The Book of Lamentations is located immediately after the Book of Jeremiah the Prophet in the Bible. It is considered by a majority of scholars to have been written by Jeremiah in approximately 586 B.C.
The title of the Book in Hebrew is ekah meaning "How?". In the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) the Book is called Lamentations, as well as in the Latin Vulgate. In Jewish tradition it is called qunit which means Lamentations.
Lament/Lamentations is defined by Webster's as:
(Strong's Dictionary #1591)
1: a crying out in grief: WAILING
2: DIRGE, ELEGY
1: that [which] is to be regretted or lamented: DEPLORABLE
2: expressing grief: MOURNFUL
3: an act or instance of lamenting; mourned for
It is the only Book of the Old Testament Bible to contain only laments, although all other Books in the O.T. contain some laments. Its subject matter is the Babylon takeover of Judah and Jerusalem, and the people's subsequent captivity, under King Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet laments over what Israel/Judah had become leading to their captivity and over their condition and treatment in captivity. He also blames himself for the calamity and blames himself on behalf of Israel for their sin. He does recognize that the judgments of God in allowing the capture to occur were fair, in view of his perceived sins and the sins of the people. In a significant part of the Book, Jeremiah describes his own life in his service to God.
Jeremiah was called by God when he was very young to be His prophet, to speak His Word and to warn Israel and Judah of the coming captivity. Jeremiah, like other men of God, protested His calling; in Jeremiah's case he thought himself too young to be a prophet. God made him one anyway.
Jeremiah spent his life telling Israel/Judah that if they did not cease their idolatry and perversity that they would be judged. that did not set well with the Israelites. As Jeremiah describes in Chapter 3 of Lamentations, his life was besieged by hardship both by God's dealings on his life and by the way the Jews completely rejected him for speaking the words of God. He was called "the prophet of doom", ridiculed, made fun of, twice was left for dead, once at the bottom of a well where he had been tossed by the Jews.
His laments can be compared to Christ's laments over the fair city Jerusalem. Christ mourned: "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft I would have gathered you under My wing as a hen doth her brood, but you would not. You didn't know the day of your visitation and now your house is left
unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:3738, New Century Version).
Jeremiah begins his laments in Lamentations 1:1 (hereafter Lam):
"How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
She has become like a widow
Who was once great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
Has become a forced laborer!" [speaking of Jerusalem].
He describes what Jerusalem has become in her captivity:
"Judah has gone into exile under affliction,
And under harsh servitude;
She dwells among the nations,
But she has found no rest;
All her pursuers have overtaken her
In the midst of distress (Lam 1:3).
"Her adversaries have become her masters,
Her enemies prosper;
For the LORD has caused her grief
Because of the multitude of her transgressions;
Her little ones have gone away
As captives before the adversary.
And all her majesty
Has departed from the daughter of Zion;" (Lam 1:6).
"For these things I weep;
My eyes run down with water;
Because far from me is a comforter,
One who restores my soul;
My children [the people of Judah) are desolate
Because the enemy has prevailed." (v.16).
Jeremiah goes on in Chapter 2 to personalize the anguish:
"When little ones and infants faint
In the streets of the city.
They say to their mothers,
"Where is grain and wine?"
As they faint like a wounded man
In the streets of the city,
As their life is poured out
On their mothers' bosom (Lam. 2:11-12).
He recounts how God sees all the sin of the people and reacts:
"In the indignation of His anger.
The Lord has rejected His altar,
He has abandoned His sanctuary;
He has delivered into the hand of the enemy
The walls of her palaces.
They have made a noise in the house of the LORD
As in the day of an appointed feast.
The LORD determined to destroy
The wall of the daughter of Zion.
He has stretched out a line,
He has not restrained His hand from destroying;
And He has caused rampart and wall to lament;
They have languished together (Lam 2:6-8).
"The Lord has swallowed up;
He has not spared
All the habitations of Jacob.
In His wrath He has thrown down
The strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
He has brought them down to the ground;
He has profaned the kingdom and its princes round about" (Lam 2:2-3).
In Chapter Jeremiah 3 describes his life both before and after the captivity. It is a poignant portrayal of what it is like for a man to really follow the Lord and to experience His sufferings. In fact, this chapter is a depiction of Christ's sufferings while He was on the earth:
"I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer" (Lam 3:1-8).
"I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
Their mocking song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
And He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
And my soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, "My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD" (Lam 3:10-19).
However, after describing all his scourging at the hand of the Lord, he does not curse God (like Job did not) but humbles himself and acknowledges God's love and care for him:
"Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Thy faithfulness" (Lam 3:19-23).
In Chapters 4-5 Jeremiah continues to lament over Israel/Judah/Jerusalem. He continues to describe the horror he has seen:
"Her consecrated ones were purer than snow,
They were whiter than milk;
They were more ruddy in body than corals,
Their polishing was like lapis lazuli.
Their appearance [now] is blacker than soot,
They are not recognized in the streets;
Their skin is shriveled on their bones,
It is withered, it has become like wood.
Better are those slain with the sword
Than those slain with hunger;
For they pine away, being stricken
For lack of the fruits of the field.
The hands of compassionate women
Boiled their own children;
They became food for them
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people" (Lam 4:7-10).
God prophesied that their captivity would only be for a time, then He would release them, while at the same time destroy Babylon. Sure enough after 70 years of captivity, Persia, under King Darius, conquered Babylon. Little by little the Jews were released led by Ezra and Nehemiah. The broken walls were repaired and the temple rebuilt, albeit in the midst of opposition from enemies. Finally, the Feast of Booths was celebrated in the new temple sand the Book of the Law was read. Israel was home for the time being, although they would be further defeated by armies and in 70 A.D. would be sacked altogether by Roman armies.