Lamentations 3
Pulpit Commentary
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
Verses 1-21. - MONOLOGUE SPOKEN BY AN INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER WHOSE FATE IS BOUND UP WITH THAT OF THE NATION; OR PERHAPS BY THE NATION PERSONIFIED (see Introduction). Verse 1. - Seen. "To see" in Hebrew often means "to experience;" e.g. Jeremiah 5:12; Psalm 16:10; Ecclesiastes 8:16. By the rod of his wrath. The idea is, not that Babylon has humbled Israel as Jehovah's instrument, but that God himself has brought these troubles upon his people. "He had led me, hath hedged me about," etc.
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.
Verse 3. - Is he turned; he turneth; rather, he turneth again and again.
My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
Verse 4. - Made old; more literally, worn away, as a garment (comp. Isaiah 50:9; Isaiah 51:6). Broken my bones. So Job complains, "His wrath teareth and persecuteth me" (Job 16:9); and, a still closer parallel, Hezekiah, "As a lion, so will he break all my bones" (Isaiah 38:13). Comp. Psalm 51:8, "The bones which thou hast broken."
He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
Verse 5. - He hath builded against me, and compassed me. A figure from the siege of a town. Gall. For the true meaning of the word, see on Jeremiah 8:14. We need not trouble ourselves about it here, for the word is evidently used as a kind of "ideograph" for bitterness. Travel; literally, weariness.
He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
Verse 6. - This verse is verbally reproduced in Psalm 143:3. In dark places; i.e. in Hades (comp. Psalm 88:7). As they that be dead of old. A strange comparison; for what difference can it make whether the dead are men of the ancient or the modern world? The rendering, however, though perfectly admissible, is less suitable to the context than as they that are forever dead; who have entered "the land from which there is no return" (an Assyrian title of Hades). Comp. "the everlasting house," i.e. the grave (Ecclesiastes 12:5), "the everlasting sleep" (Jeremiah 51:39, 57).
He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
Verses 7-9. - Three figures, interrupted by a literal statement of the ill success of prayer. A traveller who finds himself suddenly caged up by a high thorn hedge (comp. Job 3:23; Hosea 2:6). A prisoner with a heavy chain. Again, a traveller suddenly shut up by solid stone walls (comp. Hosea 2:8). Verse 7. - My chain; literally, my brass (comp. Judges 16:21; 2 Kings 25:7).
Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
Verse 8. - He shutteth out my prayer. There is a kind of barrier through which these futile prayers cannot penetrate (comp. on ver. 44).
He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
Verse 9. - Inclosed; or, walled up; the participle of this verb is rendered "masons" in the Authorized Version of 2 Kings 12:12. Made my paths crooked; i.e. hath compelled me to walk in byways (comp. margin of the Authorized Version, Judges 5:6). But this hardly seems appropriate to the context. The semitas meas subvertit of the Vulgate is preferable. Render, therefore, turned my path upside down (comp. Isaiah 24:1). An analogous expression m Job 30:13 is rendered in the Authorized Version, "they mar my path." Thenius thinks that the destruction of a raised causeway is the figure intended; but the word is quite correctly rendered "paths;" see the note of Delitzsch on REFERENCE_WORK:Keil & DelitzschIsaiah 59:8.
He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
Verse 10. - Was; rather, is. As a a lion. The comparison of the enemy to a lion is not uncommon; see e.g. Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 5:6 (see note); 49:19; 1:44; Psalm 10:9; Psalm 17:12; Job 10:16. The bear is only once mentioned in such a context (Hosea 13:8). The two latter passages may possibly have been in the mind of the writer, as Jehovah is in both the subject of the comparison.
He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
Verse 11. - Hath turned aside my ways; i.e. hath caused me to go astray. Comp. Psalm 146:9, "The way of the ungodly he maketh crooked," i.e. he leadeth them to destruction. Made me desolate; or, made me stunned ("astonied," Ezra 9:3 in our Bible). So Lamentations 1:13, 16.
He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
Verse 12. - Set me as a mark. Precisely as Job complains of Jehovah, "He hath set me up for his mark" (Job 16:13).
He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
Verse 13. - This verse seems strangely short - it consists of only four words in the Hebrew, Probably something like "his weapons," or "the weapons of death" (Psalm 7:13), has fallen out. Restore them, and the verse becomes a two-membered one, like its companions. To enter into my reins. So Job (Job 16:12), "He cleaveth my reins asunder." "Reins," equivalent to "inward parts," like "heart," with which it is often combined; e.g. Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12.
I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
Verse 14. - A derision to all my people. If the text-reading is correct, these are the words of Jeremiah (or one like Jeremiah), describing the ill return accorded to his friendly admonitions. But the Massora mention Psalm 144:2; 2 Samuel 22:44; Lamentations 3:14, as passages in which "my people" is used, whereas we should expect "peoples." The Syriac Version of our passage actually translates "to all peoples," and the prefixed "all" certainly favours the plural, and so, in a far higher degree, does the view we have been led to adopt of the speaker of this Lamentation (see Introduction). The correction (ammim for ammi) has been received by Archbishop Seeker, by Ewald, and by J. Olshausen. Their song. A reminiscence of Job 30:9.
He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
Verse 15. - With bitterness; literally, with bitternesses; i.e. bitter troubles. A reminiscence of Job 9:18. With wormwood; i.e. with a drink of wormwood (comp. Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15). We are slightly reminded of Psalm 69:21, "They gave me gall for my meat."
He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
Verse 16. - He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones; i.e. he hath (unnatural as it may seem in Israel's Father) given me stones instead of bread (comp. Matthew 7:9). The Jewish rabbi commonly called Rashi thinks that a historical fact is preserved in these words, and that the Jewish exiles were really obliged to eat bread mixed with grit, because they had to bake in pits dug in the ground. So too many later commentators, e.g. Grotius, who compares a passage of Seneca ('De Benefie.,' 2:7), "Beneficium superbe datum simile est pani lapidoso." He hath covered me with ashes; rather, he hath pressed me down into ashes. A figurative expression for great humiliation. So in the Talmud the Jewish nation is described as "pressed down into ashes" ('Bereshith Rabba,' 75).
And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
Verse 17. - Thou hast removed my soul; rather, thou hast rejected my soul. The words look like a quotation from Psalm 88:14 (Hebrew, 15), where they are undoubtedly an address to Jehovah. But there is another rendering, which grammatically is equally tenable, and which avoids the strangely abrupt address to God, viz. My soul is rejected (from peace).
And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
Verses 19-21. - These verses prepare the way for a brief interval of calmness and resignation. Verse 19. - Remembering; rather, remember. It is the language of prayer.
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
Verse 20. - My soul, etc. This rendering is difficult. In the next verse we read, "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope," which seems inconsistent with ver. 20 as given in the Authorized Version. An equally grammatical and still more obvious translation is, Thou (O God!) wilt surely remember, for my soul is bowed down within me. The latter part of the line is a reminiscence of Psalm 42:5, at least, if the text be correct, for the closing words do not cohere well with the opening ones. The Peshito (Syriac) has, "Remember, and revive [literally, 'cause to return'] my soul within me," which involves a slightly different reading of one word. But more tempting than any other view of the meaning is that of Bickell, though it involves a correction and an insertion, "My soul remembereth well and meditateth on thy faithfulness."
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
Verse 21. - This I recall to my mind, etc.; viz. that thou wilt remember me, or, thy faithfulness (ver. 20). Here again there appears to be a reminiscence of a passage in Psalm 42. (ver. 4). Others suppose that "this" refers to the following verses; but in this case a new section would begin in the middle of a triad (the triad of verses beginning with zayin), which is certainly improbable.
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
Verses 22-36. - RESIGNATION AND HOPEFULNESS. Verse 22. - It is of the Lord's mercies, etc.; literally, The Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. But the "we" is difficult, especially considering that in ver. 23 (which is clearly parallel) the subject of the sentence is, not "we," but "the Lord's mercies." Hence it is probable that the reading of the Targum and the Peshite (adopted by Thenius, Ewald, and Bickell) is correct, "The Lord's mercies, verily they cease not" (tammu for tamnu).
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
Verse 24. - The Lord is my Portion. A reminiscence of Psalm 16:5 (comp. 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.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
Verse 26. - Should both hope and quietly wait; rather, should wait in silence. "Silence" is an expression of the psalmist's (the Lamentations are psalms) for resignation to the will of God; comp. Psalm 62:1 (Hebrew, 2); Psalms 65:1 (Hebrew, 2), and see Authorized Version, margin. The thought of the verse is that of Psalm 37:7.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
Verse 27. - In his youth. The thought of this verse reminds us of Psalm 119:71. Youth is mentioned as the time when it is easier to adapt one's self to circumstances, and when discipline is most readily accepted. The words do not prove that the writer is young, any more than vers. 9 and 100 of Psalm 119. prove that the psalmist was an aged man (against this view, see vers. 84-87). There is no occasion, therefore, for the textual alteration (for as such I cannot help regarding it), "from his youth," found in some Hebrew manuscripts in Theodotion, in the Aldine edition of the Septuagint, and in the Vulgate. The reading was probably dictated by the unconscious endeavour to prop up the theory of Jeremiah's authorship. The scribes and translators remembered, inopportunely, that the trials of Jeremiah began in early manhood.
He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
Verses 28-30. - He sitteth alone, etc.; rather, Let him sit alone... let him keep silence (ver. 28)... let him put (ver. 29)... let him give... let him be filled (ver. 30). The connection is - since it is good for a man to be afflicted, let him sit still, when trouble is sent, and resign himself to bear it. Verse 28. - Because he hath borne it; rather, when he (viz. God) hath laid it.
He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
Verse 29. - He putteth his mouth, etc. An Oriental manner of expressing submission (comp. Micah 7:17; Psalm 72:9).
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
Verse 30. - He giveth his cheek. Notice the striking affinity (which is hardly accidental) to Job 16:10; Isaiah 1:6. The ideal of the righteous man, according to these kindred books, contains, as one of its most prominent features, the patient endurance of affliction; and so too does the same ideal, received and amplified by the greatest "Servant of Jehovah" (Matthew 5:39).
For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
Verses 31-33. - Two grounds of comfort:

(1) the trouble is only for a time, and God will have compassion again (vers. 31, 32); and

(2) God does not afflict in a malicious spirit (ver. 33).
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.
Verse 33. - Willingly; literally, from his heart.
To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
Verses 34-39. - These two triads form a transition to the renewed complaints and appeals for help in the following verses. The first triad is probably an amplification of the statement that "the Lord doth not afflict willingly." This being the case, the injustice which darkens human life cannot be approved by him. Verse 34. - To crush, etc. With manifest reference to the cruelties of the Babylonian conquerors of the Jews.
To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
Verse 35. - Before the face of the most High. In ancient phraseology, to bring a case before the judges was to bring it "unto the deity" (el ha-'elohim), Exodus 21:6; comp. 22:8; or (as the Septuagint in one passage paraphrases it, "unto God's judgment place," i.e. to a sacred spot where judges held their session.
To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
Verse 36. - Approveth not. The sense is an excellent one, but it is very doubtful whether it can be obtained without altering one of the letters of the word in the text (reading racah for ra'ah). The text reading is, "the Lord seeth not." This may be explained either as "the Lord regardeth not (such thing)," or as a question, "Doth not the Lord regard (this)?"
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Verses 37-54. - EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE; RENDERED, LAMENTATION. Verses 37, 38. - True, God does not desire our misfortunes. But equally true is it that they do not happen without his express permission (comp. Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). Verse 37. - That saith, and it cometh to pass (comp. Psalm 33:9; Genesis 1:3, etc.).
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?
Verse 39. - Wherefore cloth a living man complain, etc.? The God of whom the poet speaks is the Searcher of hearts. Why, then, should a man complain when he knows that he deserves his punishment? The close of the verse should run, (Let) a man (rather sigh) over his sins.
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
Verses 40-51. - Confession of sin, followed by sighs and groans. Verse 40. - Let us search. Our troubles being caused by our sins, let us search them out and correct them.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
Verse 41. - Our heart with our hands. It is to be sincere prayer; "spreading out the hands" is not enough by itself (Isaiah 1:25).
We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
Verse 42. - We... thou. The pronouns are expressed in the Hebrew, and are meant to be spoken with emphasis.
Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
Verse 43. - Thou hast covered with anger. The clause seems imperfect; perhaps "thyself" has fallen out of the text (see next verse).
Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
Verse 44. - That our prayer should not pass through. So Isaiah 58:4, "Ye do not so fast at this time as to make your voice to be heard on high;" Psalm 55:1, "Hide not. thyself from my supplication."
Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
Verses 46-48. - Here occurs a break in the alphabetic order, as these three verses begin, not, as they should, with ayin, but with pe (see Introduction). Verse 46. - This verse is almost a verbal repetition of the first line of Lamentations 2:16.
Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
Verse 47. - Fear and a snare. An alliteration in the Hebrew, borrowed from Jeremiah 48:43 (comp. Isaiah 24:17).
Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
Verse 48. - Runneth down, etc. (comp. Lamentations 1:16).
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
Verse 49. - Trickleth down; rather, poureth down. Ceaseth not; literally, is not silent (comp. Jeremiah 14:17).
Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
Verse 51. - Affecteth mine heart; rather, paineth me; literally, paineth my soul, the soul being mentioned as the centre of the feelings and emotions. The daughters of my city. The sad fate of the virgins of Jerusalem oppressed the spirit of the writer (pomp. Lamentations 1:4, 18; Lamentations 2:10, 21).
Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
Verses 52-66. - THE SPEAKER'S SUFFERINGS; AN EARNESTLY BELIEVING PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE. He speaks as a representative of the nation; if we should not rather say that the nation itself, personified, is the speaker. In the first triad some have supposed a reference to the persecution suffered by Jeremiah at the hands of his countrymen. The "dungeon," or rather "pit," will in this case be the "dungeon" ("pit") mentioned in Jeremiah 38:6. But a "pit" is a figure in the psalms for destruction (Psalm 40:2; Psalm 69:15), and there is nothing recorded in Jeremiah as to the" princes" haying cast stones at Jeremiah, or rolled a stone on to the top of the "pit." Besides, the "pit" into which the prophet was cast had "no water, but mire." Verse 52. - Mine enemies... without cause. These words ought to be connected, as in the Hebrew.
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.
Verse 54. - I am cut off. Some words have to be supplied, and Psalm 31:22 suggests which these are: - "I am cut off from before thine eyes," i.e. from the region on which the eyes of God rest.
I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
Verse 55. - I called. Bunsen renders, "Then I called." But there is no connection indicated in the Hebrew between this and the preceding triad. Out of the low dungeon; literally, out of the pit of the lower parts (of the earth) - a phrase borrowed from Psalm 88:6 (Hebrew, 7). Sheol, or Hades, is signified.
Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
Verse 56. - At my breathing; rather, at my sighing; literally, at my relieving myself.
Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
Verse 57. - Thou drewest near, etc. The sacred poet reminds Jehovah of his former gracious interpositions.
O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
Verse 58. - Thou hast pleaded, etc. The reference is still to a former state of things which came to an end. It would make this plainer if we were to alter the rendering, Thou didst plead... thou didst redeem. The speaker likens his case to that of a poor man who is opposed at law by a rich oppressor, and who, for want of an advocate, will, to all appearance, become his victim. Suddenly Jehovah appeared and supplied this want. Such are God's "wonders of old time."
O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
Verse 59. - Thou hast seen my wrong. Here the speaker returns to the present. This is clear from the following words: Judge thou my cause.
Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
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.
Verse 62. - The lips stand here for "the fruit of the lips;" and the verb which governs the nouns is "thou hast heard," in the preceding verse.
Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
Verse 63. - Their sitting down, and their rising up. Elsewhere the phrase is a comprehensive expression for all a man's occupations (comp. Psalm 139:2; Isaiah 37:28). I am their music; rather, their song; i.e. the subject of their taunting songs, p. in the parallel passage, Job 30:9; comas Psalm 69:12 (Hebrew, 13).
Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
Verse 64. - Render unto them, etc. The sacred poet is familiar with the psalms; here we have a condensation of Psalm 28:4. The tone of vers. 64-66 reminds us of passages in the Book of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 18:23; Jeremiah 20:12);
Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
Verse 65. - Sorrow of heart; rather, a covering of the heart; spiritual blindness, like the "veil upon the heart" in 2 Corinthians 3:15. Thy curse unto them. This should rather form a separate interjectional clause, "Thy curse upon them!"

Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
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