Lamentations 5:1-22

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
    look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
    our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
    our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
    we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
    to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
    and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
    and there is no one to free us from their hands.
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.
(Lamentations 5:1-22 NIV)

As we wrap up the book of Lamentations, Chapter 5 takes on yet another form.  Like chapters 1, 2, and 4, Chapter 5 has 22 verses.  Unlike its predecessors, Chapter 5 is not an acrostic.  The 22 verses are significant, however, as the count is a sign of completeness, from beginning to end, from “A” to “Z”, as we would say in English.

Like Chapter 3, each verse in chapter 5 consists of one two-line thought or phrase.

There is only one voice in Chapter 5, that of a corporate or community lament.   Notice the personal pronouns – “we”, “our”, “us”.  As we learned in the Introduction to Lamentations, these chapters were meant to be part of a public ceremony, ritual, or solemn assembly to commemorate a loss.  The poet is speaking on behalf of the people.

Chapter 5 has four sections:

  • Verse 1:  Requests for God’s attention, to take note of how His people are being treated
  • Verses 2 – 18:  The terrible distress and deplorable conditions due to their sin and rebellion
  • Verse 19:  Acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty forever
  • Verses 20-22:  Closing appeal for God’s attention and help

Verses 1 and 20-21 are like bookends to this chapter.   The poet asks God to pay attention to their plight.  Verse 1 requests the Lord to “remember”, “look”, and “see” – all words that request God’s attention.  The poet knows that God has not forgotten His promises to His people, nor is He inattentive to their cries for help.  The poet also knows that God’s reputation is at stake – He will not allow His holy name to be tarnished.

Also, the poet knows God’s heart and character – when God sees His loved ones suffering, even if they brought His righteous judgment upon themselves, it will not last forever.    With the poet’s request for the Lord to pay attention, he knows that God will not just acknowledge His people’s plight – the Lord will take action to protect and provide for His own.

Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, this chapter is meant for public worship.  The poet calls for prayer and confession of sins and invites God into conversation with His people.  The people had been wayward and in rebellion for so long, they wondered if God had given up on them.  This chapter is much like Psalm 79 in its message and content.

Verse 22 seems to end on a negative note.  In fact, some Jewish scholars, when reading this chapter, will repeat verse 21 after verse 22 to be sure to end on a positive note.  However, in reading the text, it seems that verse 22 is quite a suitable ending as-is.  The poet knows well that the Lord is able to rescue His people, and has promised to preserve a remnant for His own.  With this in mind, the poet ends with a broken and contrite heart, acknowledging their sin.  The poet knows that God’s people have nothing to offer the Lord – only God’s mercy can restore them.

May our hope be in the Lord and in Him alone.  May we be broken over our sin and rejoice in His salvation, love, mercy, and grace.

We will end our study of Lamentations with the summary reminder of God’s holiness, character, and love from chapter 3:

22 Because of the Lord’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, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
(Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV)