Lamentations Intro

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.


Lamentations 1

1 How deserted lies the city,

once so full of people!

How like a widow is she,

who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces

has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,

tears are on her cheeks.

Among all her lovers

there is no one to comfort her.

All her friends have betrayed her;

they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,

Judah has gone into exile.

She dwells among the nations;

she finds no resting place.

All who pursue her have overtaken her

in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,

for no one comes to her appointed festivals.

All her gateways are desolate,

her priests groan,

her young women grieve,

and she is in bitter anguish.

5 Her foes have become her masters;

her enemies are at ease.

TheLordhas brought her grief

because of her many sins.

Her children have gone into exile,

captive before the foe.

6 All the splendor has departed

from Daughter Zion.

Her princes are like deer

that find no pasture;

in weakness they have fled

before the pursuer.

7 In the days of her affliction and wandering

Jerusalem remembers all the treasures

that were hers in days of old.

When her people fell into enemy hands,

there was no one to help her.

Her enemies looked at her

and laughed at her destruction.

8 Jerusalem has sinned greatly

and so has become unclean.

All who honored her despise her,

for they have all seen her naked;

she herself groans

and turns away.

9 Her filthiness clung to her skirts;

she did not consider her future.

Her fall was astounding;

there was none to comfort her.

“Look,Lord, on my affliction,

for the enemy has triumphed.”

10 The enemy laid hands

on all her treasures;

she saw pagan nations

enter her sanctuary—

those you had forbidden

to enter your assembly.

11 All her people groan

as they search for bread;

they barter their treasures for food

to keep themselves alive.

“Look,Lord, and consider,

for I am despised.”

12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?

Look around and see.

Is any suffering like my suffering

that was inflicted on me,

that theLordbrought on me

in the day of his fierce anger?

13 “From on high he sent fire,

sent it down into my bones.

He spread a net for my feet

and turned me back.

He made me desolate,

faint all the day long.

14 “My sins have been bound into a yoke;

by his hands they were woven together.

They have been hung on my neck,

and the Lord has sapped my strength.

He has given me into the hands

of those I cannot withstand.

15 “The Lord has rejected

all the warriors in my midst;

he has summoned an army against me

tocrush my young men.

In his winepress the Lord has trampled

Virgin Daughter Judah.

16 “This is why I weep

and my eyes overflow with tears.

No one is near to comfort me,

no one to restore my spirit.

My children are destitute

because the enemy has prevailed.”

17 Zion stretches out her hands,

but there is no one to comfort her.

TheLordhas decreed for Jacob

that his neighbors become his foes;

Jerusalem has become

an unclean thing among them.

18 “TheLordis righteous,

yet I rebelled against his command.

Listen, all you peoples;

look on my suffering.

My young men and young women

have gone into exile.

19 “I called to my allies

but they betrayed me.

My priests and my elders

perished in the city

while they searched for food

to keep themselves alive.

20 “See,Lord, how distressed I am!

I am in torment within,

and in my heart I am disturbed,

for I have been most rebellious.

Outside, the sword bereaves;

inside, there is only death.

21 “People have heard my groaning,

but there is no one to comfort me.

All my enemies have heard of my distress;

they rejoice at what you have done.

May you bring the day you have announced

so they may become like me.

22 “Let all their wickedness come before you;

deal with them

as you have dealt with me

because of all my sins.

My groans are many

and my heart is faint.”



Lamentations 2

1 How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion

with the cloud of his anger!

He has hurled down the splendor of Israel

from heaven to earth;

he has not remembered his footstool

in the day of his anger.

2 Without pity the Lord has swallowed up

all the dwellings of Jacob;

in his wrath he has torn down

the strongholds of Daughter Judah.

He has brought her kingdom and its princes

down to the ground in dishonor.

3 In fierce anger he has cut off

every hornof Israel.

He has withdrawn his right hand

at the approach of the enemy.

He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire

that consumes everything around it.

4 Like an enemy he has strung his bow;

his right hand is ready.

Like a foe he has slain

all who were pleasing to the eye;

he has poured out his wrath like fire

on the tent of Daughter Zion.

5 The Lord is like an enemy;

he has swallowed up Israel.

He has swallowed up all her palaces

and destroyed her strongholds.

He has multiplied mourning and lamentation

for Daughter Judah.

6 He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden;

he has destroyed his place of meeting.

TheLordhas made Zion forget

her appointed festivals and her Sabbaths;

in his fierce anger he has spurned

both king and priest.

7 The Lord has rejected his altar

and abandoned his sanctuary.

He has given the walls of her palaces

into the hands of the enemy;

they have raised a shout in the house of theLord

as on the day of an appointed festival.

8 TheLorddetermined to tear down

the wall around Daughter Zion.

He stretched out a measuring line

and did not withhold his hand from destroying.

He made ramparts and walls lament;

together they wasted away.

9 Her gates have sunk into the ground;

their bars he has broken and destroyed.

Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations,

the law is no more,

and her prophets no longer find

visions from theLord.

10 The elders of Daughter Zion

sit on the ground in silence;

they have sprinkled dust on their heads

and put on sackcloth.

The young women of Jerusalem

have bowed their heads to the ground.

11 My eyes fail from weeping,

I am in torment within;

my heart is poured out on the ground

because my people are destroyed,

because children and infants faint

in the streets of the city.

12 They say to their mothers,

“Where is bread and wine?”

as they faint like the wounded

in the streets of the city,

as their lives ebb away

in their mothers’ arms.

13 What can I say for you?

With what can I compare you,

Daughter Jerusalem?

To what can I liken you,

that I may comfort you,

Virgin Daughter Zion?

Your wound is as deep as the sea.

Who can heal you?

14 The visions of your prophets

were false and worthless;

they did not expose your sin

to ward off your captivity.

The prophecies they gave you

were false and misleading.

15 All who pass your way

clap their hands at you;

they scoff and shake their heads

at Daughter Jerusalem:

“Is this the city that was called

the perfection of beauty,

the joy of the whole earth?”

16 All your enemies open their mouths

wide against you;

they scoff and gnash their teeth

and say, “We have swallowed her up.

This is the day we have waited for;

we have lived to see it.”

17 TheLordhas done what he planned;

he has fulfilled his word,

which he decreed long ago.

He has overthrown you without pity,

he has let the enemy gloat over you,

he has exalted the hornof your foes.

18 The hearts of the people

cry out to the Lord.

You walls of Daughter Zion,

let your tears flow like a river

day and night;

give yourself no relief,

your eyes no rest.

19 Arise, cry out in the night,

as the watches of the night begin;

pour out your heart like water

in the presence of the Lord.

Lift up your hands to him

for the lives of your children,

who faint from hunger

at every street corner.

20 “Look,Lord, and consider:

Whom have you ever treated like this?

Should women eat their offspring,

the children they have cared for?

Should priest and prophet be killed

in the sanctuary of the Lord?

21 “Young and old lie together

in the dust of the streets;

my young men and young women

have fallen by the sword.

You have slain them in the day of your anger;

you have slaughtered them without pity.

22 “As you summon to a feast day,

so you summoned against me terrors on every side.

In the day of theLord’s anger

no one escaped or survived;

those I cared for and reared

my enemy has destroyed.”



Lamentations 3

1 I am the man who has seen affliction

by the rod of theLord’s wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk

in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me

again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old

and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me

with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness

like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;

he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help,

he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;

he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,

like a lion in hiding,

11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me

and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow

and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart

with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;

they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs

and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;

he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace;

I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone

and all that I had hoped from theLord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.

20 I well remember them,

and my soul is downcast within me.

21 Yet this I call to mind

and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of theLord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “TheLordis my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

25 TheLordis good to those whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of theLord.

27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke

while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,

for theLordhas laid it on him.

29 Let him bury his face in the dust—

there may yet be hope.

30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,

and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off

by the Lord forever.

32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,

so great is his unfailing love.

33 For he does not willingly bring affliction

or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot

all prisoners in the land,

35 to deny people their rights

before the Most High,

36 to deprive them of justice—

would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen

if the Lord has not decreed it?

38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High

that both calamities and good things come?

39 Why should the living complain

when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,

and let us return to theLord.

41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands

to God in heaven, and say:

42 “We have sinned and rebelled

and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;

you have slain without pity.

44 You have covered yourself with a cloud

so that no prayer can get through.

45 You have made us scum and refuse

among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths

wide against us.

47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls,

ruin and destruction.”

48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes

because my people are destroyed.

49 My eyes will flow unceasingly,

without relief,

50 until theLordlooks down

from heaven and sees.

51 What I see brings grief to my soul

because of all the women of my city.

52 Those who were my enemies without cause

hunted me like a bird.

53 They tried to end my life in a pit

and threw stones at me;

54 the waters closed over my head,

and I thought I was about to perish.

55 I called on your name,Lord,

from the depths of the pit.

56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears

to my cry for relief.”

57 You came near when I called you,

and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case;

you redeemed my life.

59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.

Uphold my cause!

60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance,

all their plots against me.

61 Lord, you have heard their insults,

all their plots against me—

62 what my enemies whisper and mutter

against me all day long.

63 Look at them! Sitting or standing,

they mock me in their songs.

64 Pay them back what they deserve,Lord,

for what their hands have done.

65 Put a veil over their hearts,

and may your curse be on them!

66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them

from under the heavens of theLord.



Lamentations 4

1 How the gold has lost its luster,

the fine gold become dull!

The sacred gems are scattered

at every street corner.

2 How the precious children of Zion,

once worth their weight in gold,

are now considered as pots of clay,

the work of a potter’s hands!

3 Even jackals offer their breasts

to nurse their young,

but my people have become heartless

like ostriches in the desert.

4 Because of thirst the infant’s tongue

sticks to the roof of its mouth;

the children beg for bread,

but no one gives it to them.

5 Those who once ate delicacies

are destitute in the streets.

Those brought up in royal purple

now lie on ash heaps.

6 The punishment of my people

is greater than that of Sodom,

which was overthrown in a moment

without a hand turned to help her.

7 Their princes were brighter than snow

and whiter than milk,

their bodies more ruddy than rubies,

their appearance like lapis lazuli.

8 But now they are blacker than soot;

they are not recognized in the streets.

Their skin has shriveled on their bones;

it has become as dry as a stick.

9 Those killed by the sword are better off

than those who die of famine;

racked with hunger, they waste away

for lack of food from the field.

10 With their own hands compassionate women

have cooked their own children,

who became their food

when my people were destroyed.

11 TheLordhas given full vent to his wrath;

he has poured out his fierce anger.

He kindled a fire in Zion

that consumed her foundations.

12 The kings of the earth did not believe,

nor did any of the peoples of the world,

that enemies and foes could enter

the gates of Jerusalem.

13 But it happened because of the sins of her prophets

and the iniquities of her priests,

who shed within her

the blood of the righteous.

14 Now they grope through the streets

as if they were blind.

They are so defiled with blood

that no one dares to touch their garments.

15 “Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.

“Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”

When they flee and wander about,

people among the nations say,

“They can stay here no longer.”

16 TheLordhimself has scattered them;

he no longer watches over them.

The priests are shown no honor,

the elders no favor.

17 Moreover, our eyes failed,

looking in vain for help;

from our towers we watched

for a nation that could not save us.

18 People stalked us at every step,

so we could not walk in our streets.

Our end was near, our days were numbered,

for our end had come.

19 Our pursuers were swifter

than eagles in the sky;

they chased us over the mountains

and lay in wait for us in the desert.

20 TheLord’s anointed, our very life breath,

was caught in their traps.

We thought that under his shadow

we would live among the nations.

21 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,

you who live in the land of Uz.

But to you also the cup will be passed;

you will be drunk and stripped naked.

22 Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;

he will not prolong your exile.

But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,

and expose your wickedness.



Lamentations 5

1 Remember,Lord, what has happened to us;

look, and see our disgrace.

2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,

our homes to foreigners.

3 We have become fatherless,

our mothers are widows.

4 We must buy the water we drink;

our wood can be had only at a price.

5 Those who pursue us are at our heels;

we are weary and find no rest.

6 We submitted to Egypt and Assyria

to get enough bread.

7 Our ancestors sinned and are no more,

and we bear their punishment.

8 Slaves rule over us,

and there is no one to free us from their hands.

9 We get our bread at the risk of our lives

because of the sword in the desert.

10 Our skin is hot as an oven,

feverish from hunger.

11 Women have been violated in Zion,

and virgins in the towns of Judah.

12 Princes have been hung up by their hands;

elders are shown no respect.

13 Young men toil at the millstones;

boys stagger under loads of wood.

14 The elders are gone from the city gate;

the young men have stopped their music.

15 Joy is gone from our hearts;

our dancing has turned to mourning.

16 The crown has fallen from our head.

Woe to us, for we have sinned!

17 Because of this our hearts are faint,

because of these things our eyes grow dim

18 for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,

with jackals prowling over it.

19 You,Lord, reign forever;

your throne endures from generation to generation.

20 Why do you always forget us?

Why do you forsake us so long?

21 Restore us to yourself,Lord, that we may return;

renew our days as of old

22 unless you have utterly rejected us

and are angry with us beyond measure.