Lamentations 3
Barnes' Notes
This elegy Lamentations 3 is both the most elaborate in form and the most sublime in its ideas of the five poems which compose the Book of Lamentations. It presents the image of the deepest suffering, passing on to the confession of sin, the acknowledgment of God's justice, and the prayer of faith for forgiveness. It is the ideal representation of that godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of 2 Corinthians 12:10.

I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
That hath seen affliction - i. e. hath experienced, suffered it.

He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.
Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
Is he turned; he turneth - Or, "surely against me" hath he turned "his hand" again and again "all the day long."

My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
Made old - Or, wasted: his strength slowly wasted as he pined away in sorrow.

He hath broken my bones - This clause completes the representation of the sufferer's physical agonies. Here the idea is that of acute pain.

He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
He hath builded ... - The metaphor is taken from the operations in a siege.

Gall and travail - Or "travail;" i. e. bitterness and weariness (through toil).

He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
Or, "He hath" made me to dwell "in darkness," i. e. in Sheol or Hades, "as those" forever "dead."

He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
The prophet feels as if enclosed within walls, and fettered.

Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
Shout - i. e. call for help.

Shutteth out - Or, "shutteth in." God has so closed up the avenues to the place in which he is immured, that his voice can find no egress.

He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
Inclosed - Or, hedged Lamentations 3:7.

Hath, made crooked - Or, "hath" turned aside. A solid wall being built across the main road, Jeremiah turns aside into by-ways, but finds them turned aside, so that they lead him back after long wandering to the place from where he started.

He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
Having dwelt upon the difficulties which hemmed in his path, he now shows that there are dangers attending upon escape.

He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
The meaning is, "God, as a lion, lying in wait, has made me turn aside from my path, but my flight was in vain, for springing upon me from His ambush lie has torn me in pieces."

Desolate - Or, astonied, stupefied that he cannot flee. The word is a favorite one with Jeremiah.

He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
This new simile arises out of the former one, the idea of a hunter being suggested by that of the bear and lion. When the hunter comes, it is not to save him.

He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
Metaphor is dropped, and Jeremiah shows the real nature of the arrows which rankled in him so deeply.

He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
"He hath" filled me to the full with bitterness, i. e. bitter sorrows Job 9:18.

He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
Broken my teeth with gravel stones - His bread was so filled with grit that in eating it his teeth were broken.

And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
Prosperity - literally, as in the margin, i. e. I forgot what good was, I lost the very idea of what it meant.

And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
The prophet reaches the verge of despair. But by struggling against it he reaches at length firm ground.

Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
Remembering - Or, as in the margin. It is a prayer to Yahweh.

My misery - Or, "my" homelessness (Lamentations 1:7 note).

My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
This I recall - Rather, "This will I bring back to my heart, therefore will I hope." Knowing that God hears the prayer of the contrite, he begins again to hope.

It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
Verses 22-42 are the center of the present poem, as it also holds the central place in the whole series of the Lamentations. In them the riches of God's grace and mercy are set forth in the brightest colors, but no sooner are they ended than the prophet resumes the language of woe.

That we - He is speaking as the representative of all sufferers.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The Lord is my portion - "My portion is Yahweh," see Numbers 18:20; Psalm 16:5 ff.

Therefore will I hope in him - A more full expression of the confidence present in the prophet's mind in Lamentations 3:21, but based now upon God's faithfulness in showing mercy.

The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
In these three verses, each beginning in the Hebrew with the word good, we have first the fundamental idea that Yahweh Himself is good, and if good to all, then especially is He so to those who being in adversity can yet wait in confidence upon His mercy.

It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
And quietly wait - literally, "and be in silence," i. e. abstain from all complaining.

It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
The yoke - Or, a "yoke." By bearing a yoke in his youth, i. e. being called upon to suffer in early age, a man learns betimes the lesson of silent endurance, and so finds it more easy to be calm and patient in later years.

He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.

Let him sit alone and keep silence;

For He (God) hath laid the yoke upon him.

Let him place his mouth in the dust;

Perchance there is hope.

Let him offer his cheek to him that smiteth him;

Let him be filled to the full with reproach.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, but only if he bear it rightly. To attain this result, let him learn resignation, remembering who has laid the yoke upon him. This reverential silence is described Lamentations 3:29, as putting the mouth in the dust, and so lying prostrate before the Deity; while Lamentations 3:30 the harder task is imposed of bearing contumely with meekness (margin reference), and not shrinking from the last dregs of the cup of reproach. Many who submit readily to God are indignant when the suffering comes through men.

He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
Reasons for the resignation urged in the previous triplet.

But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
Neither does God approve of wanton cruelty inflicted by one man on another. Three examples are given: the treatment of prisoners of war; the procuring an unjust sentence before a legal tribunal acting in the name of God (see Exodus 21:6); and the perversion of justice generally.

To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Why then does a loving God, who disapproves of suffering when inflicted by man upon man, Himself send sorrow and misery? "Because of sins."

Lamentations 3:37

Literally, "Who is this that spake and it was done, though אדני 'ădonāy commanded it not?"

Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
In all this did not Job sin with his lips - See the notes at Job 1:22. This remark is made here perhaps in contrast with what occurred afterward. He subsequently did give utterance to improper sentiments, and was rebuked accordingly, but thus far what he had expressed was in accordance with truth, and with the feelings of most elevated piety.

Lamentations 3:39So long as God spares a man's life, why does he complain? The chastisement is really for his good; only let him use it aright, and he will be thankful for it in the end.

A man for the punishment of his sins - Translate: Let "each man sigh for," i. e. because of, "his sins." Instead of complaining because God sends him sorrow, let him rather mourn over the sins which have made punishment necessary. The sense of the King James Version is, Why does a man ... complain "for his sins?" i. e. for the necessary results of them in chastisement.

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
The prophet urges men to search out their faults and amend them.

Lamentations 3:40

And turn again to the Lord - Or, "and return to Yahweh." The prep. (to) in the Hebrew implies not half way, but the whole.

Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
Literally, "Let us lift up our heart unto our hands unto God in heaven;" as if the heart first lifted up the hands, and then with them mounted up in prayer to God. In real prayer the outward expression is caused by the emotion stirring within.

We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
In verses 43-66, far from pardoning, God is still actively punishing His people.

Rather, "Thou hast covered" Thyself "with wrath and pursued (Lamentations 1:3 note) us." The covering (here and in Lamentations 3:44) is that of clothing and enwrapping.

Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
Omit "as."

All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
Desolation - Or, devastation.

Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
The deep sympathy of the prophet, which pours itself forth in abundant tears over the distress of his people.

Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
Or, "Mine eye" causeth pain to my soul, i. e. maketh my soul ache, because of the sad fate of the maidens (Lamentations 1:4, Lamentations 1:18, ...).

Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
Or, "They who without cause are mine enemies have hunted me sore like a bird." Probably the prophet is speaking of his personal sorrows.

They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon - Or, "They destroyed my life in the pit," i. e. tried to destroy it by casting me into the cistern, and covering the month with a stone. See the margin reference.

Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
Waters flowed over mine head - A figurative expression for great mental trouble.

I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
A prayer for deliverance and for vengeance upon his enemies.

Lamentations 3:55

Out of the low dungeon - "The lowest pit" of Psalm 88:6. Some consider that Psalm 69 was composed by Jeremiah, and is the prayer referred to here (Jeremiah 38:6 note).

Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
Thou hast heard - In sending Ebedmelech to deliver me. The next clause signifies "Hide not thine ear to my relief to my cry," i. e. to my cry for relief.

Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
God now appears as the prophet's next of kin, pleading the lawsuits of his soul, i. e. the controversies which concern his salvation. and rescuing his life, in jeopardy through the malice of his enemies.

O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
Wrong - Done to him by the perversion of justice.

Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
Imaginations - Or, devices.

Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
Their sitting down, and their rising up - i. e. all the ordinary actions of their life.

Musick - Or, song, "the subject of it."

Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
The versions render the verbs in these verses as futures, "Thou shalt render unto them a recompence," etc.

Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
Give them sorrow of heart - Or, "Thou wilt give them" blindness "of heart."

Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
Persecute ... - Or, pursue them in anger and destroy them, etc.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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