It was common in ancient Judah to compose and sing lamentations about departed friends or relatives. Jeremiah did so for his beloved Jerusalem. The book of Lamentations reveals his sorrow over the destruction of the Holy City. The Hebrew title of the book is ’eikhah, or “How … !” from the book’s first verse, “How doth the city sit solitary …” (Lamentations 1:1; see also 2:1; 4:1). That title expresses a mixture of shock and despair toward the fate of Jerusalem. Nearly every prophetic book in the Old Testament contains laments, but Lamentations is the only book that consists entirely of this literary form.
Poetry is used in many cultures to express poignant feeling, and the entire book of Lamentations is written in carefully constructed poetry. Chapters 1–2 and 4 form acrostics. Each has twenty-two verses, each beginning with one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in alphabetical order. Ellis T. Rasmussen wrote that “part of the effect of alphabetic acrostic poetry is to convey the impression that the poem covers the whole spectrum of the feelings with which the poem is concerned” (A Latter-day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament , 577–78).
Chapter 3 has sixty-six verses (three times twenty-two) and is also acrostic. In that chapter the first three verses begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next three with the second letter, and so on. Chapter 5 has twenty-two verses but is not acrostic (see Bible Dictionary, “Lamentations, book of,” p. 722).
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
Suggestions for Teaching
Lamentations 1–2. Church membership alone will not save us; we must be faithful and valiant. (20–30 minutes)
Write the word lamentations on the board and ask students if they know what it means. Share the information in the introduction above and help students understand why the book has that name.
Have students read Lamentations 1:1–8, 12–20 looking for reasons for Jerusalem’s destruction. List those reasons on the board. Remind students that many Jews felt that because they had the temple and the law of Moses, the Lord would never let Jerusalem be conquered. False prophets even prophesied that Jerusalem was safe (see Jeremiah 28:1–4, 15–17).
Read Lamentations 2:1–7 and discuss what happened to the temple, using questions like the following:
How much protection did having the temple provide for Jerusalem and the Jews?
How did the Lord feel about the temple when the people were so wicked? (see the commentaries for Lamentations 1:12–22 and 2:1–10 in Old Testament Student Manual: 1 Kings–Malachi, p. 250).
What sacred buildings and ordinances has the Lord given us today?
If we are not worthy to enter them, do you think having temples will protect us?
What is more important to the Lord than buildings and ceremonies, even sacred ones? (see 1 Samuel 15:22–23).
What protection has the Lord promised us if we are righteous in the midst of darkness? (see D&C 45:66–71).
Share your testimony of how being a righteous member of the Church can protect us during difficult times. We need to gain strong testimonies and be valiant in order to receive all that the Lord has promised.
Lamentations 1–5. The Lord and His prophets have great mercy and compassion for sinners and willingly help them repent. (20–25 minutes)
Ask students to think about a time they felt very sad. List some reasons we might feel sadness. Read Matthew 23:37–39; Jacob 5:40–42; Doctrine and Covenants 76:25–27; and Moses 7:28–29, 32–33 and list why the Lord is sometimes sad.
Why do you think they felt sad instead of angry, especially since the people sometimes rejected them and tried to destroy them?
What does our prophet desire for us today?
Remind students that Jeremiah preached repentance but the people did not repent, so Jerusalem was destroyed. After that sad event he wrote Lamentations. Ask what feelings Jeremiah might have had while writing Lamentations (see the introduction to “The Babylonian Captivity” in Old Testament Student Manual: 1 Kings–Malachi, p. 245). Have each student choose and read one chapter of Lamentations and select a verse or verses that might best describe Jeremiah’s sadness and why he was sad. Invite several students to share their findings. Read Matthew 23:33–38 and discuss how Jeremiah’s feelings were like those expressed by the Savior.