The Book of Lamentations is a collection of psalms lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC. The structure of the book is much more clear in Hebrew than it is in English or other translations. Lament Psalms are always poetry, but the Book of Lamentations is a special type of poetic composition. The first four chapters use the literary technique of alphabetic acrostic, in which each stanza begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter three is an acrostic in which three succeeding lines each begin with a successive letter. Chapter five is not constructed acrostically, but contains the same number of lines as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
This poetic composition easily allows us to see the book in a five part division. Taken as a whole, this five part division roughly corresponds to the structure of a lament psalm that begins with a crisis situation and ends in trust from the midst of that crisis expressed in worship and doxology (see Patterns for Life: Lament Psalms).
I. Desolation of Zion (chapter 1)
A. the people mourn loss of the land (1-11a)
B. Zion’s lament (11b-22)
II. The Anger of God (chapter 2)
A. destruction and judgment (1-10)
B. the pain of the people (11-22)
III. Turn toward Hope (chapter 3)
A. recounting pain (1-20)
B. affirmation of trust in God (21-51)
C. petition and curse.
IV. Judgment and Justice (chapter 4)
A. remembering the destruction (1-11)
B. God’s judgment (12-16)
C. justice on Edom (17-22)
V. Concluding Prayer (chapter 5)
A. petition (1-18)
B. doxology (19-22)