THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH.
The Jews had the custom of singing songs of lamentation after the death of some beloved person, some of these elegies being of unusual beauty and power. Cp. 2 Sam. 1, 17; 3, 33. In a similar way they mourned over the destruction of cities and countries. Cp. Amos 7, 1; Ezek. 26, 17.
It is no matter for surprise, then, that we find an entire group of such songs concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the devastation of Judah, the poems contained in the Lamentations of Jeremiah. These elegies were evidently composed while Jerusalem lay in ruins, some time between 587 and 536. And since the author appears as an eye-witness of the catastrophe, a fact which is brought out also by the vividness of his presentation, it seems plausible to place the date of the poems in the early decades of the sixth century before Christ.
Both the Jewish Synagog and the Christian Church state that Jeremiah is the author of Lamentations, this statement being made expressly in the introduction to the book which was added by the Greek translators in the version known as the Septuagint. The language of the book is characterized by the same emphasis upon the guilt of the Jews, the frequent repetition of the same expressions and figures of speech, the reference to words of the Law, and a certain broadness and monotony of narration which is so obvious in the Book of Jeremiah. It was natural, therefore, that the various Bible versions placed Lamentations immediately after the book of Jeremiah's prophecy, although they are strictly poetical in character and for this reason might be grouped with Job, the Psalms, and the poetical books of Solomon.
We have five chapters, that is, five poems in the Book of Lamentations, all of them, with the exception of the last, in the form of an alphabetical acrostic, chapter 3 having three verses for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 1 is a lamentation over the exile of the Jews and the misery of the ruined city, chapter 2 a song of Jerusalem's destruction and the mockery of the enemies, chapter 3 an elegy picturing the grievous sufferings of the pious, but also the hope of eventual deliverance, chapter 4 a discourse on the fact that the destruction of the Temple and the distress of the city were well deserved, and chapter 5 a prayer to God that He would not forget the pitiful condition of His stricken people, but give them speedy help. 1)