What Does it Mean to Lament? Definition and Bible Meaning

What does it mean to lament? Have any of us felt such deep sorrow at some point in our lives? Is our lamenting or has our lamenting been based upon a deep regret of personal past sins, wrongdoings, or transgressions?

Contributing Writer
Published Oct 05, 2023
What Does it Mean to Lament? Definition and Bible Meaning

"Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy." (John 16:20)

To "lament" is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It is closely related to the biblical term "contrition," meaning pain of heart in remorse or repentance.

Definition of Lament

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines lament as “to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often demonstratively, to mourn, to regret strongly,” and “a crying out in grief, a wailing, dirge, elegy, complaint.” It could also be said that one who laments is passionately expressing grief or sorrow.

In the Strong’s Concordance, numerous Hebrew words have similar meanings for the word lament, which is to bewail, as well as in Greek.

Easton's Bible Dictionary defines lamentation as "an elegy or dirge (meaning a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead). The first example of this form of poetry is the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:17-27). It was a frequent accompaniment of mourning (Amos 8:10). In 2 Samuel 3:33-34 is recorded David's lament over Abner. Prophecy sometimes took the form of a lament when it predicted calamity or catastrophe."

Bible Verses about Lamenting

And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground (Isaiah 3:26).

For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back from us (Jeremiah 4:8).

And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea? (Ezekiel 27:32).

In that day shall one take up a parable against you, and lament with a doleful lamentation, and say, We be utterly spoiled: he hath changed the portion of my people: how hath he removed it from me! turning away he hath divided our fields (Micah 2:4).

And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning (Revelation 18:9).

Book of Lamentations

Despite its rather morose tone throughout all five chapters, in the midst of great tragedy, the main theme of Lamentations appears to be hope (Lamentations 3:22). No matter what circumstances may befall the narrator and his nation, that hope ultimately rests with the Almighty. His compassion will not fail.

The Books of Lamentations can teach us what it means to hope in the midst of the greatest trials of our lives when God appears to be silent while enormous tragedies abound. We can also learn that even people of God can experience and witness awful events. Just because someone follows God doesn’t mean they won’t ever have to endure hardships.

Lamentations 3:25-26, “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” 

Lamentations 5:19, “You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.”

What Does Lament Mean?

So, what does it mean to lament? Have any of us felt such deep sorrow at some point in our lives, that we cry out in anguish, beating ourselves on the chest, covering our heads in ashes, and clothing ourselves in sackcloth?

Is our lamenting, or has our lamenting been based upon a deep regret of personal past sins, wrongdoings, or transgressions?

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy (John 16:20).

Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth (Joel 1:8).

We hardly ever hear of people lamenting at a church altar anymore. I remember as a child being at various church services, the preacher would give the message, people would fall onto the altar, and some would even cry out as if they were in agony.

I have felt the Holy Spirit move on me as I have knelt to pray at the altar, and yes, sometimes I would cry out in anguish either for myself or others.

Unfortunately, our society has changed. It seems people have become too dignified for that. It is not proper to allow such emotions to overwhelm them in public. What a spectacle one would make of themselves to act in such a way.

However, today could be the last day someone will spend on this earth. Not many preachers speak on hell anymore. I want to warn those that do not know Jesus as their personal Savior, that they need to come to Him now, not only before it is too late, but to enjoy the peace that comes with a relationship with Christ.

Lamenting in the Bible

We can see a glimpse of someone who lamented from Luke 16:19-31.

The Pharisees looked at having wealth as proof that the person was righteous. Jesus confused them with this story in which an ailing beggar is recompensed or rewarded, and the rich man is sentenced.

The rich man did not end up in hell because of his wealth but because of his selfishness. He would not give Lazarus food, take him in, or care for his wellbeing. He was pitiless despite his incredible gifts.

The measure of money we have is not so exceptionally significant as the way we use it. What is our disposition toward our wealth and assets? Do we store them egotistically for ourselves, or do we utilize them to help other people?

In verse 22, the beggar died and was carried away to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.

In verse 23: he will look — but the rich man being in hell, he lifted his eyes, he recognized where he was, was in torment, he saw Abraham and Lazarus afar off, undoubtedly, he recognized those around him after death. Just for a moment, just try to imagine what that must be like.

In verse 24: he will lament — the rich man, (not so rich now) he cried out, he mourned, (extreme pain, persistent, recurrent distress).

And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing (extreme sorrow) and gnashing of teeth (biting) (Matthew 13:42).

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44).

The man begged for mercy, but mercy did not come. Grace will not be there, no matter how much you cry out or beg.

The man asked for a missionary, to send Lazarus to give him a drop of water. But there is no water or release, and it will be too late to send missionaries out now.

In verse 26:he will be lost forever — a great gulf is fixed between heaven and hell. Once you are there, there is no coming out. Only the unsaved are allowed in.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).

In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

There Are Two Types of Death

The physical death where the body dies, and the spirit leaves the body, and the spiritual death where the unsaved will be separated from God.

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11:25).

And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Acts 8:37).

For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

In verses 28-31, the rich man felt that his five siblings would clearly accept a messenger who was raised from the dead.

Yet, Jesus said that if they did not trust Moses and the prophets, who spoke continually of the obligation to poor people, not so much as a resurrection would persuade them.

Notice the incongruity in Jesus’ assertion; in route to Jerusalem to die, he was completely mindful that in any event, when he had returned from death, most of the religious leaders would not acknowledge him. They were stubborn, and neither Scripture nor God’s Son himself could shake them free.

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5:45-47).

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day (Acts 15:21).

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

Do you live a life like this rich man?

Do you know where you will spend eternity?

For further reading:

Does God Answer Our Prayers if We Don’t Repent?

Is There a Prayer for Repentance?

What Is Sanctification Through Salvation?

What Is the Real Purpose of Kneeling in Prayer?

What Is the Meaning of Lazarus and the Rich Man?

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Chris SwansonChris Swanson answered the call into the ministry over 20 years ago. He has served as a Sunday School teacher, a youth director along with his wife, a music director, an associate pastor, and an interim pastor. He is a retired Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman with over 30 years of combined active and reserve service. You can check out his work here.

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