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AN IDEAL REPRESENTATION OF NATIONAL SORROW
The middle elegy is, not only in structure but also in tone, readily distinguished from the other four. An element of personality is manifest in it which is not in them. The poet concentrates in himself all forms of the calamities which he laments. Some of these seem too sharp and heavy to be experienced by a single individual, and the doubt is turned into a certainty when he associates himself once and again with others. He is a member of a body. In this feature a significant proof is indicated of that unfolding form of prophecy in which the whole community of Israel, or an undefined part of it, is regarded as represented by a special person—the Servant whose experiences are hardly so much his own as those of his people. He stands apart from them by the peculiarities of his condition, but he draws to himself all their sorrows and pains, and that burden impels him to act as an advocate on their behalf before Jehovah. As we read such things we are reminded of the resemblance which they bear to the course of the prophet Jeremiah. He was “separated” from his nation, but became a participant of the terrible doom he announced. He would not stand off from his people when he might have gone with the Babylonian Captain of the Guard. It was his pure conscience and sensitive heart which realised the fierce anger of the Lord against the sins which had corrupted the conscience and heart of his fellow-countrymen. It was for their sakes, he said, My heart is faint within me.… For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black. His position was a forecast of that mightier Servant who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
The progress of the poem presents a strange tumult of thought. There is arraignment of God’s dealings and acknowledgment of His mercies; impatience at his sufferings, which does not crowd out his patience; wonder why the Lord should send such punishments, and confession of sins with little hope that it would pave the way for pardon. Yet is not this a true portrait of each soul that is striving against sin in himself and others? Without fighting, within fears.
The first part of the chapter sets forth the soul-sufferings of the godly in their cheerless and hopeless misery (Lamentations 3:1-18); then it ascends to hope by meditation on the compassion of God (Lamentations 3:19-39); next is the recognition of God’s justice in the punishment, but the intensity of which, through the malice of enemies, the Lord cannot pass by (Lamentations 3:40-54); and last, prayer that He would send help and take vengeance on the enemy (Lamentations 3:55-66).
(א) Lamentations 3:1. The author writes as if his own person was the object on which all the troubles had been inflicted. I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. The repression of the name of the wielder of the rod is remarkable in view of its reiteration in Chapter 2. That here it was of set purpose seems proved by the persistent omission till Lamentations 3:18, and is probably to be accounted for by the poet’s wish to indicate a sort of climax to a soul-struggle in which he could not take the name of Jehovah till all appeared lost. The rod signifies the means by which the affliction was produced, and is illustrated by the phrase, The Assyrian is the rod of mine anger (Isaiah 10:5).
Lamentations 3:2. The unnamed had accumulated affliction. He has led and caused me to walk in darkness and not in light, in perplexity as well as misery.
Lamentations 3:3. And it was continuously carried on. Surely against me he turns his hand again and again all the day.
THE MAN OF AFFLICTION
It is given to some men to catch and idealise the poetic instinct of a nation, to gather to a focus the ideas that have been dimly floating in the national mind, and, in words of burning passion, to express what all have been vaguely feeling, but none have been able hitherto to clothe in fitting speech. Another class of men represent the chivalric and military characteristics of a nation; another the judicial and ruling types. Jeremiah, distinguished as poet, prophet, and patriot, acquired immortal distinction in the annals of the Hebrew nation as the Man of Sorrow. In him the unparalleled sufferings of Judea seemed concentrated and individualised. His mournful dirge, sung in the minor key, gave voice, with lavish variety of imagery and felicity of phrase, to the overwhelming anguish of a distracted and ruined people. In this sublime elegy the poet-prophet touches the deepest woe of the sufferer in all ages, and provides it with adequate expression. Ewald justly remarks: “Very probably the prophet draws much of what he says from his own experience, but the whole that he sets forth is more than his own personality; it is the type and pattern of every individual. And here, therefore, is the summit and turning-point of the whole Book of Lamentations.” When the soul finds words in which to breathe out its sorrow, the oppression is already relieved. The hope of deliverance begins to dawn. Observe in this paragraph—
I. That the man of affliction regards his sufferings as the result of the Divine anger. “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath” (Lamentations 3:1). It is the rod of His anger to chastise and correct, not the sword to utterly destroy. Even in the manifestation of His wrath God seeks to restore the sinner. The last stroke of His anger must be painful, alarming, crushing; the more so that it is felt to be so just. Behind the dark frown of the Almighty the light of mercy shines. “He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” The most hopeful feature of affliction is the moment when the sufferer recognises the hand of God in it; when he acknowledges it as the fruit of personal sin. Then it is that wrath gives place to mercy: punishment is disarmed by pardon. Sin is antagonism to God, and merits nothing but wrath. A genuine repentance is the open door of escape.
II. That the man of affliction is plunged into bewildering gloom. “He hath led me and brought me into darkness, but not into light” (Lamentations 3:2). The darkness of suffering had a realistic meaning for Jeremiah, as he remembered the miseries of his incarceration in the dungeon (Jeremiah 37:15-16; Jeremiah 38:6; Jeremiah 38:10-13). But the language is a metaphorical description of afflictions in general, and is frequently employed in Scripture. In the most graphic and explicit terms the prophet foretold the experience he here describes (Jeremiah 13:15-16). Suffering is a dark enigma that baffles the wisest to solve. It is an aggravation of suffering when it has to be endured in darkness. We have heard of a strong man who had braved all kinds of dangers by land and sea, who was absolutely afraid of being alone in the dark: he had no fear of anything he could see, but was in mortal dread of the unseen. Darkness overawes the most volatile. A party of courtiers of Louis XV. were once gathered round Cassini to witness an eclipse from the terrace of the Paris observatory, and were laughing at the populace, whose cries were heard as the light began to fade, when, as the unnatural gloom came quickly on, silence fell on them too, the panic-terror striking through their laughter. There is nothing so distressing, so oppressive, so bewildering, so hopeless to contend with, as darkness.
III. That the man of affliction is smitten with repeated strokes of the Divine Hand. “Surely against me is He turned; He turneth His hand against me all the day” (Lamentations 3:3). It is not one stroke of affliction, but many, and these frequently repeated. Trouble never comes alone; it is often attended with a crowd of ills. Before we can recover from one calamity we are stricken with another. It may be difficult to find the kind heart behind the strong hand; but it is there. Not one blow more than is necessary will be permitted to fall. The most prolonged and reiterated suffering will cease as soon as its purpose is answered. While it continues there should be prayerful searchings of heart.
1. The fact of suffering testifies to the fact of sin.
2. Much of our suffering occasioned by witnessing the sufferings of others.
3. Suffering is a blessing when it brings us nearer to God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:1. Ecce homo. I. Consider the generality of affliction in the nature thereof. We met all generally in the first treason against ourselves in Adam’s rebellion; and we met all, too, in the second treason—the treason against Jesus Christ. All our sins were upon His shoulders. All the evils and mischiefs of life come for the most part from this—that we think to enjoy those things which God hath given us only to use. III. Consider affliction as bearing on man. “I am the man that hath seen affliction.” It was that man that is denoted and signified in that name that hath lain under affliction, and therefore no kind of man was likely to escape. Man carries the spawn and seed and eggs of affliction in his own flesh, and his own thoughts make haste to hatch them and bring them up. We make all our worms snakes, all our snakes vipers, all our vipers dragons by our murmuring. III. Consider affliction in its special application to one man. That man the prophet Jeremiah, one of the best of men. As he was submitted to these extraordinary afflictions, we see that no man is so necessary to God as that God cannot come to His ends without that man. God can lack and leave out any man in His service. The best of our wages is adversity, because that gives us a true fast, and a right value of our prosperity. Jeremy had it; the best of his rank must. No man is excused of subsequent afflictions by precedent, nor of falling into more by having borne some already. Our afflictions are as beggars; they tell others, and send more after them. When the hand of God was upon Jeremiah he declared God’s handwriting; not only to his own conscience by acknowledging that all these afflictions were for his own sins, but by acknowledging to the world that God had laid such and such afflictions upon him. St. Ambrose, in a journey from Milan to Rome, passed some time one evening with his host, who bragged he had never had any cross in his life. Ambrose at once removed to another house, protesting that either the man was very unthankful to God that would not take knowledge of His corrections, or that God’s measure was by this time full, and would surely, soundly, and suddenly pour down all together. IV. Consider the weight and vehemence of afflictions.
1. They are aggravated in that they are the Lord’s. They are inevitable; they cannot be avoided; they are just, and cannot be pleaded against; nor can we ease ourselves with any imagination of our innocency, as though they were undeserved.
2. They are in His rod. Our murmuring makes a rod a staff, and a staff a sword, and that which God presented for physic, poison.
3. They are inflicted by the rod of His wrath. Though there be properly no anger in God, yet God is said to do a thing in anger when He does it so as an angry man would do it. It is the highest extent of affliction that we take God to be angrier than He is. V. Consider the comforts we have in afflictions. “I am the man that hath seen affliction.”
1. That we see our afflictions, we understand, consider them. We see that affliction comes from God, and that it is sent that we may see and taste the goodness of God.
2. That, though afflicted, we still retain our manhood. God may mend thee in marring thee; He may build thee up in dejecting thee; He may infuse another manhood into thee, so that thou canst say, “I am that Christian man; I am the man that cannot despair since Christ is the remedy.”
3. That the rod of God’s wrath is also the rod of His comfort and strength (Micah 7:14; Psalms 45:6; Psalms 23:4).—Donne.
—God and human suffering:
1. Often brought into strange relationship.
2. Suffering is a significant revelation of how God views human sin.
3. Suffering may draw man nearer to, or drive him farther from, God.
Lamentations 3:2-3. The mystery of suffering. I. Impossible to solve by human speculations. “Into darkness, but not into light.” II. Increased by the difficulty of accounting for the part God takes in it. “He hath led me and brought me into darkness, but not into light” (Lamentations 3:2). III. Intensified by the apparent persistency of the Divine severity. “Surely against me is He turned; He turneth His hand against me all the day” (Lamentations 3:3).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—God’s anger man’s heaviest affliction. God’s anger exerts itself by embittering afflictions Every affliction is of itself a grievance, and a breach made upon our happiness; but there is sometimes a secret energy that so edges and quickens its afflictive operation that a blow levelled at the body shall enter into the very soul. What is the reason that David is sometimes so courageous that “though he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, he fears no evil;” and, at another time, God no sooner “hides His face, but he is troubled”? What is the cause that a man sometimes breaks through a greater calamity, and at another time the same person fails and desponds under a loss of the same nature? Whence can this be, but that God infuses some more grains of His wrath into the one than into the other?—South.
—The Divine anger. Anger is the whetstone of strength; in an equality of other terms, it will make a man prevail. Nothing is able to stand before a fire which is once enraged; so is it when the fire of the Lord’s revenge breaks forth upon the enemies of His Son. Add hereunto our disposition and preparedness for the wrath of God. Far easier is it to make a print in wax than in an adamant; to kindle a fire in dry stubble than in green wood. Wicked men have fitted themselves for wrath, and are procurers and artificers of their own destruction.—Bishop Reynolds.
Darkness and danger. Sailing once along a coast where a friend had suffered shipwreck, the scene which recalled his danger filled us with no fear; because, while his ship, on the night she ran ashore, was cutting her way through the densest fog, we were ploughing the waters of a silver sea, where noble headlands, pillared cliffs, scattered islands, and surf-beaten reefs stood bathed in the brightest moonshine. There was no danger just because there was no darkness.—Guthrie.
Darkness precedes light. The Lord ofttimes makes everything as dark as it can become, just that presently the light may shine more brilliantly. Ishmael faints before Hagar finds the well. Joseph is left in prison and oblivion before being raised to dignity. The Assyrian host surrounds Jerusalem ere they are smitten by the angel. Jeremiah sinks into the pit before he is placed on a rock. Violent persecution of the Christians preceded the triumph of the Gospel. Mediæval darkness preceded the dawn of the Reformation.—Oosterzee.
Affliction ripens character. There is a certain mellowness which affliction sheds upon the character, a softening that it effects of all the rougher and more repulsive asperities of our nature, a delicacy of temperament into which it often melts and refines the most ungainly spirit. It is not the pride of aspiring talent that we carry to heaven with us; it is not the lustre of a superiority which dazzles and commands that we bear with us there. It is not the eminence of any public distinction or the fame of lofty and successful enterprise; and should these give undue confidence to man or throw an aspect of conscious and complacent energy over him, he wears not yet the complexion of Paradise; and should God select him as His own, He will send some special affliction that may chasten him out of all which is uncongenial with the place of blessedness, and at length reduce him to its unmingled love and its adoring humility. The character is purified by the simple process of passing through the fire. “And when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”—Chalmers.
Suffering a mystery. As the Egyptian who carried something wound up in his napkin answered him who demanded what it was, that he covered it to the end that no man should see it; so likewise must we learn that if there be anything hidden and laid up in the works and dealings of God, it is of purpose kept from us, to the end that we should not be too curious to inquire after it; that it is far better to be utterly ignorant herein than to have all the knowledge thereof that may be.—Cawdray.
(ב) Lamentations 3:4. Details as to how the writer suffered. My flesh and my skin he has worn out, he has broken my bones. Bodily exhaustion and racking pains consume the vital forces.
Lamentations 3:5. Obstruction is placed so that I may not find a change. He has builded against me, shut me in as if He was besieging me behind and before with hurting and wearying obstacles, gall and travail.
Lamentations 3:6. Darkness was added. He has made me to dwell in dark places, dismal and without hope, as those in which lay the for ever dead, those who had gone into Sheol, and for whom there is no way of return.
(נ) Lamentations 3:7. Freedom is taken away by close confinement and a heavy chain.
Lamentations 3:8. Prisoner though I am, I can make entreaties for relief. I cry and call for help, but no response is given; he shutteth out my prayer; he had used means to prevent the petitions reaching him, as if the barriers were not fabricated by the sins of the petitioner!
Lamentations 3:9. As a traveller, I am brought to a standstill. He has fenced up my ways with hewn stone, and there is a necessity to turn aside to crooked paths, which lead to and fro without purpose.
THE BEWILDERMENT OF GRIEF
I. Is accompanied with intense physical suffering. “My flesh and my skin hath He made old; He hath broken my bones” (Lamentations 3:4). The skin is wrinkled and worn, in this case not with age, but with excessive grief; and the suffering which in the preceding verses was represented as a slow wasting of strength, has now reached the stage of acute pain, such as is caused by the breaking of bones. It is a pitiable sight to see a nation or an individual growing prematurely old. This is not done by hard, honest, healthy work, but by sorrow and suffering. The strongest and most beautiful physical form rapidly shrinks and withers under the stroke of a great and overwhelming grief. A sudden calamity has been known to turn the hair grey in a single night, and to impose the wreck of years on the bewildered and moaning sufferer.
II. Is as of one immured in prison, from which all efforts to escape are futile (Lamentations 3:5; Lamentations 3:7; Lamentations 3:9). The prisoner is enclosed and fenced in with a solid wall as of hewn stone, but it is a wall of bitterness and weariness. There are paths, dark and tortuous, and as he gropes along them with the dim hope of finding an outlet, he finds himself in a maze which brings him back, after long and weary wandering, to the place whence he started. Like Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon—
“It was liberty to stride
Along my cell from side to side,
And up and down, and then athwart,
And tread it over every part;
And round the pillars one by one,
Returning where my walk begun.”
Grief fetters the soul as with a heavy chain. It may chafe and fret and tug to very weariness in the effort to obtain release; but in vain: the bondage remains. If we walk in the crooked paths of sin, we shall ultimately find ourselves enclosed within the crooked paths of sorrow, from which we shall be powerless to escape.
III. Is as of one buried in a dismal sepulchre. “He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old” (Lamentations 3:6). Grief has worn down the sufferer to the semblance of a skeleton, and he regards himself as a corpse laid in the dark chambers of the grave—dead, buried, and forgotten.
“For all was blank and bleak and gray,
It was not night, it was not day,
It was not even the dungeon-light,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness without a place;
There were no stars, no earth, no time,
No check, no change, no good, no crime;
But silence and a stirless breath,
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!”—Byron.
Excessive grief darkens and dulls every faculty, and robs life of all its charm. There are some sorrows from which death is a merciful release.
IV. The loudest calls for help are disregarded. “Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). The walls of his prison are so thick that the loudest cries cannot pierce them; they are unheard and unheeded. It intensifies the bewilderment of grief when the most earnest cries for help bring no relief. A short time ago the dead body of a stalwart Scotch shepherd was found buried in the snow on the Ayrshire hills, within a short distance of his own home. Two days before, when walking homewards, he was overtaken with a snowstorm, and it is supposed must have been dazed by the fury of the tempest, and lost his way. It is distressing to think of his desperate struggles for life and his exhausting shouts for help, but all in vain. It is a painful phase in the mystery of suffering when God seems so indifferent to our prayers, and so slow to help. But even in this we are led by-and-bye to recognise the Divine justice and mercy.
1. The body sympathises with the sufferings of the soul.
2. Much of the suffering of life must be borne alone.
3. It is the bitterest ingredient in suffering when there is no prospect of relief.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:4-6. The ravages of sorrow: I. Destroy the freshness and bloom of youth. “My flesh and my skin hath He made old.” II. Inflict acutest pain. “He hath broken my bones” (Lamentations 3:4). III. Oppress the soul with bitterness and toil. “He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travel” (Lamentations 3:5). IV. Overshadow the individual life with the gloom of the grave. “He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old” (Lamentations 3:6).
Lamentations 3:7-9. A baffled sufferer: I. He is enclosed and fettered. “He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out; He hath made my chain heavy” (Lamentations 3:7). II. His cries for help are unavailing. “Also when I cry and shout, He shutteth out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). III. He is in a maze of tortuous paths, from which there is no outlet. “He hath in-closed my ways with hewn stone, He hath made my paths crooked” (Lamentations 3:9).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Causes of grief. We fancy that all our afflictions are sent us directly from above; sometimes we think it in piety and contrition, but oftener in moroseness and discontent. It would be well, however, if we attempted to trace the causes of them; we should probably find their origin in some region of the heart which we never had well explored, or in which we had secretly deposited our worst indulgences. The clouds that intercept the heavens from us come not from the heavens, but from the earth.—Landor.
A great sorrow. Henry I., on his return from Normandy, was accompanied by a crowd of nobles and his son William. The White Ship, in which the prince embarked, lingered behind the rest of the royal fleet, while the young nobles, excited with wine, hung over the ship’s side taunting the priest who came to give the customary benediction. At last the guards of the king’s treasure pressed the vessel’s departure, and, driven by the arms of fifty rowers, it swept swiftly out to sea. All at once the ship’s side struck on a rock at the mouth of the harbour, and in an instant it sank beneath the waves. One terrible cry, ringing through the stillness of the night, was heard by the royal fleet, but it was not till the morning that the fatal news reached the king. He fell unconscious to the ground, and rose never to smile again!
Secret grief. If the internal griefs of every man could be read, written on his forehead, how many who now excite envy would appear to be objects of pity!—Metastasio.
Grief irksome, but needful. A friend was asked concerning a beautiful horse feeding on the pasture with a clog on its foot, “Why do you clog such a noble animal?” The reply was, “I would a great deal sooner clog him than lose him; he is given to leap hedges.” That is why God clogs His people. He would rather clog them than lose them; for if He did not, they would leap and be gone.—Spurgeon.
The sufferer baffled by temptation. A time of affliction is a time of temptation. Satan will not be wanting in any opportunity or advantage of setting upon the soul. When Pharaoh heard that the people were entangled in the wilderness, he pursued them; and when Satan sees a soul entangled with its distresses and troubles, he thinks it his time and hour to assault it. He seeks to winnow, and comes when the corn is under the flail. Reckon, therefore, that, when trouble cometh, the prince of this world cometh also. Then is the time to take the shield of faith, that we may be able to quench his fiery darts. If they be neglected, they will inflame the soul.—John Owen.
Grief, its uses. What! would you choose that you alone may fare better than all God’s saints? that God should strew carpets for your nice feet only, to walk into your heaven, and make that way smooth for you which all patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, confessors, Christ Himself, have found rugged and bloody! Away with this self-love, and come down, you ambitious sons of Zebedee, and, ere you think of sitting near the throne, be content to be called unto the cross. Now is your trial. Let your Saviour see how much of His bitter portion you can pledge. Then shall you see how much of His glory He can afford you. Be content to drink of His vinegar and gall, and yon shall drink new wine with Him in His kingdom.—Bishop Hall.
—As snow is of itself cold, yet warms and refreshes the earth, so afflictions, though in themselves grievous, yet keep the soul of the Christian warm and make it fruitful Let the most afflicted know and remember that it is better to be preserved in brine than to rot in honey.—Salter.
—After a forest fire, has raged furiously, it has been found that many pine cones have had their seeds released by the heat, which ordinarily would have remained unsown. The future forest sprang from the ashes of the former. Some Christian graces, such as humility, patience, sympathy, have been evolved from the sufferings of the saints. The furnace has been used to fructify.
(ד) Lamentations 3:10. Difficulties had been embarrassing, but dangers were also added. In the crooked paths the bear and the lion lurked, and he is there, like them, lying in wait for me.
Lamentations 3:11. I wandered aimlessly. He has led me astray and then he has torn me in pieces, has made me desolate, left me mangled and alone.
Lamentations 3:12. Not only such rending as that by beasts of prey has distressed me, but also maltreatment by men. I have been treated as the quarry of a hunter. He set me as a mark for the arrow.
(ה) Lamentations 3:13. There is no miss when God aims at a mark. He has made the sons of his quiver to enter into my reins; the central points of vital action were sore wounded.
JEHOVAH AS A FOE
I. Is aware of every effort to escape out of His power. “He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places” (Lamentations 3:10). The afflicted one compares himself to a fugitive striving to escape from his miseries, but baffled at every turn. Finding his way blocked up by a solid wall, he plunges into the uncertain paths of the forest, only to find himself exposed to the rapacity of beasts of prey. In every direction he is menaced with enemies; to turn back is as dangerous as to press forward. Exhausted and bewildered, he is ready to sink with terror and despair. Woe to the man who has made an enemy of Jehovah! His most frantic efforts to escape are in vain. He is everywhere threatened by the law he has violated, and its penalties lie about his path like wild beasts, ready to seize him as their victim.
II. Alarms by the suddenness and violence of His attack. “He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces. He hath made me desolate” (Lamentations 3:11). The figure of the lion is still maintained. Aware of its presence, the startled fugitive turns aside, only to find himself suddenly pounced upon and torn in pieces, so that, stupified with terror and pain, he is powerless to flee. “He hath made me desolate,” a favourite word with Jeremiah, occurring more than forty times in his Prophecy, and five times in Lamentations (ch. Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:13; Lamentations 1:16; Lamentations 4:5; Lamentations 5:18). The root meaning of the word is appalled, astonied, stupified, struck dumb with terror. The impenitent wicked are every moment in imminent peril. The doom of destruction is already declared against the workers of iniquity, and that destruction shall come “unawares, as a whirlwind, suddenly and swiftly” (cf. Psalms 35:8; Proverbs 1:27; Proverbs 10:29; Proverbs 21:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Peter 2:1). Christ is the refuge of the sinner, immediately accessible, and in Him there is invulnerable security.
III. Is an unerring marksman. “He hath bent His bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow” (Lamentations 3:12). The simile of the lion naturally suggests that of the hunter. When the smitten fugitive is under the paw of the lion, the hunter comes, but not to deliver him. It is not the beast of prey, but the poor mangled victim which is the mark for his arrows. The Mohammedan Caliph Aaly was once asked, “If the heavens were a bow and the earth the cord thereof, if calamities were arrows, man the butt for those arrows, and the holy blessed God the unerring marksman, where could the sons of Adam flee for succour?” The Caliph replied, “The children of Adam must flee unto the Lord.” This was the state of unhappy Judah; this is the state of the man who wickedly defies God. There is no escape but by a penitent return to Him whose bow is already bent to punish, and whose arrow reaches its mark with unerring precision.
IV. Can inflict acutest pain. “He hath caused the arrows of His quiver to enter into my reins”—my heart (Lamentations 3:13). God has many arrows; they are swift in their passage, unerring in their aim, and pierce deep. None can wound as God can. In the region where the greatest sin against Him has been committed—in the heart—there the arrows of His judgment penetrate and produce the keenest anguish. “These immediate blows of God upon the soul seem to be those things called in Psalms 38:2 God’s arrows; they are strange, sudden, invincible amazements upon the spirit, leaving such a damp upon it as defies the faint and weak cordials of all creature enjoyments. The wounds which God Himself makes none but God Himself can cure.”
1. It is vain for the sinner to defy Jehovah.
2. Sin cannot evade either detection or punishment.
3. The only hope of the sinner is to penitently implore the mercy of Jehovah.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:10-11. The dangers of a sinful life. I. The agents of punishment are always at hand. “He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places” (Lamentations 3:10). II. There is no escape from punishment for sin. “He hath turned aside my ways and pulled me in pieces” (Lamentations 3:11). III. The punishment for sin is sudden and appalling. “He hath made me desolate” (Lamentations 3:11).
Lamentations 3:12-13. The certainty of punishment. I. Because God is just. II. Because God is unerring in His treatment of sin. “He hath bent His bow and set me as a mark for the arrow” (Lamentations 3:12). III. The punishment will be painfully realised. “He hath caused the arrows of His quiver to enter into my reins” (Lamentations 3:13).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Jehovah a foe to all sin. God Himself, we have always understood, hates sin with a most authentic, celestial, and eternal hatred—a hatred, a hostility inexorable, unappeasable, which blasts the scoundrel, and all scoundrels ultimately, into black annihilation and disappearance from the sum of things. The path of it is the path of a flaming sword. He that has eyes may see it walking, inexorable, divinely beautiful and divinely terrible, through the chaotic gulf of human history, and everywhere burning, as with unquenchable fire, the false and the deadworthy from the true and life-worthy, making all human history and the biography of every man a God’s cosmos in place of a devil’s chaos. So it is in the end; even so to every man who is a man, and not a mutinous beast, and has eyes to see.—Carlyle.
The dangers of sin. The favourite sport of Canada in winter is toboganning. Some of the slides are very steep and look very dangerous, and the sensation of rushing down the hill on the thin strips of basswood is one never to be forgotten. “How do you like it?” asked a Canadian girl of an American visitor, whom she had steered down the steepest slide. “Oh, I would not have missed it for a hundred dollars!” “You’ll try it again, won’t you?” “Not for a thousand dollars!”
—Mr. Ruskin speaks in his “Love’s Meinie” of the little crake, a bird which lays her eggs on an inartificially constructed platform of decayed leaves or stalks of marsh plants, slightly elevated above the water. “How elevated I cannot find proper account; that is to say, whether it is hung to the stems of growing reeds or built on hillocks of soil; but the bird is always liable to have its nest overflown by floods.”
The degradation of sin. When the followers of Ulysses degraded themselves by the misuse of pleasures until they fell to the level of the brutes, it is said that Circe, touching them with her wand, turned them into swine. She brought to the surface the inner ugliness, revealed the animal that ruled within.
The bitterness of sin. There is more bitterness following upon sin’s ending than ever there was sweetness flowing from sin’s acting. You that see nothing but well in its commission will suffer nothing but woe in its conclusion. You that sin for your profits will never profit by your sins.—Dyer.
Divine judgment a painful reality. That which comes immediately from God has most of God in it. As the sun when he darts his beams in a direct perpendicular line does it most forcibly because most immediately, there are terrors upon the mind which flow immediately from God, and are not weakened or refracted by passing through the instrumental conveyance of a second cause, for that which passes through a thing is contracted according to the narrowness of its passage. The terrors here spoken of, not being inflicted by the intermediate help of anything, but being darted forth from God Himself, are by this incomparably more strong and piercing. When God wounds a man by the loss of an estate, of his health, of a relation, the smart is but commensurate to the thing which is lost, poor and finite. But when He Himself employs His whole omnipotence, and is Himself both the archer and the arrow, there is as much difference between this and the former as when a house lets fall a cobweb and when it falls itself upon a man.—South.
Lamentations 3:14. The figure is hardly changed. Perhaps a laughing-stock to all my people, their song all the day, may be regarded as the shaft which went to the quick. Jeremiah calls a deceiving tongue a deadly arrow (Jeremiah 9:8). They who should have stood by him, as partaking of the same afflictions, hurled at him bolts of ridicule in jaunty songs. Another reading ascribes the mocking to all peoples, not to his fellow-countrymen.
Lamentations 3:15. The nutriment and comfort which I needed were replaced by adversities which I endured to the utmost extent bearable. He has filled me with bitternesses—different kinds of sufferings—and sated me with wormwood.
(ו) Lamentations 3:16. In respect to means of nourishment, I have been still further exasperated. Also he has broken my teeth with gravel; either that which was chewed was full of gritty sand, or for bread he had stones given him. A strange work for the Father! He has covered me with ashes, I am one who mourneth in bitterness.
Lamentations 3:17. Notwithstanding all my afflictions, I might have been calm and hopeful, but the culminating point of all I have to sustain is the conviction that I am put far from God. Is it not a piteous condition which may extort complaint of Thyself? Thou hast cast off my soul from peace. So dense is this outer darkness, that any recollection of ever being in comfort has faded away, I forget good.
COMPLEX PHASES OF DISTRESS
I. The sufferer is the subject of ridicule. “I was a derision to all my people, and their song all the day” (Lamentations 3:14). Dropping the use of metaphor for the nonce, the prophet plainly indicates in these words what the arrows were that pierced him to the quick. They were the darts of ridicule, sharpened with envy and poisoned with rancour—a ridicule all the keener as coming from his own people, and revealing the base treachery that had been all along cherished under the mask of professed friendship. It is a deep wound to a sensitive heart to discover the fickleness of perverse human nature. The very people who smile upon and flatter us in our prosperity are the first to curl the lip of scorn and to join those who make sport over our misfortunes. The idol of the crowd to-day may be the execration of the crowd to-morrow. It is a part of the suffering of the unfaithful to have to endure the contempt of God and man, and the sting of the distress is the consciousness that it is self-induced and richly deserved. Where shall he look for sympathy and help? Not from man. His only refuge is in God.
II. The sufferer is satiated with pain and sunk in abject humiliation. “He hath filled me with bitterness, He hath made me drunken with wormwood. He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, He hath covered me with ashes” (Lamentations 3:15-16). He is as one glutted with bitter food and stupified with nauseous drinks. An Arabic poet describes a man grievously afflicted as “a pounder of wormwood”. His food is so mingled with the grit of the ashes in which it is baked that his teeth are broken in eating it, and he is himself smothered with the ashes into the midst of which he has been thrown down. To the Oriental mind this is a graphic description of acute suffering and shame. Vanity, pride, and disobedience end in humiliation and trouble. “It seems appointed,” says Lange, “that much of the highest instruction should come to us, even in the Bible, through the sufferings and struggles of individual men.” The anguish of the prophet was a type of the sufferings of a rebellious nation.
III. The sufferer is robbed of happiness. “Thou hast removed my soul far off from peace” (Lamentations 3:17). Peace in Hebrew has the wider signification of welfare, happiness. Hence it was their salutation in life, “Peace be to thee,” and in death was engraved upon their sepulchres, “In peace.” Peace with God is the source of permanent and overflowing happiness, and its possession is conditioned on the obedience of faith, for “being justified by faith, we have peace with God, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” How great is the loss when our peace is gone and our happiness takes wing! It is the loss of that we most highly prize and diligently seek after, for happiness is the object of universal search. Rob a man of his peace, and what is there left to live for? The soul, unloosed from her old moorings, is tossed about like a helpless ship in the troubled sea which cannot rest. Life is an intolerable burden, and, swung in a whirl of black despair, the soul cries out with the distracted patriarch, “Oh, that I might have my request,” &c. (Job 6:8-10).
IV. The sufferer loses the very idea of good. “I forgot prosperity” (Lamentations 3:17). I forgot what good is, lost the very idea of what it means. There is no enjoyment in the present; there is no hope in the future. It is impossible to conceive a more pitiable and forlorn condition. The prophet has surely reached the bottom of his despair; there is no lower depth. This is the fate of the man who tries to live without God. His views of right and wrong, of liberty and bondage, of prosperity and adversity, are utterly confounded. It is a dangerous experiment for any man to try. Christ is the Hope of humanity. To be without Him is to be without God, and to be in the condition of the Ephesians of a former age, “Having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
1. It is a painful experience to meet with scorn where we expected sympathy.
2. There is always something to modify the happiness of life.
3. It is one of the saddest results of suffering when the soul loses faith in goodness.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:14-15. Ridicule:
1. Is hard to bear when coming from our enemies. II. Has a special aggravation when it is exultingly employed against us by those we had loved and trusted. III. Overwhelms its victim by its bitterness and ceaseless outflow.
Lamentations 3:17. The loss of happiness: I. Is the loss of peace. II. Is the loss of true notions of goodness. III. Is the fate of the obstinately unbelieving.
ILLUSTRATIONS—Triumph over ridicule. A pious poor man was much ridiculed on account of his religion. Being asked if these daily persecutions did not make him ready to give up his profession, he replied, “No! Our minister once said in his sermon that if we were so foolish as to permit such people to laugh us out of religion till at last we dropped into hell, they could not laugh us out again.”
—What would the nightingale care if the toad despised her singing? She would still sing on, and leave the cold toad to his dank shadows. And what care I for the sneers of men who grovel upon earth? I will still sing on in the ear and bosom of God.—Beecher.
Treachery has no pity. Sir Anthony Kingston, the provost-marshal of the Protector, the Earl of Hertford, sent word to the mayor of Bodmin that he would dine with him. He had a man to hang too, he said, and a stout gallows must be ready. The dinner was duly eaten and the gallows prepared. “Think you,” said Kingston as they stood looking at it, “think you is it strong enough?” “Yea, sir,” quoth the mayor, “it is.” “Well, then,” said Sir Anthony, “get up; it is for you.” The mayor, greatly abashed, exclaimed and protested. “Sir,” said Kingston, “there is no remedy; ye have been a busy rebel, and this is appointed for your reward;” and so, without respite or stay, the mayor was hanged.
Suffering and its compensations. Should the Empress determine to banish me, let her banish me; “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” If she will cast me into the sea, let her cast me into the sea; I will remember Jonah. If she will throw me into a burning fiery furnace, the three children were there before me. If she will throw me to the wild beasts, I will remember that Daniel was in the den of lions. If she will condemn me to be stoned, I shall be an associate of Stephen, the proto-martyr. If she will have me beheaded, the Baptist has submitted to the same punishment. If she will take away my substance, “naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return to it.”—Chrysostom.
The best work comes out of distress. The people of Verona, when they saw Dante in the streets, used to say, “See, there is the man that was in hell!” Ah yes! he had been in hell—in hell enough, in long severe sorrow and struggle, as the like of him is pretty sure to have been. Commedias that come out divine are not accomplished otherwise. Thought, true labour of any kind, highest virtue itself, is it not the daughter of pain? Born as out of the black whirlwind; true effort, in fact, as of a captive struggling to free himself: that is thought. In all ways we are to become perfect through suffering.—Carlyle.
Happiness depends on God. Solon said, “No man ought to be called happy till he dies, because he knows not what his life is to be.” But the Christian may always call himself happy here because wherever his tent is carried, he need never pitch it where the cloud does not move and where he is not surrounded by a wall of fire. “I will be a wall of fire round about them, and their glory in the midst.” They cannot dwell where God is not householder, warder, and bulwark of salvation.
Lamentations 3:18. This reads like an account of the climax to the trials undergone. I said, as if talking to myself, My strength is perished, and my expectation from Jehovah. The future is void of good. I am unable to look for anything from Him. In Jah Jehovah is everlasting strength, but I do not perceive it. I have lost the direction towards Him.
This recalling of the name at last seems to turn the current of thought. I must not let go trust in Him. I must tell Him the desires of my heart.
The sorrow according to God is a product of His wisdom and love. “Sorrow is God’s last message to man; it is God speaking in emphasis. He who abuses it shows that he can shut his ears when God speaks loudest. Therefore heartlessness or impenitence after sorrow is more dangerous than intemperance in joy; its results are always more tragic.… God’s wrath is an ennobling, not a stupefying doctrine” (Smith). Nor is it discouraging to leal-hearted men, though menacing.
(ז) Lamentations 3:19-21. The name of Jehovah is as a rallying-call to reject the rash expression of despair just heard, and stirs up thoughts of what God’s character is. The author begins to feel that he can have recourse to a prayer to be remembered, and so these verses mark the passage from hopeless bafflings with no small storm to the hopeful sound of a favouring breeze.
Lamentations 3:19. Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the gall; a reminiscence of salient points in the sufferings he had passed through, and which might evoke the compassion and power of the All-merciful.
Lamentations 3:20. The correct translation of this verse is uncertain, and preference is given to this. Remembering, thou wilt remember all those things; also [that] my soul is cast down in me. I am heavy laden. I have no might. Either I shall be overwhelmed and sink into deep mire where there is no standing, or else out of weakness be made strong by Thee. It would be like Thee to make haste to help me.
Lamentations 3:21. This I will bring back to my heart, this thought, that Thou wilt not be always wroth, for the spirit would fail before Thee and the souls which thou hast made, has taken full possession of my inner man; therefore I will hope. There must be a blessing in store, for God pities and God rules in exhaustless grace. Out of the darkest depression He can lift to a light in which I may walk and never be ashamed of my hope.
THE DAWN OF HOPE
I. Begins to appear when the soul has reached the verge of despair. “I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18). When things get to the worst they begin to mend. For some time the affairs of the prophet had been sinking into ever-deepening gloom. His peace and happiness had departed, the memory that they ever existed had perished, and now dark doubts about the Divine goodness had finished the degenerating process. It was a critical moment. The soul oscillated between utter collapse and the beginning of recovery. It is a mercy the soul is not left to itself in its weakest moments. Help was at hand, and hope began to dawn. All the time the soul was expressing the utmost despondency, it was struggling against despair, and feeling for some ground of confidence and hope. It begins to appear that, after all, trouble is God’s method of making known His righteousness and love. A way out of the dungeon is opening.
II. Indicated by the prayer of the soul for the Divine pity. “Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall” (Lamentations 3:19). Remember. It is a prayer to Jehovah, beseeching compassion for the soul that has supped its fill of misery, which it has found as bitter as wormwood and gall. There is hope for man, for the worst of men, when he begins to pray. It is the first step upward in the pathway of deliverance. It may seem a cry of despair, but it is a cry that appeals to the Divine pity, and not in vain. The powers of Omnipotence are put into operation for the soul’s rescue.
III. Evident by the fact of the soul’s voluntary humiliation. “My soul hath them still in remembrance and is humbled in me” (Lamentations 3:20). It is borne in upon the sufferer that his extraordinary afflictions are the consequences of sin. The mind oppressed and crippled by a morbid contemplation of its miseries is now transferred to a consideration of their cause, and reflection upon its transgressions bows the soul in conscious shame. A change of theme is a relief to the mentally distressed. The moment the soul becomes concerned about its sins, it becomes anxious about their removal. This anxiety is the dawn of hope.
IV. Strengthened by the recollection that prayer and penitence are the conditions of deliverance. “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope” (Lamentations 3:21). He has seen his error in murmuring against the bitterness of his adversity. Complaints only increased his misery, but did nothing towards removing it. He now recalls how a sight of his sins had humbled him, and led him to pray for mercy, and knowing that God hears the cry of the sincerely penitent, he begins to cherish the hope of pardon and deliverance. It is in this way that God deals with the sinners of to-day. While men concentrate their thoughts upon their misfortunes, and rail against the Providence whose laws they have so recklessly broken, they shut themselves off from God and from hope; but when they acknowledge and grieve over their sins, and pray to God for the mercy provided for all men in Christ Jesus, they receive not only the hope, but the assurance of salvation.
1. Hope is the last link between sanity and utter mental collapse.
2. The greatest sufferer is never wholly without hope.
3. All true reform must begin in hope.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:18-19. Lost hope restored. I. Hope has its highest realisation in God. II. When sin divorces the soul from God, its hope perishes. III. Only as the soul returns to God is its hope restored.
Lamentations 3:20-21. The office of memory: I. Plays an important part in our mental and spiritual history. II. Helps us to realise the nature and aggravation of our sins. III. Should lead us to a wise and timely humiliation on account of sin. IV. Prepares the way for a brighter and more hopeful future.
Lamentations 3:21. Memory, the handmaid of hope. Memory is very often the servant of despondency. She stands like a handmaiden, clothed in sackcloth, presenting to her master a cup of mingled gall and wormwood. Like Mercury, she hastes with winged heel to gather fresh thorns with which to fill the uneasy pillow, and to bind fresh rods with which to scourge the already bleeding heart. There is, however, no necessity for this. Wisdom will transform memory into an angel of comfort. She need not wear a crown of iron; she may encircle her brow with a fillet of gold, all spangled with stars. We lay it down as a general principle, that if we would exercise our memories we might, in our darkest distress, strike a match which would instantaneously kindle the lamp of comfort. I. Apply this principle to the believer in deep trouble. The chapter contains a list of matters the recollection of which brought comfort to Jeremiah 1:0. The fact that, however deep our affliction, it is of the Lord’s mercy we are not consumed. When you are kindling your household fire, before which you hope to sit down with comfort, you do not expect first to kindle the lumps of coal, but you set some lighter fuel in a blaze, and soon the more solid material yields a genial glow; so this thought, which may seem so light to you, may be as the kindling of a heavenly fire of comfort to you who are now shivering in your grief.
2. His compassions fail not. This again is not a very high step, but still it is a little in advance of the other, and the weakest may readily reach it.
3. The Lord is my portion. One of our kings, high and haughty in temper, had a quarrel with the citizens of London, and thought to alarm them by a dreadful threat that would cow the spirits of the bold burghers, for if they did not mind what they were at, he would remove his court from Westminster. Whereupon the doughty Lord Mayor begged to inquire whether his Majesty meant to take the Thames away, for so long as the river remained, his majesty might take himself where he pleased. Even so the world warns us, you cannot hold out, you cannot rejoice; this trouble shall come and that adversity shall befall. We reply, So long as you cannot take our Lord away, we will not complain. We have now advanced to some degree of hope, but there are other steps to ascend.
4. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. Let Him smite never so hard, yet if we can maintain the heavenly posture of prayer, we may rest assured that He will turn from blows to kisses yet. Bunyan tells us that when the city of Mansoul was besieged, it was the depth of winter and the roads were very bad; but even then prayer could travel them. No enemy can barricade the road to the King. We are getting into deeper water of joy; let us take another step.
5. It is good that a man should bear the yoke in his youth. Why should I dread to descend the shaft of affliction if it leads me to the gold mine of spiritual experience? Why should I cry out if the sun of my prosperity goes down, if in the darkness of my adversity I shall be the better able to count the starry promises with which my faithful God has been pleased to gem the sky. Many a promise is written in sympathetic ink, which you cannot read till the fire of trouble brings out the characters. One step more, and surely we shall then have good ground to rejoice.
6. The Lord will not cast off for ever. Who told thee that the night would never end in day? Who told thee that the sea would ebb out till there should be nothing left but a vast tract of mud and sand? Who told thee that the winter would proceed from frost to frost, from snow, and ice, and hail, to deeper snow and yet more heavy tempest? Knowest thou not that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, the spring and summer succeed to winter? Hope thou then! Hope thou ever, for God fails thee not. Thus memory may be, as Coleridge calls it, “the bosom spring of joy.”
II. To the doubting Christian who has lost his evidences of salvation:
1. Call to remembrance matters of the past. At the south of Africa the sea was generally so stormy when the frail barks of the Portuguese went sailing south that they named it the Cape of Storms; but after that cape had been well rounded by bolder navigators, they named it the Cape of Good Hope In your experience you had many a Cape of Storms, but you have weathered them all, and now let them be a Cape of Good Hope to you.
2. Recall the fact that others have found the Lord true to them.
3. Remember that if you look within you will see some faint traces of the Holy Spirit’s hand. The complete picture of Christ is not there, but cannot you see the crayon sketch, the outline, the charcoal marks? Where God the Holy Ghost has done as much as that, He will do more.
4. Recollect that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. If I am not a saint, I am a sinner; and if I may not go to the throne of grace as a child, I will go as a sinner.
III. A few words to seekers. Oh, that I had a voice like the trumpet of God that shall wake the dead at last! If I might only have it to utter one sentence, it would be this one, “In Christ is your help found”. As for you, there never can be found anything hopeful in your human nature. It is death itself, it is rottenness and corruption. Turn, turn away your eyes from this despairing mass of black depravity and look to Christ.—C. H. Spurgeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The misery of hopelessness. Abraham Lincoln, when a young man, was subject to terrible fits of depression. In one of his letters he writes: “I am now the most miserable being living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better.”
Hope presupposes faith. They cannot exist apart. Hope is the balloon of the soul, soaring majestically into the heavens, scanning scenes of beauty and grandeur never beheld by our earthbound senses, and faithfully reporting to the soul the state of affairs in the skies; but it is a captive balloon, and the connecting cords are firmly held in the hand of faith. The loftiest flights and the swing of what may seem the most eccentric gyrations of hope are held in check by the friendly, the sympathetic, and unswerving grasp of faith. “My dear Hope,” says Faith, “it is very nice for you to be up there basking in the cloudless sunshine and drinking in the melody of the ascending lark as it ripples up the heights; and I like you to be there. I could never get there myself; and you tell me of things I should never otherwise know, and they do me good. But remember, I cannot let you go. We are necessary to each other, and cannot do without each other. If you were to break away from me, you would vanish like vapour into space, and I should be left forlorn and powerless”.
Hope clings to us to the last. When John Knox lay dying, one of the friends around his death-bed asked the question, “Hast thou hope?” The veteran reformer was too weak to speak—the moment for speech was gone; but the expiring saint raised his finger and pointed upwards, and so passed triumphantly to the skies.
Prayer a preparation for conflict. A soldier in the Confederate army was once asked what was the secret of Stonewall Jackson’s influence over his men. “Does your general abuse you, swear at you to make you march?” “Swear!” answered the soldier. “No; Ewell does the swearing; Stonewall does the praying! When Stonewall wants us to march, he looks at us soberly, just as if he were sorry for us, and says, ‘Men, we’ve got to make a long march.’ We always know when there is going to be a long march and right smart fighting, for old Jack is powerful on prayer just before a big fight.”
Memory of victory inspiring. During the last days of William IV. the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo occurred. Rousing himself upon remembrance of it, the dying King requested that some of the French standards taken there should be brought to him, which when he looked at and handled he said, “I feel much better.”
(ח) Lamentations 3:22. The hopefulness which had begun to lift a desponding soul points to the ground on which it may become secure. Its hazy outlook is seeming to clear, and, as in all true ideas of human relationship to God, that which is felt as a privilege for the individual is regarded to be a privilege for all souls also who seek the Lord. One voices the confession of the remnant of Israel thus: Jehovah’s mercies, not in one form, but in many forms they affect men, and, whether shown to individuals or communities, they counteract the wasting tendencies of evil. A striking proof of His varied graciousness is manifest in that we are not consumed. More will follow. His continuous action is a token that His nature and name is the All-gracious; for his compassions fail not.
Lamentations 3:23. Every day sees some renewal of them; there is “daily help for daily needs,” as great is thy faithfulness. God is faithful to all that He has promised in creation and grace.
Lamentations 3:24. This perception that the Lord is gracious, pitying, and trustworthy, leads on, not merely to verbal profession of the knowledge of God, but to an acceptance of Himself as the dear and only treasure of the heart. My portion is Jehovah. None in heaven for Him; none on earth desired with Him.
THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS
I. Evidenced in our preservation in the midst of the greatest afflictions. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22). The same Divine power that called us into being is exerted every moment to sustain that being. The enemies of our life threaten us every moment. We walk in the midst of secret and unsuspected dangers. A whiff of subtle and mysterious vapour, and the throb of life is for ever stilled; the crumbling of a few inches of shale beneath our feet, and we are precipitated into the abyss of death; the slightest overbalance on the slippery deck, and we are immersed in a watery grave; the accidental divergence of the knife or firing of the rifle, and we receive our death-wound; the horse stumbles, and the rider lies dead at its feet; the lightning flashes, and the unsuspecting passer-by is stricken into a livid corpse; the careering locomotive leaves the metals, and many homes are darkened with desolation and sorrow; the volcano opens its treacherous side, and thousands are swallowed into the depths of its burning lava. How unfathomable is the mercy and how undeviating the faithfulness that have spared us to this hour! “One shall be taken and another left;” but how is it that others are taken and we are left? How is it that we have been to so many funerals, and no one has yet been to ours?
II. Revealed in its greatness by the daily renewal of the Divine mercies. “They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). Our wants are constant; so is the Divine provision. The arrest in the outflow of Divine mercies for a single day would mean unspeakable suffering to millions. The Divine supply is ever ahead of our daily needs. Every Divine blessing has the freshness and the fragrance of the morning about it. “They are new every morning”—unfailing as the morning dawn, bright and joyous as the morning sunshine, brilliant and sparkling as the morning dew, sweet and invigorating as the morning air. Every new day, as it pours its cornucopia of gifts upon the world, is an infallible witness to the Divine faithfulness.
III. Is the assured foundation of the soul’s hope. “The Lord is my portion, therefore will I hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24). The hope of the prophet began to dawn amidst the deepest gloom when he remembered that God answered prayer (Lamentations 3:21); but now it is strengthened and confirmed when he is assured of the constancy of the Divine mercy. Israel’s hope of help from Egypt, or from any of her professed allies, was shattered, that she might be taught to seek refuge alone in God. Amid the wreckage of all earthly hopes the soul finds a sure foundation for hope and confidence in the unchangeable mercy and faithfulness of God.
1. Affliction which reveals the fickleness of earthly things also reveals the unchanging faithfulness of God.
2. Daily mercies are constant reminders of the Divine faithfulness.
3. The Divine faithfulness is at once the hope and satisfaction of the soul.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:22-23. The views of a saint in his afflictions. He contemplates—
1. The lightness of his affliction in comparison of his deserts.
2. The multitude of the mercies yet continued to him.
3. The unchangeableness of God under all His dispensations.
4. The beauty of religion as displayed in these views.
They compose the mind, elevate the soul, and honour God.—Simeon.
Lamentations 3:23. Dayspring mercies. I. These words seem to speak of the inexhaustible wealth of God’s forgiveness. But for the daily renewal of God’s mercy to His people they would have been utterly cut off. His faithfulness to the covenant was great beyond all human parallel. No new day would ever brighten and glow over the cowed, comfortless, half-relenting remnant of the holy seed, but for God’s readiness to forgive. They had sinned away their covenant birthright, but God’s compassion hovered near to restore it again. And is it not ever so with God’s people? In times of chastisement and in times of prosperity alike they need to be ever encircled by God’s forgiving grace. Close by one of the great cities of the East there is a large stretch of grass that is always green. Sometimes the showers are rare and scanty, and the thermometer mounts to an appalling height, and one wonders to see the grass green and lush as though it were growing in some English meadow. It is kept so by a heavy dew that never fails to fall in the night-time. And so with our life of consecration. There is no dawn without the dew of abounding love and compassion descending to keep it green. II. These words seem to suggest the resourcefulness of Divine Providence. The mercy that is ever fresh to pardon is ever fresh to guide and shape the circumstances in the midst of which the pardoned life is spent. The text is in direct conflict with the clock-work theory of the universe. Providence glories in freshness and originality—it abhors unintelligent routine. The tied-up helm and the sail square-set to the wind are no types of God’s providential methods of dealing with us. Life is full of bends and rapids and shallows and whirlpools, and an automatic providence will not meet the terrific emergencies of its swiftly passing moments. Sail and helm alike are in His hand, and answer to His touch through every flashing second. Astronomers at one time puzzled themselves over a problem in solar physics. How was the heat of the sun maintained? It seemed a natural inference that, as it was always giving off heat in stupendous volumes, ultimate exhaustion must one day come. Within recent times the suggestion has found wide acceptance that the sun is constantly drawing meteors, asteroids, and comets to itself, and that the heat is maintained by the impact of these bodies as they fall into the sun. Things come to us from time to time that seem out of all accord with the harmonies around us. Strange difficulties, stumbling-blocks, tribulations, start up in the path of our daily life. These things are drawn into the circle of God’s control and government for their solution, and it is in this way that the very glory of God’s providence is maintained. III. These words seem to suggest the unfailing truth and faithfulness of God in His relation to His people. God’s renewed mercies are linked with the morning because the return of the day is one of the most perfect and intelligible symbols of constancy to be found in the economy of Nature. The rains may come and go upon a system to which science has found no clue. Winter sometimes pushes itself far on into the spring. A late spring and an early autumn may squeeze out the summer. A flood may quite change the face of a country. Islands have been known to disappear in some of the convulsions of Nature. The mariner has looked for his landmark, and it is gone. Empires may rise and perish with no hope of a resurrection other than an ignoble disinterment at the hands of the archæologist. But no ill chance can befall the day-spring. And as infallibly as the welcome day-dawn steals at its own hour into our homes, so infallibly do the Divine compassions arise upon the lowly and the contrite. God reflects the benignity of His own face into the flush of dawn, and makes it the parable of a faithfulness upon which you can always count. IV. These words suggest the unfailing promptness of God’s ministrations. “His mercies are new every morning;” that is, just as soon as, or even before, we begin to need them. We receive our salvation, guidance, and defence, not of our own work, but of His free love. If it were of our own work, we must needs wait for the nightfall before we could receive any recompense. Wages are paid at sunset. But it is all His gift. So the mercy in which we rejoice comes to us with the dawn, before we have done a solitary stroke of work. The regulations of the court at Pekin are so framed as to give to the Chinese Empire an example of promptness and despatch. The emperor always receives his cabinet ministers and councillors at three or four o’clock in the morning—long before day-dawn. And so God awaits His servants with new pardons, new counsels, new honours in His kingdom, long before the day-dawn. An ingenious botanist, by watching the hours at which certain flowers opened, hit upon the pretty conceit of constructing what he called a flower-clock. God’s matchless mercies, like circles of thickset bloom that break into splendour with a rhythm that never halts, are measuring out the successive hours of our life. No winter comes to blast the flowers, and the clock is never behind time. V. These words suggest the perpetual freshness of the Divine Nature. God’s compassions are unceasingly new because they well, pure and fair, out of the stainless and infinite depths of His Fatherhood. They have the ever-renewed and living sweetness of His own spring-like nature in them. His daily mercies come to us clothed with the enkindled grace of His own matchless smile, and full of the light of an immortal May-time. He cannot give or do without putting the buoyancy of His own untiring and eternal youth into each boon and act.—T. G. Selby.
Lamentations 3:24. (Compared with Deuteronomy 32:9). Choice portions.
I. The Lord’s portion is His people.
1. The Church of God is the Lord’s own peculiar and special property. As a king may have ample possessions, to all of which he has undoubted right, but still has royal demesnes and crown-lands which are in a very special sense his own, so hath the Lord of all a peculiar interest in His saints. They are His by sovereign choice, by purchase and by conquest.
2. The saints are the objects of the Lord’s especial care. The Lord is the eternal watcher of the universe and never sleeps; yet in a very distinct sense He is the guardian of His Church. 3. The Church is the object of the Lord’s special joy. I do not read that God delighteth in the cloud-capped mountains or in the sparkling stars, but I do read that He delighteth in the habitable parts of the earth, and His delights are with the sons of men.
4. God’s people are His everlasting possession. He will never sell His people at any price, nor, if He could have better people instead, would He change them. They are His for ever.
II. The Lord is my portion.
1. True believers hare the Lord as their sole portion. St. Augustine was wont very often to pray, “Lord, Give me thyself.” A less portion than this would be unsatisfactory.
2. As God is our only portion, so He is our own portion. Do not be satisfied with generals; come to particulars. Men go to hell in bundles, but they go to heaven separately.
3. The Lord is to His people an inherited portion. We owe it to the fact of our birth—a child of God by being born in the image of His Song of Song of Solomon 4:0. This heritage is ours by choice. We have chosen God to be our portion. Better to have Christ and a fiery faggot than to lose Him and wear a royal robe.
5. God is His people’s settled portion. The covenant of day and night may be broken, the waters may again cover the earth, sooner than the decrees of grace be frustrated. The Lord is my all-sufficient portion. God fills Himself. If He is all-sufficient in Himself, He must be all-sufficient for us.—C. H. Spurgeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Divine faithfulness. Visiting a dying Christian woman, Dr. John Brown once said to her, “What would you say, Janet, if, after God has done so much for you, He should let you drop into hell?” She calmly replied, “E’en as He likes; but He’ll lose more than I will.”
—You may be faint and weary, but my God cannot. I may fluctuate and alter as to my frames and feelings, but my Redeemer is unchangeably the same. I might utterly fail and come to nothing if left to myself; but I cannot be so left to myself, for the Spirit of Truth hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” He will renew my strength, either by changing my weakness into strength, or by enduing me with His own power. He is wise to foresee and provide for all my dangers. He is rich to relieve and succour me in all my wants. He is faithful to perfect and perform all His promises.—Ambrose Serle.
Divine Providence. It is the fault of the present day to think and to act as if man could do everything, and to forget God’s special providence. Hence that busybodiness which distinguishes the religious world, and prevents that depth of piety which is the result of sober, calm reflection, and which shows itself in doing calmly and unostentatiously, not what seems likely to be attended with the greatest results, but simply the duty our hand findeth to do.—Dean Hook.
—Those believers who watch providences will never lack providences to watch.—Flavell.
Divine supply in emergencies. St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne was often in great poverty and pinched for food. “Never did man die of hunger who served God faithfully,” he would say when night found them supperless in the waste. “Look at the eagle overhead! God can feed us through him, if He will!”—and once, at least, he owed his meal to a large fish that the scared bird let fall.
Want anticipated. The wood-piercing bee will make a tunnel in a tree-trunk twelve or fifteen inches long and half an inch wide, which is divided into ten or twelve cells. An egg with a store of pollen and honey is deposited in each cell, so that as soon as the young bee is born it has its dinner awaiting it!—Ruskin.
(ט) Lamentations 3:25. Such an acceptance suggests more knowledge. Good is Jehovah to them that wait for him, to a soul that seeks him. He is ready to respond to those who feel need of Him and foster longings after Himself.
Lamentations 3:26. So when the graciousness of the Lord is perceived, and its proffers yielded to, blessedness is not far off. Good it is both to wait and be silent for the salvation of Jehovah. There is to be no striving, nor crying, nor causing the voice to be heard in the street. Confidence in His power to save hushes fears and doubts, and enables us calmly to meet the events of life. He will in no wise leave or forsake those who wait for Him.
Lamentations 3:27. Good is it for a man to bear a yoke, that is, anything by which he will be trained for his Owner, and to do his Owner’s work. Teaching may do so; affliction may do so. Both the one and the other show to a man what he is—ignorant, weak, with more that is bad than he had believed he had. God speaks in both methods as issues of His love, and to obtain vessels unto honour, sanctified, meet for the Master’s use. The phrase in his youth does not mean that the poet was still a young man. He might be an aged man, looking back on the experiences of his life, and conscious of the value of the discipline he had been subjected to when the dew of youth was upon him. He is blessed who, in earlier years, has been drawn or driven to look into the face of realities, and to learn something of the afflictions of Christ before he has been in grip with temptations from the clamant lusts of the flesh and of the mind.
THREE GRADES OF GOODNESS
I. There is the goodness of Jehovah to those who cling to Him. “The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” (Lamentations 3:25). God is absolutely and supremely good—good in Himself, good in all things, good at all times. If He is good to all, then He must be especially so to those who wait on Him in conscious dependence and earnestly supplicate His help. There are mysteries about the Divine procedure which we cannot fathom, and we are sometimes tempted to question the goodness of God. But clearer light dispels our doubts, and the more completely we trust in Him the more real and tender and potent does His goodness become. We never know God aright till we trust Him fully.
II. There is the goodness of patient and uncomplaining waiting for God’s time of deliverance. “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26). To indulge in querulous complaints only increases the irritation of our sufferings. Murmuring begets murmuring, and we are apt to blame every one but ourselves. The more we grumble, the farther are we away from goodness. It is only when we are silent and abstain from complaining that we begin to see that our deliverance must come from God, and that it is our wisdom to bide His time and humbly submit to His method. The soul attains goodness by exercising an active and larger faith in the Divine goodness. A clearer apprehension of goodness in God begets a corresponding goodness in the soul that sees it.
III. There is the goodness of being accustomed to the harden of suffering early in life. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). Youth is the period of enjoyment, and it has a pleasure all its own, with its bright and gay romancing, its poetic dreams of beauty and delight, its relishable love of work, its daring enterprise and bold ambitions, its soaring hopes and confident prophecies, its sparkling wit and brimming fun—brilliant and harmless as tropical lightning; buoyant, radiant, joyous youth-time, when every sense is steeped in the intoxicating nectar of innocent rapture, when the whole world shines with the golden glory of perpetual summer, and when life is one long, sweet poem, set to the enchanting movements of exquisite music. But youth has also its burdens and responsibilities, and its happiness is not destroyed but intensified when it learns to bear with bravery the disappointments and afflictions of life. The youth who has known little of suffering is ill prepared for the stern realities of ordinary life. Early sorrow brings early comfort and peace and strength. The best that is in man is tested and perfected by misfortune.
1. God is good in Himself inherently and essentially.
2. Man is good only in the degree in which he receives Divine grace and submits to the Divine discipline.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:25. The Divine goodness.
1. A grand reality.
2. Continually manifested.
3. Specially revealed to the earnest seeker.
Lamentations 3:26. The advantages of a state of expectation.
1. It seems implied that our incapacity of looking into the future has much to do with the production of disquietude and unhappiness.
2. And yet the possession of this power of anticipating the future would be incalculably more detrimental.
3. Our ignorance of what shall happen stimulates exertion. We are so constituted that to deprive us of hope would be to make us inactive and wretched.
4. It is for our advantage that salvation, instead of being a thing of certainty and present possession, must be hoped and quietly waited for.
5. If true believers were withdrawn from earth at the moment of their becoming such, the influences of piety which now make themselves felt through the mass of a population would be altogether destroyed, and the world deprived of that salt which alone preserves it from total decomposition.
6. No fair explanation can be given of the text unless you bring into the account the difference in the portions to be assigned hereafter to the righteous.
7. The continuance of the justified on earth affords them opportunity of rising higher in the scale of future blessedness.
8. Being compelled to hope and to wait is a good moral discipline, so that the exercises prescribed are calculated to promote holiness and ensure happiness.
9. It is good as affording time in which to glorify God.
10. Religion gives a character to hope of which otherwise it is altogether destitute. Hope is a beautiful meteor; but nevertheless this meteor, like the rainbow, is not only lovely because of its seven rich and radiant stripes; it is the memorial of a covenant between man and his Maker, telling us that we are born for immortality, destined, unless we sepulchre our greatness, to the highest honour and noblest happiness.—Henry Melville.
Hope and patience. I. What is meant by the salvation of the Lord? God’s salvation is used very frequently in the Bible for His interposition to save the soul of man from sin. It is not this salvation which is here spoken of, for though a man may be encouraged to hope, he cannot be urged quietly to wait for it. The language of the chapter is not that of a man ignorant of God. It is the salvation which a man needs in any crisis of life, where he suffers under trial, or is threatened with it. Our strength and resources, all possible expedients, have been brought into exercise. The last reserve has been thrown into the battle, and yet it goes against us. It is then the case rises distinctly into the salvation of the Lord. A man who has faith only in worldly resources is powerless here. He must give up in despair, or cast himself on a blind chance. But, for a believing man, there is still a duty and a stay. When he cannot take a step farther in human effort, there is a pathway to the skies, and his heart can travel it. II. What is meant by these exercises of the soul towards God’s salvation—to hope and quietly wait?
1. The foundation of hope lies in desire. But desire may pursue things that can never be objects of hope to us. We can only hope for that which is felt to be possible and reasonable. The next element is faith. But we believe in many things in regard to which we do not hope. Hope is faith with desire pointing out the objects. A third element to make our hope strong is imagination. While sin has made this world a charnel-house of corruption or a storehouse of vanities, purity can fill its treasury with divine aspirations which are as grand as they are transcendently real. II. Quiet waiting. It is termed in the Bible patience. It is the part of hope to seek the future; it is the duty of patience to rest calmly in the present, exercising faith, and giving calm attention to duties. The tamest and most insignificant of daily duties may be made noble and divine when the thought of God and the will of Christ are carried into them. III. Consider the benefit of uniting these—both to hope and quietly wait.
1. The one is needful to save the other from sinking into sin.
2. To raise the other to its full strength.
3. It is good now in the depth of the soul, in the conscious assurance that it is better to rest in the hardest of God’s ways than to wander at will in our own.
4. It is good in the enhancement of every blessing for which we have to wait. Between your use of the means and the result which you desire there is still a gulf of separation, on the brink of which Patience must sit and look across, waiting God’s time and way to pass it.—John Ker, D.D.
Lamentations 3:27. Youth the proper season of discipline. I. In the principles of true religion. II. In the arts of honest industry.—Berriman.
The best burden for young shoulders. The bullocks have to bear the yoke. They go in pairs, and the yoke is borne upon their shoulders. If the bullock is not broken in when young, it will never make a good ploughing ox. So it is good for us when young to learn obedience, to acquire knowledge, and to encounter difficulties and troubles. I. It is good to be a Christian while you are young.
1. The man whose heart is conquered by Divine grace early is made happy soon.
2. Is saved from a thousand snares.
3. Is saved from having his shoulders galled with the devil’s yoke.
4. Gives him longer time in which to serve God.
5. Enables him to be well established in Divine things. II. It is good for young Christians that they bear the yoke of Jesus.
1. They render to Jesus complete obedience from the very first.
2. They attain clear instruction in Divine truth.
3. They serve Christ early.
4. It is good to meet with difficulties and persecution in youth. III. Practically we are all of us in our youth.
1. Bearing the yoke, the old Adam is kept in check.
2. We are helpful to others who have known affliction.
3. Will make heaven all the sweeter.—Spurgeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The goodness of God experienced. A German just converted was greatly surprised at the goodness of God to him, which he now realised. One day he was overheard in prayer saying, “O Lord Jesus! I did not know Thou wert so good!” How general is this ignorance!
Patience conquers. Twenty-five years ago the founder of a college for negroes in America was hunted like a wild beast through the region where his name is now spoken by men of all parties with reverence. Lloyd Garrison was nearly murdered by an infuriated mob for championing the emancipation of the slaves, and years afterwards, in the same city, was made the recipient of its highest honours. Time fights against every tyranny, and in favour of the tyrannised. To endure is to conquer.
Fellow-suffering silences complaints. During one of the campaigns in the American civil war, when the winter weather was very severe, some of Stonewall Jackson’s men, having crawled out in the morning from their snow-laden blankets, half-frozen, began to abuse him as the cause of their sufferings. He lay close by under a tree, himself covered with snow, and heard all this; but, without noticing it, presently crawled out too, and, shaking off the snow, made some jocular remark to the nearest men, who had no idea he had ridden up in the night and lain down amongst them! The incident ran through the array in a few hours, and reconciled his followers to all the hardships of the expedition, and fully re-established his popularity.
Skill acquired in youth. Livy says that at the siege of Samé one hundred slingers were brought from Ægeum, Patræ, and Dymæ. These men, according to the practice of that nation, were exercised from their childhood in throwing with a sling into the open sea the round pebbles which strew the shore. Being accustomed to drive their missiles through circular marks of small circumference placed at a great distance, they not only hit the enemy’s heads, but any part of their faces they aimed at. These slings checked the Sameans from sallying out either so frequently or so boldly, insomuch that they would sometimes from the walls beseech the Achæans to retire for a while and be quiet spectators of their fight with the Roman guards.
A brave youth. William Hunter, a London apprentice, was in 1555 ordered by a priest to attend mass. He refused, and one day was found reading the Bible in Brentwood Church. He fled. His father was seized, and to release him the boy returned and surrendered. He was imprisoned for nine months, then offered a bribe by Bishop Bonner if he would recant. To all he opposed a courageous resistance, and was burned at the stake in his native village, retaining to the last his religious sturdiness and bravery.
(י) Lamentations 3:28. A yoke is not of itself beneficial; it must be borne along with desires and efforts to reach to its purpose. “Since it is good for man that he should learn to endure suffering, let him sit still and bear it patiently; … let him sit solitary, as becomes those in sorrow, and be silent without murmuring when God puts such a burden on him.”—Keil. The fogs of the world, if a man enters into them, may veil the waymarks of God.
Lamentations 3:29. Let him put his mouth in the dust—significant of being humbled under the mighty hand of God—indulging in no whimpers, framing no self-excuses, making no boasts, only waiting to hear what God the Lord will speak, and by no means despairing of help for every time of need. It may be there is hope.
Lamentations 3:30. Let him give his cheek to him that smiteth him, as was similarly enforced in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:39). and involving the wider application, when reviled not to revile again. Exemplified by Job, by the prophetic Servant of Jehovah, by the greatest of all Sufferers. The gradation is perceptible. “The sitting alone and in silence is comparatively the easiest. It is harder to place the mouth in the dust and yet cling to hope; it is most difficult of all to give the cheek to the smiter, and to satiate oneself with dishonour” (Naegel.), be filled full with reproaches.
I. Should be borne in silence, recognising the hand of God in affliction. “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because He hath borne it upon Him” (Lamentations 3:28). It is difficult for an active spirit to settle down contentedly and in silence in any kind of circumstances. We cannot rid ourselves of the idea that something is to be done, and we must do it. If our misfortunes come as the result of our own folly, we feel we must do something to repair the damage, little dreaming how utterly useless are all our endeavours. When at length the truth dawns upon us that God is at work in connection with our sufferings, the soul is at once subdued into silence and patiently waits the issue. Something like this was once the experience of the Psalmist (Psalms 39:9).
II. Should be borne with reverential humility, knowing there is hope of deliverance. “He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope” (Lamentations 3:29). The putting the mouth in the dust indicates how completely the soul is prostrated before God in humility and reverential silence. The soul can bear any burden when it knows that the hand of God imposes it, and that He has still hold of it. While we are conscious God is in touch with our burden, there is always hope of its removal. It is when God leaves us to our fate that hope dies. Resignation is no evidence of hopelessness, but rather an evidence how firmly our hope is grounded. We could not so completely cease from all personal effort were we not so fully assured of Divine deliverance.
III. Should be borne without resentment, not shrinking from the bitterest dregs of the cup. “He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him; he is filled full with reproach” (Lamentations 3:30). We are to be resigned, but not insensible; submissive, but not apathetic. We are keenly alive to the reproaches heaped upon us by our enemies. Our very resignation is offensive to them, and is made a handle of scorn. It is hard to bear the jeers of others without retaliation. When our sufferings come through our fellow-men, it is but human to resent their attacks with indignation—to meet scorn with scorn. But when we are sensible our troubles come from God, we can more readily submit, and we have grace given to bear, without resentment, all that it may please Him to impose upon us. Behind the divine severity there is unspeakable gentleness.
1. The greatest sorrow must be borne alone and in silence.
2. Murmuring and resentment will increase, but not relieve our sufferings.
3. A spirit of humble resignation secures the Divine compassion and help.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:28-30. Silent suffering. I. Not the less acute because endured in silence (Lamentations 3:28). II. Is bearable when the soul has a glimmering of hope (Lamentations 3:29). III. Shows that the sufferer has exhausted every possible ground for complaint (Lamentations 3:30).
Lamentations 3:28. Retirement and silence.
“What then should be a sinner’s course?
Silence to all save himself and his God.
And so also our Lord ‘became dumb;
He still waited upon his Father;
He made as if He had nothing to say.
How much more should we be silent in our guilt!
Thou hast sinned in company,
Learn to do without company at all.
Thou hast dealt rudely with thy God,
Be content to be rudely dealt with.
Thou hast forsaken Him,
Be content to be forsaken.
Thou hast sinned in talk,
Be content to keep silence.
Thou hast sinned in selfish ways,
Be content, nay be glad, to be overlooked,
To be disappointed—forgotten.
The less thou art able to retire at fixed times,
Be the more watchful to do so at occasional times.
Thou hast sinned in boasting,
Be sometimes silent, even from good words.
Thou hast sinned by cowardice,
Force thyself to speak—in truthfulness to confess.
Accept bereavements, separations, estrangements,
As opportunities of penance assigned by Him.
That He may open thy mouth at last,
To shew forth His praise,
And nothing but His praise.”
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Resignation to the will of God. A remarkable instance of Christian resignation was discovered on one particular occasion in the conduct of Archbishop Fenélon. When his illustrious and hopeful pupil, the Duke of Burgundy, lay dead in his coffin, and the nobles of his court, in all the pomp of silent sadness, stood around, the Archbishop came into the apartment, and having fixed his eyes for some time on the corpse, broke out at length in words to this effect—“There lies my beloved prince, for whom my affections were equal to the tenderest regard of the tenderest parents. Nor were my affections lost; he loved me in return with all the ardour of a son. There he lies, and all my worldly happiness lies dead with him. But if the turning of a straw would call him back to life, I would not for ten thousand worlds be the turner of that straw in opposition to the will of God.”
Soul-growth aided by silence. Some of the best and most beautiful works are perfected in silence. In the making of plate-glass the process of pouring the melted material is so delicate, requiring such care and steadiness, that the men, impressed with the great danger of carelessness, usually preserve silence during the process.
Humility a help to knowledge. When the recent military expedition went to Lower Egypt, it was found that only the smallest boats could go great distances up the Nile. There are some truths that are only revealed to those who grow in loneliness and self-forgetfulness—secret teachings which are reserved for those who are intensely childlike in spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Heroic endurance. One of the secrets of Victor Hugo’s power over the French people was their memory of the following. When the disasters of the Franco-German war were falling thickly, and the iron band was closing round Paris, word came that Victor Hugo was coming to the city. He came at the very moment that the investment was complete, with the last train, the last breath of free air. On the way he had seen the Bavarians, seen villages burned with petroleum, and he came to imprison himself in Paris. A memorable ovation was given him by the people, and they never forgot his voluntary sharing of their sufferings.
(כ) Lamentations 3:31. For this silent waiting on the Lord, amid humiliations and scorn, there is all-sufficient strength. It is in the Lord Himself, in the belief that He is at work; that, whatever our tribulations are, however bitter ingredients we must drain out of our cup, whatever the moral conflicts and self-condemnations we must pass through, He will not put us away. The Lord will not cast off for ever; there will be an end of tears and isolation on account of the absent Friend.
Lamentations 3:32. His providences may distress us. Physical pains, social straits, national demoralisation, and inward unrest, blame, forebodings, may overwhelm us. These are goads by which He is thrusting us from a wrong way into a right, but “it is love that bruises us.” Yet he will have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
Lamentations 3:33. He would rather not produce suffering. His heart is not in doing so. He has a distinct end in view to be reached through tribulation. For he afflicts not willingly, nor grieves the children of men. Child and adult, Israelite and heathen, will meet trouble, but not one is outside the sympathy of God. We can supplement this from a later teacher, who tells us that our Father chastises for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
THE TENDERNESS OF GOD
I. Seen in the limitation of punishment. “For the Lord will not cast off for ever” (Lamentations 3:31). God has no delight in inflicting punishment. His righteousness imposes on Him the necessity of punishing sin. But punishment has its limits; and when those limits are exceeded, justice degenerates into cruelty. The tenderness of God is a universal safeguard against unduly prolonged punishment (Psalms 77:7-9).
II. Seen in the abundant manifestation of mercy. “But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lamentations 3:32). Even in chastisement mercy triumphs over justice. Mercy provides a means of escape, not from justice, but from the worst consequences of transgression. “All the souls that were, were forfeit once; and He that might the vantage best have took found out the remedy.” “God be merciful to me a sinner,” is the leading idea of inscriptions on thousands of gravestones in the stately cathedral and the village churchyard, and bear silent testimony to the deepest convictions of mankind. The mercy of God will be conspicuous to the universe, and the theme of endless adoration.
III. Seen in the reluctance with which He inflicts chastisement. “For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). God never afflicts willingly—lit., from his heart. The heart of God is love, and love has no pleasure in the sufferings of others, and is not eager to impose suffering. That God afflicts at all, and that He does it with so much reluctance, should intensify the conviction that, not only is chastisement necessary, but that it is evidently intended to lead to a greater good. The prophet dwells on the tenderness of God to enforce complete resignation to the Divine arrangements.
1. God never punishes beyond the absolute necessity of the case.
2. He sympathises with the sufferer His justice compels Him to chastise.
3. He is ever slow to wrath.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:31-36. Comfort for the sorrowful. I. A cheering assurance given.
1. That God’s abandonment of His people is only temporary. “For the Lord will not cast off for ever.”
2. That the favour with which He will visit them will be signal and abundant. “But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.” II. An important reason adduced. “For He doth not afflict willingly.” This may be inferred:
1. From His character. He is a God of love.
2. From the relationship He sustains to His people. He is their father. An earthly parent has to chastise his offspring, but He does it with reluctance.
3. Their sufferings are attended with many alleviations. Had He any pleasure in punishing us, so much mercy would not be mingled with judgment.
4. The object He has in view in afflicting His children: it is for their profit, that they may be partakers of His holiness.
5. His readiness to remove His chastening hand when the visitation has answered the end intended. III. A gracious limitation subjoined. Whenever God afflicts, it is:
1. Within the bounds of moderation. To “crush” expresses what is extreme and destructive (Isaiah 27:8; Jeremiah 10:24; Jeremiah 46:28).
2. Never in violation of the principles of equity. “To subvert a man in his cause the Lord approveth not.” He is the righteous Lord, who loveth righteousness, and all He doeth is in accordance therewith.—Expository Outlines.
Lamentations 3:31-33. Afflictions not accidental. This apparent contradiction between the Divine compassion and our human griefs, between what we desire and need and what we feel to be real, is to-day what it has been from the beginning, the standing problem, the bitter tragedy of human life. It has but one solution. There is a mischief in man’s nature producing discord in his condition, begetting the necessity and the mercy of a Divine chastening; and this, both in the end it contemplates and in the methods it employs, is a providence of compassion. I. The fact that grief is the heritage of man. Life is still the natural history of sorrow—man’s life the bitterest of all. There are troubles that belong to the lot of individual man, and in this form they are the impartial inheritance of the race. There are troubles which afflict the community, which fall upon the mass in its aggregation of families, neighbourhoods, communities, and nations. The great and good, the beautiful and the wise, the aged and the young, all races and all conditions of men, have gone down under this terrible Euroclydon of grief. These facts are a difficulty to the Christian philosopher, but they are equally so to the sceptic. II. Divine compassion in its relation to suffering.
1. All human suffering comes within the foreknowledge and is under the control of God.
2. Many of our troubles, probably most of them, have their causes in ourselves.
3. There are troubles and afflictions, and these not few, which we must consider only as the punishment of sin. Strife is the essence of sin. It is self-will pitted in avowed antagonism to God. God will not vacate His sovereignty because man rebels. He cannot be defeated or bribed, or bought off from His purpose, even by prayer. The bitter, bitter cup must be drunk; the chastisement must come. But with all this, there comes also the presence of an infinite compassion. He succours His children while the law oppresses them. He delivers them speedily when its mission is accomplished.—J. Burton.
Lamentations 3:32-33. God the consolation of the afflicted. I. A revealed fact. “God doth not willingly afflict the children of men.” This fact rests upon another fact—the teaching of Scripture regarding the providence of God. A particular and special providence is the sole ground of prayer; prayer being the basis of all true religion. When the mind dwells upon the special providence of God, it learns the more difficult task of submitting to all afflictive dispensations with thanksgiving. II. The passage appears to stand opposed to the omnipotence of God. God is Almighty, but He has willed to set limits to the exercise of His omnipotence. He abides by the laws He has himself enacted. The law connects life and happiness with obedience. But the law would cease to exist if life and happiness were dispensed also to the disobedient. The law was magnified when God Himself, in the person of His Son, yielded obedience to it. God will not by His omnipotence overrule or supersede the freedom of the human will. If we be not true to ourselves, He will at length, after trial, leave us to our own devices. It is an awful thought that a man may outlive the day of grace. He may remain a thing upon earth to subserve some purpose in the providence of God, but as a person his trial may have ceased. If one of the purposes of affliction is to correct and amend us, one of the means of avoiding affliction must be to endeavour to shape our lives according to the law of God. When afflictions do come, it is an ineffable consolation to be assured all things are ordered by God for our good. III. The histories of good men illustrate the truth of the text. We learn why afflictions were imposed upon them. Study the lives of Jacob, Joseph, David, Job, and Christ.—W. F. Hook, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Chastisement a proof of God’s tenderness. It is true to be struck once in anger is fearful. God’s displeasure is more than His blow. Fear not; these stripes are the tokens of His love. He is no son that is not beaten, yea, till he smart and cry, if not till he bleed. No parent corrects another’s child; and he is no good parent that corrects not his own. O rod worthy to be kissed, that assures us of His love, of our adoption!—Bp. Hall.
“Heaven is not always angry when He strikes,
But most chastises those whom most He likes.”—Pomfret.
Affliction God’s messenger. Luther used to say there were many of the Psalms he could never understand till he had been afflicted. Rutherford declared he had got a new Bible through the furnace. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather; rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights.
Afflictions overruled. Artists and composers have often been helped in their studies by their physical infirmities. Bach’s blindness, Beethoven’s deafness, making society and social distractions almost impossible, drove them in upon their own genius, and compelled them to listen to the voice of God within them. Some beauties of character and achievement can only be secured by retirement and solitude, and affliction often compels to this.
(ל) Lamentations 3:34-36. The Lord does not afflict willingly, yet He is not indifferent to the injustice of man to man. All the details of human procedure are regarded by Him, and he would have men to know that He is on the throne judging right, that they may trust Him entirely, and that there is no evil needing to be grieved over but sin. Such is the intimation in this triad of verses, the three parts of which depend on the last clause: To trample under his feet—the feet of the oppressor—all prisoners of the earth; an allusion to the cruelties of the Chaldeans. Jews in exile, Jews in prisons, yes, and outraged captives everywhere, are referred to. He hears the sighing of the prisoner. To turn aside the right of a man, that which is grounded in the far-reaching nature of things formed by the Righteous One, before the face of the Most High. This phrase is illustrated by the wilderness legislation as to matters of trespass, The cause of both parties shall come before [God] Elohim, he whom Elohim shall condemn, &c. (Exodus 22:9). The phraseology obviously designates judges as acting in place of the Judge of all the earth, and is found used in later times (Psalms 82:6). To subvert a man in his cause, to act unfairly towards another in the ordinary pursuits of life, the Lord approveth not. Questioning this translation, Keil renders, Doth not the Lord look [to such doings as these]?
GOD AND HUMAN WRONG
I. God approves not wanton cruelty towards prisoners of war. “To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the earth” (Lamentations 3:34). Jeremiah was probably a daily witness of cruelties suffered by the captives. One of the greatest horrors of ancient warfare was the inhuman treatment of prisoners. Any exception to this, history does not fail to record as a remarkable example of clemency and forbearance. Few men can be trusted with unrestricted power. Where there is no fear of immediate consequences to himself, man rapidly develops into a monster of cruelty. The helplessness of captives appeals to the pity of the tyrant. Every act of inhumanity God not only disapproves, but will certainly punish.
II. God approves not the base attempt to procure an unjust sentence before any legal tribunal. “To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High (Lamentations 3:35), of a superior, or before a legal tribunal acting in the name of God (Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9). An oppressor who would hesitate to commit an act of cruelty in public does not scruple to stoop to the basest arts in secret to pervert the course of justice. Happy is the nation where the judgment-seat is beyond the reach of corruption.
III. God approves not the perversion of justice in any case, or in any degree. “To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not” (Lamentations 3:36). No act of wrong, whether open or secret, can escape the All-seeing Jehovah, nor can it escape punishment. Tyranny is not supreme, and its reign is always short-lived. God is the implacable foe of all injustice; and the oppressed everywhere are sure to be relieved and vindicated.
1. Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
2. God is not an indifferent spectator of the wrong inflicted by one man upon another.
3. God will certainly interfere to redress all human wrongs.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:34-36. The Divine character.
1. Gives dignity and significance to every legal tribunal.
2. Is a perpetual protest against every act of cruelty and injustice.
3. Is a guarantee that justice will be ultimately triumphant.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The beginning of wrong. An old writer says, “A man who goes to law finds the court full of invisible hooks. First his cloak, then the skirts of his coat, then his sleeves, till everything is torn from him, and, like a gypsy, he escapes because there is no further hold upon him.” The youth who crosses the threshold of the court of vice will find those invisible hooks sharper and in greater abundance than in courts of law. Once caught, he will be hooked in every direction. One tempter will succeed another, each handing him over to the next. Thus snared and dragged from vice to vice, until denuded of every virtue, he will at last, in all probability, perish in unutterable woe.—Dr. Wise.
Justice expedited. Juvenalis, a widow, complained to Theodoric, king of the Romans, that a suit of hers had been in court three years. The king being informed who were her judges, gave orders that they should give all expedition to the poor woman’s cause, and in two days it was decided to her satisfaction. Theodoric then summoned the judges before him, and inquired how it was that they had done in two days what they had delayed for three years. “When I put you in office,” said the king, “did I not consign all pleas and proceedings to you? You deserve death for having delayed that justice for three years which two days could accomplish.” He commanded them to be beheaded.
Injustice and anger. There is an anger that is damnable: it is the anger of selfishness. There is an anger that is majestic as the frown of Jehovah’s brow: it is the anger of truth and love. If man meets with injustice, it is not required that he shall not be roused to meet it; but if he is angry after he has had time to think upon it, that is sinful. The flame is not wrong, but the coals are.—Beecher.
Suffering preferred to injustice. While Athens was ruled by the thirty tyrants, Socrates was summoned to the senate-house and ordered to go with some other persons to seize one Leon, a man of rank and fortune, whom they determined to put out of the way that they might enjoy his estate. The commission Socrates flatly refused, and, not satisfied therewith, added also his reasons for such refusal. “I will never willingly,” said he, “assist in an unjust act.” Cherides sharply replied, “Dost thou think, Socrates, to talk always in this style and not to suffer?” “Far from it,” added he, “I expect to suffer a thousand ills, but none so great as to do unjustly.”
(מ) Lamentations 3:37. The reason for not mentioning any name of God, as in Lamentations 3:1-17, is now wholly dispensed with, and He is presented as conditionating all events. He observes man’s dealings with his neighbours. He provides that every transgression and disobedience receive a just recompense of reward. No injustice is permissible. If a man or nation could devise and carry out their own commands, then evil or good would come in spite of God. But who is he that saith and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded [it]? His will is supreme. So it follows:—
Lamentations 3:38. From the mouth of the Host High does not the evil and the good come? It is a term of the age-lasting problem. He lets evil be done and punishes the evil-doer. He must work out His will, for He works within us to will and do that which is good. In both good and evil we are in close contiguity with God.
Lamentations 3:39. The right interpretation partly depends on whether or not we read this verse as one question. Both the Authorised Version and the Revised Version take the former course. The Hebrew renders this doubtful. It would warrant a division. For what should a living man, one in life’s school, and with all the possibilities of the education he is receiving from the Lord, complain? Let every one come to a more manly position, and they would see it needful to sigh over their sins. Sin brings on men the evils really to be lamented, and the space given should be filled up with repentance.
THE DIVINE RULE ABSOLUTE AND UNIVERSAL
I. That nothing happens without the Divine knowledge and sanction. “Who is he that saith and it cometh to pass when the Lord commandeth it not?” (Lamentations 3:37). The curse causeless does not come. Somehow, somewhere, and for some purpose, there is running all through the seething mass of what appears to us little else than a complex of sorrowful accidents, the activity of a prescient foreknowledge, a permissive providence, a governing will. “We see only results. To God, the beginning, with its antecedents all hidden and remote, is a presence. The wildest freaks of chance, as they seem, the most exorbitant anomalies in nature, the slightest incidents in the constitution of mind or matter, storm, earthquake and fires, the shoot of an avalanche, the dropping of a leaf, the wanderings of a comet, the birth, life, history, and death of a man, all come within the foreknowledge and are beneath the sovereign sweep of the purposes of God.”
II. That the mingling of adversity and prosperity is in harmony with the administration of infinite wisdom. “Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good?” (Lamentations 3:38). If the life of man was an uninterrupted series of calamities, we might gravely question the wisdom and goodness of the Great Ruler; but the evil and the good are so nicely balanced one over against the other, that when God has finished His work there shall be no just ground for complaint (Ecclesiastes 7:14). The old divines used to say, “God is too wise to err, too good to be unkind.”
III. That, while life is continued, man should not murmur over his punishment, but repent of the sins which made that punishment necessary. “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:39). The word living is emphatic, and implies that while God spares man’s life he has no room to murmur. Life is a boon that transcends in significance any amount of temporary suffering. Life is a grand opportunity for repentance, reform, and the accomplishment of noblest purposes. Every moment in life spent in complaining is worse than wasted. When we understand how completely the Divine mind is governing everything, we begin to grasp the true significance of life.
1. The government of the world is in the hands of a wise and loving God.
2. Affliction when used aright may be an unspeakable blessing.
3. Life is a gift fraught with great moral issues.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:39. Complaint under affliction. I. Some complaints allowable.
1. It is lawful to express what we feel and suffer in those ways Nature prompts us.
2. May complain to friends, relations, and acquaintances.
3. To God as well as to men. II. Complaints prompted by impatience with God’s dealings condemned.
1. It is long before God takes the rod in hand to correct.
2. He is soon prevailed with to lay it aside.
3. He lays no more on us than our sins deserve.
4. We enjoy many mercies in the meantime by which the bitterness of affliction is allayed.
5. God has a sovereignty of power and dominion to deal with us as He pleaseth. III. Complaints may be silenced:
1. By keeping alive in your heart a sense of God’s love in every dispensation.
2. By labouring to have a fresh remembrance of your sins.
3. By considering the extreme danger of quarrelling with and opposing God.—Conant.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Spiritual insight into the Divine rule. There seems to be in religious men a prophetic faculty of insight into the true bearings of outward things—an insight which puts to shame the sagacity of statesmen, and claims for the sons of God, and only for them, the wisdom even of the world. Those only read the world’s future truly who have faith in principle as opposed to faith in human dexterity; who feel that in human things there lies truly and really a spiritual nature, a spiritual connection, a spiritual tendency, which the wisdom of the serpent cannot alter and scarcely can affect.—Froude.
Submission to God’s will. Stonewall Jackson was once asked, “Suppose, in addition to blindness, you were condemned to be bedridden and racked with pain for life; you would hardly call yourself happy then?” He paused, and said with great deliberateness, “Yes, I think I could. My faith in the Almighty wisdom is absolute, and why should this accident change it?” Touching him upon a tender point—his impatience of anything bordering on dependence—the test was pushed further. “If, in addition to blindness and incurable infirmity and pain, you had to receive grudging charity from those on whom you had no claim, what then?” There was a strange reverence in his lifted eye, and an exalted expression over his whole face, as he replied with slow deliberateness. “If it was God’s will, I think I could lie there content a hundred years!”
Evil overruled. Henry the Eighth’s divorce of Queen Catherine, and the refusal of the Pope to sanction it, led indirectly to the English Reformation and to the flinging off of the Papal temporal ecclesiastical power.
A life well lived. Tyndale’s work was done. He lived to see the Bible no longer carried by stealth into his country, where the possession of it was a crime, but borne in by the solemn will of the king—solemnly recognised as the Word of the Most High God. And then his occupation in this earth was gone. His eyes saw the salvation for which he had longed, and he might depart to his place. He was denounced to the Regent of Flanders; he was enticed by the suborned treachery of a miserable English fanatic beyond the town under whose liberties he had been secured; and, with the reward which has been held fitting by human justice for the earth’s great ones, he passed away in smoke and flame to his rest.—Froude.
(נ) Lamentations 3:40. The remnant, who were referred to in Lamentations 3:22, carry out here the suggestion just made, that sighing, not over sufferings but over sins, is the becoming utterance for every one. The sorrows and pains endured were resultants from the sins of all the people, and thus a joint resolve and confession is made. Only as men see that they have strayed like lost sheep will they truly say, Let us search and try our ways, yet not delay in that effort, however genuine it may be, but let us return unto Jehovah, the whole way back, with no halt half-way, with no reserves for self.
Lamentations 3:41. Such a return merges into soul-moving prayer—prayer that is not only “the motion of a hidden fire trembling in the breast” or “the upward glancing of an eye,” but also manifests itself by some outwardness. The emotion is the chief element in any suitable external gesture. Let us lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens, satisfied that our help is not sent from any earthly sanctuary, but from within the veil.
Lamentations 3:42. A vision of God throws a white light upon the dark records of past life. In that light men are forced to pass God’s judgment on themselves. I have brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. God’s rule and man’s treason are confronted, and man is condemned to suffer. As for us, We have transgressed and rebelled; as for Thee, Thou hast not pardoned; a phrase which intimates that He would scourge into the way of righteousness, if no other method avails, and that Israel was then under His chastising rod. He is ready to pardon, and the withholding pardon is not His desire, but a “natural sequence” of baffled instructions and warnings—of a deadened spiritual faculty which turns His grace into a penalty.
I. Begins in strict self-examination. “Let us search and try our ways” (Lamentations 3:40). The discovery of ourselves is the discovery of sin. We never know how sinful we are till we thoroughly investigate our own hearts. The more we search, the more we see, and the conviction of our sin becomes an intolerable reality.
II. Involves a turning to God. “And turn again to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40). The preposition is forcible, implying “Let us go back; not half way, but the whole.” A repentance that spends itself in emotions and tears is ineffective. Sorrow for sin is but a symptom of repentance. Genuine repentance prompts to immediate and active moral reformation. Sin drives us from God: repentance brings us back to Him.
III. Is accompanied with earnest prayer. “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens” (Lamentations 3:41). In real prayer the outward form is the expression of the feeling of the heart. The heart lifts up the hands, and then with them rises in prayer to God. Deep emotion will find its own way of expression. Repentance reveals the need of help and forgiveness, and prayer is the expression of that need.
IV. Includes confession of sin. “We have transgressed and have rebelled” (Lamentations 3:42). The spell of hardness with which the soul was bound is broken when it is brought to the point of full and free confession of sin. There is often much humbling to be done before this point is reached. Confession of sin is an important proof of the genuineness of repentance, especially when attended with the other signs referred to.
V. Must be genuine and complete to secure forgiveness. “Thou hast not pardoned” (Lamentations 3:42). Why? Not because God is not merciful; not because He is unwilling to forgive; not because the opportunity is inappropriate: but because there is a lack of reality and sincerity in the penitent. The prescription of repentance is a revelation of forgiveness. God does not mock the sinner by urging to repentance and then withholding forgiveness. If there is no eagerness for forgiveness, it is because there is something radically defective in the repentance.
1. Suffering should lead to reflection.
2. No amount of repentance can merit forgiveness.
3. God pardons only the penitent, not because of their penitence, but for His mercy’s sake.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:40. The duty of self-reflection. I. Its usefulness.
1. Teaches us to know ourselves.
2. We discover our sins.
3. Provides good company and comfortable employment. II. Its neglect mischievous.
1. Hardens the heart.
2. A daily increase of sin.
3. Renders a man the more unwilling to reckon with himself. III. Demands diligence.
1. There is a natural reluctance to attend to the duty.
2. Many sins not easily discovered, unless diligent search is made.
3. A convenient time should be set apart for the work.
4. Affliction a time for heart-searching.
5. Let not the difficulty of the work discourage you.
6. A work that must be often repeated. IV. Leads to repentance. “Turn again to the Lord.” Sin is an aversion and turning away from God; repentance is a returning to Him.
1. Repentance must be speedy.
3. Resolute and steadfast.—Conant.
Lamentations 3:41. The sublimity of devotion. The finest and most sublime sensations of which the soul is susceptible are connected with the principle of devotion. I. The sublimest books existing are those from which we learn our faith. The writings of the inspired penmen abound with passages for which no parallel can be found in the productions of mere genius. Rousseau once exclaimed, “The majesty of the Scriptures fills me with astonishment; the holiness of the Gospel speaks to my very heart. Behold the books of the philosophers, with all their pomp, how little are they in comparison! Is it possible that a book at once so wise and so sublime should have been the production of mere men?” II. Some of the situations of real life prove the intimate connection between devotion and the sources of sublime feeling.
1. In studying the character of God and the works of Nature.
2. In the changing circumstances of life, in adversity or prosperity, the proper operation of religious thought is to call up sublime and fervent feelings. III. Consider the subject of adoration—God, whether worshipped in private or in public. If it be objected that in such an account of the effects of devout feeling, we place religion too much under the dominion of the imagination, it may be answered that though the abuse of a thing is dangerous, we are not therefore to relinquish its use. It is the soul that truly feels; imagination is the effort of the soul to rise above mortality. Imagination as well as reason is frequently appealed to in Scripture.—Nares.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Repentance and confession.
Father, I scarcely dare to pray,
So clear I see, now it is done,
That I have wasted half my day,
And left my work but just begun:
So clear I see that things I thought
Were right or harmless were a sin;
So clear I see that I have sought,
Unconscious, selfish aims to win:
So clear I see that I have hurt
The souls I might have helped to save;
That I have slothful been, inert,
Deaf to the calls Thy leaders gave.
In outskirts of Thy kingdom vast,
Father, the humblest spot give me
Set me the lowliest task Thou hast,
Let me, repentant, work for Thee.
Repentance and forgiveness. No repentance is acceptable with God, but what is built or leans on the faith of forgiveness. We have a cloud of witnesses to this truth in the Scripture. Many there have been, many are recorded, who have been convinced of sin, perplexed about it, sorry for it, who have made open confession and acknowledgment of it, who, under the present sense of it, have cried out even to God for deliverance, and have yet come short of mercy, pardon, and acceptance with God. The cases of Cain, Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Judas, and others might be insisted upon.—John Owen.
Death bed repentance. The English proverb says, “The river past and God forgotten,” to express with how mournful a frequency He whose assistance was invoked—it may have been earnestly—in the moment of peril, is remembered no more, so soon as by His help the danger has been surmounted. And the Italian form of it sounds a still greater depth of ingratitude: “The peril past, the saint mocked”—the vows made to him in peril remaining unperformed in safety.—Trench.
—There is one case of death-bed repentance recorded, that no one should despair, and only one, that none should presume.—Augustine.
Repentance must be sincere. Lorenzo de’ Medici lies dying in the city of Florence; in the terrors of death he has sent for the one man who had never yielded to his threats or caresses—the brave Savonarola. Lorenzo confesses that he has heavy on his soul three crimes—the cruel sack of Volterra, the theft of the public dower of young girls, by which many were driven to a wicked life, and the blood shed after the conspiracy of Pazzi. He is greatly agitated, and Savonarola, to keep him quiet, keeps repeating, “God is merciful,” “God is good.” “But,” he added, “there is need of three things.” “And what are they, father?” “First, you must have a great and living faith in the mercy of God.” “This I have, the greatest.” “Second, you must restore that which you have wrongfully taken, or require your children to restore it for you.” Lorenzo looks surprised and troubled; but he forces himself to compliance, and nods his head in sign of assent. Then Savonarola rises to his feet, and stands over the dying prince. “Last, you must give back their liberties to the people of Florence.” Lorenzo, summoning up all his remaining strength, disdainfully turns his back, and, without uttering another word, Savonarola departs without giving him absolution.
(ס) Lamentations 3:43. Thou hast covered with anger, whether Himself or us is not clear, but as the next clause, and pursued us, mentions the latter, it may be preferable to regard the people as wrapped round with a garment woven in the loom of wrath, and which marked them out as the objects to be chased for punishment.
Lamentations 3:44. There had been cries for relief (Lamentations 3:41), but unavailing, for Thou hast covered Thyself with a cloud; clouds and darkness are round about Him when He displays His royal righteousness and judgment in burning up His adversaries (Psalms 97:2-3). That cloud is a barrier [preventing] prayer from passing through to His mercy-seat.
Lamentations 3:45. Troubles are accumulated upon the nation. Rejected prayers signify condemnation of their religiousness. It is not the act, but the motive and purpose which determine the relation of the worshipper to the Worshipped. Ritual may be punctiliously carried out, and hide God instead of helping to reveal Him. When He hides His face, they are troubled, and, as if He would exhibit a striking illustration before the world of what will result from disobedience to His will, Thou hast made us the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the peoples. Treated as worthless, like Paul and his brethren in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:13), but these were more than conquerors through Him who loved them.
(פ) Lamentations 3:46-48 present significant intimations of their base condition. Enemies making sport of them fear and pitfalls surrounding them, and the oft-recurring feeling of utter destruction instigating tears shed as copiously as rivers of water.
THE TENSION OF PROLONGED SUFFERING
I. Fosters exaggerated views of God’s unpitying anger. “Thou hast covered with anger and persecuted us; Thou hast slain, Thou hast not pitied” (Lamentations 3:43). The people had acknowledged their sin and repented; but no relief came. Not only were they not pardoned, but it seemed as if the Divine wrath was more relentless than ever. The Chaldeans are still wrecking the holy city, and the citizens are being ignominiously dragged into captivity. The cloud of the Divine anger, instead of vanishing, thickens into darker threatenings of vengeance. This is one of the unvarying phases of continued suffering—every affliction is magnified into disproportionate dimensions.
II. Induces the hasty conclusion that prayer is useless. “Thou hast covered Thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through” (Lamentations 3:44). A deity so densely veiled is unapproachable. The veil is a cloud of wrath, and the suffering suppliant is stricken with terror and dismay. Prayer can never pierce so dense a cloud, and it is useless to try. The tension of prolonged suffering is apt to shake one’s confidence in the utility of prayer, and suggest the doubt whether God is after all a prayer-hearing God. It is a great calamity when the soul restrains prayer.
III. Creates the impression that the sufferer is utterly despised and scorned. “Thou hast made us as the off-scouring and refuse in the midst of the people. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us” (Lamentations 3:45-46). There is nothing so depressing as suffering, and the sufferer is often the prey of self-depreciation and false imaginings, haunted with the idea that he is the sport and laughing-stock of others. It is the effect of sin to lower us in our own estimation, and it is a part of its punishment that we sink in the estimation of others.
IV. Intensifles the feeling of hopeless rain. “Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction” (Lamentations 3:47). The light of hope, that flickered for a moment (Lamentations 3:21), is extinguished, and the sufferer relapses into dull, dead hopelessness (Lamentations 3:11). The enemy has completely hemmed in the city with his forces; his grip tightens, strategy and bravery succeed, the city falls, and is abandoned to riot and destruction. The protection of Jehovah is withdrawn, and, what is the most disheartening revelation of all, He now appears as an angry foe. Hope perishes when we discover that God is against us.
1. Excessive suffering is apt to impair the moral vision.
2. It is a calamity to lose faith in prayer when we most need its solace.
3. The outlook it not always so desperate as it appears to the despondent sufferer.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:43-47. The pitilessness of the Divine anger: I. As it appears to the abject sufferer (Lamentations 3:47). II. Seen in its relentless persecution (Lamentations 3:43). III. In its apparent indifference to human entreaty (Lamentations 3:44). IV. In abandoning its victims to the contempt and derision of others (Lamentations 3:45-46).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Anger restrained more terrible. Writing upon the symbolical carvings of the ducal palace at Venice, Mr. Ruskin remarks that there is a figure of Anger represented by a woman tearing open her dress at her breast. Giotto represents this vice under the same symbol, but it is the weakest of all the figures in the Arena Chapel. The Wrath of Spencer rides upon a lion, brandishing a firebrand, his garments stained with blood. Rage, or Furor, occurs subordinately in other places. It occurs to me very strange that neither Giotto nor Spencer should have given any representation of the restrained anger which is infinitely the most terrible; both of them make him violent. God’s forbearance of sin is restrained anger—not therefore less, but more terrible. The future retribution is not less, but more awful, since it is the wrath of the Lamb. Anger now restrained will be direr when once revealed. Long-suffering is a sign of suppressed indignation.
Perverted views of suffering. That extraordinary sufferings indicated extraordinary sins was contradicted by the Book of Job. So also consistent Pharisaism saw in the lowliness of Jesus His unworthiness, in His defencelessness His guilt, and after having crucified Him, in His cross His curse; whilst Jesus recognises therein His own glorification and the salvation of the world. The clouds that are the precursors of a storm do not appear so black to us when they hang immediately over our heads as when we see them rising up at the edge of the horizon. It is easier to know the worst than to dread the worst. All misfortunes appear more formidable at a distance than when we actually come to grapple with them.
Unjustifiable depression. In a fit of dejection Dean Hook once wrote—“My life has been a failure. I have done many things tolerably, but nothing well. As a parish priest, as a preacher, and now as a writer, I am quite aware that I have failed, and the more so because my friends contradict the assertion.”
God does hear prayer. There is no such thing in the long history of God’s kingdom as an unanswered prayer. Every true desire from a child’s heart finds some true answer in the heart of God. Most certain it is that the prayer of the Church of God since creation has not been the cry of orphans in an empty home without a Father to hear or answer. Jesus Christ did not pray in vain or to an unknown God, nor has He spoken in ignorance of God or of His brethren when He says, “Ask and receive, that your joy may be full.”—Norman Macleod.
(פ) Lamentations 3:46-48 present significant intimations of their base condition. Enemies making sport of them fear and pitfalls surrounding them, and the oft-recurring feeling of utter destruction instigating tears shed as copiously as rivers of water.
(ע) Lamentations 3:49. The excessive weeping is continuous. Mine eye poureth down tears, and that without interruption. Nor will the sound of weeping be stanched, except when his undercurrent of hope reaches its terminus.
Lamentations 3:50. Till Jehovah looks down and beholds from heaven. When He sees the bearing and result of afflictions on His Name’s glory, then He hears the sighing of the prisoner. For He will not contend for ever, neither will He be always wroth.
Lamentations 3:51. Beyond what the eye shows externally it exerts influence upon the inward part. Mine eye hurts my soul: not in the rather jejune sense that the flood of tears had made the eye painful, and that pain was felt in the soul; but the soul was pained because of the eye beholding the sad lot of the more delicate and defenceless part of the population, the daughters of my city.
A SYMPATHETIC NATURE
I. Is pained by the evidences of national distress everywhere visible. “Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city” (Lamentations 3:51). What I see I feel. I see nothing but misery, and I feel nothing but pain. Amid the general suffering, the tender heart of the prophet mourned over the cruel fate of the Jewish maidens. This is a subject to which he often refers (ch. Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:18; Lamentations 2:10; Lamentations 2:21; Lamentations 5:11). “Jeremiah suffered not in his own person, being under the protection of the Divine Being; but though he dwelt securely from the hand of mortality, yet he was filled with the bowels of sympathy. Though he wrote of the Jews’ desolations, yet he named them Jeremiah’s Lamentations.”
II. Is aggravated in its grief because God, who sees the calamity, does not at once remove it. “Till the Lord look down and behold from heaven” (Lamentations 3:50). While the Lord looks down. He sees all this suffering; every feature of it is fully known to Him. Why does He not interfere? How can He be so indifferent to the agonies of His people? The prophet’s heart is breaking, and it is a mystery and an addition to his pain that Jehovah does nothaste to the rescue. Sympathy is not always wise. Our emotions are apt to swamp our judgment. God knows infallibly how much suffering is necessary, and when the right moment is come for Him to interpose.
III. Expresses its sorrow in a copious outflow of tears. “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water, without any intermission” (Lamentations 3:48-49). The measure of our being is our capacity for sorrow or joy. A certain traveller states that the shadow cast by Mount Hermon at some periods is as much as seventy miles long. A sensitive nature is susceptible of great sorrow, and has manifold ways of expressing the same. While the cause of sorrow remains, the sympathetic heart will mourn.
1. Callons indeed is the heart that can witness suffering without emotion.
2. The heart that loves intensely suffers intensely.
3. A sympathetic nature finds a merciful relief in tears.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:51. Sin the cause of suffering: I. To the patriot, as he sees its effect upon the nation. II. To the philanthropist, as he observes the mischief it works in the world. III. To the individual believer, as he is conscious of its presence in his own heart.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The power of sympathy. Happy is the man who has that in his soul which acts upon the dejected as April airs upon violet roots. Gifts from the hand are silver and gold; but the heart gives that which neither silver nor gold can buy. To be full of goodness, full of cheerfulness, full of sympathy, full of helpful hope, causes a man to carry blessings of which he is himself as unconscious as a lamp of its own shining. Such an one moves on human life as stars move on dark seas to bewildered mariners; as the sun wheels, bringing all the seasons with him from the south.—Beecher.
Grief leaves its mark. Sir Walter Scott says of himself after a sore bereavement, “I was broken-hearted for two years; and though handsomely pieced again, the crack will remain to my dying day”
Practical sympathy. When St. Remy was preaching before King Clovis of France, telling with passionate pathos the story of Christ’s suffering and death, the monarch suddenly sprang from his throne, and, grasping his spear, cried, “Had I been there with my brave Franks, I would have avenged His wrongs.”
The relief of tears. A maniac while listening to a thrilling recital was moved to tears Lifting her withered finger she exclaimed, “Do you see that tear? It is the first tear that I have shed for seven years, and it will relieve my poor burning head. I have often wished that I could weep, but I could not.”
(צ) Lamentations 3:52. They have hunted me down like a bird is hunted when pursued with the eagerness of those who are my enemies without cause, and who will not relax efforts till they catch the quarry.
Lamentations 3:53. He was haled to prison by them. They have cut off my life in the pit. Shut in from all activities and society, he was as a man dead, as in a tomb over which they have cast stone on me. Taking such illustrations to be chiefly figurative, yet here the first clause is a probable allusion to the treatment of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:6), and the second may refer to an unmentioned incident of the same time, for which corroboration may be found in the case of Daniel (Daniel 6:17.)
Lamentations 3:54. The peril was aggravated by waters that flowed over my head; the plural perhaps indicating the influx of a spring and the condensation of vapour in the closeness of a pit. In a state so desperate to the eyes of flesh, I said, I am cut off as a man that has no help (Psalms 88:4), as He was who became sin for us (Isaiah 53:8).
The remaining verses of the chapter take the form of prayer, as at the close of Chapters
2. In it there are thanksgivings for relief (Lamentations 3:55-58), an appeal because of the evil which enemies had done and were doing (Lamentations 3:59-63), and a call for recompense therefor (Lamentations 3:64-66).
(ק) Lamentations 3:55. I called upon thy name, O Jehovah, asking with some true idea of what the words and works of the God of Israel revealed concerning Himself, suggestive, too, of the manner in which the Lord Jesus would have His friends to pray—Ask the Father in My name—out of the depths of the pit into which he had been thrown.
Lamentations 3:56. A more true position is secured than that which was held previously (Lamentations 3:8; Lamentations 3:44). My voice thou heardest at that time when I besought thee with my spirit and voice, Hide not—close not—thine ear at my breathing—my sighing for relief—at my cry. It is questionable if the rendering, Hide not thine ear for my cry for relief, is not rather an explanation than a fair version.
Lamentations 3:57. Thou drewest near in the day I called upon thee. Only spiritual apprehension of God as He who is behind all events and plenteous in mercy can bring a conviction of accepted prayer. The heart is then in a state to hear His comforting words, Thou saidst, Fear not.
(ר) Lamentations 3:58. There were rights to be maintained, wrongs to be redressed, and in both help was received from a present God. Thou, O Jehovah, hast pleaded—contended for—the causes of my soul. One thing had hurt his soul (Lamentations 3:51), but others also saddened and weakened thought and effort, and the Lord had counteracted them. He had also interfered when hope of living was cut off, Thou hast redeemed my life by Thy power over all.
A FAITHFUL PROPHET IN TROUBLE
I. Cruelly treated by his enemies. “Mine enemies chased me sore like a bird, without cause: I am cut off” (Lamentations 3:52-54). In these verses, and to the end of the chapter, Jeremiah deals with his own personal afflictions. Without the least provocation, he was treated with the most malignant enmity. He was harassed, as a bird is tired out, and at length run down by continuous pursuit. He is overwhelmed with trouble, and is as one imprisoned in a dungeon, shut off from the current of active life. He acknowledged the righteousness of the Divine dealings, but he was keenly alive to the unrighteousness and undeserved cruelty of his persecutors. Had he been the aggressor, he might have expected retaliation, but he was oppressed without cause. His enemies were actuated by sheer hatred. His only fault was his faithfulness to God and to his own conscience. Simple goodness often rouses the wanton animosity of the wicked.
II. Seeks refuge in prayer. “I called upon Thy name, O Lord; hide not Thine ear at my cry” (Lamentations 3:55-56). It is a relief to turn from the cruelty of man to the compassion and power of God. The soul is never so helpless but that it can pray. When we can do nothing else, we can pray. Prayer is the language of need, and we are comforted with the assurance that God will hear, and not only hear but help. It seemed at one time that prayer was useless (Lamentations 3:44); but better thoughts prevailed, and the soul discovered that the cry for help was not in vain. “Prayer is the breath of the new man, sucking in the air of mercy in petitions and returning it in praises; it is both the evidence and the maintenance of the spiritual life.”
III. Rescued by Divine aid. “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 has redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:57-58). When we draw near to God in prayer, He draws near to us. Our troubles are overwhelming when God is absent and we are left to ourselves. With His manifested presence our troubles vanish, and we are inspired with strength to endure and to triumph.
1. Fidelity makes many enemies.
2. The nation that ill-uses its best men courts its own ruin.
3. The Lord is ever on the side of the faithful.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:54-57. The efficacy of prayer. I. These words show to what a state God’s most favoured servants may be reduced—extreme suffering, tears, despondency. II. The remedy open to them. Prayer expressed in cries, groans, breathings, sighs. III. The efficacy of that remedy whenever it is applied. “Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee; Thou saidst, Fear not.” In these words we hear the consolatory voice of God. Marvellous condescension; certainty of help and deliverance.—Simeon.
Lamentations 3:57. A wonder explained by greater wonders. I. An explanation of this wonder. God doth draw near to men.
1. Men have ever been in the thoughts of God.
2. God came tenderly near in nature.
3. The Lord Jesus was specially near in the days of His life on earth.
4. He came still nearer to us in His death.
5. In heaven He is perpetually near us.
6. Jesus may well come near to His people, for there is a mystical union which ensures it. II. Consider the wonder itself.
1. By no means is this wonder at all contrary to expectation.
2. God draws near by strengthening us to bear up under pressure.
3. By vouchsafing a doubly vivid sense of His love.
4. By granting a sensible assurance of His sympathy.
5. By speedy and remarkable deliverance out of trouble.
6. The text indicates surprise concerning the memorable graciousness of God.
7. The promptness of God.
8. The extreme tenderness of God.—C. H. Spurgeon.
Lamentations 3:58. God pleading for saints and saints pleading for God. I. The Divine pleading.
1. The Lord pleads our cause in the court of Providence by silencing enemies and by raising up friends for His people.
2. He pleads for them in the court of Divine law.
3. In the court of conscience.
4. In the court of heaven.
5. And at the last great day of judgment. II. If the Lord hath pleaded the causes of our soul, we should plead His cause while we have breath to pray.
1. This is the life-work of the Christian.
2. Should be done in witnessing for Christ by our consistency of conduct.
3. We can all plead for Christ in a private way. Be it mine to weep for the sins of the time and prophesy against them. Be it yours in your own private walk and conversation to rebuke private sin, and by your loving earnestness to make Jesus Christ dear to many souls!—C. H. Spurgeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Faithfulness in service. If you and I show that we attach importance to the solemn performance of even the slightest duty connected with our dear Master’s service; that we consider even the office of doorkeeper in His house an office of honour; that, convinced of His presence, we are as devout in offering the prayers when only two or three are present as when there are two or three hundred—we shall find His blessing attending us, and we shall be the means of converting others.—Dean Hook.
—A carpenter was once asked, Why he troubled to finish off a certain magistrate’s bench so carefully? His reply was, “I can’t do otherwise; besides, I may have to sit on it one of these days.”
Faithful to death. When Commodore Joseph Smith saw by the first despatch that reached Washington from Fortress Monroe that the Congress, on which his son was commander, had shown the white flag, he said, “Then Joe’s dead.” It was so.
Prayer an ever-open refuge. St. Cuthbert was once in a snowstorm that drove his boat on the coast of Fife. “The snowstorm closes the road along the shore,” mourned his comrades; “the storm bars our way over the sea.” “There is still the way of heaven; that lies open,” said the devoted saint.
Divine aid works a marvellous change. Probably there is nowhere on the globe so marked a climatic boundary as that of the Cascade Mountains in both Washington Territory and Oregon. West of this boundary the winters are mild and the summers cool and showery; east of it the winters are sharp and dry and the summers very hot. On one side are gigantic firs and cedars, while on the other all are of poor size and condition. Even the flowers are of new species, and all the atmospheric conditions are changed. The line that lies between the unsaved and the saved, once crossed, what changes are manifest! “If any man be in Jesus Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; lo, all things have become new.”
Lamentations 3:59. Trials are not things of the past only. Under their continuous pressure endurance is sought for in the truth that the eye and ear of the Lord are ever open for all sights and sounds. Thou, O Jehovah, hast seen my wrong, that which is done to me, and that sight forms a plea for the righteous sentence of Him who sitteth on the throne judging right.
Lamentations 3:60. There was the keenest of vengeance in the treatment to which the Lord’s servant was subjected, and there were devices against me; but it was a certain fact that the All-seeing One had observed every secret or open scheme.
(ש) Lamentations 3:61. The revengeful, bad feeling expressed itself in reviling words. Thou hast heard their reproach, O Jehovah, and all the evil machinations they framed against me.
Lamentations 3:62 is a variant expression of the idea of the former verse, Thou hast heard the words of the lips of those that rose up against me, and their meditation, which occupied their minds all the day.
Lamentations 3:63. Their downsitting and their uprising behold thou, all their proceedings when at rest, and when they get up to do what they resolve. In hilarious and scornful mood they taunt and deride me; I am their song. It was not a momentary outburst of passion, not one hour’s lapse into jocoseness, but the tenor of the life which was manifested.
(ת) Lamentations 3:64. The evil life cannot pass without condemnation. Thou wilt render a recompense to them, O Jehovah. A man may pray that revilings and machinations may be thwarted, not from a desire for personal revenge, but from the knowledge that striving with the Maker incurs guilt and fixes the destiny of the striver according to the work of their hands, reaping what they sow (2 Timothy 4:14).
Lamentations 3:65. Thou wilt give them blindness [Heb. a covering] of heart, that which is turned into a veil (2 Corinthians 3:14) by their not becoming sons of the light, by their walking in darkness into the ditch. Thy curse to them. Cursed be the man who maketh flesh his arm.
Lamentations 3:66. Evil shall slay the wicked. Thou wilt pursue them in anger and destroy them, so that the wicked may be no more in Thy dominion under the heavens of Jehovah. So let thine enemies perish, O Jehovah, and thy will be done, at in heaven so on earth.
A CONFIDENT APPEAL TO DIVINE JUSTICE
I. That Jehovah recognises the wrongs suffered by His servants. “O Lord, Thou has seen ray wrong; judge Thou my cause” (Lamentations 3:59). It seemed at times as if the chosen people were forgotten and left to the mercy of their oppressors. Years passed away, and still there was no prospect of rescue. The valiant stand made by the prophet involved him in great and unjust suffering, and it seemed as if Heaven was indifferent to the issue. But things are not what they seem. All the time the eye of Jehovah was watching the struggle and noting every act of injustice and wrong. Every pang of suffering is faithfully registered. When the soul is conscious that Jehovah is cognisant of its distress, it is nerved with courage and patiently waits God’s time of deliverance.
II. That Jehovah infallibly observes the cruel plottings and malicious reproaches of His people’s enemies. “Thou hast seen all their vengeance. Thou hast heard their reproach, O Lord, and all their imaginations against me,” &c. (Lamentations 3:60-63). Not a single movement, not a word of scorn of His enemies escapes the eye and the ear of Jehovah. How vain and foolish their opposition appears to Him! Their cleverest combinations are but the work of helpless imbecility; their wildest rage is but a momentary flash of aimless malignity. In a moment their schemes are shattered and their revilings for ever silenced. God is so strong in conscious righteousness that He can afford to bide His time. It is a mistake to regard His long-suffering patience as a sign of apathy.
III. That Jehovah will vindicate the wrongs of His servants by punishing their oppressors. “Render unto them a recompense, O Lord, according to the work of their hands,” &c. (Lamentations 3:64-66). The imprecatory form of these words are uttered by Jeremiah in his prophetical character. He calls for the vengeance upon his enemies which their iniquities have deserved, and which Divine Justice is certain to render. The versions and the Targum all render these verses not as imperatives, but as futures—Thou shalt render unto them a recompense, &c. It is an unalterable principle of the Divine government to punish all evil-doers. The sufferings they have inflicted on others shall be meted out to them with swift and terrible retribution. “Under the heavens of the Lord” there is no place of escape for the workers of iniquity. The wrongs of God’s servants shall be redressed, and His honour and justice universally vindicated.
1. The Divine patience with evil-doers must not be construed as meaning indifference, 2 It is an aggravation of suffering when we know it is unjust.
3. Vengeance against all workers of iniquity may be safely left in the hands of God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 3:59-63. The Divine slowness to punish. I. Does not arise from indifference to human wrongs. “Thou has seen my wrong” (Lamentations 3:59). II. Is not from want of knowledge of all the actions of the wicked (Lamentations 3:60-63). III. Indicates that God is so strong and man is so weak. IV. Affords every opportunity for the exercise of mercy to the truly penitent.
Lamentations 3:63. A godly life the music of society. I. Like music, a godly life is harmonious.
1. It is in harmony with God. A pure manhood is in harmony with all that is Godlike in thought and sentiment, and with all that is Christly in character and work. It is in harmony with the works of God, with all that is beautiful in nature. It is in harmony with the providence of God, with all that is happy or sad in the discipline of life; and supremely it is in harmony with the inspired truth of God as revealed in history, character, and precept.
2. It is in harmony with itself. All the truer sympathies of a devout heart, all the higher faculties of a pure mind exist in a condition of self-harmony. Living in communion with the Supreme Being, the good man obtains true concord in the exercise of prayer. And thus attuned by devotion, every power of his soul joins in the hymn of life.
3. It is in harmony with the highest good of the race. A godly man is ever the foremost to aid any philanthropic enterprise for the real welfare of others. All the strongest impulses of his nature prompt him to sympathetic action for the unfortunate. Consequently his time, money, and influence are made subservient to the common good of men. II. Like music, a godly life is cheering. When we have been oppressed with care, when the great mystery of life has come heavily upon our souls, what hope and comfort have been imparted by contact with a happy, pious spirit. III. Like music, a godly life is inspiring. When men would have given up the conflict of life in despair, how often has the word and life of a Christian filled them with new courage; and how frequently are careless souls awakened to a sense of duty by the moral earnestness of the godly around them. IV. Like music, a godly life is calming. What a quieting influence has the life of a good man upon those around him. His presence subdues anger; by his smile the deepest unrest is removed. He calms the passions of the unholy and soothes the sorrow of the troubled. V. Are our lives morally musical? Are they in harmony with God and all His works? Are our dispositions in the home, in business, and in the varied scenes of life kindly? If so, then are we the joy, the inspiration, and the quietude of many lives around us that might otherwise be sad, monotonous, and unpeaceful.—The Lay Preacher.
Lamentations 3:64-66. Divine punishment: I. Is proportioned to human sin. “A recompense according to the work of their hands” (Lamentations 3:64). II. Afflicts the chief instrument of human sin. “Give them sorrow of heart” (Lamentations 3:65)—blindness of heart, obstinacy, hardness. III. Is an appalling reality. “Persecute and destroy them in anger” (Lamentations 3:66).
Lamentations 3:65. God can entangle the head that thinks itself clearest, and sink the heart that thinks itself stoutest.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—It is best always to do justly. Writing on the question of just treatment between the Southern and Northern States of America, and especially of the black race, G. W. Cable said: “But it is sometimes said, Will not this tend eventually to amalgamation? Idle question! Will it help the matter to withhold men’s manifest rights? What can we do better for the remotest future than to be just in the present, and leave the rest to the Divine Rewarder of nations that walk uprightly?”
Justice between man and man. The doctrine which bases all the relations of employer and employed upon self-interest is a doctrine of the pit; it has been bringing hell to earth in large instalments for a great many years. You can have hell in your factory, or you can have heaven there, just as you please. If it is hell that you want, build your business on the law of hell, which is—Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Out of that will come fightings perennial and unrelenting. If it is heaven that you want, then build your business on the law of the kingdom of heaven, which is—Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. That will put you in the path of peace.
Religion and justice. In the year 813 the Doge Angelo Participazio took vigorous means for the enlargement of the small group of buildings which were to be the nucleus of the future Venice. For the offices of religion he built the church of St. Mark, and on or near the spot where the Ducal Palace now stands he built a palace for the administration of justice. Observe that piety towards God and justice towards man have been at least the nominal purposes of every act and institution of ancient Venice.—Ruskin.
Wrong-doing brings its own retribution. Cosimo I., of Florence, was a ferocious, cruel tyrant, murdering his own son in the presence of his mother. After a few years he married a wicked but beautiful woman, who had been a former partner in sin with him, and in his last days, broken with decrepitude, was helpless in her despotic hands. For two years after the palsy had deprived him of speech or movement, he lay dying, bereft of everything but a torturing memory of his cruelty and wickedness.
—The Jews have a tradition that Cain was doomed to carry Abel’s corpse for a hundred years.
The just and the unjust. Such being our unjust man, let us place by his side a man of true simplicity and nobleness, resolved, as Æschylus says, not to seem, but to be good. We must certainly take away the seeming; for if he be thought to be a just man, he will have honours and gifts on the strength of this reputation, so that it will be uncertain whether it is for justice’s sake or for the sake of the gifts and honours that he is what he is. Yes, we must strip him bare of everything but justice, and make his case the reverse of the former. Without being guilty of one unjust act, let him have the worst reputation for injustice, so that his virtue may be thoroughly tested and shown to be proof against infamy and all its consequences; and let him go on to the day of his death steadfast in his justice, but with a lifelong reputation for injustice. They who prefer injustice above justice will say that in such a situation the just man will be scourged, racked, fettered, will have his eyes burnt out, and at last, after suffering every kind of torture, will be crucified; and thus learn that it is best to resolve, not to be, but to seem just.—Plato’s Republic.
Injustice not to be hastily resented. When Aristides, the Athenian general, sat to arbitrate a difference between two persons, one of them said, “This fellow accused thee at such a time.” To whom Aristides answered, “I sit not to hear what he has done against me, but against thee.” That was a noble reply of Philip the Good when urged by his courtiers to punish a prelate who had done him great injustice, he declined, saying, “It is a fine thing to have revenge in one’s power; but it is a finer thing not to use it.”
God frustrates the schemes of the wicked. All the plots and contrivances of wicked men, all their turning of things upside down, are treated as the potter’s clay; for when they think they have brought all to maturity, ripeness, and perfection, when they look upon their business as good as done, on a sudden all their labour is lost; for God, who stands by all the while and looks on, will, with one small touch, with the least breath of His mouth, blast and break all in pieces.—Edlin.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Lamentations 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter