The following article was posted on the 9Marks Journal:
Consider the Vietnam Wall, the Holocaust Museum, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Washington, D.C.—or the National Center for Peace and Justice (the Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery, Alabama. They are designed to help people remember, to mourn, and to learn. Memorials honor history and send a message.
The book of Lamentations is a memorial, and you should preach this historic book.
A few years ago, our church spent five weeks studying Lamentations. Some of our staff were nervous about how our church would respond to over a month of such a dark book. But it proved to be one of the most fruitful seasons in the last ten years. Lamentations changed our worship, affected our prayers, and gave us a new language in suffering.
When you’re preaching through the Bible, don’t neglect Lamentations. There are many reasons why you should preach through this book. Allow me to give you five.
1. Lamentations is the longest lament in the Bible.
Lament is a language that the church desperately needs to recover. Over a third of the Psalms are minor-key prayers that give voice to processing the pain of life. And yet, most Christians aren’t familiar with this biblical prayer language. Our congregational singing and our prayers are lament-lite.
The book of Lamentations demonstrates the purpose and power of turning to God, laying out our complaints, asking him for help, and choosing to trust. It not only serves as a memorial to the destruction of Jerusalem, but it also shows us how to pray when the dark clouds of suffering roll in. When you preach Lamentations, hurting people come out of the woodwork.
2. Lamentations displays the severity of sin and the holiness of God
The book is a poetic memorial—a recounting and a warning. It rehearses the suffering and the grief connected to the sacking of the City of David, and it cautions us about what happens when human rebellion reaches a “red line.”
Lamentations is a deeply theological book. It identifies the depravity of God’s people as the cause of divine judgment. It elevates the right of a holy God to discipline his people—even using a pagan nation as his instrument. The book is shocking. It is sobering. And by preaching through Lamentations, people are reminded that sin is serious and God is holy.
3. Lamentations gives the church a voice in suffering.
The brokenness of sin has infected every aspect of our humanity. Creation still groans, and Lamentations provides a model for how God’s people can process moments when our collective depravity produces terrible fruits.
Jeremiah was a faithful prophet. He warned the people about coming judgment. And when the brokenness of humanity was on full display, lament was an appropriate response. It’s the voice of sorrow as we live between the effects of our rebellion and future restoration. Lamentations shows us how to pray when human depravity has created societal suffering.
4. Lamentations provides hope.
The third chapter contains the most well-known passages. We love reading that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22). But understanding the totality of the book of Lamentations deepens our understanding of where to find hope in hardship.
It’s important to remember that Jeremiah proclaims the never-ending, morning-ready mercies of the Lord over a destroyed city. Jerusalem looked like a wasteland and a war-zone. The destruction raised the question, “How did this happen?” While those questions linger and the suffering continues, Jeremiah pronounces (“this I call to mind,” 3:21) what he knows to be true about God despite what he sees. Lamentations shows us the connection between the rehearsing of truth and the resurgence of hope.
5. Lamentations doesn’t end with resolution.
The book reaches its apex in chapter three. The remaining two chapters return to the reality of the suffering. There is no “happily-ever-after.” The book ends without resolution. Questions remain. Tears are shed. But in order to know the rest of the story, you have to look elsewhere in the Bible.
The end of Lamentations reflects the path of hardship. We believe while still in the dark. Lament leads us through sorrow to trust—even though we can’t see the future. So, in a way, the uncertain nature at the end of Lamentations is refreshing. It shows us how to trust when the immediate future remains uncertain and hard.
Do you see why Lamentations is important? Too many people fly by this book in their reading. Too many pastors avoid it because of its heaviness. But it’s in the Bible for a reason.
Lamentations is a memorial. It matters. And you should preach it—soon.
I found these books and commentaries to be helpful:
- Card, Michael. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005.
- Garrett, Duane. Song of Songs/Lamentations. Dallas, TX: Word, 2004.
- Harrison, R. K. Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 21. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973.
- Huey, F. B. Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.
- Rah, Soong-Chan. Prophetic Lament – A Call for Justice in Troubled Times. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015.
Author’s note: I more fully unpack the value of lament in the Psalms and Lamentation in Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, a book published by Crossway in March 2019.
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Editor’s note: You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.