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LAMENTATIONS CHAPTER 3
The faithful bewail their misery and contempt, Lamentations 3:1-21. They nourish their hope by consideration of the justice, providence, and mercies of God, Lamentations 3:22-38. They stir up themselves to repentance, patience, prayers, and confidence of deliverance for themselves, and Divine vengeance on their enemies, Lamentations 3:39-66.
Some understand this of the prophet, some of the people, who were before set out under the notion of a woman, a daughter, here of a man.
Affliction must here be taken emphatically for eminent degrees of affliction, caused not merely from the power and malice of the enemy, but from the wrath of God, though brought upon them by the Chaldeans, who were to the two tribes the rod of God’s wrath, as the Assyrians are called with reference to the ten tribes, Isaiah 10:5.
Darkness in Scripture (metaphorically taken) signifies ignorance, sin, and misery; and light signifies knowledge, a state of grace, or a state of mirth and jollity; they are both here taken in the latter sense, as light is taken, Esther 8:16; Micah 7:8; Job 18:5; Psalms 97:11; and also darkness is used, Jeremiah 13:16; 2 Samuel 22:29; Proverbs 20:20; Joel 2:2; Ezekiel 32:8. The sense is, God hath not brought me into a joyful and prosperous, but into a sad and calamitous, estate and condition.
The course of God’s providence toward me is quite altered, his hand, that is, his power, which was wont to be with me, and for me, against my enemies, is now turned against me; nor is it for a moment, or for one stroke or two, but his hand is continually against me.
I was a virgin, young and fair, but I am quite altered, and am now as an old woman whose flesh is decayed, and my skin wrinkled; all my beauty is gone, and all my strength is gone; my bones, those in whom my strength consisted, are slain and broken.
He hath not builded with me, increasing my prosperity, and protecting my houses, but he hath builded forts, and batteries, and castles, (military buildings,) to batter down my walls and houses, Isaiah 29:2,Isaiah 29:3. And compassed me with gall and travel; or with poison, venom, and misery, as some translate it; and it seems more proper than gall and travel, which have no cognation one with another. We are not well acquainted with the ancient dialect of other countries: the sense is obvious, God had surrounded them with misery and calamities.
The prophet compareth their state in Babylon to the state of bodies in the graves, or in some charnel-house, which are places of darkness, full of rottenness and dead men’s bones. Such was the state of the Jews in Jerusalem during the time of the siege before the city was taken, when Jerusalem was a most miserable place by reason of the multitudes slain by the enemy, or by the famine: such was their state in Babylon, where the company of heathens made their state as the state of the living amongst the dead.
The use of a hedge about an enclosed field is twofold:
1. To keep out other beasts which belong not to the owner of the ground; in this sense God set a hedge sometimes about Canaan, Isaiah 5:5.
2. To keep in those beasts that are within; thus God had now hedged them in, into a barren place where they had no pasture, but were continually pushed at by other beasts with whom they were mixed, and who were stronger than they, and they could not get out. God had dealt with them as with grievous malefactors, who are loaded with heavy chains. He had made their affliction heavy and insupportable.
In the condition I am in, I cannot help myself, no creatures can help me, I have no hope but in God. I take the ordinary course in that case, which is prayer, I pray fervently and aloud, as those that are serious and importunate for what they desire (for shouting here signifies no more than making a loud noise, not a loud noise of joy and rejoicing, as it mostly signifies); but he deals with me as great persons that have no mind to listen to suitors, and shut their gates against them, he shutteth out my supplications: which made their case wholly desperate and remediless.
Ways in Scripture ordinarily signifies men’s courses, and methods of counsels, and actions; if the term be taken in that sense here, it signifieth God’s defeating all their methods and counsels taken for their own security, in the pursuit of which they met not with ordinary, but with insuperable difficulties, like walls of hewn stone. Nay, God had not only defeated their counsels, but had made them prove more fatal and pernicious to themselves, which seemeth to be intended, by making their ways crooked, which should have led right on to the end intended.
That is, he hath taken all advantages against me to destroy me.
The same thing is repeated in other phrases which was before said, viz. that God had pleased by his providence to frustrate all the designs and counsels of the Jews, and miserably to destroy them, as a lion or a bear (the wild beasts mentioned before) tear in pieces the beasts they prey upon.
He hath prepared himself for acts of vindicative justice, and he hath made me the object of it.
That is, he hath made his judgments to pierce the most inward parts of the nation; or, he hath mortally wounded me. In the Hebrew it is,
the daughters of his quiver, a way of speaking very usual in Hebrew, to express any thing that comes from another as the effect either of a natural or moral cause; so sparks are called the sons of the quick coal, Job 5:7, and corn the son of the floor, &c.
Though some think the prophet speaks this of himself, yet, considering he hath all along spoken in the name of the people, it is not probable, which makes a difficulty, how the people could be a derision to themselves? It seemeth therefore ill translated, and that it should have been,
I was a derision to all people, leaving out my, that is, to all foreigners, to whom the Jews were made a derision and a hissing; there only wants the last letter in עמי and it is well observed by the learned author of the English Annotations, that the like defect is to be found, as to the same word, 2 Samuel 22:41, compared with Psalms 18:43, so that is not a pronoun affix, (upon which supposal our translators go,) but one of the letters that form the plural number, the other being left out, and צמי put for יזמים.
That is, he hath filled me with severe and bitter dispensations.
Wormwood is a bitter herb, but it is also a wholesome herb, and therefore some think that the Hebrew word should rather be translated henbane, and that it signifies some herb whose juice is intoxicating and poisonous.
These are but more metaphorical expressions, signifying the unpleasant difficult condition into which God had brought this people. They were like men that lived upon gritty bread, more fit to break their teeth than to nourish them; they were in the state of mourners, and no ordinary mourners, who were wont to throw ashes on their heads, they were all over covered with ashes.
Peace here signifieth prosperity, rather than a freedom from war. Though during the siege they were far from peace in a strict sense, yet in their captivity they had that peace; but both their minds were far off from quiet, and their persons from prosperity: the prophet owneth God as the cause of this. They had in Canaan lived prosperously, but now they thought of it no more, nor understood what such a thing meant.
If, according to our translation, we read
Remembering, or While I remember, these two verses contain but one sentence; in tire former part the prophet in the name of this people expresseth their despairing condition; in the latter he gives the reason of it, viz. the people’s poring upon their great and heavy afflictions, which he compares to wormwood and gall, two things excessively bitter, and often made use of to signify great affliction, Psalms 69:21; Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Revelation 8:11. But it may as well be read imperatively, Remember mine affliction; so the first of these two verses expresseth the dejection of the people’s minds in their captivity, caused through their proneness to despair of any better condition that their angry God would bring them into. The 19th verse is a prayer directed to God, which showed that though they were mightily perplexed, yet they were not in utter despair; and to this sense the following verses seem to incline.
That is, I cannot forget them, and the thoughts of them sink my spirits.
This, not what was already said, that made them despair, and their souls to bow down; but this, that which followeth, concerning the nature of God, and other good providences. I see nothing in the circumstances of my condition to comfort me, but I see something in God’s nature, and in some other dispensations of his providence, which gives me ground to hope for better things than an utter ruin and destruction.
Mercy is nothing else but love flowing freely from any to persons in misery, and differs from compassion only in the freeness of the emanation. It is not because God had not power enough utterly to have consumed us, nor because we had not guilt enough to have provoked his justice to have put an end to our lives, as well as to the lives of many thousands of our countrymen, but it is merely from the Lord’s free love and pity to us in our miseries. If God had not a blessing in store for us, how is it that we are captives, and not slain as many others were during the siege?
These compassions of God are renewed day by day, to declare the great faithfulness of God in fulfilling his many promises made for mercy to his people.
God is the portion of his people, and they have chosen him as their portion; he hath declared himself to them as such, and they have accepted him as such. This gives them ground both for patience under his providences, and also of expectation of good from him in their lowest and meanest state.
Good is a term of a very comprehensive notion. The nature of it lieth in a suitableness to the thing or person to whom it relateth; so it signifieth profit and pleasantness. There is in God an essential goodness, which is his absolute perfection; but this text speaketh of a communicative goodness, which floweth from him to his creatures, and is seen in his suiting their various necessities and desires with satisfactory dispensations of providence. Though God be in one degree or oilier good to all, yet he is more especially good to the true worshippers of him; yet possibly not in their seasons or times when they expect or would have God show himself so to them, in this or that way, but always to those who wait for him, patiently enduring trials and afflictions until God please to send them deliverance.
Good here either signifies honestum, what becomes men, and is their duty; or utile, what is profitable, and will turn to good account to them. Hoping and waiting differ but as the mother and daughter, hope being the mother of patience and waiting; or as the habit and act, hoping and waiting being ranch the same, flowing from a gracious power and habit given the soul to wait. Quietness is necessary to waiting, for all turbulency and impatience of spirit under sad providences is opposed to waiting. The salvation of the Lord refers to the outward man, in preserving or delivering us from dangers; or to the soul and inward man, in preserving us from, and delivering our souls out of, dangers they fear, or evils they are pressed with. Now for a man in the midst of all evils to hope in God, and, without turbulence or disorder in himself, to wait for a preservation from, or a delivery out of, any evils, is what becometh a man, (a child of God especially,) and will turn to a good account to them.
Good here must be expounded in the same sense as in the foregoing verse. It is not pleasant, but it is profitable, it is honourable, what becomes us, and is our duty, quietly and patiently to bear what afflictions God will please to lay upon us, to restrain our wild and wanton spirits when they are most prone to be too brisk and lascivious. Some by yoke understand the law of God, called a
yoke, ( because indeed it is so to flesh and blood,) Matthew 11:29. It is not so easy to bend a neck stiffened with age, or change a heart made hard by custom. Solomon bids us to train up one in their youth in the way we would have them to walk; and whether God will tame us when young by his word or by his rod, it is of advantage to a man. It is also laudable, and what becomes a man, early to bear the yoke of God’s law, or to bear afflictive providences, to have his heart betimes humbled to the will and feet of God.
Our English Annotations supplying that, makes the connexion clear, It is good for a man that he sit alone, Jeremiah 15:17; not doing what he doth to be seen of men, but sitting alone, and when he is alone suppressing the mutinies of his spirit, and keeping his soul in subjection to God; because God hath humbled him by his rod, humbling himself to his will.
If that may be supplied, or when, (as Pagnine translateth בי Lamentations 3:28, the connexion of these words with the former is very fair and easy, for then those words, Lamentations 3:27, It is good that must be repeated in the beginning of Lamentations 3:28 and Lamentations 3:29; however, both this and the former verses let us know the duty of persons under afflictions in order to their obtaining mercy at the hand of God, and admirably give us the character of persons under afflictions preparing for mercy. They hope and quietly wait for God’s salvation, Lamentations 3:26; they bear God’s yoke, Lamentations 3:27, because he hath laid it upon them; they sit alone and keep silence, Lamentations 3:28; and here, they put their mouths in the dust, that is, humble themselves to the feet of God, and to the will of God; not being too confident of deliverances in this life, but if peradventure
there may be hope.
According to our Saviour’s precept, Matthew 5:39, he doth not take any private revenge; he is reproached and reviled, but when he is so he revileth not again, 1 Peter 2:23; he is filled with reproach from others, but his mouth is not filled with the reproachings of others.
This is that which beareth up his spirits, that though the Lord may for a time estrange himself from his people, yet he will not always forsake them.
But though, as a prudent parent, he may see reason to cause grief in and to afflict his own people, yet as a tender good father, that pitieth his children in misery, he will have compassion upon them, having not only mercies, but a multitude or abundance of mercies.
In the Hebrew it is, he doth not afflict from his heart, that is, with pleasure and delight; or (which seemeth the best sense to me) not from his own mere motion without a cause given him from the persons afflicted. Hence judgment is called God’s strange work. Showing mercy is his proper natural work, which floweth from himself without any cause in the creature. Judgment is his strange work, to which he never proceedeth but when provoked, and as it were forced from the creature, whence it followeth that he cannot delight in it.
Here are three things mentioned, of all which it is said that God
not neither all, nor any of them. The first is, to crush the prisoners of the earth: he hath power to crush all men in the world, they are his prisoners, and cannot flee from him, but he delighteth not in it. Some think it spoken with special reference to the Jews, who now were all captives. A second thing which it is said God approveth not is, turning away the right of a man before the face of the Most High. Some by the Most High understand God, and make the sense to be, in the sight of God. Others think that a superior magistrate is understood, who, Ecclesiastes 5:8, is called the highest; and that seemeth the most probable sense. The turning away the right of a man before them, signifieth the use of any arts to deprive them of their just right by misrepresenting their cause, aspersing their persons, &c. The third thing mentioned is, the subverting a man in his cause, either by art and rhetoric, making it to appear bad when it is not so, or by mere will and power, overruling it contrary to right and justice.
The sense of these words is doubted by none, that nothing cometh to pass in the world but by the disposal of Divine Providence, either effecting it by an immediate influence, or permitting it; but to what end these words are brought in in this place is not so generally agreed. Some think they are brought in to check the blasphemy of some that spake of what had befallen the Jews as a thing which God had no hand in. Others think they are brought in as expounding that term that went before, The Lord seeth not. Though God doth not approve of sinful actions, nor incline any man’s heart or will to them, yet God hath a hand in the permission of the most cruel and unjust actions, which he could easily hinder. I should rather incline to interpret them as an argument brought by the prophet in the name of the people of God, arguing themselves into a quiet submission to the afflictive providences under which they laboured from the consideration of the superior hand of God in them; as Christ told Pilate, Thou couldst not have had any power against me, if it had not been given thee from above. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Amos 3:6.
In the Hebrew the form of these words is interrogatory, as much as if he should say, Doth not evil come out of God’s mouth from his direction and command, and from his providence, as well as good? He speaks of evils of punishment, judicial afflictive dispensations; so it agreeth with Job 2:10; Amos 3:6. It is no reproach unto God to make him the author of his own punishments, though we call them evil.
This verse admits of various senses, caused from the various interpretation of the Hebrew word, which we translate complain, which also signifies to mourn or grieve; so some render it, Why doth a living man grieve or vex himself? But the word is noted most generally to signify complaining or murmuring. The word also which we translate
sin sometimes signifieth that oblique act which we call sin; and those who interpret the former grieve or vex, thus understand the word translated sin, supplying some such words as these, Let him mourn for his sin. Why doth he mourn for his afflictions and plagues? let him rather spend his tears upon his sins. But the word also signifies the guilt of sin, or obligation to death, which it layeth men under: Sin lieth at the door, Genesis 4:7; so also Genesis 20:9; and also any punishment brought upon men for sin, Genesis 4:13, where we translate it punishment. This sense our translators follow. The prophet then, in the person of the Jews, checks himself in his complaints for their punishments from the consideration, that nothing had befallen them but what was the just reward of their sins.
Seeing God doth not grieve us willingly, nor delight to crush us, though we be his prisoners, and seeing the hand of God is in these things upon us, and that justly, to recompense our iniquities into our bosoms, instead of mourning and fretting against God, which is not reasonable, nor will be of any profit to us, let us examine our thoughts, words, and actions, and consider what they have been, and reform, and turn again to the Lord, by apostatizing from whom we have brought these evils upon us.
Let us apply ourselves unto God by prayer, often expressed under this notion in Scripture from that gesture ordinarily used in prayer; and let us not do it in hypocrisy, but joining our hearts with our hands, praying seriously and fervently.
The prophet doth not dictate words, but sense to them, teaching them the matter of their prayer; first, by way of confession. Sin is called a transgression, because it is going aside from the way of God’s precepts; it is called rebellion, because it is an act contrary to that allegiance and duty which we owe unto God, and the covenant we have made with him. By pardoning here is meant the discharge of the guilty persons from the temporal punishment due for sin (as it is often taken in Scripture); so it signifies, thou hast plagued us according to the just desert of our sins.
Thou hast covered with anger; either thou hast covered thyself with anger, or covered thy own face with anger, so as not to look upon us to move thy pity; or (which is more probably the sense) thou hast covered, that is, overwhelmed, us with thy wrath. Thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied; thou hast pursued us to a fatal ruin, without showing us any pity.
God had covered them with wrath, overwhelming them with afflictions. so as they had no way to escape; and whereas in this distress they had nothing else to do but only to apply themselves to God, he had hid his face from them, so as they could get no comfortable sight of him; he was as one covered with a cloud, that could not be discerned through that opacous body. What is meant by this cloud, whether his fixed resolution to punish them, or his fresh remembrance of their sins, or his just will to be revenged on them, seems too curiously inquired. The phrase is a metaphor, and signifies no more than that God would not hear their prayers in their distress.
That is, thou hast made us to all nations extremely contemptible, so as they value us no more than the sweepings of their houses, or the most vile, refuse, and contemptible things imaginable.
That is, to mock, scoff, and reproach us.
All manner of misery was come upon them. They were seized first with fears and terrors; going to escape these they fell into a snare, or (as it is in the Hebrew) into a pit, out of which they could not get; they were wasted, made desolate, and destroyed.
The prophet was deeply affected upon the prospect of this evil before it came, Jeremiah 9:1, and was now much more affected when he saw the judgment was come; he wept plentifully and constantly, as for their sins which had brought these judgments upon them, so for the judgments themselves, as indications of God’s displeasure and wrath against them for their transgressions.
That is, until the Lord show me some favour. See the notes on Lamentations 1:9.
The eye and the ear are those organs of the body, by which the soul exerciseth its senses to bring in all objects, whether pleasant or sad, to the understanding to judge of them, according to the judgment of which upon them it is affected with joy or sorrow, desire or aversation, &c.; and the eye is the chiefest of these, because its evidence is more certain, and less subject to deceit. The prophet and most of the Jews were eye-witnesses to the evils which had befallen the Jews, and which at present were upon them; so as their hearts were the more affected. The word translated
affect is by some noted to signify to waste and consume, which are the effects of a deep affecting the heart with sad and miserable objects. Because of all the daughters of my city: our margin tells us that it may be also read more than all the daughters of my city; according to which the sense is, that he was more affected with the state of Jerusalem than the tenderest woman that had lived in it: but it is as well, if not better, in this place rendered causally, showing the reason of his deep affliction, viz. all those miseries he had seen fall upon all the Jewish nation, or upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
As boys beat a bird from bush to bush, suffering it to rest no where, so mine enemies, to whom I gave no cause, pursued me.
Dungeon seemeth not to be here taken literally, for the lowest and nastiest place in prisons, which probably was the portion but of a few of the Jews; but metaphorically, for the lowest and saddest condition of misery. Their enemies had brought them into the deepest miseries, to the cutting off of their lives; and as men use to roll great stones upon the mouths of dens and pits, where they have shut up persons, to make them sure from escaping out, so their enemies had dealt with them, doing what lay in them to make their condition remediless and desperate.
Afflictions often in Scripture are called waters, Isaiah 28:17,Isaiah 28:18; Isaiah 59:19.
I am cut off; that is, I am utterly undone, there is no hope for me.
That is, out of my deepest affliction, as Jonah out of the
belly of hell, Jonah 2:2. I cried unto God, and called upon him for mercy.
I in former great afflictions applied myself unto thee, and thou didst hear me; show me now the same favour. Our former experiences of God’s goodness to us in hearing our prayers ought to hold up our hands in prayer, mid beget a confidence in us that we, persisting in our duty, shall find God the same God, yesterday, this day, and for ever.
There was a time when I was in distress, and called upon time, and thou didst draw near unto me. God is never far off from any of us, as to his essential presence; nor is it possible that he should, for he filleth all places. But he is said to be near us or far off from us, as he manifests, or doth not manifest, his goodness to us by acts of gracious providence: of that drawing near the text speaketh. God being infinite in goodness and mercy, is spoken of as absent from those persons and places where he is not showing mercy, and present only there where he showeth forth his goodness, and to be drawing nigh to them to whom he beginneth to show mercy.
Thou saidst, Fear not; thou didst encourage me formerly upon my prayer.
Thou hast been wont to take my part against my enemies, not like a lawyer by word of mouth, but actually and really pleading my cause. Thou hast redeemed my life; thou hast saved me from many a danger which looked fatally upon me.
Thou hast a perfect knowledge of men’s perverse and unrighteous dealings with me at this time; do thou judge betwixt me and mine enemies, and deal with them according to what shall appear just to thee.
Thou hast been a witness to all their fury and rage, and all their malicious and bloody contrivances against me.
Whatever knowledge men get of things done from their eye or ear, thou hast from thy omnisciency; thou knowest not only their malicious actions, but words and thoughts.
That is, thou hast observed and noted the motions or products of my enemies’ lips, and their secret devices before they came out of their lips.
That is, at all times, when they sit down and rise up, I am their song. Though probably the words have a special reference to their sitting down at feasts, and at their merry meetings. I am all the subject of their discourse, they spend their time in mocking and scoffing at us, and at Jerusalem; we are they that make them sport.
These three last verses are all but the same general petition, though expressed in various phrases; the prophet had prayed, Lamentations 3:59, that God would judge his people’s cause, here he prayeth that he would also judge his enemies, he only desireth justice against them, a recompence of the work of their hands.
The word translated
sorrow of heart is found no where else in holy writ, which makes a certain particular explication of it to be difficult, and hath given interpreters a strange liberty in translating it shield, sorrow, and grief, obstinacy or hardness of heart, perplexity, abjection or breaking of heart; the best guides we have to direct us in the sense of it are,
1. The other things joined with it; persecution, destruction, a recompence according to their works, so that some afflictive evil of a heavy nature is certainly signified by it.
2. The analogy of faith, which restraineth us from wishing or praying for spiritual or eternal evils against our worst enemies; it therefore probably signifies such perplexity and breakings of mind as commonly attend a state of great affliction.
Bring them to a temporal ruin and destruction. How far such petitions are lawful we have before showed, in our notes on Psalms 69:22-24, &c.; Psalms 119:6-10, &c.; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 15:15; see also Lamentations 1:22. It is hard to interpret all passages of this nature which we meet with as prophecies, though some of them are so, and others may be both prophecies and prayers.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Lamentations 3". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/