How this oft-overlooked book can highlight themes of Trumpets and Atonement
I can count on one hand the number of sermons I’ve heard on the book of Lamentations. I could maybe even count them on one *finger* (and I had to search for it).
While Lamentations never directly mentions either the feasts of Trumpets or Atonement, its themes are unmistakably linked to the themes of both holy days, and the fall holy day season overall in God’s plan for mankind.
What are those themes? Complete destruction and anguish from God’s wrath as His promised judgment comes, mourning and confession of sin, and acknowledgement of God’s righteousness in that judgment. Humility and asking for mercy while recognizing that it’s undeserved.
And harder to find, but definitely present, is hope in God’s faithfulness and mercy, and ultimately reconciliation through His promises of a coming restoration.
These holy days occur in the seventh month (seven being a number of completeness). Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are written in acrostics, one for each letter of the alphabet and signifying the completeness and totality of God’s wrath and the destruction of Jerusalem.
What is the book of Lamentations about?
Lamentations is one of the five scrolls comprising “The Writings” in the Old Testament. It mourns the destruction of the first temple, the “funeral of a city”, and foreshadows the destruction of the second temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The Jews recite the book on Tisha b’Av, called the “dark fast” to commemorate the destruction of the temple. Tisha b’Av is seen as a fast without hope (dark) in contrast to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which they see as a “white fast” due to the hope embedded.
It’s generally accepted that the book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah due to both internal and external evidence, but the author is never named in the text. The fairly dramatic, evocative language certainly seems to fit with the book of Jeremiah though.
Much of Lamentations goes into excruciating detail about the consequences of Jerusalem’s repeated rebellions against God, and paints a terrifying picture of His promised wrath. It is punishment with purpose, prophesied beforehand again and again to turn them from it.
It is an expression of grief and sadness, a detailed account of tragedy, and a denunciation of the sins of His people. The book moves us through tragedy and sorrow toward a confident hope in God’s ultimate salvation of His (and all) people.
In our culture today we tend to close our eyes to suffering, grit our teeth through it, or try and ignore it in favor of looking forward to a better time. Lamentations, instead, wallows in it. Lamentations surrounds you in Jeremiah’s grief over Jerusalem’s destruction, in the suffering of God’s people.
Is Lamentations relevant to God’s people today?
In a word, yes.
The book of Lamentations is written to encompass Jerusalem and the nation of Judah, the remainder of God’s people at the time. It should serve as a very sobering warning to us as His people today.
Jerusalem rebelled against God, and for centuries God warned that the judgment He promised for their sins would come. When the wrath of His judgment finally comes upon Jerusalem, the book of Lamentations doesn’t question the reason or justice of God’s actions, but rather asks for His mercy.
The end-time application of the book is focused on Jerusalem as well. Because of this, it fits more naturally into the fall holy days and what the world will experience during end-time events, and the book’s themes very much tie into this.
While Lamentations has seen its first and second fulfillments, like most major prophecies in the bible there is a future and final one at the end time. So although it’s focused on Jerusalem, it IS written to God’s people, and that alone makes it important for us to pay it some attention.
We know that all scripture is given by God and is good for instruction and to equip His people (II Tim. 3:16). So what should we take from this book? I submit that there are clear messages to God’s firstfruits, warnings that if heeded today can keep us from the terrible future reality that is laid out in the book.
But I’ll be honest, it’s a tough book to really relate to. Opaque, specific, horrifying. By no means can this provide an exhaustive look in one study, but I’ll go through and try to highlight verses or passages that are especially relevant to God’s people in today’s world. I’ve consulted three different translations to get different takes on some of the harder language (NKJV, Complete Jewish Bible, and New English Translation)
If we look around our world today, it’s hard not to find some parallels, and we can certainly see the writing on the wall for where we’re headed.
Chapter 1 – “Where your treasure is”: Reliance on self and on worldly things leads to destruction
“Among all her lovers she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies” (Lam. 1:2).
Just like the Israelites centuries earlier who wanted a king “like all the other nations”, Israel and Judah never learned their lessons. Time and again they refused to rely on God and instead sought out alliances or vassal protectorates with the nations around them—always ultimately leading to their destruction.
And their rebellion against God was not only political, but spiritual as well. They worshipped idols, murdered their children in sacrifices, and perverted God’s commanded system of worship. He frequently condemns them for “playing the harlot” regarding their unfaithfulness to the covenant they’d made with Him.
God’s chosen nation put their trust in themselves, their worldly allies, and physical wealth. They refused to follow God or allow Him to direct their lives. But this isn’t something that only applies to ancient Israel and Judah.
This will be the state of the overall world at the end, but also of God’s ekklesia. Jesus Christ tells us of the church in Laodicea, “You say ,’I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
So here in the first chapter of Lamentations we see where this self-reliance and worldly focus lead.
“…she did not consider her destiny; therefore her collapse was awesome” (Lam. 1:9)
The Complete Jewish bible (CJB) translates this as, “She gave no thought to how it would end; hence her astounding downfall”, while the New English Translation uses “She did not consider her future”. I think both of these add some more modern language nuance that makes it more real for us today.
This is a warning to us, to God’s people…it is a clear cause and effect statement. Are we unknowingly compromising our destiny—our promised future as one of God’s firstruits—when making decisions on a day-to-day basis?
We should think about this at a personal level, rather than simply applying it to nations. It’s remarkably easy to lose focus of the eternal when confronted by the immediate. This is especially true with the current state of our society, full of hatred and fear, ambitions and distractions.
For centuries Israel and Judah let the social customs and norms of their society guide their own thoughts rather than God. Their idols and allies led them away from God and were their constant downfall.
But our society today is no better, and we’d be remiss in thinking this doesn’t apply to us. What are our idols, the things we place time, energy, and focus into, prioritizing above God? What are our “allies”, worldly connections and systems we rely on and put our faith in to save us? Do we let the views of, or relationships with, other people take precedence over what God says?
Our focus should be on the endgame, on studying God’s word and living His commands to build the character in ourselves that He’s looking for. Maintaining that vision of kingdom is critical to success, as we’re exhorted in Proverbs 29:18 (“without vision, the people are destroyed”).
As we continue on in Lamentations 1:
“All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their valuables [treasures] for food to restore life” (Lam. 1:11).
At the time of the end there will be a famine of the word, which is the bread of life (Amos 8:11-12). The people of Jerusalem were giving up their valuables just for physical food, their worldly treasures now worthless. Jesus cautioned us that where our treasure is, there our heart is also (Matt. 6:21).
If our focus is on accumulating wealth or stuff, climbing the ladder, or some other kind of achievement, that’s where our heart will be. Note, I’m not saying these things are inherently bad, just that we should take care to prioritize our spiritual treasure and focus.
When the end time comes and the world is experiencing God’s wrath, gold and silver will eventually be discarded in the streets like worthless trash—it won’t matter and it won’t help (Ezek. 7:19).
Verse 16 makes an interesting comment and I like the CJB translation. It says “my children are in a state of shock because the enemy prevailed” (Lam. 1:16). We know that some of God’s people will still be caught off guard when end-time events come, and will not have the necessary “oil in their lamps” (Matt. 25).
Which brings us to the next theme…
Chapter 2 & first half chapter 3 – Enveloped in darkness: Losing the knowledge of God, the desolation of His judgment
“He measured it with His line and did not stay his hand” (Lam. 2:8, CJB)
The start of chapter 2 tells us where the self-reliance and love of the world has brought God’s people. Jeremiah exclaims, “How enveloped in darkness God, in His anger, has made the daughter of Zion!” (Lam. 2:1, CJB).
The following verses show how God’s promised wrath brings about the destruction of everything Jerusalem was proud of and relied on—her beauty, her military might, religious monuments, and palaces are swallowed up. The various translations describe His actions as without pity, unsparing.
- “He has thrown down in His wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground” (Lam. 2:2)
- “And He has violently taken away His tabernacle…He has destroyed His place of assembly. The Lord [has] caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lam. 2:6-7, NET)
- “Your prophets have seen false and foolish things for you, and they have not uncovered your iniquity, to turn away your captivity; but they have seen false oracles and delusions for you” (Lam. 2:14, NET)
What should we take away from the first half of this chapter? Lamentations 2:8 indicates that God has measured Jerusalem and her people against a standard, and they have fallen short (see also Amos 7). They repeatedly didn’t live up to their covenant with Him, and so have incurred judgment.
The way verses 6 and 7 are stated implies that the people of Judah clung to their status as God’s people as though it were guaranteed regardless of their behaviors, and focused on the physical trappings of their religion (like the tabernacle and altar). But they had lost their actual relationship with God. Again, God’s people today should give this some thought.
They were simply going through the motions of keeping God’s way while pursuing their own ways, and so eventually God withdrew His favor and caused them to lose the actual knowledge of Him, and of His holy days and sabbaths.
These verses seem to tie into the warnings that Jesus gave, where He says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven”. Despite some of the things they’ve accomplished and their physical actions and outward appearance, their hearts are far from God and He’ll declare, “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).
There are a number of references throughout the book of Lamentations (like in 2:22) to “on the day of God’s anger” or similar language, which feels very connected to all the prophecies and language around “the Day of the Lord” throughout the Old Testament.
The first half of chapter 3 continues the recitations of destruction and sorrow, of residing in darkness. Jeremiah laments that “I have been so deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is, that I think, ‘My strength is gone, and so is my hope in God’” (Lam. 3:17-18, CJB).
This is a very relatable human feeling, particularly in the current state of society—feeling so tired, sad, world-weary, or heartbroken that you feel like you don’t even remember anything else.
But verse 21 is a turning point in the book.
Second half of chapter 3 – Stirrings of hope: A chance to awake, remembering the hope of and evidence of God’s compassion and faithfulness
“For rejection by God does not last forever. He may cause grief, but He will take pity, in keeping with the greatness of His grace” (Lam. 3:31-32)
The second half of chapter 3 is where a glimmer of hope finally comes in, and this passage is a beautiful meditation on hope and faith in the midst of darkness and anguish.
Jeremiah knows that God had promised all these terrible things as a result of the people’s sins, and a holy God must do what He has said. But in the midst of the worst pain and the terrible things he’s experiencing, he remembers the evidence of God’s compassion and faithfulness.
“But in my mind I keep returning to something, something that gives me hope—that the grace of God is not exhausted, that His compassion has not ended.
[On the contrary,] they are new every morning! How great your faithfulness! ‘God is all I have,’ I say; therefore I will put my hope in Him’” (Lam. 3:21-24, CJB).
These thoughts transition us to the themes of Atonement…mercy and reconciliation, humility in the face of God’s righteousness and power, but also the immense and undeserved grace He has extended.
This reconciliation has been extended to God’s firstfruits now, as pictured in the spring holy days, but the Day of Atonement pictures when the entire world will have the ability to have Christ’s sacrifice applied to their sins. After the horrors of end time events, Atonement pictures the beginning of healing and restoration.
The Complete Jewish Bible’s translation really shines in chapter 3 of Lamentations, and I’d recommend reading through the whole thing if you’re able to get a copy. It makes it much more clear and relevant to us today, with a simple and lyrical prose.
Verse 33 reminds us, “For He does not arbitrarily torment or punish human beings…Why should anyone alive complain, even a strong man, about the punishment for his sins?” (Lam. 3:33, 39, CJB).
What must we do then, in the midst of suffering, when life seems at its darkest? Jeremiah tells us:
“Let us examine and test our ways and return to God. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say, ‘We, for our part, have transgressed and rebelled’” (Lam. 3:40-42, CJB).
We must draw near to God, search out His ways, and examine our own. The prophet Isaiah tells us we must “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Is. 55:6). There is a sense of urgency here, of time running out.
The last parts of chapter 3 are a call to wake up. And we’re told that God will respond. “You came near when I called to you; you said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ O Lord, You defended my cause; you redeemed my life” (Lam. 3:57-58)
Chapters 4 & 5 – Desolation due to sin, a warning not to lose your crown
“The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us! For we have sinned” (Lam. 5:16)
“Your offenses, daughter of Zion, are atoned for; He will keep you in exile no longer” (Lam. 4:22, CJB)
Chapter 4 of the book of Lamentations turns back to the completeness of the pouring out of God’s wrath, with very clear ties to end-time events and Revelation. After describing unbelievable suffering, starvation, poverty, even cannibalism, the text states:
“God has finished with [accomplished] His fury, He has poured out His blazing wrath; He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its very foundations” (Lam. 4:11, CJB)
The better part of the book of Revelation is about the pouring out of the wrath of God upon the earth. This particular verse calls to mind the language used around the seven last bowl plagues, “for in them the wrath of God is complete” (Rev. 15:1). When the seventh is poured out:
“A loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and a great earthquake…Now the great city was divided into three parts” (Rev. 16:17-19).
Lamentations begins with the anguished lament of the first few chapters, then moves to a kindling remembrance of hope and bold assertion that God’s mercies never fail in the middle. The end of the book carries a matter-of-fact tone overlaid with introspection. It’s both prayer and confession.
Speaking for the people, Jeremiah says, “Remember, O Lord, what has come upon us; look, and behold our reproach!” (5:1). The people are starving and broken, have lost their land and autonomy, are exploited for their labor under harsh masters. The “joy of our heart has ceased and our dance has turned into mourning” (Lam. 5:15).
Verse 16 should serve as a warning to God’s people:
“The crown has fallen from our head…for we have sinned. Because of this our heart is faint; because of these things our eyes grow dim” (Lam. 5:16-17)
Who is prophesied to wear crowns? God’s firstfruits, those who remain faithful to the end. Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one take your crown” (Rev. 3:11).
Jesus gave a similar warning before His sacrifice, saying, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them in the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6)
This should get our attention, maybe even scare us. Are we complacent in our relationship with God? We don’t want to hear “I never knew you”. Reading Lamentations should make us diligently think of Jesus telling us to “Watch and pray always, that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass” (Luke 21:36).
Chapter 5 is full of awful images, but manages to (mostly) end on a hopeful note: “You, O Lord, remain forever; Your throne is from generation to generation…Return us to You, O Lord, and we will return; renew our days as of old” (Lam. 5:19, 21).
Read next: The Feast of Trumpets: Dark Before the Light
The great day of His wrath, and of reconciliation
A greater tribulation is coming than was experienced by Jerusalem when both the first and second temples were destroyed—the prophesied time of God’s wrath and judgment. But after that, a time of renewal and reconciliation for the entire world.
Sin has consequences. This physical world and society are beyond redemption, and the coming of Jesus Christ and the pouring out of the wrath of God are certain.
The last statement in the Old Testament (the last words from God to His people for hundreds of years until Christ appeared on the scene) was, ”Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6). Many people look to this and pontificate on how the “God of the Old Testament” was an angry, harsh God.
But that’s not the entire story. In that passage, the prophet Malachi says that God will send an Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Then he says, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6).
The Jewish people consider Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to be possibly the most holy day of the year, a day of fasting, prayer, guilt, and repentance. One of the scripture passages traditionally read on this day is from the end of Micah:
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (Micah 7:18-20)
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah remembers that God was with him in the past and that He has a plan. While the fall holy days are more about the rest of the world’s salvation, we should consider them a time to reflect on our own lives and ensure we’re seeking after the right things. Remember the hope of His coming. Look forward to the future reconciliation of the whole world to Himself.
We are not consumed. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.