Lamentations 1

The Word Made Fresh

1How deserted sits the city that was once crowded with people!
She that was great among the nations is now like a widow.
She that once was a princess among the states is now a slave.
2She weeps bitterly at night, with tears running down her cheeks.
Even though she had so many lovers, no one comforts her.
Her friends have been disloyal to her and are now her enemies.
3Judah suffers, gone now into exile and hard labor;
she lives among the other nations now, with no place to rest.
Her enemies have overtaken her in her distress.
4The roads that lead to Zion are empty. No one comes to her festivals.
All her gates are empty. All her priests groan with despair.
Her young girls are grieving for their future is uncertain.
5Her enemies are her masters now and have prospered.
The LORD has made her suffer for all her sins;
her children have been taken away as captives by her enemies.
6Majesty is gone from daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer that find no pasture.
They were weak and ran away from those who pursued them.
7But Jerusalem remembers in spite of her suffering the precious days of old.
When her citizens fell into enemy hands, with no one to help,
their foes looked on, making fun of her downfall.
8Jerusalem sinned terribly, and that is why she has become a laughingstock.
Those who honored her despise her; they have seen her nakedness.
She groans and turns her face away embarrassed.
9Her skirts held her uncleanliness, for she thought nothing of the future.
Her defeat was frightening, and there were none to comfort her.
“O LORD,” she cried, “see my suffering! The enemy has triumphed!”
10Her enemies grabbed all her precious belongings.
She even saw the other nations invading her sanctuary;
the very people you would not allow to be counted as your
11All her people now are in distress as they search for something to eat.
They trade whatever wealth they have for food to keep them alive.
“Look LORD! See how despised I have become!
12All you who pass by, don’t you care?
Search and see if you can find anyone who has suffered as I have,
with the suffering the LORD laid upon me in terrible anger.
13From the heavens God sent fire deep into my body
and spread a trap to catch my feet and keep me from escape.
God left me stunned and I feel weak all day long.
14My sins were all tied up together, fastened by God’s hands.
They weigh me down and sap my strength,
for the LORD put me into the hands of enemies I couldn’t resist.
15The LORD turned away from all the warriors in my midst,
and declared a time when my young men would be crushed.
The LORD has trodden over the virgin daughter of Judah.
16These are the reasons I weep, my eyes flowing with tears;
there is no one near to comfort me or revive my courage.
My children are left desolate. The enemy has won.”
17Zion reaches out but finds no one to comfort her.
The LORD has seen to it that Jacob’s neighbors became enemies.
Jerusalem was to them a filthy thing.
18The LORD is in the right, for I rebelled against God’s commands.
But pay attention, all you nations, to how I have suffered,
and how my young men and women are taken into captivity.
19I called out to my lovers, but they lied to me.
My priests and my elders died in the city,
starved while looking for food to keep them alive.
20Do you see, LORD, how distressed I am, and how my stomach churns?
My heart is being ripped from me because of my rebellion.
The sword in the street leaves families bereft; homes are mortuaries.
21People have heard of my distress, but no one comes to comfort me.
My enemies know my troubles and are happy you have punished me.
Bring the day you have pronounced and let them suffer as I have.
22Examine all their evil deeds and deal with them now,
just as you have dealt with me because of all my sins,
for my heart is weak and I lie here groaning.


Tradition has it that this lament is the work of Jeremiah, and the early Greek translation known as the Septuagint added a line at the beginning of the book attributing it to Jeremiah: “Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented this lamentation over Jerusalem”. Modern scholars debate the authenticity of these claims, but that is not a matter for us to pursue; just be aware that you will find differing opinions in the commentaries.

Of the five chapters the first four are acrostic; that is, each verse begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which contains 22 letters. (Chapter 3 has three verses for each letter.)

1-2: The devastated city is described as a widow bereft of her husband, a princess who has become a vassal, a once-popular woman deserted by lovers and friends alike.

3-7: The metaphors continue of bereavement and of royals who are now only commoners.

8-10: Jerusalem, he says, is like a woman violated by those who once honored her, but she herself is to blame because of her sins.

11-16: The city now speaks. She watches the people scrounging for food. She sees passersby shaking their heads. She suffers from the burden of God’s rejection of her and the suffering of her “children” renders her disconsolate.

17: The prophet as observer interjects at this point his own witness of a city stretching out her hands in supplication, abandoned and dirty.

18-22: Jerusalem admits her misdoings and acknowledges that she deserves what has befallen her. Her enemies gloat. She begs God to visit them with the same wrath from which she is reeling.


Lamentations is a relentless cry of distress for Jerusalem. It is included as a book in the Old Testament as a warning to Israel, and indeed, to all nations and peoples in all times and places. It is a reminder to every congregation that our job is not to shape the world. Our job is to partner with God’s shaping of the world.