The Word Is Alive


Jeremiah was a young prophet to whom God assigned a heartbreaking task. He was to tell Israel over and over again that destruction and exile were impending. Warnings of destruction and pleas for repentance – these were Jeremiah’s message, but to no avail.

Prophets of doom are never popular and no one was more unpopular than Jeremiah. His written prophecies were burned, he was accused as being a false prophet and a charlatan, and finally he was thrown into a dungeon.

Someone else might have become consumed with hatred for the people that spurned and humiliated him, but not Jeremiah. At the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar, the conquering Babylonian general Nebuzaradan released Jeremiah and treated him graciously, but he was not comforted by his vindication or his freedom.

Jeremiah sought his suffering people. He found their bloody footprints and weepingly knelt to kiss the bloodstained ground. When he caught up with their famished, brutalised ranks, he embraced and kissed them. He tried to put his own head into their heavy, abrasive chains, but Nebuzaradan forced him away.

To his people he cried out: ‘If only you had wept once (in remorse over your sins) when you were still in Zion, you would not have been exiled!’ Alas, they had not wept, but he did – before, during and after his personal and national ordeals. The Book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s personal elegy, his lament for his people, and it alludes to Jewish woe throughout history.

The book is read on Tishah B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the quintessential day of Jewish tragedy. It was the day when the Jews in the wilderness believed the libel of the spies, and that generation lost its chance to enter the Promised Land. Among other national tragedies both temples were destroyed on Tishah B’Av. Nor was the catalogue of woes confined to ancient times. During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, Tishah B’Av 1492 was the deadline for the Jews to leave the country or face death. And in 1914, Tishah B’Av was the day when World War I was declared, thus ushering in the political and economic collapse that resulted in the Bolshevik Revolution and the Holocaust.

The sages taught that the Messiah would be born on Tishah B’Av, meaning that a proper understanding of and reflection upon the causes of destruction reveal that contained within it are the seeds of redemption. However, it is widely accepted that Jesus the Messiah was actually born either during the Spring or Autumn months.

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
Chapter Four Chapter Five Summary

There is a mind map of the structure of the Book of Lamentations that may prove useful for study.