The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC is the likely setting for the book of Lamentations. This was the most traumatic event in the whole of Old Testament history, with its extreme human suffering, devastation of the ancient city, national humiliation, and the undermining of all that was thought to be theologically guaranteed like the Davidic monarchy, the city of Zion, and the temple of the God of Israel.
It is out of that unspeakable pain that Lamentations speaks, in poetry of astonishing beauty and intricacy, though soaked in tears.
If we neglect this book, says Chris Wright, we miss the challenge and reward of wrestling with the massive theological issues that permeate it. How can suffering be endured alongside faith in an all-loving, good God? Even if these events are recognized and accepted as God's judgment, has not the flood of brutality and evil gone beyond all bounds? If anarchy, death and destruction stalk the land, can the center of Israel’s faith in the covenant God of faithfulness and mercy hold?
In this Bible Speaks Today volume, Wright shows that as Christian readers we must not, and cannot, isolate Lamentations from the rest of the Bible; and equally, that we should not read the rest of the Bible without Lamentations. We must still let it speak for itself, as a book for today.
Christopher J.H. Wright, (born 1947) is a Anglican clergyman and an Old Testament scholar. He is currently the director of Langham Partnership International. He was the principal of All Nations Christian College. He is an honorary member of the All Souls Church, Langham Place in London, UK.
Exceptional. One of the best and most moving commentaries I have read. He is very faithful to the text, answers every question I had, and applies it cogently to today.
In particular, I have seen a number of authors on Lamentations practically ignore the original context (Israel broke the covenant, and so God has now sent all the curses he promised in Deuteronomy) and jump right to *our* laments for *any* affliction we may face. But Wright closes the gap, doing full justice to the historical context, while explaining clearly why the laments here still have much to say about affliction not brought on by covenant violation and deserved curses.
I have felt for some time that Christian worship taps into a limited range of emotions, primarily in the happiness/joy area of the spectrum. More recently I realised that I have avoided mourning and sorrow, so I followed my wife reading this deep-dive into Lamentations. It’s a remarkable part of the Bible. It is a courageous complaint toward God, to the extent that many have claimed that it is an atheistic argument, that such suffering surely denies the existence of Israel’s covenant God. This reads too much modern theodicy into the text, but there is no holding back of raw emotion. It is also an insight into the tragedy of war. Reading it as the 2022 conflict between Russia and Ukraine began, and in parallel with a biography of Shostakovich set in WW2 provided perspective on the desperation that results from death, sickness and famine. Children being eaten by their mothers, even after they might have died through natural means, is none-the-less horrific. The rich are reduced to rags, the strong to weakness. And so the depths of sorrow and grief that erupt in dire circumstances are put to paper as the acrostic poems of each chapter. Yet somehow through this Lamentations expresses hope and faith. While not prominent in terms of quantity, the verses which recognise that God is sovereign and merciful are not superficial props but key conclusions of the book. Tragedy and faith are not opposed to each other, even if they are challenging to sustain. Christopher Wright provides a thorough analysis of the book and some of the competing views about it, particularly some whom are less willing to acknowledge the faithful component of it. There are still difficult issues and translation ambiguities, which are handled carefully but honestly – in some cases he/we don’t know. I am appreciative of the chance to deepen my emotional perspective. And there is more than one song than the one commonly sung which should be drawn from it, and perhaps already have been if rarely sung.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a balanced & poignant commentary on Lamentations. It gave me much to ponder on the necessity of grief & lament while still giving hopeful pointers to the faithfulness of God.
It’s an odd assertion, but it clearly appears to me that lament and grief have been escorted out of the Church Sanctuary, and in many cases, forced to the leave the premises altogether. Their absence brings many American churches to look plastic, and leaves an emotional hole in the soul of a congregation. If everything must be upbeat in a church, then after a while, only the enthused, and those who can fake enthusiasm, feel they have a place. All others are forced to weep and sorrow in the silence of their empty homes, or in the vacant quietness of their hurting hearts. Yet lamenting is a full partner in the Christian life. This is evidenced by the vocalized grief that courses through the Psalms, the Prophets and all the way to Revelation; where the compounding voices and cries join together, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long…” (Revelation 6.10)? Restoring the balanced placing of lament in the Christian life and worship is one of the aims of Christopher J. H. Wright, international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, in his new 170 page paperback commentary, “The Message of Lamentations.” This small volume is the most recent installment in “The Bible Speaks Today” series.
Wright clearly sees Lamentations as having a valuable spot in Scripture as well as in the sacred society. As he notes, “the book assigns to us, as Christian readers, the missional task of hearing the voice of the oppressed and persecuted, bearing witness to their suffering, and advocating on their behalf – which is part of the purpose and power of lament” (55). To listen intently to the tears and terror of Lamentations tunes Christians to remember that real people have suffered, do suffer still (21); and it trains us to use these words for ourselves and on behalf of others.
The author correctly observes that there are several voices being heard in this biblical book; the voice of the Poet, the voice of Lady Zion, the voice of the people. But there is one voice missing, one person who doesn’t speak for himself in all of the five chapters; “There is one voice we never hear. God does not speak in the whole book of Lamentations. Heaven is silent” (33). His silence honors the grieved and ground down because it makes room for honesty in the hurt, candor in the thickest catastrophe. Yet, because Lamentations is part of the whole of Scripture, because it is in the sacred story, the voiceless one has turned “the whole book into a part of the scriptural word through which God’s voice is heard” (43).
Wright skillfully teases out the various textures in Lamentations, pointing out its particularities and peculiarities. His approach is scholarly enough to delight Seminarians and academics, while being simple enough to benefit busy pastors and Bible Study leaders. The book can be used for personal study, and is geared to facilitate group study. Not only is it affordable, but it affords Christian readers a wealth of deep, thought-provoking substance that will likely bring them to fall on their knees and lift their faces in astonishment and worshipful wonder. I strongly recommend the book!
My sincere thanks to IVP Academic for the free copy of “The Message of Lamentations” used for this review.
Here is the latest entry in the Bible Speaks Today series by IVP. This is a natural assignment as he already gave us an outstanding volume on Jeremiah in this series. Mr. Wright writes as one in love with the text and it shows on every page. He highlights things that interest pastors and teachers rather than the esoteric information some more scholarly volumes bog down in. He understands where this series is aimed and beautifully delivers.
I thought this volume’s greatest feature was how he captured the suffering and near hopelessness that pervades Lamentations. He drew the historical context with precision and the events of the fall of Jerusalem were too severe to sugarcoat. He still found what hope there was, he explained what lament really means and why such words are used, and where the Lord is in it all.
He filled the pages with good things. His comparison with Isaiah 40-55 and how it contrasts Lamentations helped make sense of the whole. This volume is a winner for a lesser known book of the Bible. I hope Mr. Wright get future commentary assignments as he is a joy to read. Pastors and teachers will love this book.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
This is more than a commentary of Lamentations, a much neglected book by Bible students. Perhaps we are fearful of the message of this book, mostly seen as an appendage of the prophecy of Jeremiah. Rather, Lamentations describes the aftermath of Jeremiah’s fulfilled predictions of the Babylonian invasion of Judaea and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
Wright brings forth Lamentations as a biblical theology of suffering tied into the text of Scripture. This is not a book of theology but a work that interacts with the five poems of Lamentations and out of the prophet’s candid words do we get a theology of suffering.
Lamentations is hard to read because it is so honest. No question goes unasked, but not all questions are answered. Such is the reality of suffering. Will this book change your life? I respond by wondering whether any form of suffering has had an impact on your life? Wright’s book faces you with the impact of my question.
I highly recommend this book for those who hold to the idea God has rejected Israel. Lamentations is quite clear that even under the worse discipline of the nation Israel by God, even though His full wrath has been poured out, His loving kindness towards Israel knows no end.
Replacement theology will have its foundation shaken by the message of Lamentations. We are sadly mistaken when we think we can grasp God’s love fir Israel unless we see that love of the Father for His people when they are under the hardest discipline imaginable.
Wright’s book will remove any superficiality you might maintain when it comes to God’s commitment to the nation of Israel, regardless of their faithfulness to Him.
During this Lenten season my scripture reading guide took me through the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. To get more out of my reading, I read along with The Message of Jeremiah by Derek Kidner and this exposition The Message of Lamentations by Christopher Wright. Both of these books helped my reading immensely. During a time when our world is threatened by widespread sickness, it's even more sobering to read of a time and place that was much more severe.
These books put their subject in historical and biblical context, giving the reader a much better picture of what it was like in ancient times for a city to be invaded by a cruel and powerful army; its starving people brutally treated, killed, led into exile in a foreign land. Forsaken by the God whom they had forsaken. Kidner and Wright also shed light from the New Testament on the writings of Jeremiah and Lamentations helping to connect their meaning with our own time and place.
It is difficult to read Jeremiah and Lamentations without help from those with in-depth understanding of them. This is probably the main reason these books of the Old Testament are largely ignored by Christians. Kidner and Wright do a very good work in showing what real gems are these biblical books.