Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Lamentations 3:1-21. Laments mingled with hope
For remarks upon (a) the character of this ch., (b) its more elaborate acrostic structure, and (c) its probable date see Intr. chs. 1 § 4, 2 § 4, 3 § 2.
The question which has most exercised commentators in connexion with the ch. is, whether we are to take the singular number, which prevails in it, as used (a) by an individual of himself, or (b) as representing the nation. Löhr, who (1893) followed Stade and Smend in adopting (b), “the community appearing under the figure of one who is visited severely by the Lord’s wrath,” has since (see Zeitschrift d. A. T. Wiss., 1894, pp. 1–16 and his ed. of 1907) accepted (with Budde) the other view. He further holds that the poem has a threefold origin. (i) Lamentations 3:1-24, before being brought to their acrostic shape, he considers to have formed a Psalm, not known otherwise, but quoted in its earlier stage by the author of Psalms 143, where Lamentations 3:3 is identical with Lamentations 3:6 here, only that there it is not yet acrosticized. (ii) Lamentations 3:52-66 he thinks are the words of another Psalm, surviving thus in its adapted form. (iii) The intermediate vv. (25–51) according to him are the composition of one living at a post-exilic date who desired to speak in the name of Jeremiah, and with the help of references to the sufferings of the prophet’s life to preach repentance. In support of this view he quotes many parallels, more or less convincing, with passages in Jeremiah. He supports his view as to the different origins of (i) and (ii) by pointing out that in (i) Jehovah is viewed as the enemy, in (ii) as the friend, in (i) as rejecting, in (ii) as hearkening to prayer. Moreover, in the former the poet is on the verge of despair, in the latter, he exhibits a consciousness of the hope inspired by Jehovah’s inherent justice. He adds that, while it is true that two such fundamentally distinct attitudes of religious thought might be experienced by the same man at different times in his life, he would not be likely himself to combine them in the same poem. Thus his theory needs the intermediate vv. (25–51) as the poet’s own. The above view, though not compelling acceptance as virtually certain (for the real change of tone from misery to hope comes in Lamentations 3:22), is yet not without some probability. On the other hand in support of the view that the community are the subject may be pleaded the analogy of the other poems in the Book, as in them the nation is clearly the subject. Ball, who adopts (b), remarks that in this ch. “the poet deals less with incident and more with the moral significance of the nation’s sufferings. If this be the application here, we may note a remarkable parallelism between the language descriptive of Zion in her misery and that used in the story of Job as the typical sufferer. Cp. Lamentations 3:2 with Job 12:25, Lamentations 3:15 with Job 9:18, Lamentations 3:16 with Lamentations 2:8, Lamentations 3:31 with Lamentations 5:18, and see further in Lamentations 3:7; Lamentations 3:12; Lamentations 3:30 below. It is the religious culmination of the book.” With regard to the theological tone of the ch. Löhr points out characteristic features in the middle portion of the three components, viz. (a) the universal sway of Jehovah, indicated in the title “the most High” (Lamentations 3:35; Lamentations 3:38), in accordance with which the evil and injustice that a man suffers from others cannot be wrought without His leave, and (b) the individuality of religion, as stamped upon each soul that seeketh the Lord (Lamentations 3:25) and has silently to bear His yoke (Lamentations 3:27 ff.). When these two features are combined, as here, then the conflict between personal consciousness and Jehovah’s omnipotence leads at once to the perplexing problem relating to the sufferings of the righteous. The narrator here does not pass beyond the general O.T. standpoint in explaining all suffering as punishment for sin and he has no counsel to offer but that of calm resignation and hope. Cp. Psalm 37:7. If the Lord sends calamity, yet He will have compassion later.
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.1. by the rod of his wrath] For the figure cp. Job 9:34; Job 21:9; Psalm 89:32; Isaiah 10:5. We should notice the absence of God’s name Lamentations 3:1-21, except in Lamentations 3:18, in contrast with its frequency afterwards, when a ground of hope is found in the Divine pity and purpose (Lamentations 3:22-40), and in the prayer of Lamentations 3:55-66.
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.
My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.4. Here commences a series of figures illustrating the miseries endured. They find many parallels in the Psalms and Job. For instances of the latter see Lamentations 3:7.
he hath broken my bones] For this phrase cp. Isaiah 38:13; Jeremiah 50:17.
He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.5. He hath builded against me, and compassed] Here as in Lamentations 3:3 we have to deal with the idiom by which two verbs are used where we should in English have a verb and adverb. Translate therefore He hath builded against me round about.
gall] See on Jeremiah 8:14. The combination with “travail” suggests some corruption in the text. Löhr adopts for his translation (though with some hesitation) bitterness and wormwood.
travail] weariness, hardship. From 1611 to the American edition of 1867 all editions of the Authorized Version had travel both here and in the case of Numbers 20:14. It was probably in comparatively recent times that the two modes of spelling came to be definitely appropriated to distinct meanings of the word.
He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.6. Identical with the last part of Psalm 143:3. See intr. note.
dark places] in the gloom of Sheol.
long dead] or, for ever dead, permanently forgotten, never able to return into the light of God’s favour.
He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.7. Cp. Job 19:8; so with Lamentations 3:8, Job 19:7; Job 30:20, and we may perhaps add with Lamentations 3:5, Job 19:12.
Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.9. hath made my paths crooked] The writer, seeing that the direct way was as it were blocked, tried side paths, but found that they also failed to lead him in the desired direction. The figure expresses perplexity and dismay.
He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.10. Not only misery, but active forms of danger present themselves. We find the bear and lion in conjunction also in Hosea 13:8.
He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.11. He hath driven me from the path, and then sprung upon me and devoured me.
desolate] appalled, stupified. Cp. Lamentations 4:5; akin to the word rendered “astonishment” in Jeremiah 5:30 (mg.), Jeremiah 18:16.
He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.12, 13. Jehovah is now likened not to the beast of prey, but to the hunter. Cp. Job 16:12 f.
He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.13. shafts] lit. as mg. the more poetical sons.
reins] See on Jeremiah 12:2.
I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.14. a derision] See on Jeremiah 20:7 f., and cp. Job 12:4; Job 30:1-9; Psalm 69:12.
He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.15. wormwood] See on Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15.
He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.16. broken my teeth with gravel stones] The metaphor from food is continued. The prophet is like one whose teeth are worn away by the continued action of grit mixed with his bread. Cp. Proverbs 20:17.
And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.17. thou hast removed (mg. cast off) my soul] The change to the second person is abrupt. LXX have “he has thrust away,” the Syr. (and so Targ.) “my soul is thrust away,” but, as Pe. remarks, this is improbable in view of Lamentations 3:31. The writer there, however, need not be the same as here; see intr. note. By adopting the 3rd person we should avoid the introduction of a direct address to God, which seems not to come earlier than Lamentations 3:19.
And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.19. God is now directly invoked.
misery] mg. wandering, or, outcast state.
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.21. This and the previous v. are akin in thought to Psalm 42:4-5 (Hebrews 5, 6), and, inasmuch as the words there corresponding to This I recall of the present passage have reference to that which follows, these words also are made (so Löhr and Pe.) to relate to the more hopeful thoughts that come in Lamentations 3:22 and onwards. But the structure of the poem, Lamentations 3:21 being the third (and last) of its group, and the previous context form an argument that the last words of Lamentations 3:20 are what the prophet recalls for his comfort. The humility arising from sin dwelt upon and acknowledged produces in due course a sense that contrition will be accepted and deliverance granted. Hence arises the change of tone in the section which follows.
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.22, 23. There are metrical irregularities in these vv. as they stand. We should probably (with Löhr) read the first, “The Lord’s compassion ceaseth not”; “His love is not spent,” and the second, which is now too short in its first part, we may safely extend by supplying from the former clause “New is thy compassion every morning.”
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.24. The Lord is my portion] a frequent expression in the Psalms (Psalm 16:5, Psalm 73:26, Psalm 119:57, Psalm 142:5).
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.25–27. Good is the leading word of this group. The knowledge of the Lord’s goodness (25) is that which (26) makes it good that man should be hopeful and submissive and (27) makes him also to recognise the moral good that comes of suffering. Löhr and Pe. cp. Romans 5:3-5. “These vv. have the ring of autobiography” (Dummelow). Cp.
“Nor less I deem …
That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness.”
Wordsworth, Expostulation and Reply (Poems of Sentiment and Reflection).
25–51. See intr. note.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.27. in his youth] in the time when his passions are strongest and therefore most need the discipline, which, if established in its seat then, will hold sway throughout his life. The words by no means imply that the writer was young at the time he used them. Rather he is looking back through a long life of trouble and the experience which he has gained in the course of it. Cp. Hebrews 12:7-11.
He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.28. The hortative form is better than mg. He sitteth alone, etc. For sitting alone in grief, cp. Jeremiah 15:17. The connexion is, inasmuch as suffering is really attended with benefit to the sufferer, let him submit readily to it.
hath laid] The subject is God.
He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.29. Let him put his mouth in the dust] the Eastern way of expressing absolute submission by prostrating oneself.
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.30. Let him give his cheek] Cp. Job 16:10; Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 5:39.
For the Lord will not cast off for ever:31. Cp. Psalm 30:5 (with mg.), Psalm 77:7 ff., Psalm 103:9; Isaiah 57:16; Micah 7:18.
31–33. This group contains the three thoughts which produce the resignation, (a) because punishment will be only for a time (cp. Isaiah 54:8), (b) because God is by nature merciful, (c) because even in punishment it is in no angry or vindictive spirit that God acts.
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.33. willingly] lit. as mg. from his heart.
To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,34–36. Three species of wrong-doing on the part of the victorious oppressor are here enumerated; (a) To treat prisoners with cruelty, (b) To give an unrighteous decision at law: for the judges as representing God were called by His name (e.g. Exodus 21:6 with mg.; see Psalm 82:1; Psalm 82:6), and hence the expression “before the face of the Most High,” (c) To defraud a man of his legal rights (which might be done without an actual trial). The sense of the whole will depend upon the view we take of the last words. They may be rendered either, (i) as a question, Doth not the Lord regard (such acts)? so Löhr, following Böttcher and Nöldeke, or (ii) as R.V. mg. seeth not. Hesitation as to rendering the Heb. verb thus might be met by the change of one consonant (raẓah = approve for ra’ah, see).
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?37. Cp. Psalm 33:9.
37–39. The order of thought in this group is, All events are absolutely in the hands of God. Thus calamity and prosperity come in response to His command. But it is man’s sin that procures for him the former; he therefore may not complain.
Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?38. Cp. Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6.
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?39. The E.VV., making the whole line to be a question, are more in consonance with the construction of the two earlier members of the group, than is the other proposed rendering, viz. Of what should a living man complain? Each (should complain) of his sins. In that case we should require mourn rather than “complain.”
living] i.e. why should a man murmur at misfortunes, when they are due to him for his sin?
a man … his sins] mg. (less well) a man that is in his sins.
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.40–42. Let us search] As it is through our sins that this evil is come upon us, let us (40) seek out what has been amiss in us and repent, (41) place ourselves before God in prayer, (42) confess our sin.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.41. with our hands] Cp. Exodus 9:33; 1 Kings 8:22.
We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.42. We … thou] The pronouns are emphatic in the original. Thou and we have been at variance.
thou … pardoned] Observe how this clause forms a connecting link with the next group; similarly “mine eye” in Lamentations 3:48.
Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.43. covered] mg., better, covered thyself. Thou hast clothed thyself in wrath. This accords with the next line.
Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.44. That Jehovah is veiled by darkness from human eyes is a thought which frequently meets us. See 1 Kings 8:12; Psalm 97:2; Isaiah 45:15.
Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.45. For the thought cp. Nahum 3:6; 1 Corinthians 4:13. It was exemplified in the Middle Ages in England and elsewhere (see Ivanhoe) and is still to be seen in Eastern Europe in the Judenhetze.
All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.46. On the peculiarity of the alphabetic arrangement here see Intr., p. 321, and for this v. cp. ch. Lamentations 2:16.
Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.47. Fear and the pit] See on Jeremiah 48:43, of which this reminds us, and cp. Isaiah 24:17 f.
devastation] mg. tumult. The original word occurs here only.
Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.48. runneth down with rivers of water] a still stronger expression than that of Lamentations 1:16, where see note. Cp. Jeremiah 13:17; Psalm 119:136.
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,49. ceaseth not] Cp. Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 14:17.
Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.50. Till the Lord look down etc.] Cp. Isaiah 63:15.
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.51. affecteth my soul] The inflammation of eyes caused by continual weeping, or, better, the sights of misery on which he looks, add to his mental suffering.
the daughters of my city] either those whose untoward fate has been already lamented (Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:18, Lamentations 2:10; Lamentations 2:21), or the villages, daughter towns of Jerusalem. For this sense cp. (with mg.) Numbers 21:25; Joshua 17:11. In Psalm 48:11 “daughters” has the same sense.
Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.52–54. There is a possible reference on the part of the writer to Jeremiah 38:6, but this is rendered unlikely by the fact that the “dungeon” had no water in it, and thus Lamentations 3:54 is inapplicable. The use of the singular “stone” in Lamentations 3:53 is difficult to understand, unless it refers to covering thus the mouth of a pit.
52–66. See intr. note.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.54. Waters flowed over mine head] figuratively. So in Psalm 42:7; Psalm 69:2, which latter Ps. was traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah.
I am cut off] Cp. Psalm 31:22; Psalm 88:5; 2 Chronicles 26:21; Isaiah 53:8.
I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.56. The word rendered “breathing” occurs but once elsewhere (Exodus 8:15 [Heb. Lamentations 3:11]), and has there the sense of respite, relief. Accordingly Ewald proposes (by a change of one consonant) to render my cry, and consider “at my cry” to be a gloss.
Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.57. Thou drewest near] Cp. Psalm 145:18.
O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.58. thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul] The enemy are likened to opponents in a suit at law. The Lord has been the writer’s successful advocate against them. He is therefore invoked once again to defeat them.
O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.60, 61. Cp. Jeremiah 11:19.
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.62. The lips] i.e. the utterances, governed by Thou heardest of Lamentations 3:61.
Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.63. song] Cp. Job 30:9.
their sitting down, and their rising up] their whole course of life. Cp. Psalm 139:2.
Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.64–66. For the anticipation of punishment here expressed see on Jeremiah 18:23; C.B. (Kirkpatrick) on Psalm 28:4.
Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.65. hardness] or, as mg. blindness, Heb. covering. Cp. 2 Corinthians 3:15.
thy curse unto them] dependent on “wilt give,” or meaning, thy curse shall be unto them. Either of these explanations is more in accordance with the context than to make the clause an imprecation, May thy curse be upon them!
Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.