What is the Book of Lamentations About?

Read this 4-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Lamentations!


Historical Context

Strictly speaking, the book of Lamentations is anonymous. The work does not name its author. Nevertheless, Lamentations has long been attributed to the prophet who also wrote Jeremiah, and there are several good reasons for thinking that this tradition may be correct. 

Two clues about the book’s authorship come from other Biblical documents. One comes from the introduction to Lamentations in the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint provides this heading for the book: “And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive and Jerusalem laid waste, that Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said. . . .” The other clue comes from the end of the Chronicles: “Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments” (2 Chronicles 35:25). It is probable—if not actually certain—that “The Laments” mentioned in this verse are the very laments that form the book of Lamentations.

—Philip Ryken

Content taken from Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope © 2016 by Philip Graham Ryken. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Lamentations for your good and to lead you into joy.

Lamentations provides eyewitness testimony of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC in vivid, poetic detail. It was likely written between 586 and 516 BC, with an early date being more probable.  

—ESV Global Study Bible  

Lamentations is the cry of God’s people, who have experienced devastation. The book was most likely written just after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587 BC. The author writes from personal experience and describes many horrific things in detail. While there is no precise date of composition within the book, it implies that temple worship, which would begin again in the time of Haggai and Zechariah between 520 and 516 BC, had temporarily ceased. Moreover, Lamentations conveys the sense of recent suffering. The people bear an open wound that has not yet begun to heal. Therefore, it was likely written closer to 587 BC than to 516. 

—Camden Bucey  

Source: Content taken from Lamentations, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: A 12-Week Study © 2018 by Camden Bucey. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 BC (Jeremiah 41:4–5). They continued after the temple was rebuilt during Zechariah’s time (c. 520 BC; see Zechariah 7:3–5; 8:19). In later years, Lamentations was read and sung as part of annual observances marking the temple’s destruction.

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

For All Who Grieve by Colin Smith

Pastor Colin preaches this 4-part message series on the book of Lamentations with sensitivity and wisdom to those who are hurting. Walking through Lamentations by listening to these messages will comfort you, lead you to hope, and reveal Jesus’ compassion and love if you are in a season of sorrow, or it will equip you to compassionately and wisely walk with others who are grieving.

Lamentations Dictionary

As you read through Lamentations, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know!

Great trouble or pain.

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal, or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the holy of holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

The 70-year period when Jews were in exile in Babylon.

Someone who has been made to leave his or her country and live somewhere else. The Jews were exiles in Babylon for 70 years.

The most important city of Bible times. Jerusalem was the capital of the united kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The temple was built in Jerusalem, so many people traveled to the city to worship God. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and mostly destroyed by Babylonian armies. The city was rebuilt when the Jews returned after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Jesus taught in the city of Jerusalem, was crucified outside the city wall, was buried near the city, and then rose again. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit came to the believers there.

Among the Jews, a man who offered prayers and sacrifices to God for the people. Priests led the public worship services at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Often the priests also taught the Law of God to the people. The priests of Israel were all descendants of Aaron’s family. All Christians are also priests (see 1 Peter 2:9). We are to help others learn about and worship God.

Men and women in the Old and New Testaments chosen by God to tell his messages to people. Also refers to the seventeen Old Testament books written by prophets.

To buy back. In Bible times, a person could buy a slave and then set the slave free. The slave had been redeemed by the person who had paid the price and then given the slave freedom. The New Testament tells us that by dying, Jesus paid the price to buy us back and set us free from our slavery to sin.

(1) To bring back; to establish again. (2) To bring back to a former or original condition. (3) To return something lost, stolen, or taken. The return of the Jews from being captives in Babylon is referred to as their restoration.

A rough, dark material usually woven from goats’ hair. When someone died, the person’s friends and family wore clothes made of sackcloth to show that they were very sad. A person would also wear sackcloth to show that he or she was sorry for sinning.

A holy place; a place where God is worshiped. In the Bible, sanctuary usually refers to the tabernacle or to the temple.

Something seen during a trance or dream. A vision was a way God showed someone a truth that would otherwise not be known. Sometimes people were asleep when God gave them visions (see Ezekiel 8:1-4; Acts 10:9-29).

Very great anger.

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions


The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Lamentations.

The title of Lamentations in the Hebrew Bible is a Hebrew word translated “How,” which is the first word of Lamentations and begins chapters 2 and 4 as well. This term is an exclamation of how much Jerusalem has suffered. Although this suffering is overwhelming, the author pours out his heart beautifully. The book of Lamentations is structured in five poems, which align with the five chapters in our English Bible. The first four poems are acrostics; that is, each new line begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The author of the book is not specifically identified, yet some believe him to be the prophet Jeremiah, who “uttered a lament for Josiah” (2 Chronicles 35:25 ESV). Regardless of who put the lament to the scroll, the voice is corporate and expresses the suffering of the people. Lamentations is a eulogy for the death of the kingdom of Judah, which has been taken away into exile. The situation is stark and bleak, yet there is hope in God, whose mercies are new every morning. He is the faithful and compassionate one who forgets not his people—even as they suffer justly for what they have done. 

—Camden Bucey 

Content taken from Lamentations, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: A 12-Week Study © 2018 by Camden Bucey. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

The elaborate artistry of these five laments communicates something important about their purpose. The lamentations are not simply cries from the heart, although they certainly are that. They are rather an attempt to reflect on the meaning of human suffering. The book of Lamentations is a theodicy, an attempt to explain the ways of God to humanity. The writer wants to do something more than vent his feelings. He also seeks to gain perspective on suffering, and to share that perspective with his fellow sufferers. The book of Jeremiah ended with a factual account of the last, desperate days of the Jerusalem Jeremiah knew and loved. The book of Lamentations is an attempt to interpret the meaning of that catastrophe.  

Since this catastrophe was shared by an entire society, the identity of the person who wrote the five laments is relatively unimportant. Lamentations is not about the sufferings of an individual. The five poems that make up the book are communal rather than personal laments. This is what distinguishes Lamentations from another Biblical theodicy, the book of Job. Whereas Job deals with the problem of personal suffering, Lamentations deals with the problem of national suffering. There is a further difference as well: Job’s sufferings were undeserved, whereas Jerusalem deserved her desolation.  

The communal focus of Lamentations makes its message continually relevant for the church and the world. The book of Job helps people make sense of personal losses and tragedies. The book of Lamentations helps people make sense of national disasters like famine, warfare, and genocide.  

—Phil Ryken  

Content taken from Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope © 2016 by Philip Graham Ryken. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Suffering is in the Bible. It’s clear. In Scripture, real haziness is seen more than pretend clarity. Nothing hidden. A whole book dedicated to regretful weeping, Lamentations is not an appendix to Scripture; it is Scripture. Lamentations is Scripture because lament is not tacked on to our lives as something to be hidden. It’s right out there in the middle. God chose not to hide the plaintive cries of the confused. This illustrates that the inspired Word of God is bent toward human suffering. 

—Steven Smith

Source: Steven Smith, quoted from his book, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in Jeremiah and Lamentations, published by B&H Publishing Group in 2019.