Jehovah’s Word Is Alive

Highlights From the Book of Lamentations

THE prophet Jeremiah sees the fulfillment of the judgment message that he has been uttering for 40 years. How does the prophet feel when he personally witnesses the destruction of his beloved city? “Jeremiah sat down weeping and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem,” says the Greek Septuagint in its introduction to the book of Lamentations. Composed in 607 B.C.E. while the memory of the 18-month-long siege followed by the burning of Jerusalem is still fresh in the prophet’s mind, the book of Lamentations vividly expresses Jeremiah’s heartfelt anguish. (Jeremiah 52:3-5, 12-14) No other city in history has been lamented in expressions so touching and heartrending.

The book of Lamentations is a collection of five lyrical poems. The first four are laments, or dirges; the fifth is a petition, or prayer. The first four songs are acrostics, successive verses beginning with a different letter in the order of the 22-character Hebrew alphabet. Although the fifth song has 22 verses to correspond to the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, it is not arranged alphabetically.—Lamentations 5:1, footnote.

‘MY EYES HAVE COME TO THEIR END IN TEARS’

“O how she has come to sit solitary, the city that was abundant with people! How she has become like a widow, she that was populous among the nations! How she that was a princess among the jurisdictional districts has come to be for forced labor!” Thus begin the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah regarding Jerusalem. Giving the reason for this calamity, the prophet says: “Jehovah himself has brought grief to her on account of the abundance of her transgressions.”—Lamentations 1:1, 5.

Personified as a widow bereaved of husband and children, Jerusalem asks: “Does there exist any pain like my pain?” Concerning her enemies, she prays to God: “May all their badness come before you, and deal severely with them, just as you have dealt severely with me on account of all my transgressions. For my sighs are many, and my heart is ill.”—Lamentations 1:12, 22.

Deeply distressed, Jeremiah says: “In the heat of anger [Jehovah] has cut down every horn of Israel. He has turned his right hand back from before the enemy; and in Jacob he keeps burning like a flaming fire that has devoured all around.” Depicting his profound sorrow, the prophet laments: “My eyes have come to their end in sheer tears. My intestines are in a ferment. My liver has been poured out to the very earth.” Even those passing by have expressed amazement, saying: “Is this the city of which they used to say, ‘It is the perfection of prettiness, an exultation for all the earth’?”—Lamentations 2:3, 11, 15.

Scriptural Questions Answered:

1:15—How had Jehovah “trodden the very winepress belonging to the virgin daughter of Judah”? In destroying the city, described as a virgin, the Babylonians shed blood in such quantity that it was comparable to the squeezing of grapes in a winepress. Jehovah foretold this and allowed it to happen, so it can be said that he had ‘trodden the winepress.’

2:1—How was ‘the beauty of Israel thrown down from heaven to earth’? Since “the heavens are higher than the earth,” the abasement of exalted things is at times represented by their being “thrown down from heaven to earth.” “The beauty of Israel”—the glory and power it enjoyed while Jehovah’s blessing was upon it—was thrown down with the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of Judah.—Isaiah 55:9.

2:1, 6—What is Jehovah’s “footstool” and his “booth”? The psalmist sang: “Let us come into his grand tabernacle; let us bow down at his footstool.” (Psalm 132:7) Hence, the “footstool” of Lamentations 2:1 refers to Jehovah’s house of worship, or his temple. The Babylonians ‘burned the house of Jehovah’ as if it were a booth, or a mere hut, in a garden.—Jeremiah 52:12, 13.

2:16, 17—Should not the 16th verse begin with the Hebrew letter ayin and the 17th begin with pe to follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet? While composing poems in this style, inspired writers usually followed the alphabetical order. However, they did not do so at the cost of sounding artificial or unnatural. The matter of thought content was considered more important than the adherence to a literary device that merely served as a memory aid. The reversal of the same two characters is also found in songs 3 and 4 of Lamentations.—Lamentations 3:46, 49; 4:16, 17.

2:17—What particular “saying” did Jehovah accomplish in connection with Jerusalem? The reference here is apparently to Leviticus 26:17, which states: “I shall indeed set my face against you, and you will certainly be defeated before your enemies; and those who hate you will just tread down upon you, and you will actually flee when no one is pursuing you.”

Lessons for Us:

1:1-9. Jerusalem weeps profusely during the night, and her tears are upon her cheeks. Her gates lie desolate, and her priests are sighing. Her virgins are grief-stricken, and she herself has bitterness. Why? Because Jerusalem has committed outright sin. Her uncleanness is in her skirts. The fruitage of transgression is not joy; it is tears, sighing, grief, and bitterness.

1:18. In punishing transgressors, Jehovah is always just and righteous.

2:20. The Israelites were warned that if they did not listen to the voice of Jehovah, they would experience maledictions, which included eating ‘the flesh of their sons and daughters.’ (Deuteronomy 28:15, 45, 53) How unwise to choose a course of disobedience to God!

“DO NOT HIDE YOUR EAR TO MY RELIEF”

In Lamentations chapter 3, the nation of Israel is spoken of as “the able-bodied man.” Despite experiencing adversity, this man sings: “Good is Jehovah to the one hoping in him, to the soul that keeps seeking for him.” In prayer to the true God, he requests: “My voice you must hear. Do not hide your ear to my relief, to my cry for help.” Asking Jehovah to give attention to the reproach of the enemy, he says: “You will give back to them a treatment, O Jehovah, according to the work of their hands.”—Lamentations 3:1, 25, 56, 64.

Jeremiah pours out his feelings over the terrible effects of the 18-month siege of Jerusalem and laments: “The punishment for the error of the daughter of my people also becomes greater than the punishment for the sin of Sodom, which was overthrown as in a moment, and to which no hands turned helpfully.” Jeremiah continues: “Better have those slain with the sword proved to be than those slain by famine, because these pine away, pierced through for lack of the produce of the open field.”—Lamentations 4:6, 9.

The fifth poem portrays the inhabitants of Jerusalem as speaking. They say: “Remember, O Jehovah, what has happened to us. Do look and see our reproach.” As they recount their afflictions, they petition: “O Jehovah, to time indefinite you will sit. Your throne is for generation after generation. Bring us back, O Jehovah, to yourself, and we shall readily come back. Bring new days for us as in the long ago.”—Lamentations 5:1, 19, 21.

Scriptural Questions Answered:

3:16—What is suggested by the expression: “With gravel he makes my teeth get broken”? One reference work states: “The Jews, on their way into exile, were compelled to bake their bread in pits dug in the ground, so that their bread was mixed with grit.” Eating such bread could break off part of one’s teeth.

4:3, 10—Why does Jeremiah compare “the daughter of [his] people” to “ostriches in the wilderness”? The ostrich “does treat her sons roughly, as if not hers,” states Job 39:16. After the eggs are hatched, for example, the hen goes off with other hens while the male assumes the responsibility of caring for the young. And what happens when they come face-to-face with danger? Both male and female birds flee from the nest, abandoning their young. During the Babylonian siege, the famine in Jerusalem became so severe that mothers who would normally have been compassionate became cruel to their own offspring, like ostriches in the wilderness. This was in stark contrast to the maternal care exhibited by jackals.

5:7—Does Jehovah hold people accountable for the errors of their forefathers? No, Jehovah does not directly punish people for the sins of their ancestors. “Each of us will render an account for himself to God,” says the Bible. (Romans 14:12) However, consequences of errors can linger on and be experienced by later generations. For example, ancient Israel’s turning to idolatry made it difficult even for the faithful Israelites of later times to adhere to the course of righteousness.—Exodus 20:5.

Lessons for Us:

3:8, 43, 44. During the calamity that befell Jerusalem, Jehovah refused to listen to the cry for help of the city’s inhabitants. Why? Because the people had been disobedient, and they remained unrepentant. If we want Jehovah to answer our prayers, we must obey him.—Proverbs 28:9.

3:20. Jehovah, “the Most High over all the earth,” is so exalted that he condescends in order “to look on heaven and earth.” (Psalm 83:18; 113:6) Yet, Jeremiah was well-aware of the Almighty’s willingness to bow low over the people, that is, to come down to their level in order to encourage them. How glad we can be that the true God is not only all-powerful and all-wise but also humble!

3:21-26, 28-33. How can we endure even intense suffering? Jeremiah tells us. We should not forget that Jehovah is abundant in acts of loving-kindness and that many are his mercies. We should also remember that our being alive is reason enough not to give up hope and that we need to be patient and wait silently, without complaining, upon Jehovah for salvation. Moreover, we should “put [our] mouth in the very dust,” that is, humbly submit to trials, recognizing that what God allows to happen is permitted for good reason.

3:27. Facing up to tests of faith during youth may mean enduring hardship and ridicule. But it is ‘good for an able-bodied man to carry the yoke during his youth.’ Why? Because learning to bear a yoke of suffering while young prepares a person to deal with challenges in his later years.

3:39-42. ‘Indulging in complaints’ when suffering for our sins is not wise. Rather than complain about reaping the consequences of wrongdoing, “let us search out our ways and explore them, and do let us return clear to Jehovah.” We are wise to repent and correct our ways.

Make Jehovah Your Confidence

The Bible book of Lamentations reveals how Jehovah viewed Jerusalem and the land of Judah after the Babylonians burned the city and laid the land desolate. The expressions of acknowledgment of sin recorded therein make it clear that from Jehovah’s standpoint, the reason for the calamity was the error of the people. This book’s inspired songs also contain lyrics that express hope in Jehovah and the desire to turn to the right course. While these were not the sentiments of most people in Jeremiah’s day, they represented those of Jeremiah and the repentant remnant.

Jehovah’s evaluation of Jerusalem’s situation as expressed in the book of Lamentations teaches us two vital lessons. First, Jerusalem’s destruction and the desolation of Judah urge obedience to Jehovah and serve as a warning not to ignore the divine will. (1 Corinthians 10:11) The second lesson is from Jeremiah’s example. (Romans 15:4) Even in a seemingly hopeless situation, the deeply grieved prophet looked to Jehovah for salvation. How vital that we place our complete trust in Jehovah and his Word and make him our confidence!—Hebrews 4:12.

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The prophet Jeremiah saw the fulfillment of his judgment message

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The faith of these Korean Witnesses was tested for their stand on the issue of Christian neutrality