The Book of Lamentations has five chapters. Each chapter is a separate poem written in acrostic or alphabetic fashion beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Jeremiah painfully progresses – verse by verse – through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet literally weeping from “A to Z” over the death and devastation of his people.
Why does Jeremiah use this “acrostic” or “alphabetic” form in writing his lamentations?
Two reasons. First, to aid in memorization. Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah composed the book of Lamentations. And more than likely, several copies were made, with some taken to Egypt and others sent to Babylon, along with the exiles so God’s captive people could memorize the cause of Jerusalem’s destruction and never forget the consequences of their sin.
In fact, orthodox Jews today customarily read this book publicly in its entirety on the ninth day of the Hebrew month “Av” (which corresponds to our mid-July).
Many today continue to read Lamentations every week at the Western Wall also known today as the “Wailing Wall” or the “Wall of Weeping” in the old city of Jerusalem.
The second reason Jeremiah used the acrostic or alphabetic form was to bring about a complete cleansing of the conscience through a total confession of sin.
Literally from “A to Z” or in Hebrew from “Alef” to “Tav” or in Greek from “Alpha” to “Omega.”
This form aids in a complete cleansing of the conscience through a total confession of sin.
What can we learn from this?
There are five steps in biblical repentance. Repentance begins by confessing, “God, I was wrong.” Next, it moves to expressing a genuine sorrow over sin, “God, I’m sorry for my sin.” This is followed by steps three and four, “God, please forgive me” and “cleanse me of my sin.” Finally, “God, fill me with Your Holy Spirit and enable to overcome this sin.” Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to live a holy life.
“He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,” writes Solomon, “But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13).
(Jessie J. Charpentier Sr. is pastor of Jenkins Memorial Baptist Church in St. Martinville.)