When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and deported much of its population, some residents were left behind in terrible conditions in and around the shattered city. To express their deep shame and grief over the destruction of their home, they wrote songs about its desolation and about the sufferings they were witnessing and experiencing. The book of Lamentations does not tell us who wrote these songs, although tradition ascribes them to Jeremiah. Here we witness people of faith putting into words their struggle to understand how God could have allowed the city they loved to be so devastated.
Each of the five songs preserved in the book has 22 stanzas. The first four songs begin with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in consecutive order. In the third song the letters are repeated at the start of each of the three lines in the stanza. There are few expressions of hope, but they are placed in the center of the book to give them extra prominence in a situation where they are badly needed. Overall, this collection of laments reminds us that expressing anguish over a broken, fallen world is a legitimate part of the biblical drama.