There are 22 verses in the first chapter of Lamentations. Each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verse one starts with a word that begins with an aleph. Verse two begins with a word that starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, bet. It goes through the whole alphabet in the 22 verses. This book was meant to be memorized. This book was one of the books recited annually by the Jewish faithful. The pain and suffering of Israel throughout the years are memorialized in this book. When Jeremiah laments Jerusalem’s fall and the temple’s destruction, he uses the picture of a childless widow. She once had everything, but now she is desolate. When you trace the history of the Jewish people, you find the climax in the prime of Solomon’s life, where the nation leads the whole world in commerce, literature, military might, and extravagant luxury. But she is empty because she turned her back on the institution that made her great, the worship of the one true God. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 1:1, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.”

William Wetmore Story was commissioned to create a sculpture based on the description of the first verse of Lamentations. He shows her alone on her throne, despondent at the destruction around her yet regal in a way as she wears a symbol of Jewish piety on her forehead: The phylactery. There is still the look of pride holding her head up. She represents the spirit of the Jewish people even after the great catastrophes they have experienced over the years. Even as the tribes were scattered throughout the world, Israel maintained her integrity as a people wherever they went. Guest tells us, “When the Roman emperor Titus conquered Jerusalem in a.d. 70, he stamped a coin to commemorate her loss and his gain. The image on that coin was none other than the image of a widow, bowed and shrouded in grief. ‘The princess among the provinces Has become a slave!’ (v. 1). Once ‘full of people,’ she is now all alone. The husband she has lost is none other than the Lord Himself, the generous provider, the gentle protector, and the lover whose love she had never returned.”[1]

In my opinion, both of the artistic depictions of Jerusalem in her desolation fall short of the Biblical text. What we truly see is not a proud Jewess but a broken woman. She has lost her husband. Her children have been enslaved, and she sits mourning in the rubble of her life. I like the way Wright describes the scene, “Perhaps it’s because I’m a man, but few things are more emotionally moving than a woman in tears, sobbing out some desperate pain or loss. Perhaps only the tears of a seriously injured or bereaved child are more unbearable. This chapter assaults the eyes and ears of our imagination with both a weeping woman and destitute children. The Poet presents the city of Jerusalem as a woman in the deepest depths of mourning and pain.”[2] Furthermore, it looks like no one cares! This is not the case, however.  God does care, and He’s working behind the scenes. Even in light of the great suffering God has allowed to befall them, he has reminded them in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord: plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans that give you hope and a future.” No matter how dire the situation, know that God will work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

[1] Guest, John, and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1988. Jeremiah, Lamentations. Vol. 19. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] Wright, Christopher J. H. 2015. The Message of Lamentations: Honest to God. Edited by Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball. The Bible Speaks Today. England: Inter-Varsity Press.