Chapter five does not keep the acrostic pattern of the rest of the book, but it does contain twenty-two verses to fit the overall structure. Lamentations closes with the people in Jerusalem crying out to God for mercy. Their situation was so desperate that they had to beg Egypt and Assyria to help provide food for them (Lamentations 5:6). Their women had been defiled, their princes humiliated, and their elders terribly mistreated (Lamentations 5:11-12). The young men had no strength even to carry wood; there was no music and no joy left in the ancient city (Lamentations 5:13-15). Yet they still believed that God had not forsaken them completely, so Lamentations ends with the hope of restoration, with God sitting on his eternal throne and his people repenting before him (Lamentations 5:19-22).
Chapter four brings Jeremiah back to describing the state of Jerusalem. Gold and jewels, which were once valuable, were worthless (Lamentations 4:1). There was no food or water or shelter; cannibalism had become normal (Lamentations 4:4-5, 9-10). Disease was rampant (Lamentations 4:8), and no one was willing to help them (Lamentations 4:14-16).
In a slight departure from chapters one and two, where Jerusalem was personified, now the inhabitants of Jerusalem spoke (Lamentations 4:17-20). 1 Recalling the fateful days when Nebuchadnezzar was at their door, they remembered looking for help that did not come and running until there was nowhere else to go. Even the one they thought could save them – their “very life breath” – their king was unable to do anything.
The last two verses of the chapter seem out-of-place in this book about Jerusalem’s ruin. Jeremiah turned his attention to Edom (Esau’s descendants), who had been mentioned only briefly in his prophecies (Jeremiah 25:21; 27:3; 49:7-22). Essentially, he said, “Laugh now, Edom, because your turn is coming!” Israel would be restored, but Edom would be annihilated forever.
- In the first two chapters, “Jerusalem” always spoke in the first person singular (I, me, my), whereas the rest of the book uses the plural (we, us, our). ↩
Chapter three is three times as long as the other chapters, giving three verses for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Jeremiah shifted the focus again, this time to his own misery and suffering (Lamentations 3:1-19). He, too, had experienced God’s wrath, even though he was not one of the rebellious Jews. Rather, he was an innocent casualty of Judah’s sin against God, as were probably many others. Jeremiah suffered physical pain, as well as emotional and spiritual anguish. He felt as if God had ambushed him and ground him into the dirt, to the point where he admitted, “I have lost all hope of deliverance from the LORD…and I am depressed” (Lamentations 3:18, 20).
Yet he refused to allow himself to remain in that state. In the first words of hope in this little book, Jeremiah exclaimed, “But this I call to mind; therefore I have hope: The LORD’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end. They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant!” (Lamentations 3:21-23). Jeremiah knew that God could never change, so he was always trustworthy, no matter the circumstance, no matter what his emotions made him feel. For the next sixteen verses, Jeremiah extolled Jehovah – his faithfulness, his promises, even his just punishments (Lamentations 3:24-39). He concluded, “Let us carefully examine our ways, and let us return to the LORD” in honest repentance (Lamentations 3:40-42).
Yes, it was true that God had hurt them terribly in his wrath against their sin, and Jeremiah wept over their destruction and his own pain (Lamentations 3:43-54). However, God also heard his cries of pain and rescued him, so Jeremiah asked that God execute judgment on those who hurt him without cause (Lamentations 3:55-66).
Chapter two shifts the focus slightly from the enemies who attacked Judah to God himself. In a series of bold statements, God’s wrath against Judah made him act almost like an enemy rather than her protector. It was Jehovah who threw
“down the splendor of Israel…destroyed mercilessly all the homes…tore down the fortified cities…destroyed the whole army of Israel…withdrew his right hand…prepared his bow…killed everyone…destroyed Israel…destroyed his temple…rejected his altar…handed over to the enemy her palace walls.” (Lamentations 2:1-8)
He also ceased communicating with the prophets, leaving the elders sitting in silence (Lamentations 2:9-10). Because of this Jeremiah could not stop weeping, to the point of making himself sick, as he watched infants and children die in the streets and in their mothers’ arms (Lamentations 2:11-12). As the surrounding nations sneered, Jeremiah begged Judah to repent of her sin and cry out to God for mercy (Lamentations 2:15-19). Jerusalem responded with a cry for mercy, but not full repentance (Lamentations 2:20-22). Verse 20 reveals just how bad it was in Jerusalem at that time: mothers were eating their own children for lack of food.
Although Jeremiah’s name is nowhere attached to the book in Hebrew, the Septuagint titled it “The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” and the Jews and early Church were all but unanimous in attributing it to him. In Hebrew, the name of the book is “How?” or “Alas!”, based on the first word of Lamentations 1:1, 2:1, and 4:1; it also appears in Lamentations 4:2. The word is used fifteen other times in the Old Testament (the shortened form 43 times), often at the beginning of exclamations or lamentation poems and songs.
Without ignoring the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the text, it is obvious that Jeremiah thought through this series of songs deeply. Unlike the book of Jeremiah, Lamentations is neither prophecy nor historical narrative, although it includes a little of both. Rather it is carefully-constructed poetry. Chapters 1-4 are all acrostics. Built from the Hebrew alphabet of twenty-two letters, chapters 1, 2, and 4 each have twenty-two verses, which begin with successive letters. Chapter three extends this to three verses for each letter, for a total of sixty-six verses. (Although chapter five also has twenty-two verses, it does not follow the Hebrew acrostic pattern.) One cannot possibly think that this was a sporadic result of Jeremiah’s sorrow over Jerusalem.
Lamentations is the work of a thoughtful man of God who meticulously considered every word as he wept over the destruction of his beloved city and Temple. The book is structured as a back-and-forth drama between Jeremiah and a personification of Jerusalem. We can date Lamentations to no earlier than 586 B.C., when Jeremiah personally watched Jerusalem and the Temple fell at Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. On the other hand, there are hints throughout that this had been the condition for some time, so a later date within the captivity is possible.
Chapter one beings with Jeremiah describing the vacant city (Lamentations 1:1-7). It seems that enough time had passed for some of the holy festivals to have been missed (Lamentations 1:4) and the past memories were considered “days of old” (Lamentations 1:7). He was not shy about the reason for their punishment: “Jerusalem committed a terrible sin…she did not consider the consequences of her sin” (Lamentations 1:8-9).
Jerusalem is given a voice in Lamentations 1:11b-16. She wept because of her punishment. God killed her young men and placed her sin fully upon her. Jeremiah responded, acknowledging that none of her enemies felt sorry for Judah (Lamentations 1:17). The city confessed her sin, submitting to God’s punishment for her rebellion, yet she prayed that God would fulfill his promised judgment upon the nations as well, who had also sinned against him (Lamentations 1:18-22).
Chapter three also picks up and expands on a theme from 1 Thessalonians, namely, the Christian’s work ethic. Paul prefaced this topic with his request that the gospel would continue to “spread quickly and be honored as in fact it was among” the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5). He also prayed that they would be protected from those who would do them harm in this world.
Paul believed their work ethic was an important part of the gospel’s effectiveness (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). It seems that some of the believers had quit their jobs and were living off of the generosity of the church community. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Paul had already gently called them out for this, but they needed something stronger. Here Paul reminded them of his own example among them, how he worked for his own food rather than relying on support from the church. He also insisted that their lifestyle was disparaging to the gospel and that someone who continued to live like that was to be shunned within the Christian community. This was such a big deal that even before Paul had to leave town he commanded them, “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” This principle is still applicable today.
Paul closed his letter with a personal signature to authenticate it, another hint that there was a forged letter going around with his name on it (2 Thessalonians 3:16-18).
Chapter two contains the largest section of new teaching in this short letter and has generated a great deal of debate in several areas. It seems possible that someone had sent a letter in Paul’s name to Thessalonica, stating that they had missed “the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). One of their fears that prompted the first letter was that the believers who had died would miss the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13), which Paul addressed. However, it seems a “letter allegedly from” Paul and possibly a “spirit or message” claimed that, in fact, they all had missed it and were now living in “the day of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Since Paul had obviously taught them about the terrors of the great Tribulation, they were scared to be in it and wondered how they could have missed the Rapture.
In this chapter, Paul revealed three events that must happen first, before the day of the Lord could commence. The first is called, variously, “the rebellion” (NET, NLT, NIV, ESV); “the apostasy” (NASB, HCSB); and “a falling away” (KJV). There are three views of what this could be. One common view is that, toward the end of the Church Age before the Rapture, there will be an apostasy or falling away within the Church itself. This is prophesied in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, among other places. There will be people within the Church who are either not believers at all or weak, immature Christians who will fall away from the faith. This is the view promoted in Walvoord and Zuck’s Bible Knowledge Commentary. The translation “rebellion” presupposes this view. A second view is that this refers to the Rapture itself. Because the Greek word ἀποστασία (apostasia) simply means “departure,” and since it is prefixed with the definite article (“the departure”), some hold that there is only one specific departure Paul had already taught them about – the departure of the Church from this world, the Rapture. This view is held by Dr. Olander (The Greatness of the Rapture, Tyndale Seminary Press, Hurst, TX). The third view is that this will be a departure from the true faith, after the Rapture, by those who had only professed belief but were not true Christians. Constable promotes this view in his Notes on 2 Thessalonians (soniclight.com). This view seems less likely, because it seems that Paul thought his readers would see the apostasy, which they would not do if they had already been raptured, something he was also certain they would experience.
The second event that must occur before the day of the Lord is that “the man of lawlessness” must be revealed. Interestingly, although it is commonly used in Christian churches and theology books, the term “Antichrist” is never applied by the biblical writers specifically to the coming world ruler. In fact, John referred to anyone who denied the Word made flesh as an antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7). However, Paul used a series of phrases to describe how evil this man will be: “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction…the lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). He will publicly and unashamedly oppose and place himself above all gods, to the point that he will set himself up to be worshiped in God’s Temple in Jerusalem (a fulfillment of Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15). Since his arrival will come “with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders and with every kind of evil deception” and since his revealing must take place before the Day of the Lord and since that had not (and still has not) yet happened, Paul comforted his readers that they had not entered the Day of the Lord.
The third event that will precede the Day of the Lord is that “the one who holds him back will [be]…taken out of the way” before he is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Again, there has been great debate over who or what restrains the lawless one. The two most common views are that the Church or the Holy Spirit is restraining him. Those who believe the Church to be the restrainer say that the Rapture will release Antichrist to begin his campaign, since there will be no godly influence in his way. However, the Church is not more powerful than Satan, except through the power of God, so even that view unintentionally bows to the second. Only the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to stay Satan’s work in this world. After the Rapture, when the Church is removed from Satan’s attacks and God’s coming wrath, will the Holy Spirit release his hold on “the hidden power of lawlessness [which] is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
The chapter ends with Paul’s word of thanks, again, that his readers would not have to go through that time and an encouragement to hold fast to what he had already taught them on this subject, rather than being tossed around by false teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).