Introduction to Lamentations


Author and Date

The author of this literary masterpiece is unknown. Lamentations provides eyewitness testimony of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. in vivid, poetic detail. It was likely written between 586 and 516 B.C., with an early date being more probable.


The key passage in Lamentations is 3:19–24, which affirms that belief in God’s mercy and faithfulness is the key to a restored relationship with God. Forgiveness is possible even for people who have deserved God’s judgment (1:18). Hope, not despair, is the central theme in Lamentations.


Lamentations was most likely written to be prayed or sung in worship services devoted to asking God’s forgiveness. Such services began as early as the months after the temple’s destruction in 586 B.C. (Jer. 41:4–5). They continued after the temple was rebuilt during Zechariah’s time (c. 520 B.C.; see Zech. 7:3–5; 8:19). In later years, Lamentations was read and sung as part of annual observances marking the temple’s destruction.

Key Themes

Lamentations presents many key theological realities from an important era in Israel’s history:

  1. It includes memorable prayers that confess sin, express renewed hope, and declare total dependence on God’s grace.
  2. It is the only book in the Bible written by a person who actually lived through the divine judgment the Bible often refers to as “the day of the Lord” (see Joel 2:1–2; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:14–16).
  3. It provides great insight into the nature of pain, sin, and redemption.
  4. Like so many other OT passages, Lamentations teaches that Jerusalem fell:

a. because of the people’s sins (1:18);

b. because they rejected God’s word sent through the prophets (2:8, 14, 17);

c. because their leaders led them astray (4:13).

  1. It affirms God’s never-ceasing mercy (3:19–24; compare Deut. 30:1–10). Readers can know that God never gives up on his people, even when they sin greatly.
  2. Lamentations agrees with the Psalms that prayer is the way to restore a broken relationship with God. It also shares the Psalms’ emphasis on God’s sovereignty (see Ps. 103:19).
  3. Like many of the prophets, Lamentations warns of the “day of the Lord.” This is the day when God judges sin. That day has already occurred in historical events like the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. It will occur again at the end of time as the final “day of the Lord.” People need to take seriously the warnings about such days of judgment.


  1. How Lonely Sits the City (1:1–22)
  2. God Has Set Zion under a Cloud (2:1–22)
  3. I Am the Man Who Has Seen Affliction (3:1–66)
  4. How the Gold Has Grown Dim (4:1–22)
  5. Restore Us to Yourself, O Lord (5:1–22)