Many calamitous events have happened to the nation of Israel on the 9th of Av. The First Temple and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians on the 9th of Av in 586 BC. Subsequent events in history, such as when Jews were expelled from certain countries, also occurred on the 9th of Av. It is therefore no wonder that Lamentation is read, as part of the Five Scrolls, on the 9th of Av to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. These Five Scrolls, also called the Megillot, are read on certain important Jewish days.
Song of Solomon is read during Passover, Ruth is read on Pentecost, then comes the Book of Lamentations (read on the 9th of Av), then Ecclesiastes (read during the Feast of Tabernacles) and then Esther (Purim). The Megillot is also known as the Ketuvim, or the Writings. As Dyer and Rydelnik (2014:1189) highlights, after the last verse of Lamentations (5:22) has been read, then 5:21 is repeated, so that the book closes on a hopeful note: “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old”. Subsequent to Lamentations, Jesus came to Jerusalem, wanting to gather her children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing (Matthew 23:37). Jesus then prophesied: “Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38) — and this Second Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed on the 9th of Av in AD 70. The Book of Lamentations can be hard to read, for it records in detail the calamitous events of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (but there is much to hope for still).
Author and Date
There is no internal evidence as to the identity of the author of Lamentations, but both Jewish and Church history attest that the prophet Jeremiah wrote it (Rooker 2011:556). There are many similarities in style between Jeremiah and Lamentations (cf. Lamentation 1:2 with Jeremiah 30:14; Lamentation 1:16 with Jeremiah 9:1, 18; Lamentation 2:20; 4:10 with Jeremiah 19:9; and Lamentation 4:21 with Jeremiah 49:12). Moreover, some verses point to an eyewitness account of some of these atrocious and sad events (Lamentations 2:20; 4:10). In agreement with Dyer and Rydelnik (2011:1189), Jeremiah probably wrote Lamentations shortly after the Fall of Jerusalem but before he was taken, against his will, to Egypt. If so, then God the Holy Spirit inspired Jeremiah to write Lamentations shortly after 586 BC.
Composition and Structure
The first Hebrew word of this book (and the first words also of chapters 2 and 4) is best translated as “Alas”, a cry for grief and a lament over what had happened. Lamentations consists of five poems, dirges or funeral songs, each set out in a chapter, and each is structured acrostically. Moreover, it is readily acknowledged by most that the Book of Lamentations is structured chiastically. Chapters 1 and 5 are chiastic pairs, so are chapters 2 and 4, and, in addition to be the longest of the five chapters, chapter 3 is also the chiastic centre of the book. Amidst the great tragedy and sorrow of Lamentations, and in the chiastic centre of the book, one finds Jeremiah’s hope in the LORD: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Constable (2017:4) proposes the following chiastic structure for Lamentations:
A The misery of Jerusalem’s citizens (chapter 1)
B God’s punishment of Jerusalem (chapter 2)
C Jeremiah’s personal reactions (chapter 3)
B’ God’s severity towards Jerusalem (chapter 4)
A’ The response of the godly (chapter 5)
Themes, Purpose and Application
God promised Israel that if the nation of Israel broke the (conditional) Mosaic covenant, that He would punish them (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). So much of the Book of Jeremiah warned Israel to repent and to turn to the LORD. Alas, after centuries of disobedience, the Shekinah glory of God departed from the Temple (Ezekiel 8-11) and the nation of Israel lost its land, its capital city and its First Temple. God is not only faithful to fulfil his unconditional promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but He is also the sovereign God who will judge sin, both individual and national sin — and what makes Lamentations hard to read is the incredible tragedy and grief that is experienced when God judges and disciplines.
As to His sovereignty and rule, Lamentations 5:19 confirms this: “But You, O LORD, reigns forever; Your throne endures to all generations”. As to His faithfulness and lovingkindness, it is God who initiates and who will restore Israel, and renew them as in the days of old, for He is loving, and merciful and faithful to fulfil and that was unconditionally promised to the patriarchs (cf. Lamentations 3:22-23; 5:21). Alas, this national restoration and renewal could have occurred if ‘this generation’ in Israel had believed and trusted in the Shekinah glory who as the Word who became flesh tabernacled among his own people — but they did not receive Him (cf. John 1:11, 14). So much of Jesus’ ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel was for them to repent and, in His words, to “come to Me” (Matthew 4:17; 11:28-30). Unfortunately, that particular generation of Jews (viewed collectively) who lived during the Messiah’s First Coming did not accept the Prophet like Moses — and God punished ‘this generation’ in AD 70 (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-10; Luke 21:12-24) by having Jesus depart from Jerusalem and destroying the Second Temple.
Speaking to Jews, Jesus said that “You will not see Me again until you say: ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD’” (Matthew 23:39). Regarding Matthew 23:39, Fruchtenbaum (1989:307) writes: “Jesus will not come back to the earth until the Jews and the Jewish leaders ask Him to come back. Just as the Jewish leaders led the nation to the rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus, they must some day lead the nation to the acceptance of the Messiahship of Jesus”. This is exactly what is going to happen near the end of the Tribulation Period. The majority of the Jews then still physically living, will repent, turn to the King of the Jews and call on Him (Hosea 5:15-6:3; Zechariah 12:10). All Israel will be saved (Isaiah 59:20-21; Romans 11:25-27) and the Son of David will return, Jerusalem will be the city of the Great King and the glory of the LORD will be in the Millennium Temple (cf. Ezekiel 43:5). The 9th of Av is not the end of the story, for there is much hope in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Constable, T.L., 2017, Notes on Lamentations, Sonic Light.
Dyer, C. & Rydelnik, E., 2014, ‘Lamentations’, in M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (eds.), The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 1189-1201, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 1989, Israelology: The missing link in Systematic Theology, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.
Rooker, M.F., 2011, ‘The Book of Lamentations’, in E.H. Merrill, M.F. Rooker & M.A. Grisanti, The World and the Word, pp. 555-560, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville.
Scholtz, J.J., 2017, ‘Israelologie: ’n Bybels-teologiese perspektief oor Israel se verlede, hede en toekoms’, In die Skriflig 51(1), a2231.
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