript to the book of Jeremiah. In five funeral dirges, or laments, the prophet Jeremiah grieves over the fate of Jerusalem because of her sin (1:8). The book of Lamentations goes beyond grief to provide a theological explanation of the fall of Jerusalem and offers instruction and hope in the faithfulness of the Lord.

The genre of Lamentation is poetry. Each chapter is a solemn elegy, lament, or song of mourning, written in acrostic form, as described in the following paragraph (cf. Ps 119). The purpose of the acrostic in Lamentations is perhaps twofold: first, to make the content easy to remember and second, to emphasize the extent (i.e., from A to Z) of the consequences of sin.

Lamentations has three structural markers. First, the book is written as a series of five laments, that is, as a funeral poem or dirge recited as if someone had just died (cf. 2Sm 1:17–27). Second, each of the chapters has an acrostic, a form in which the first word of each line or verse, when taken in order, follows the sequence of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Third, the book has a definite structural balance. Chapters 1 and 5 are parallel, focusing on the people, and chaps. 2 and 4 are parallel, focusing on the Lord. Chapter 3 is the pivot for the book, focusing on hope in the Lord and a declaration of His lovingkindness in the midst of affliction.


I. First Lament: Jerusalem’s Desolation Because of Her Sin (1:1–22)

A. Jeremiah’s Lament Over Jerusalem’s Desolation (1:1–11)

B. Jerusalem’s Plea for Mercy (1:12–19)

C. Jerusalem’s Prayer to the Lord (1:20–22)

II. Second Lament: The Lord’s Punishment of Jerusalem’s Sin (2:1–22)

A. The Lord’s Anger at Jerusalem’s Sin (2:1–10)

B. Jeremiah’s Grief Over Jerusalem’s Sin (2:11–19)

C. Jerusalem’s Plea for the Lord’s Mercy (2:20–22)

III. Third Lament: Jeremiah’s Response to Jerusalem’s Desolation (3:1–66)

A. Jeremiah’s Afflictions by the Lord (3:1–18)

B. Jeremiah’s Hope in the Lord (3:19–40)

C. Jeremiah’s Prayer to the Lord (3:41–66)

IV. Fourth Lament: The Lord’s Wrath Poured Out on Jerusalem (4:1–22)

A. The Contrast of Zion Before and After the Siege (4:1–11)

B. The Causes of the Siege of Zion (4:12–20)

C. The Call for Vindication Against Edom, Enemy of Zion (4:21–22)

V. Fifth Lament: The Remnant of Jerusalem’s Response (5:1–22)

A. The Remnant’s Prayer for the Lord to Remember Zion (5:1–18)

B. The Remnant’s Prayer for the Lord to Restore Zion (5:19–22)


I. First Lament: Jerusalem’s Desolation Because of Her Sin (1:1–22)

The first lament establishes one of the themes of the book—the consequences and sorrow of sin. The people of Judah had turned from the protective care of her God to pursue foreign alliances and lifeless idols. Now Zion "weeps bitterly," is in mourning, and has "gone into exile" because of her sin. There is "none to comfort her" (vv. 2, 9, 16–17, 21). Two perspectives are presented in this lament. First, the prophet’s perspective is from the outside looking in (vv. 1–11). The second perspective is of Jerusalem personified, calling for mercy from those who pass by (vv. 12–19). The lament closes with personified Jerusalem turning to God in prayer (vv. 19–22).

A. Jeremiah’s Lament Over Jerusalem’s Desolation (1:1–11)

Jeremiah’s first words, "How lonely sits the city," express his deep sorrow for the fall of Zion. As Jeremiah surveyed the destruction of the thriving city, the lament begins: "How" (‘ekah), better translated "alas," a word of lament (1:1; 2:1; 4:1), is an exclamation often associated with grief and mourning (cf. Is 1:21, 2:2; Jr 48:17). The first paragraph (Lm 1:1–7) vividly describes the extent of Zion’s destruction, and the second (vv. 8–11) explains the cause for her destruction.

1:1–2. Jerusalem had experienced catastrophic devastation and three significant changes. (cf. Introduction: Background in Jeremiah). First, her population was devastated: How lonely sits the city That was full of people! Second, her economic position was bankrupt. The city that once been great among the nations was reduced to the status of a widow. Widowhood is used throughout the OT to depict poverty, destitution, and despair (cf. Ex 22:22; Dt 10:18; 24:19–21; 26:13; 27:19; Is 1:17). Third, her social position was that of a slave. The princess … has now become a forced laborer. The city that used to rule other nations was now taken in slavery to Babylon.

Her emotional condition was complete sorrow, weeping bitterly in the night. She has turned from the Lord and there was none to comfort her. Her lovers, a term that refers to her spiritual adultery (idolatry) and her friends, meaning political allies, had become her enemies.

1:3–4. Judah has gone into exile to Babylon (cf. Introduction: Background in Jeremiah). The roads of Zion are in mourning, implying that there were so few citizens left that the roads were largely unused, and gates are desolate because the temple is destroyed and worship at the appointed feasts is impossible.

1:5. The contrast is stark between Zion’s slavery and grief, and her enemies who have become her masters and now prosper, a word meaning "at ease" or "at rest."

This crucial text explains the cause of her grief and exile: For the Lord has caused her grief because of the multitude of her transgressions. The destruction of Jerusalem and being captives to her adversary Babylon was the Lord’s judgment for Israel’s sin (cf. vv. 8, 9, 14, 18, 20).

1:6. Daughter of Zion personified the city and her people, the name being used for Jerusalem throughout Lamentations, Jeremiah, and the Prophets (cf. 2:1, 4:22; Is 1:8; Jr 4:31; Mc 4:8). Jeremiah 1:4–6 emphasizes the religious desolation in Jerusalem after its temple was destroyed, as were its associated sacrifices and feasts, all of which symbolized God’s presence and fellowship with His people.

The word Zion (vv. 4, 6) referred originally to the mountain on which the City of David was built (cf. 2Sm 5:7; 1Kg 8:1). Later the temple was built on Mount Moriah (2Ch 3:1; 5:2), and it became Mount Zion (Pss 20:2; 48:2; 78:68–69). "Zion" eventually was applied to the entire city of Jerusalem, which included the City of David, the Temple Mount, and the western hill on which the city later expanded (Jr 51:35). Zion is often associated with God’s dwelling place, whether the Temple proper or the city where the temple was located. "Remembering Zion" is a central aspect of Jewish liturgy and hope (Ps 137:5), and modern Zionism continues to emphasize the centrality of Israel and Jerusalem to the Jewish people as their historic national homeland.

1:7. The phrase Jerusalem remembers indicates the mental anguish that accompanied the physical suffering. Jerusalem remembered all her precious things (cf. v. 11), probably a reference to the temple treasures rather than personal wealth. The Babylonians stripped the temple of all its priceless ornamentation. Her adversaries saw and mocked her ruin (mishbath), used only here in the Scriptures, and better translated "annihilation."

1:8–9. After describing the catastrophe (vv. 1–7) Jeremiah explained the cause of it (vv. 8–11). Jerusalem’s destruction was not an action of a heartless God against an innocent people. She brought her destruction upon herself because Jerusalem sinned greatly. Jerusalem was personified here as an unclean woman, a term for ceremonial impurity (Lv 15:16–24) that renders a person unfit to worship in the temple. Israel’s idol worship was spiritual adultery against the Lord; He saw her nakedness and the uncleanness … in her skirts, referring to sexual immorality, and in this context is linked to spiritual unfaithfulness. When Judah turned to idolatry, she did not consider her future nor did she give a thought to the consequences of her actions. Instead she had fallen astonishingly, the astonishment stemming from the assumption by the nation Judah that the Lord would protect it.

1:10–11. Jerusalem reaped two results from her sin. First, the temple was desecrated and the precious things (cf. v. 7) were taken by the nations, by pagans who were forbidden to enter into her sanctuary. The people had failed to trust in the God of the sanctuary; instead they had falsely relied on the building for their security (cf. Jr. 7:2–15; 26:2–11; 1Sm 4:1–11). Second, because of her sin, Jerusalem suffered a famine—they were seeking bread and selling precious things for food (cf. Lm 1:19; 2:20; 4:10).

B. Jerusalem’s Plea for Mercy (1:12–19)

This lament now changes focus from the outside looking in, to the inside looking out. First, Jerusalem asks people who pass by (vv. 12–19) to see her desolation and pity her. Next, she calls on the Lord from a faint heart (vv. 20–22).

1:12–15. Jerusalem asks: Is it nothing to all you who pass this way? She wanted someone to stop and take note of her condition. First, she focused on God’s judgment that was severely dealt out upon her (vv. 12–17). Then she explained that the Lord’s judgment was deserved: "For I have rebelled against His command" (vv. 18–19).

Jerusalem’s destruction was not a chance occurrence; it was a direct result of God’s judgment. Thus, the destruction of Jerusalem was that which the Lord inflicted (cf. 2:1–8; 4:11; 5:20). God’s judgment is described with four metaphors. First, it was like fire, which He sent down into the bones of Jerusalem (v. 13a), a vivid image of the destructive fire that burned into the inner recesses of the city. Second, it was like a net spread for [her] feet (v. 13b), a picture of being taken captive by a hunter. Third, His judgment was like wearing the yoke … upon my neck (v. 14). A yoke tied two draft animals together for pulling heavy loads. The heavy wooden crossbeam of the yoke referred metaphorically to slavery or to a burden or hardship someone had to bear (cf. Lv 26:13; Is 9:4; Jr 27:1–11). Jerusalem’s transgressions produced the yoke of judgment, which bound her to captivity. Fourth, God’s judgment was like the treading of grapes (Lm 1:15), a common metaphor of God’s judgment (Is 63:2–3; Jl 3:13; Rv 19:15). The Lord would crush Jerusalem’s young men … in a wine press as well as the virgin daughter of Judah, that is, the people of Jerusalem could not withstand His judgment (cf. Lm 2:2–5).

1:16–17. Jerusalem would weep tears that run down [like] water for all she was experiencing, and her comforter was far away. Zion stretches out her hands for mercy, but there is no one to comfort her (cf. vv. 9, 21). Lack of comfort is a major theme in this chapter (cf. vv. 2, 9, 16, 17, 21). The city was destitute and despised. The emphasis is on the source of judgment—The Lord has commanded. The people are identified as Jacob, another name for Israel. All of his neighbors to whom he had turned for aid were now his adversaries (cf. v. 2). Jerusalem had become unclean (niddh), referring to ceremonial impurity (cf. Lv 15:19–20; Ezk 18:6). Again, ritual impurity serves as a metaphor for Israel’s idolatry, her spiritual adultery (cf. v. 8).

1:18–19. Zion declares the Lord is righteous; His judgments are justifiable discipline because I have rebelled against His command. God is not the author of moral evil nor is He a supreme sadist who delights in inflicting punishment on others (cf. Ezk 33:11; 2Pt 3:9). But He is a just judge (He is righteous) and will not allow sin to continue unchecked. Sin exacts a horrible price from those who enjoy its temporary pleasures, leading to great pain. Hence, Jerusalem cries, behold my pain. Jerusalem was paying the price for her rebellion: betrayal by lovers, death by starvation, and captivity (cf. Lm 1:3). Judah’s confession of guilt acknowledged that a righteous God brought judgment upon an unrighteous people as discipline.

C. Jerusalem’s Prayer to the Lord (1:20–22)

This first lament ends with Jerusalem shifting her focus. Jerusalem called for mercy from those passing by (vv. 12–19) but found none. Now she turned her cry to the Lord.

1:20–22. Jerusalem calls, See, O Lord and then describes her distress. While Nebuchadnezzar’s army attacked Jerusalem, those who tried to escape the siege were killed by the sword. But for those who remained in the city (in the house), it was like death, dying of starvation and plague.

Jerusalem called on God to see Babylon’s wickedness and judge these enemies, calling on Him to bring the day which You have proclaimed. The day was the "day of the Lord," which the prophets foretold against the enemies of Jerusalem (Is 13:6; Ezk 30:3; Jl 1:15). This was the time when God’s judgment would extend to all the earth to avenge injustice and bring about the age of righteousness that had been promised.

Jerusalem wanted God to judge the sins of her enemies as He had judged her sins: deal with them as You have dealt with me (Lm 4:21–22). This did not happen at that time, but God said He would judge all nations in the still-future tribulation period (cf. Is 62:8–63:6; Ezk 38–39; Jl 3:1–3, 9–21; Ob 15–21; Mc 7:8–13; Zch 14:1–9; Mt 25:31–46; Rv 16:12–16; 19:19–21).

II. Second Lament: The Lord’s Punishment of Jerusalem’s Sin (2:1–22)

The focus moves from the personified city of Jerusalem to the punishment God inflicted on the city. First, the Lord’s anger is depicted (vv. 1–10), followed by Jeremiah’s grief as he wept over the destruction of his beloved city, including his call for the people to repent (vv. 11–19), and finally the people’s response and Jeremiah’s prayer for mercy (vv. 20–22).

A. The Lord’s Anger at Jerusalem’s Sin (2:1–10)

The second lament began by focusing on the real cause for Jerusalem’s calamity. God was the One who destroyed Jerusalem in righteous judgment. The words depict an image of the Lord personally overseeing the dismantling of the city: "He" and "His" are used more than 25 times to indicate the Lord’s participation. The verb "swallowed up" (bala, "to engulf completely") was used four times (vv. 2, 5 [twice], 8) to picture the fire of God’s judgment engulfing the city. Other vivid terms are: "cast from heaven" (v. 1), "thrown down" (v. 2), "cut off" (v. 3), "burned" (v. 3), "destroy/ed" (vv. 5, 6, 8), "violently treated" (v. 6), "abandoned" (v. 7), "destroyed and broken" (v. 9). These words describe the havoc and disaster in Jerusalem, but recognize that the Lord was the one responsible for the rubble.

2:1–5. God’s anger (vv. 1 [twice], 3; cf. 1:12; 2:6, 21–22; 3:43, 66; 4:11) and wrath (2:4; 3:1; 4:11) were directed against the strongholds of the daughter of Judah (v. 2). The daughter of Judah refers specifically to the people and city of Jerusalem (1:15; 2:5) as do the parallel phrases daughter of Zion (1:6; 2:1, 4, 8, 10, 13, 18; 4:22) and daughter of Jerusalem (vv. 13, 15). These words referred to the physical dwellings, habitations (2:2), palaces (vv. 5, 7), and strongholds (vv. 2, 5). They also included the leadership, kingdom, and princes (v. 2). Thus, God brought down all the habitations of Jacob (v. 2). King Zedekiah and the royal family were ousted from their positions of leadership. The phrase to cut off all the strength (lit., "every horn") of Israel (v. 3) probably referred to the royal family, the Davidic dynasty, which was reaching its end. A "horn" was a common metaphor for power and pride (cf. Pss 75:10; 132:17; Jr 48:25). Thus, God removed all those to whom the people looked for guidance and leadership.

His right hand (v. 4) is a symbol of divine power (cf. Ex 15:6, 12). The intensity of destruction by the Lord seemed like a fire (vv. 3–4) and like an adversary or enemy (vv. 4–5), bringing about mourning and moaning (v. 5) among the people of Judah.

2:6–7. God’s anger was directed specifically against His temple: He violently treated His tabernacle. The tabernacle is the temple (cf. Ps 27:4–5), His appointed meeting place (Ex 25:22; Ps 74:4). With the judgment on Jerusalem, God violently destroyed the temple just as a farmer would tear down a temporary garden booth (hut) built for shade. Without the temple, religious observance in Zion (The appointed feast and sabbath, cf. Ex 3:15) would be forgotten (v. 6) because the Lord had rejected His altar and abandoned His sanctuary (v. 7). The Lord had delivered the whole city (walls of her palaces) into the hand of the enemy. The noise in the house of the Lord was not the joyous sound of temple worship, but the enemy’s shouts of victory (v. 7).

2:8–9. The Lord’s destruction was determined ("calculated") and not restrained. It was computed with the precision of a builder’s measuring line. Jerusalem was destroy[ed], and there was lament from her rampart and wall[s] to her gates. Just as the physical protective walls around Jerusalem were destroyed, so was her leadership devastated. The king and her princes (cf. v. 2) were exiled among the nations. The destruction of the temple meant there was no need for priests (v. 6) and the law is no more (v. 9). The law was not ended, but it could no longer be kept without the temple in which to offer sacrifices. The prophets had been so corrupted by charlatans (cf. Jr 23:9–32; 28; Ezk 13) that they had no vision or communication from the Lord (Lm 2:14). Thus, every group charged by God to lead the people—the king, the priests, and the prophets—was affected by Jerusalem’s fall.

2:10. The people mourned their loss of leadership, the elders along with the virgins, meaning that everyone—young and old and all in between—was grief stricken. In sorrow and anguish they sat on the ground, silent, with dust on their heads, in sackcloth, with their heads bowed … to the ground (cf. Gn 37:34; Jb 2:12–13; Neh 9:1); these were typical Jewish mourning practices at the loss of loved ones.

B. Jeremiah’s Grief Over Jerusalem’s Sin (2:11–19)

Jeremiah, known as "the weeping prophet," wept in anguish as an eyewitness to the "destruction." The causes of his tears are sketched here in five portraits.

2:11–12. The first portrait highlighted the starvation that devastated Jerusalem during the siege, especially the suffering of the children. Jeremiah wept so much his eyes failed because of tears, a picture of prolonged emotional distress. His spirit was greatly troubled and his eyes blinded by tears. (cf. 3:48–49). His heart (lit., "liver") was poured out on the earth, meaning that he was fully drained emotionally. His heart broke as he described little ones and infants, fainting and starving in the streets (cf. v. 19). They asked for food as their lives ebbed away in their mothers’ bosom. Parents who loved their children could not provide even the necessities of life.

2:13. The second portrait was of a man trying desperately to offer comfort to a grieving friend. The city’s hopeless condition prompted Jeremiah to address Jerusalem directly: How shall I admonish you? Sadly her ruin and brokenness were so severe, as vast as the sea, that there was nothing to be done to heal the virgin daughter of Zion. Only the Lord our Healer (Ex 15:26) could restore Jerusalem.

2:14. The third portrait was of false prophets who hastened rather than prevented Jerusalem’s downfall. Their false and foolish messages had not exposed or rebuked iniquity. God had warned Jerusalem that sin would lead to captivity. The prophets should have announced this impending disaster and exhorted the people to repent; instead they predicted peace and prosperity. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were true prophets of God, who were persecuted for their faithful messages (cf. Jr 28:1–4, 10–11; 29:29–32). Jerusalem chose to ignore the true prophets’ warnings and to listen to false and misleading lies of the false prophets, which could not deliver them from captivity.

2:15–17. The fourth portrait pictured the victorious enemy mocking the vanquished people. Jerusalem, once known as the perfection of beauty and a joy to all the earth (Pss 50:2, 48:2), was now the object of hissing and derision. God caused her enemy to rejoice in their victory (cf. Lm 3:46).

Jerusalem was reminded not to believe the boasts of the enemy, but to know that God was in control. It was not her enemies who gained the victory for themselves: The Lord has done what He purposed to the city. The enemies of Jerusalem were victorious, and could rejoice over her, only because God had exalted their might and given them the victory. God accomplished His word (cf. Dt 28:64–68; Lv 24:14–17; 2Kg 24:1–5), and had thrown the Jewish people down (overthrown) without sparing (cf. Lm 2:2, 21; 3:43) because of the sins of His people.

2:18–19. The fifth portrait is of the remnant of people, the daughter of Zion crying out to the Lord with tears like a river day and night. To pour out your heart like water is an expression of deepest, sincere prayer. The people were to unleash their innermost thoughts and emotions in prayer to God (cf. Pss 42:4; 62:8; 142:2).

There is a similarity between Jeremiah’s exhortation to the remnant and his own response (cf. Lm 2:11). In both cases (1) they were weeping and in torment, (2) they poured out their feelings in prayer to God, and (3) the focus of their grief was the heartrending scene of starving children. Jeremiah ended the expression of his personal grief by calling on Jerusalem to respond to her calamity (vv. 12–19) as he had: Arise, cry aloud in the night; Pour out your heart; Lift up your hands to Him.

C. Jerusalem’s Plea for the Lord’s Mercy (2:20–22)

2:20(a–b). The lament now transforms into a prayer of direct address to the Lord. In a cry of pain and horror, the city called on God to look and think about her calamity. Starvation was everywhere during the siege, leading to appalling self-preservation. Some women became cannibals and ate their offspring, the children they cared for. Moses had predicted this horror when he warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience to God’s law (cf. Lv 26:27–29; Dt 28:53–57). This reprehensible practice surfaced only during the most desperate times (cf. 2Kg 6:24–31).

2:20c–21b. Priest and prophet were slain inside the temple sanctuary as the Babylonian army rushed in for the conquest. No one was spared: corpses of the elderly and children, young and old, lay unburied on the ground in the streets, with virgins, unmarried girls, and young men. When Babylon finally did break through Jerusalem’s defenses, its soldiers were furious because Jerusalem had kept them at bay for 30 months. They made no distinction between age and sex; the bloodthirsty Babylonians butchered uncounted thousands.

2:21c–22. The ultimate Judge is again brought to mind (v. 17). The Lord [You, Your] was the One wielding the sword of punishment in the hand of the Babylonians. They prevailed only because He let them prevail in the day of the Lord’s anger. God had warned Israel that He would do so if she disobeyed Him (Lv 26:14–39; Dt 28:15–68) and He faithfully carried out His word. Those whom He had loved, whom He bore and reared, were now annihilated.

III. Third Lament: Jeremiah’s Response to Jerusalem’s Desolation (3:1–66)

The third lament is the heart of Jeremiah’s short book. This chapter gives the book a positive framework around which the other chapters revolve. The black velvet of sin and suffering in chaps. 1–2 and 4–5 serves as a fitting backdrop to display the sparkling brilliance of God’s loyal love in chap. 3.

This chapter differs markedly from the first two. Instead of 22 verses it has 66—three verses for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, instead of one verse per Hebrew letter. It also begins without the familiar "How" (‘ekah, perhaps better translated "Alas") that stands guard over chaps. 1, 2, and 4 (1:1, 2:1; 4:1). Instead, a first-person narrative unfolds as Jeremiah describes his reaction to the suffering he has experienced. He uses his own experience as representative of many of the sufferings Israel endured at the fall of Jerusalem.

The chapter is divided into three sections. First, it describes Jeremiah’s afflictions during Jerusalem’s fall (vv. 1–18). Then it reveals Jeremiah’s knowledge of God’s ways, in the midst of affliction, which produced hope in Him (vv. 19–40). Finally, it includes Jeremiah’s prayer to God for deliverance, restoration, and vindication (vv. 41–66).

A. Jeremiah’s Afflictions by the Lord (3:1–18)

3:1–9. Jeremiah is Judah’s representative: I am the man who has seen affliction. He then identifies the source of the affliction as the rod of His (the Lord’s) wrath (v. 1; cf. 2:2, 4; 4:11). God had driven him and made him walk in darkness instead of light. The Lord had turned His hand repeatedly all the day against him (v. 3) (cf. 1Sm 5:6; Jb 19:21). The physical suffering was matched by inner bitterness (Lm 3:5, 15). He could see no way out, lamenting that God shuts out [Jeremiah’s] prayer and has blocked his ways of escape (3:8, 9). Jeremiah was broken in body and spirit.

3:10–18. Jeremiah described his difficult circumstance of falling under the rod of God’s wrath (v. 1) as ambush attacks (cf. Jr 11 and 26). He pictured this as falling prey to a bear lying in wait or a lion in secret places, leaving him torn to pieces (Lm 3:10, 11). Jeremiah, a representative of the people of Israel, was a target for the Lord’s arrows of punishment (vv. 12–13). He had no comfort from his people; instead, he was a laughingstock and endured mocking by them (v. 14; Jr 20:7).

Jeremiah foretold that Jerusalem would be fed with wormwood, a bitter plant symbolizing hardship; and that they would drink poisonous water (cf. Jr 23:15). Here Jeremiah was filled … with bitterness and drunk with wormwood (Lm 3:15) and without peace, happiness, strength, or hope (vv. 17–18).

B. Jeremiah’s Hope in the Lord (3:19–40)

3:19–24. Jeremiah’s condition was parallel to Judah’s. His outward affliction (v. 19a; cf. vv. 1–4) and inward bitterness (v. 19b; cf. vv. 5, 13, 15) pushed him toward despair—he was bowed down (v. 20). However, his hope was sustained by recalling (surely my soul remembers) God’s loyal covenant love and His deep compassion for His people. There are two possible interpretations of v. 22 based on the textual variants. The Masoretic text has a first person plural verb of the Hebrew verb for "complete" (tamam) yielding the translation "Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish" (HCSB and similarly, KJV, NKJV, NIV). However, the various ancient texts (LXX, Syriac, Aramaic) have an alternate reading with a third person plural verb of the same Hebrew verb, yielding the translation the Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease (NASB and similarly, ESV, RSV, NET). This variant reading is preferred because of the strong external support and the internal evidence of the synonymous parallel statement that follows, for His compassions never fail.

The Lord was punishing Judah for her sin, but He did not reject her as His covenant people. The word lovingkindnesses is chesed, a word describing God’s special characteristic of "loyal love" to those with whom He is in a covenant relationship (Dt 7:9, 12). Further, God’s "loyal love" is frequently linked with His forgiveness and mercy (Ex 34:6–7; Ps 103:4). Despite the Lord’s judgment, which resulted in sorrowful conditions, God would never abandon the people whom He had chosen. The covenant He made with Abraham (Gn 12:3) and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob (Gn 26:1–5; 28:4) was an unconditional, unbreakable covenant (Jr 31:35–37). The Sinai covenant made with Israel (Dt 28) had not been abrogated. In fact, God’s loyal love could be seen in His faithfulness in carrying out the consequences (curses) of the Sinai covenant. He had promised judgment for disobedience, while at the same time preserving a remnant of the people. This judgment on Jerusalem itself testified to God’s faithfulness and was proof that He had not abandoned His people. God’s never failing compassions (His gentle feeling of concern for those who belonged to Him) were still evident.

Could Judah push God so far that He would finally abandon her forever? Was God’s supply of loyal love and compassion limited? Jeremiah’s answer was, "No!" God’s lovingkindnesses are new every morning (Lm 3:23). God offered a fresh supply of loyal love every day to His covenant people, based on His character and covenant keeping faithfulness to Israel. He was faithful to discipline them for their sin because of His great love for them. He had not abandoned them or terminated His relationship with them despite their sin, and those who repented of their sin experienced His love, even in the midst of judgment. For Jeremiah and the faithful remnant living through the days of judgment, God’s presence and comfort were new every morning. Today those who love the Lord Jesus, but are going through difficult times, can daily experience the love and faithfulness of God’s presence and care by trusting Him, spending time in prayer, reading Scriptures, and staying in the fellowship of others who love and serve the Lord. Much like the manna in the wilderness, the faithful supply of God’s love could not be exhausted. This truth caused Jeremiah to call out in praise, Great is Your faithfulness (v. 23). Because of this, Jeremiah resolved to wait for God to act and bring about restoration and blessing. He could trust God despite his circumstances because he understood the inexhaustible supply of God’s loyal love.

3:25–40. The God who brought the curses of Dt 28 would also bring about the restoration promised in Dt 30. In the meantime, God’s people needed to develop the proper attitude toward their afflictions. Jeremiah wrote seven principles about the nature of Israel’s affliction: (1) Affliction should be patiently endured (wait) (v. 25) with hope (v. 29) in God’s salvation, that is, ultimate restoration (vv. 25–30). (2) Affliction is not forever and is tempered by God’s compassion and love (vv. 31–32). (3) God does not delight in affliction, nor does He afflict willingly, that is, He is not capricious in judgment and when He does judge it is with reluctance (v. 33). (4) If affliction comes because of injustice, God sees it and does not approve of it (vv. 34–36). (5) Affliction is always in relationship to God’s sovereignty; nothing can occur unless He has commanded it (vv. 37–38; cf. Jb 2:10). (6) Affliction ultimately came upon the nation because of Judah’s sins, as all have sinned, fallen short of God’s holy standard, and have no grounds for complaint (Lm 3:39; Is 59:2, 64:6). (7) Affliction should accomplish the greater good of calling people to return to the Lord (Lm 3:40).

Jeremiah was able to place his (and Israel’s) affliction in proper perspective by remembering how it related to God’s character and His covenant with Israel. Judah’s afflictions were not cruel acts of a capricious God who delighted in inflicting pain on helpless people. Rather, the afflictions came from a compassionate but just God who was being faithful to His covenant. He did not enjoy making others suffer, but He ordained the afflictions as a temporary means to force Judah back to Him. So Jeremiah ended this section by exhorting the people, let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord (v. 40).

C. Jeremiah’s Prayer (3:41–66)

3:41–47. This prayer, we lift up our heart and hands Toward God in heaven (v. 41), flows out of the exhortation to "return to the Lord" (v. 40). This section is written in the plural (we, us, our), showing Jeremiah’s identification with the people. As God rescued Jeremiah and judged his enemies, so He would rescue Judah and judge her enemies if she would call on Him. Judah should confess that she had transgressed (pasha, to cross the line, to break away from righteous authority, to apostatize), and rebelled (marah, to be rebellious against, to provoke with sinful behavior; this term is often used of Israel during the wilderness wanderings) thus turning back to the Lord (v. 42).

All the sufferings include Jerusalem being slain (v. 43), no prayer answered (v. 44), seen as refuse or garbage among the peoples (v. 45), mocked, feeling panic (vv. 46–47), experiencing devastation and destruction (v. 47). All of these stemmed from her disobedience to God. When Judah would realize the awful consequences of her sin, she would finally admit her guilt.

3:48–51. Here Jeremiah abruptly shifted from the plural ("we") to the singular ("my"). It is a transition from the people’s confession (vv. 41–47) to his own example (vv. 52–66).

As the people confessed their sin and waited for God to respond, so Jeremiah continued to weep (cf. 2:11) and would pray until the Lord looks down and sees from heaven (v. 50). God promised to restore Israel when she called on Him from her captivity (Dt 30:2–3). So Jeremiah vowed to continue calling for God’s restoration of His people until the event actually happened. This is an excellent example for God’s people to pray continually and not lose heart.

3:52–55. Jeremiah’s ministry during Judah’s final days created many enemies (v. 52). The people from his own hometown plotted to kill him (Jr 11:18–23), and the temple leadership called for his death (Jr 26:7–9). He was beaten and thrown into prison as a traitor (Jr 37:11–16), and later near the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, left to starve to death in a muddy cistern (pit, Jr 38:1–6).

3:56–58. Jeremiah’s cry for help from the pit was answered: You drew near when I called on You. God rescued him from certain death in the muddy cistern (Jr 38:7–13). So Jeremiah was a living example to Judah of God’s loyal love and faithfulness (Lm 3:22–23). God did deliver (redeemed) when he called on Him for help.

3:59–66. Jeremiah called on God to vindicate him (Judge my case). This was fulfilled historically when Nebuchadnezzar entered Jerusalem. The leaders responsible for rejecting and persecuting Jeremiah for his message from the Lord were punished by Babylon (Jr 39:4–7; 52:7–11, 24–27). The parallel to Jerusalem was obvious. She too, was persecuted by her enemies (Lm 3:46–47); but she could be confident that God would vindicate her before her enemies if she would turn to Him. The Lord promised to recompense them and destroy them from under the heavens.

IV. Fourth Lament: The Lord’s Wrath Poured Out on Jerusalem (4:1–22)

Chapter 4 parallels the judgment discussed in chap. 2. After describing the response of an individual (Jeremiah) in the midst of judgment (chap. 3), Jeremiah returned to a scene of calamity in Jerusalem. He contrasted the conditions in Jerusalem before and after the siege (4:1–11), explained the causes for the siege, (4:12–20), and gave a call for vindication for Zion (4:21–22).

A. The Contrast of Zion Before and After the Siege (4:1–11)

4:1–2. The opening exclamation, How ("Alas" cf. 1:1; 2:1), points to Zion’s tragic situation. Zion, or Jerusalem, whose precious sons, the inhabitants, were compared to pure gold and sacred stones, are now changed. They have lost their luster (social rank and influence) and been scattered at the corner of every street. The Jewish people were now regarded as earthen jars. Clay was common material used in Israelite pottery. These earthen jars were abundant and inexpensive. If one broke, it was thrown out and a new one replaced it. Similarly the people of Jerusalem, God’s precious people, had seemingly become worthless.

4:3–4. Loathsome animals were used in contrast and comparison to some of the desperate mothers of Jerusalem during the siege. First, jackals were associated with areas of desolation and destruction (cf. Is 35:7; Jr 9:11; 10:22; 49:33; 51:37; Mal 1:3); yet, in contrast, even jackals nurse their young. But the children of the people of Jerusalem were starving, so weak that they could not nurse. Thus the tongue of the infant cleaved to the roof of its mouth. Second, ostriches are known proverbially for the neglect of their young, abandoning their eggs in the sand (cf. Jb 39:14–18). Similarly, Jeremiah laments that the daughter of my people, those who lived in Jerusalem, were cruel as ostriches because of the conditions associated with the siege. The little ones ask for bread, but no one takes care of them or breaks it for them (cf. Lm 2:19).

4:5. Wealth was no protection against the sufferings under siege. People who once had the finest foods, delicacies, and wore the finest purple garments (purple was the color of royalty because purple dye was so rare and expensive to produce) were now desolate in the streets. They would embrace (chabaq, to embrace or fold, implying a fondness or affection) the ash pits (ashpoth, refuse heap, ash pit or dung hill). Their situation was so destitute even the garbage dump was desirable to them. Rather than dressing in the finest clothing, enjoying the richest foods, they were scavenging in the dumps for food and perhaps applying the ashes as medication to their wretched bodies (cf. Jb 2:8).

4:6. This section of the lament concludes with Jerusalem compared to Sodom. But her punishment for iniquity was worse than Sodom’s because (1) Jerusalem’s punishment was prolonged under siege, while Sodom was overthrown … in a moment; and (2) Jerusalem’s destruction came despite assistance from an ally, Egypt, while Sodom had no assistance (no hands were turned toward her).

4:7–9. Jeremiah’s second stanza (vv. 7–11) paralleled his first (vv. 1–6), but the illustrations here are both heightened and narrowed for effect. The "sons of Zion" (v. 2) are now called the consecrated ones, people set apart, notionally devoted to the Lord. The leaders of the city suffered the same fate as everyone else. Their beauty is described in the most glowing terms (cf. Sg 5:10, 14) (purer, whiter, ruddy [tan]), polished); their fine complexions and healthy bodies did not escape the ravages of the siege. They became dirty, sickly, and emaciated with hunger—blacker than soot, shriveled, withered, like wood—in stark contrast to their early description (cf. 5:10). It would be better to die a quick death by the sword than a slow painful death by hunger.

4:10–11. The horror of maternal cannibalism is the lowest point of the siege. The gnawing pangs of hunger (cf. 1:11, 19) finally drove compassionate women to cook and eat their own children (boiled … they became food) (cf. comments on 2:20).

Jeremiah concluded this second stanza by again pointing to the Lord as the source of Zion’s punishment (cf. 1:12–17; 2:1–8; 5:20). Jerusalem was experiencing God’s wrath (cf. 2:2, 4; 3:1) and fierce anger (cf. 1:12; 2:3, 6) for her sin. God’s judgment was like a fire in Zion (cf. 2:3) that consumed the entire city down to the foundations. God’s people cannot take their own sin lightly.

B. The Causes of the Siege of Zion (4:12–20)

4:12. Jerusalem was such a mighty fortress, a walled city of strong gates on a hill, that she had seemed unassailable. On a few occasions previously, the city had been entered by invading armies (cf. 1Kg 14:25–28; 2Kg 14:13–14; 2Ch 21:16–17). But its defenses had been rebuilt and strengthened (cf. 2Ch 32:2–5; 33:14), and a water supply into the city was established with the digging of Hezekiah’s tunnel (cf. 2Ch 32:30). So, by Jeremiah’s time, even the kings of the earth, the foreign nations, considered the city impregnable. Yet God kindled a fire in Zion and consumed its foundations (Lm 2:3).

4:13–16. One cause of Jerusalem’s fall was the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests. The spiritual leaders had become corrupt. Instead of promoting righteousness and stressing faithfulness to God’s covenant, these men had shed … the blood of the righteous, and therefore were defiled with blood. They were so polluted with sin that they were treated like people who had been defiled by touching corpses, and therefore shunned as unclean (Lv 19:11). They were forced out of the covenant community and fled and wandered (cf. Lv 13:45–46). God’s judgment upon them for leading the people into sin was that He scattered them among the nations. The MT has third person plural verbs in the phrases they did not honor … they did not favor (Lm 4:16). However, the LXX and all the majority of the variant readings have third person singular verbs "He did not honor.… He did not favor." This is probably the correct reading, indicating that the Lord who had scattered them did not continue to regard the wicked priests and elders. The MT probably reflects an intentional scribal change to avoid the appearance that God has disfavored the priests and elders.

4:17–19. The second cause of the fall was the futility of foreign alliances. Instead of trusting in God, the Jewish leaders had turned to Egypt for protection from Babylon. They looked for help from a nation that could not save. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel had warned against trusting in Egypt for protection (Jr 37:6–10; Ezk 29:6–7). That false hope of military assistance from Egypt brought only bitter grief when the end had come. Babylon’s armies hunted our steps and were swifter than the eagles, and those who tried to escape to the mountains or the wilderness were pursued, chased, and caught in ambush (cf. Hab 1:8).

4:20. The third cause of Jerusalem’s fall was the failure of Zedekiah, Judah’s king. He had opposed Jeremiah’s message from the Lord (Jr 32:1–5) and followed the false prophets. Zedekiah was the Lord’s anointed. The word anointed (mashiach) was used of the kings of Israel because oil was poured on their heads to indicate that they were set apart for their task by God (cf. 1Sm 10:1; 16:1; 1Kg 1:39–45; 2Kg 11:12). When Jerusalem fell, Zedekiah tried to escape (Jr 39:2–7), but he was captured by the enemy’s pits (traps). His children were also captured and killed before his eyes, then he was blinded and carried away in chains to Babylon. King Zedekiah, to whom Jerusalem looked for security (Under his shadow We shall live among the nations), was powerless to protect her.

C. The Call for Vindication Against Edom, Enemy of Zion (4:21–22)

4:21–22. Because of God’s covenant with Israel (Dt 28–30) the people could hope for vindication. The last two verses in chap. 4 draw a contrast between Israel and her enemy, Edom, and promise judgment on the enemies of Zion.

Edom is the epitome of Israel’s enemies. She seems to have taken an active role in promoting Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon and rejoiced to see it fall (Ps 137:7). Nevertheless, God’s judgment of them (cf. Jr 49:7–22; Ezk 25:12–14; 35) was on the way (the cup will come around to you, cf. Lm 1:21–22). Drinking from a cup pictured judgment (cf. Jr 25:15–28). Edom’s crimes against Jacob (Dt 23:7) represented the actions of all the nations that profited at Jerusalem’s expense. God had noted their actions, and would punish those nations for their sin, exactly as He had said He would do (Dt 30:7). Just as God judged Jerusalem for her sin in Jeremiah’s day, so one day He would also judge Edom (and, by extension, all Gentile nations) for their sins. Jerusalem could look forward to restoration, but Edom could only expect judgment (cf. Ob 4, 15–18, 20–21).

V. Fifth Lament: The Remnant of Jerusalem’s Response (5:1–22)

The prophet’s final lament breaks the earlier pattern in two ways: first, the acrostic pattern is not used; and second, it is more of a prayer than a lament. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 close in prayer (1:20–22; 2:20–22; 3:55–66), but no prayer is included in chap. 4. Perhaps chap. 5 functions as the closing prayer for chap. 4, as well as the concluding prayer for the whole book. The remnant, the Jewish people who were faithful to the God of Israel, called on Him to restore both the land and people of Israel, as well as to bring the blessings of the covenant (Dt 30:1–10).

A. The Remnant’s Prayer for the Lord to Remember Zion (5:1–18)

5:1. The remnant cried to God to remember what they had suffered, what has befallen, and look at their reproach and disgrace (cf. 3:34–36). The call was not just for God to see what had happened (for He sees everything, cf. Pr 15:3). The prayer was for Him to help Jerusalem.

5:2–4. Written in the first person plural (we, us, our), Jeremiah’s words record the people’s description (vv. 2–10) of their suffering under Babylonian occupation (cf. Jr 40:10; 41:3; Ezk 35:10). The land of Israel was the inheritance the Lord had given the Jewish people (Ex 15:17; Nm 34:1–2; Dt 25:19; Jr 3:18). Now it had been parceled out to cruel strangers and aliens. The Jewish people as a whole were oppressed and brought to the social and economic level of orphans and widows (cf. Lm 1:1), even having to pay for the most basic necessities like drinking water and wood for cooking and heat. Judah was the vanquished enemy, and Babylon her cruel overlord (cf. Hab 1:6–11).

5:5. Babylon’s rule over Judah was severe, at their necks. Both in Judah and in Babylon the Jews were worn out and found no rest from their pursuers (cf. Dt 28:65–67; Ezk 5:2, 12).

5:6–8. Tragically, Judah had submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread. The words translated submitted to (natannu yad) literally mean "to give the hand to" or "to shake hands," a phrase used of establishing a pact or treaty (cf. 2Kg 10:15). It often referred to one group surrendering or submitting to a more powerful group in a treaty (1Ch 29:24; 2Ch 30:8; Jr 50:15). Judah had pledged her allegiance both to Egypt and Assyria in her history, for the sake of national security (cf. Ezk 16:26–28; 23:12, 21). Judah’s past leaders, their fathers, had shifted their allegiances between countries instead of trusting in the Lord. Therefore, although they had sinned and died and were no more, their survivors bore the punishment for the previous generation’s iniquities. The present generation, however, did not claim to be suffering unjustly (cf. Lm 5:16); they saw their punishment as a logical conclusion to their ancestors’ folly. Their forefathers’ alliances with godless nations were bearing bitter fruit. The servants of Nebuchadnezzar were the oppressors of Judah (slaves rule over us), and there was no one to deliver them.

5:9–10. People had to risk their lives to survive. Leaving the city meant going to the wilderness to buy bread (food), where they were attacked by robbers carrying a sword. Their skin was feverish, hot as an oven. High fever and dry skin (the burning heat of famine) is a common side effect of starvation (cf. 3:4, 4:8).

5:11–13. Here Jeremiah’s text switches from the first person ("we," "our") to the third person ("they," "their"). Having first identified with the general conditions of the sufferings of the Jewish people (vv. 2–10), he now presents specific groups within society to highlight their condition (vv. 11–12). No element of society escaped the hammer of judgment.

First the women in Zion (adults, probably wives) and the virgins, (sexually pure, unmarried young women), of the cities of Judah suffered the horrors of foreign occupation. They were ravished, mercilessly raped by the sadistic soldiers (v. 11). Second, the leadership, young (princes) and old (elders), were humiliated (not respected), tortured (hung by their hands), and executed publicly (v. 12). Third, the young men (young adults) and youths (boys) were enslaved to hard labor. Because of the shortage of domestic animals in Judah (probably because most had been eaten during the 30-month siege), young men and boys were forced to perform work usually done by animals: at the grinding mill (as Samson also had been forced to do; cf. Jdg 16:21) and carrying heavy loads of wood. Those who were Judah’s hope had been reduced to the status of slaves (Lm 5:13).

5:14–15. Wisdom, justice, and happiness had departed from the city. The elders sat at the city gate to wisely settle disputes and administer justice (Jos 20:4; Ru 4:1–2, 11). Now they were gone. The joyful music (cf. Ps 95:1–2) of the young men had ceased. There was no joy in their hearts, and their dancing was turned into mourning, just as Jeremiah had foretold (Jr 25:10–11).

5:16. The crown, the glory and majesty of the Davidic line, had fallen (1:1, 2:15, cf. Is 28:1, 3; Jr 13:13–19). For Judah, the fall of the Davidic line had more far-reaching implications than it would for other peoples. The messianic hope was anchored in the Davidic covenant (2Sm 7:16). Realizing the seriousness of their transgression, they confessed their guilt: Woe to us, for we have sinned!

5:17–18. Because of all the judgment, their hearts were faint, sick with sorrow (Is 1:5); their eyes were dim from constant weeping (cf. Lm 2:11; 3:48–49). The focus of their grief was Mount Zion, the glory of Israel (2:1), which lay desolate ("deserted," "a horror," "appalling"). The once regal, thriving city, His appointed meeting place (1:1, 4; 2:6, 15), was a ruin, inhabited by foxes.

B. The Remnant’s Prayer for the Lord to Restore Zion (5:19–22)

5:19. After describing her condition (vv. 1–18), Jeremiah recorded how Judah concluded her prayer by calling on God to act (vv. 19–22). She called on God because of His eternal sovereignty: You, O Lord, rule forever; Your throne is from generation to generation (cf. Ps 102:12). Zion’s suffering was not because the gods of Babylon were stronger than the God of Israel. The God of Israel was the only true God, and He had caused her calamity (cf. Lm 1:12–17; 2:1–8; 4:11). Yet God, who brought about her destruction, alone had the power to bring about her restoration—if He chose to do so.

5:20. The knowledge of God’s ability to restore the nation prompted the people to ask two questions, parallel in Hebrew poetic form. Why had the Lord forgotten, and why had He forsaken Judah? To forget about Judah would be to forsake her to her present condition of suffering. Note that forget used here is the opposite of "remember" in v. 1. God cannot forget anything. This figure of speech means "to forsake" or "abandon" the people as though He has forgotten them. The people were asking God why He had abandoned them for so long. Significantly, Moses employed the figure of God remembering His covenant if His people would confess their sin (Lv 26:40–42). So the people of Judah were calling on God, asking Him to remember His covenant promise (2 Ch 7:14; Jr 31:17–18).

5:21–22. The prayer implores God, Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored; or "Turn us back to Yourself, that we may return to You" (cf. Jr 31:18). The Lord is the initiator of revival and restoration. The people wanted to be restored to the blessings of relationship to the Lord and of God’s covenant, which included being returned to the land of Israel (Lv 26:40–45; Dt 3:1–10). Their ultimate hope for restoration was God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. In Scripture, the expectation of the restoration of Israel was always eschatological and messianic. In Dt 4:30 the return from dispersion is said to take place "in the latter days." In the Prophets, Israel’s restoration would begin with their return to the Lord when they would "seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days" (Hs 3:5).

After the final note of hope and confidence in future restoration, the closing verse speaks of God potentially rejecting and being angry with Israel. This concluding verse was so distressing to ancient rabbis, that in order not to end on this dire phrase, they established the custom to repeat the previous verse (Lm 5:21) at the conclusion of any public reading of Lamentations. Thus, the book would conclude with a statement of confidence and hope: Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored.

The troubling phrase is: Unless God had utterly rejected the nation and seems to indicate that it would be possible for God to reject Israel. However, God vowed never to reject His people (Rm 11:1). No matter what the outward circumstances or depth of the national sin, the Lord will keep His covenants with His chosen people (Lv 26:44; Gn 12:1–2; 2Sm 7:16; Jr 31:31–37; Rm 11:28–29).

Thus, the message of book of Lamentations is of God’s love and faithfulness. Despite severe suffering because of her sin, Judah had not been abandoned as a nation. God was still sovereign, and His covenant with Israel was still operative despite her disobedience. "The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness" (Lm 3:22). The hope for the nation was that if she would call on God and confess her sin, the Lord would protect her during her captivity (3:21–30) and would ultimately restore her as a nation to covenant blessing under the leadership of King Messiah ruling on David’s throne (v. 19).


Berlin, Adele. Lamentations: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

Cohen, Abraham. The Five Megilloth. London: Soncino Press, 1946.

Dobbs-Allsopp, F. Lamentations. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

Ellson, Henry. "Lamentations." In Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gabelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986.

Garrett, Duane, Paul R. House, and David Hubbard. Song of Songs and Lamentations. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 23B. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Harrison, R. K. Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973.

Hillers, Delbert R. Lamentations. The Anchor Bible, rev. ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1992.

Huey, F. B. Jr. Jeremiah and Lamentations. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1993.

Ironside, H. A. Jeremiah: Prophecy & Lamentations. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1950.

Jensen, Irving L. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1974.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. A Biblical Approach to Personal Suffering. Chicago: Moody, 1982.

Provan, Iain. Lamentations. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Ryken, Philip. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.


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