Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
CHAPTER (ELEGY) 3
Jeremiah proposes his own experience under afflictions, as an example as to how the Jews should behave under theirs, so as to have hope of a restoration; hence the change from singular to plural (La 3:22, 40-47). The stanzas consist of three lines, each of which begins with the same Hebrew letter.
1-3. seen affliction—his own in the dungeon of Malchiah (Jer 38:6); that of his countrymen also in the siege. Both were types of that of Christ.
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.
3. turneth … hand—to inflict again and again new strokes. "His hand," which once used to protect me. "Turned … turneth" implies repeated inflictions.
My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
4-6. (Job 16:8).
He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
5. builded—mounds, as against a besieged city, so as to allow none to escape (so La 3:7, 9).
He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
6. set me—Henderson refers this to the custom of placing the dead in a sitting posture.
dark places—sepulchers. As those "dead long since"; so Jeremiah and his people are consigned to oblivion (Ps 88:5, 6; 143:3; Eze 37:13).
He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
7-9. hedged—(Job 3:23; Ho 2:6).
chain—literally, "chain of brass."
Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
8. shutteth out—image from a door shutting out any entrance (Job 30:20). So the antitype. Christ (Ps 22:2).
He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
9. hewn stone—which coheres so closely as not to admit of being broken through.
paths crooked—thwarted our plans and efforts so that none went right.
He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
10-13. (Job 10:16; Ho 13:7, 8).
He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
11. turned aside—made me wander out of the right way, so as to become a prey to wild beasts.
pulled in pieces—(Ho 6:1), as a "bear" or a "lion" (La 3:10).
He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
12. (Job 7:20).
He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
13-15. arrows—literally, "sons" of His quiver (compare Job 6:4).
I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
14. (Jer 20:7).
their song—(Ps 69:12). Jeremiah herein was a type of Messiah. "All my people" (Joh 1:11).
He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
15. wormwood—(Jer 9:15). There it is regarded as food, namely, the leaves: here as drink, namely, the juice.
He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
16-18. gravel—referring to the grit that often mixes with bread baked in ashes, as is the custom of baking in the East (Pr 20:17). We fare as hardly as those who eat such bread. The same allusion is in "Covered me with ashes," namely, as bread.
And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
17. Not only present, but all hope of future prosperity is removed; so much so, that I am as one who never was prosperous ("I forgat prosperity").
And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
18. from the Lord—that is, my hope derived from Him (Ps 31:22).
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
19-21. This gives the reason why he gave way to the temptation to despair. The Margin, "Remember" does not suit the sense so well.
wormwood … gall—(Jer 9:15).
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
20. As often as my soul calls them to remembrance, it is humbled or bowed down in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
21. This—namely, what follows; the view of the divine character (La 3:22, 23). Calvin makes "this" refer to Jeremiah's infirmity. His very weakness (La 3:19, 20) gives him hope of God interposing His strength for him (compare Ps 25:11, 17; 42:5, 8; 2Co 12:9, 10).
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
22-24. (Mal 3:6).
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
23. (Isa 33:2).
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
24. (Nu 18:20; Ps 16:5; 73:26; 119:57; Jer 10:16). To have God for our portion is the one only foundation of hope.
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
25-27. The repetition of "good" at the beginning of each of the three verses heightens the effect.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
26. quietly wait—literally, "be in silence." Compare La 3:28 and Ps 39:2, 9, that is, to be patiently quiet under afflictions, resting in the will of God (Ps 37:7). So Aaron (Le 10:2, 3); and Job (Job 40:4, 5).
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
27. yoke—of the Lord's disciplinary teaching (Ps 90:12; 119:71). Calvin interprets it, The Lord's doctrine (Mt 11:29, 30), which is to be received in a docile spirit. The earlier the better; for the old are full of prejudices (Pr 8:17; Ec 12:1). Jeremiah himself received the yoke, both of doctrine and chastisement in his youth (Jer 1:6, 7).
He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
28-30. The fruit of true docility and patience. He does not fight against the yoke (Jer 31:18; Ac 9:5), but accommodates himself to it.
alone—The heathen applauded magnanimity, but they looked to display and the praise of men. The child of God, in the absence of any witness, "alone," silently submits to the will of God.
borne it upon him—that is, because he is used to bearing it on him. Rather, "because He (the Lord, La 3:26) hath laid it on him" [Vatablus].
He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
29. (Job 42:6). The mouth in the dust is the attitude of suppliant and humble submission to God's dealings as righteous and loving in design (compare Ezr 9:6; 1Co 14:25).
if so be there may be hope—This does not express doubt as to whether God be willing to receive the penitent, but the penitent's doubt as to himself; he whispers to himself this consolation, "Perhaps there may be hope for me."
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
30. Messiah, the Antitype, fulfilled this; His practice agreeing with His precept (Isa 50:6; Mt 5:39). Many take patiently afflictions from God, but when man wrongs them, they take it impatiently. The godly bear resignedly the latter, like the former, as sent by God (Ps 17:13).
For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
31-33. True repentance is never without hope (Ps 94:14).
But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
32. The punishments of the godly are but for a time.
For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
33. He does not afflict any willingly (literally, "from His heart," that is, as if He had any pleasure in it, Eze 33:11), much less the godly (Heb 12:10).
To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
34-36. This triplet has an infinitive in the beginning of each verse, the governing finite verb being in the end of La 3:36, "the Lord approveth not," which is to be repeated in each verse. Jeremiah here anticipates and answers the objections which the Jews might start, that it was by His connivance they were "crushed under the feet" of those who "turned aside the right of a man." God approves (literally, "seeth," Hab 1:13; so "behold," "look on," that is, look on with approval) not of such unrighteous acts; and so the Jews may look for deliverance and the punishment of their foes.
To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
35. before … face of … most High—Any "turning aside" of justice in court is done before the face of God, who is present, and "regardeth," though unseen (Ec 5:8).
To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
36. subvert—to wrong.
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
37-39. Who is it that can (as God, Ps 33:9) effect by a word anything, without the will of God?
Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
38. evil … good—Calamity and prosperity alike proceed from God (Job 2:10; Isa 45:7; Am 3:6).
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
39. living—and so having a time yet given him by God for repentance. If sin were punished as it deserves, life itself would be forfeited by the sinner. "Complaining" (murmuring) ill becomes him who enjoys such a favor as life (Pr 19:3).
for the punishment of his sins—Instead of blaming God for his sufferings, he ought to recognize in them God's righteousness and the just rewards of his own sin.
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
40-42. us—Jeremiah and his fellow countrymen in their calamity.
search—as opposed to the torpor wherewith men rest only on their outward sufferings, without attending to the cause of them (Ps 139:23, 24).
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
41. heart with … hands—the antidote to hypocrisy (Ps 86:4; 1Ti 2:8).
We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
42. not pardoned—The Babylonian captivity had not yet ended.
Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
43-45. covered—namely, thyself (so La 3:44), so as not to see and pity our calamities, for even the most cruel in seeing a sad spectacle are moved to pity. Compare as to God "hiding His face," Ps 10:11; 22:25.
Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
44. (La 3:8). The "cloud" is our sins, and God's wrath because of them (Isa 44:22; 59:2).
Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
45. So the apostles were treated; but, instead of murmuring, they rejoiced at it (1Co 4:13).
All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
46-48. Pe is put before Ain (La 3:43, 46), as in La 2:16, 17; 4:16, 17. (La 2:16.)
Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
47. Like animals fleeing in fear, we fall into the snare laid for us.
Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
48. (Jer 4:19).
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
49-51. without … intermission—or else, "because there is no intermission" [Piscator], namely, of my miseries.
Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
50. Till—His prayer is not without hope, wherein it differs from the blind grief of unbelievers.
look down, &c.—(Isa 63:15).
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
51. eye affecteth mine heart—that is, causeth me grief with continual tears; or, "affecteth my life" (literally, "soul," Margin), that is, my health [Grotius].
daughters of … city—the towns around, dependencies of Jerusalem, taken by the foe.
Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
52-54. a bird—which is destitute of counsel and strength. The allusion seems to be to Pr 1:17 [Calvin].
without cause—(Ps 69:4; 109:3, 4). Type of Messiah (Joh 15:25).
They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
53. in … dungeon—(Jer 37:16).
stone—usually put at the mouth of a dungeon to secure the prisoners (Jos 10:18; Da 6:17; Mt 27:60).
Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
54. Waters—not literally, for there was "no water" (Jer 38:6) in the place of Jeremiah's confinement, but emblematical of overwhelming calamities (Ps 69:2; 124:4, 5).
cut off—(Isa 38:10, 11). I am abandoned by God. He speaks according to carnal sense.
I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
55-57. I called out of dungeon—Thus the spirit resists the flesh, and faith spurns the temptation [Calvin], (Ps 130:1; Jon 2:2).
Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
56. Thou hast heard—namely formerly (so in La 3:57, 58).
breathing … cry—two kinds of prayer; the sigh of a prayer silently breathed forth, and the loud, earnest cry (compare "prayer," "secret speech," Isa 26:16, Margin; with "cry aloud," Ps 55:17).
Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
57. Thou drewest near—with Thy help (Jas 4:8).
O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
58-60. Jeremiah cites God's gracious answers to his prayers as an encouragement to his fellow countrymen, to trust in Him.
pleaded—(Ps 35:1; Mic 7:9).
O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
59. God's past deliverances and His knowledge of Judah's wrongs are made the grounds of prayer for relief.
Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
60. imaginations—devices (Jer 11:19).
Their vengeance—means their malice. Jeremiah gives his conduct, when plotted against by his foes, as an example how the Jews should bring their wrongs at the hands of the Chaldeans before God.
Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
61-63. their reproach—their reproachful language 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.
63. sitting down … rising up—whether they sit or rise, that is, whether they be actively engaged or sedentary, and at rest "all the day" (La 3:62), I am the subject of their derisive songs (La 3:14).
Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
64-66. (Jer 11:20; 2Ti 4:14).
Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
65. sorrow—rather, blindness or hardness; literally, "a veil" covering their heart, so that they may rush on to their own ruin (Isa 6:10; 2Co 3:14, 15).
Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
66. from under … heavens of … Lord—destroy them so that it may be seen everywhere under heaven that thou sittest above as Judge of the world.