The Book Of LAMENTATIONS
The five poems of Lamentations respond to a catastrophe in Judah.
Written in third- and first-person voices, the book both acknowledges
the present as the consequence of past disobedience and challenges the
adequacy of that acknowledgement to account for the current suffering.
God has judged; human enemies have attacked. But the extent and
relentlessness of the suffering are unbearable. Theological claims about
God's mercy and justice are not operating in life as it is currently
experienced by the speakers. The content pleads for God to look, see,
and act. The book consists of prayers of sufferers, not theology about
Lamentations challenges all piety that commends passive, silent
suffering. Even if the suffering is just punishment-something not fully
conceded-the book articulates the horror endured communally and
individually during and in the wake of the destruction of the structures
of corporate and individual life. If biblical faith is understood as
living in an "already-not yet" tension, Lamentations demands that
readers not gloss over the suffering and horror of the "not yet." One
form of waiting on God is shouting the laments of this book.
In both Jewish and Christian tradition the book is attributed to
Jeremiah. That claim has been challenged with reason, but it has not
been completely displaced. Current emphasis centers on the function of
the book more than on identifying a specific individual author.
It is customary to understand the book to have arisen in the wake of the
destruction of Jerusalem. The expressions in the book are sufficiently
general and conventional to fit other periods, but this does not lessen
their accuracy or horror. They have continued to be used in liturgies
memorializing subsequent moments of horror in Jewish history. There is,
however, no compelling reason to imagine an original setting other than
shortly after 587 B.C.E. At the very least, the writer asks the reader
to imagine a catastrophe and suffering no less extensive than that
experienced in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587.
Lamentations articulates the pain experienced in the collapse of Judah
and Jerusalem, presumably in 587 B.C.E. Third-person narration both
describes and explains the suffering, but the book insistently moves
toward direct, first-person articulation of the unbearable pain and
devastation and God's responsibility for it. The latter leads to direct
address to God to see, to consider, and to restore the speaker(s). The
book moves from silent suffering to verbalizing the suffering and, in
turn, demanding that God, the source of the suffering, end the
suffering. The book refuses to be silent in the face of God's silence.
While it is inevitable that the book be read as a collection of prayers
of ancient sufferers grappling with God, the present reader is drawn in
to read it now as an act of prayer. The gruesome depiction of suffering
does not permit distance. The reader is asked to look, to see, and to
act, just as is God in the prayers. Silent distance is not permitted. It
would be appropriate for readers to be moved to work to alleviate
contemporary suffering, but not without joining the text's petitioners
in their prayers against the silence of God. As the theology of 3:22-24
does not silence the voice of the petitioners in the rest of
Lamentations, readers should not rush to use other sections of the canon
to silence Lamentations. Isaiah 40-55 may well be a response to
Lamentations, but it does not silence the book. Both voices are
AUTHOR: Richard W. Nysse, Professor of Old Testament
The Book Of LAMENTATIONS
doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become
as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the
provinces, how is she become tributary!
weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all
her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt
treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great
servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her
persecutors overtook her between the straits.
ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her
gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she
is in bitterness.
adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the LORD hath
afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are
gone into captivity before the enemy.
from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are
become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without
strength before the pursuer.
remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her
pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell
into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw
her, and did mock at her sabbaths.
hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her
despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth,
and turneth backward.
filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore
she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my
affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself.
adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she
hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst
command that they should not enter into thy congregation.
her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things
for meat to relieve the soul: see, O LORD, and consider; for I am become
12 Is it
nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any
sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD
hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.
above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them:
he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made
me desolate and faint all the day.
yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and
come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the LORD hath
delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.
LORD hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me: he
hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men: the LORD hath
trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress.
these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because
the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children
are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.
spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD
hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round
about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.
LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I
pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men
are gone into captivity.
called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders
gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve
O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is
turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword
bereaveth, at home there is as death.
have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies
have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it: thou
wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto
all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast
done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my
heart is faint.
hath the LORD covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger,
and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and
remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!
LORD hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not
pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the
daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath
polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof.
3 He hath
cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back
his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a
flaming fire, which devoureth round about.
4 He hath
bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an
adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle
of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.
LORD was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up
all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased
in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.
6 And he
hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he
hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the
solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in
the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.
LORD hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath
given up 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 a solemn feast.
LORD hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath
stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying:
therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished
gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars:
her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her
prophets also find no vision from the LORD.
elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence:
they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves
with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the
eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon
the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because
the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.
say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the
wounded in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into
their mothers' bosom.
thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to
thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may
comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like
the sea: who can heal thee?
prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not
discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for
thee false burdens and causes of banishment.
that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at
the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The
perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?
thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: they hiss and gnash
the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day
that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it.
LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word
that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down, and hath
not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath
set up the horn of thine adversaries.
heart cried unto the LORD, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run
down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the
apple of thine eye cease.
cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine
heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward
him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top
of every street.
O LORD, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat
their fruit, and children of a span long? shall the priest and the
prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?
young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my
young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of
thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied.
hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the
day of the LORD's anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have
swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed.
1 I AM the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
2 He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.
3 Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
4 My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
5 He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
6 He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
7 He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
8 Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
9 He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
10 He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
11 He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
12 He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
13 He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
14 I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
15 He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
16 He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
17 And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
18 And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
19 Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
20 My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
22 It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
24 The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
25 The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
28 He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
29 He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
30 He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
31 For the LORD will not cast off for ever:
32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
33 For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
34 To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth.
35 To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
36 To subvert a man in his cause, the LORD approveth not.
37 Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
38 Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
39 Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
42 We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
43 Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
44 Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
45 Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
46 All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
47 Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
48 Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
49 Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission.
50 Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
51 Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
52 Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
53 They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
54 Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
55 I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
56 Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
57 Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
58 O LORD, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
59 O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
60 Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
61 Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
62 The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
63 Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
64 Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
65 Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
66 Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
1 How is
the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of
the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.
precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as
earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young
ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in
tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for
thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.
5 They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.
6 For the
punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than
the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment,
and no hands stayed on her.
Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were
more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their
skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.
that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with
hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of
hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were
their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.
LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger,
and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations
kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have
believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the
gates of Jerusalem.
13 For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,
have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves
with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not:
when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They
shall no more sojourn there.
anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they
respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.
17 As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.
18 They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.
persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us
upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their
pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the
cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt
make thyself naked.
punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he
will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine
iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.
1 Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.
2 Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.
3 We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.
4 We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.
5 Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.
6 We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.
7 Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.
8 Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.
9 We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.
10 Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
11 They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.
12 Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured.
13 They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.
14 The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their musick.
15 The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.
16 The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!
17 For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.
18 Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.
19 Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
20 Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
21 Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
22 But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.