How lonely is she now, the once crowded city!
Widowed is she who was mistress over nations;
The princess among the provinces has been made a toiling slave.
The fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, left in its wake shock and devastation. The American people suffered a loss of innocence, a violent act of terrorism that unmatched in the history of the United States. Many people were and are left wondering whom to turn to and where to go for answers or relief.
These same feelings and questions are found in the Book of Lamentations, a series of five poems written after the fall of Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C. These writings are lamentations, expressing the same emotions found in newspaper headlines: the great city of the Jewish people was brought low and many of her people were sent into exile as slaves. The poems are filled with the kind of images you might see in Newsweek: people clinging to ash heaps, the young and old lying dead in the streets, children starving to death in their mothers’ laps. Lamentations is the beginning of grief.
The grieving in the poems is not without hope, however. While Israel’s downfall is seen as the punishment of an angry God, God is not merciless or unable to forgive. “For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone” (3:31-33). The poet is trying to understand and work through the aftermath of war.
There may be more than one poet contributing to the text, but the style is the same throughout. Four of the five poems use an acrostic poetic device— each verse begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Scholars have suggested that this has mystical significance or that it is a way of reaffirming the culture or demonstrating an all-encompassing grief. There are those who like to claim Jeremiah as the author, but this is unlikely.
Today many people turn to Lamentations when dealing with their own expressions of grief. When dealing with loss we cry out to God in both anger and need, seeking hope. The book of Lamentations sets us out on the first steps of the journey.