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The faithful bewail their calamities. By the mercies of God they nourish their hope. They acknowledge God's justice, They pray for deliverance, and for justice on their enemies.
Before Christ 588.
IN this chapter the prophet seems to have had it in view to instruct his countrymen in the lesson of bearing themselves well under adversity. To this end, he first of all sets himself forth as an example of the most severe and trying afflictions. He then points out the inexhaustible mercies of God as the never-failing source of his consolation and hope; and exhorts others to patience and quiet resignation under the like circumstances, shewing that God is ever gracious to those that wait upon him; that he is prone to pardon and pity, and takes no delight in afflicting mankind; but turns away with disgust from all acts of oppression and malignant cruelty. He asserts the divine supremacy in the dispensations of good and evil, and argues that no man has a right to complain, when he is punished according to his deserts. He therefore recommends it to his fellow-sufferers to examine themselves, and turn to God with contrite hearts, sincerely deploring the sinfulness of their conduct, which had provoked the divine justice to treat them with such extraordinary severity. He professes himself deeply affected with the calamities of his country; but calling to mind the desperate circumstances from which he had heretofore been rescued by the divine aid, he declares his hope that the same good providence will frustrate the malice of his present enemies, and turn the scornful reproach they had cast upon him to their own confusion.
Lamentations 3:1. I am the man that hath seen affliction— The prophet here speaks partly in his own character, and partly in that of his countrymen and fellow-sufferers; and throughout the whole in such a manner as agrees admirably with the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Jeremiah in his sufferings especially was a type. See Isaiah 53:3. The reader will find most of the expressions in this chapter explained in the book of Job, and the Psalms.
Lamentations 3:5. Compassed me with gall and travail— Broken my head, that I faint away. Schultens.
Lamentations 3:13. The arrows of his quiver— The sons of his quiver. Houbigant. It is usual in the Hebrew to call the subject, adjunct, accident, effect, &c. the son of that particular thing. Hence it is that the Hebrew prophets represent nations, countries, and people, under the image of a woman; and it must be ascribed to the same principle, that arrows are here called the sons of the quiver. See Bishop Lowth's Prelections.
Lamentations 3:16. He hath—broken my teeth— He hath broken my teeth as a gravel-stone. He hath fed me with dust. Houbigant. In this and the preceding verse the prophet aggravates the calamities of his people by such expressions as imply that misery and affliction are poured without measure upon the sons of Jacob. Possibly he alludes to his personal afflictions. See Jeremiah 37:0; Jeremiah 38:0.
Lamentations 3:21. Therefore have I hope— Compare this with the 12th, 13th, and 14th verses of the 20th chapter of Jeremiah.
Lamentations 3:22. It is of the Lord's mercies— This is the Lord's mercy, that he hath not entirely consumed me; neither are his companions exhausted.
Lamentations 3:27. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth— We observed in the introduction to this book, that there are some commentators, and Michaelis among the rest, who conceive "that it was composed upon the death of king Josiah." They allege, that on an attentive perusal it will be found, that there is nothing in this book which might not have been written on the death of Josiah, which was a great calamity to his country: for Jerusalem, together with her new king, fell into the hands of the victor about three months after this misfortune, and was obliged to submit to a foreign prince, and to receive a tributary king from him; all which cannot be supposed to have passed without a siege, and the ruin of the walls of Jerusalem. The author of the second book of Chronicles expressly asserts, 2Ch 35:25 that Jeremiah lamented the death of Josiah, together with other poets; and that his Lamentations and their elegies were reserved for the use of posterity. Why should we therefore doubt that this book contains those identical lamentations which are mentioned by the author of the book of Chronicles? Or, what reason is there for referring them to another calamity, which, it does not appear, or at least we are not sure, that he ever celebrated? To this we may add, that there are some things in the book of Lamentations which do not seem reconcileable to the time of Nebuchadrezzar, and to the time of the conflagration of the city and temple; especially when he attempts to beguile or sooth his troubles, in the words of the present verse, It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. This expression is proper only for a young man, not for one who was advanced in years, as Jeremiah was in the 11th year of Zedekiah. As for the complaint, chap. Lamentations 5:7. Our fathers have sinned, and are not, and we have borne their iniquities, Jeremiah could not have made use of it in the person of those who lived in the time of Zedekiah, without impeaching his piety; for that race was far more vicious and depraved than their progenitors, and being deservedly punished for their personal crimes, there was no necessity to trace their calamities so far backward. This expression might with some justice, if ever it could, have been made use of by the Jews in the reign of Josiah, who was a very pious king, a reviver of true religion, and who brought back his people to the worship of Jehovah, who had been offended by the sins of their forefathers, especially by those of Manasseh. In confirmation of this opinion, the reader is desired to refer to 2 Kings 23:25-12.23.26. Such are the proofs by which Michaelis and others support their opinion. The reader will consider what has been advanced on the other side, and judge for himself. We shall take notice of chap. Lam 5:7 when we come to it. As to the present verse, the argument drawn from it does not appear to carry great weight. The plain meaning of it seems to be, that it is useful and advantageous for a man to have been inured, even from his earliest days, to those restraints which arise from the sense of the duty we owe to God, and of the obedience we ought to pay to his laws, as well as to those afflictions which are the school of virtues holiness, and piety.
Lamentations 3:28. Because he hath borne it upon him— When he shall take up his yoke. Houbigant.
Lamentations 3:29. He putteth his mouth in the dust— "He prostrates himself even to the ground in token of the deepest humiliation." See Isaiah 29:4. 1 Corinthians 14:25.
Lamentations 3:30. He giveth his cheek, &c.— He not only humbles himself in the sight of his Maker, but also bears with patience the ill-treatment of men. See Matthew 26:62.Mark 14:65; Mark 14:65.
Lamentations 3:33. For he doth not afflict willingly— Houbigant reads this, For he doth not afflict willingly, or oppress the sons of men; so far as, (Lamentations 3:34.) To crush under his feet, &c. Lamentations 3:36. To subvert a man in his cause, saying, The Lord seeth not.
Lamentations 3:34. All the prisoners of the earth— All the prisoners of the land. By "the prisoners of the land," I am persuaded are meant the poor insolvent debtors, whom their creditors among the Jews, as well as among other nations, were empowered to cast into prison, and oblige to work out the debt; a power too often exerted with great rigour and inhumanity. See Matthew 18:30; Matthew 18:34. The sufferings of these persons seem to be alluded to Isa 58:3 where the people asking with surprise, why their voluntary fastings and acts of self-mortification were so little noticed and regarded by God, receive for answer, that while they laid themselves under restraint in one point, they indulged their vicious passions and inclinations of different kinds, and shewed not that forbearance in their treatment of others, which they hoped to experience at the hand of God.
Lamentations 3:36. To subvert a man in his cause— That is, to prevent his having justice done him in a law-suit or controversy by any undue interference; as by bearing or suborning false witness, or exerting any kind of influence in opposition to truth and right.
Lamentations 3:37. Who is he that saith— "The king of Babylon, and such haughty tyrants, may boast of their power, as if it were equal to that of Omnipotence itself. But still it is God's prerogative to bring to pass whatever he pleases, only by speaking or declaring his purpose."
Lamentations 3:39. Wherefore doth a living man complain— If we consider God's afflictions as a just punishment of our evil doings, we shall never murmur or repine at Providence; and we ought to be thankful, however bitter afflictions may be, for having an opportunity given to repent. This verse may be otherwise interpreted, as connected with that preceding. See Calmet.
Lamentations 3:43. Thou hast covered with anger, &c.— Thou hast fenced about with anger. The verb סכךֶ sakak appears to have this sense, Job 3:23; Job 10:11; Job 38:8. There seems to be a manifest allusion to the manner of hunting wild beasts in the eastern countries, by surrounding at first a large tract of ground with toils, which the beasts could not break through; and these being drawn in by degrees, the bears were driven into a narrower space, where they were killed with darts and javelins, at the will of the hunters. See Bishop Lowth's Note on Isaiah 24:17-23.24.18. Statius gives a description, exactly similar, of the method of inclosing wild beasts in toils or nets; Achill. l. 459.
Lamentations 3:48. Runneth down with— Bathes in. Schultens.
Lamentations 3:51. Affecteth— Preys upon.
Lamentations 3:52. Mine enemies chased me— The prophet in this and the following verses describes his own sufferings, when his enemies seized him, and cast him into the dungeon. See Jeremiah 20:7; Jeremiah 37:15. He compares them to a fowler who is in pursuit of a bird, as they took every opportunity to deprive him of his life or liberty, and that without any provocation on his part. See Lowth, and Calmet.
Lamentations 3:56. My breathing— My groaning, or sighing.
Lamentations 3:62. The lips, &c.— The words of those that rise up against me, and their daily songs upon me. Houbigant.
Lamentations 3:63. I am their musick— The subject of their songs. See Lam 3:14 and Houbigant; who renders the three following verses, as do many other versions, in the future tense.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prophet here mingles his lamentations over his own sufferings with those of the people; or he personates the church in general: and some, with good appearance of reason, suppose him herein a type of Christ.
1. He laments over his afflictions as singularly heavy, embittered with a sense of the wrath of God.
2. Darkness surrounded him: he saw no light, no cheering beam of hope, no door of escape out of his miseries, and seemed as one already in the grave; which may refer to the dark dungeon in which he was shut up; or to the captivity of the people, wherein they thought themselves as buried among the heathen.
3. God appears his enemy. He is the butt of all the arrows of his indignation; so sorely was the land afflicted with all that variety of judgments which seemed as it were to exhaust God's quiver. And herein the prophet seems not to speak of himself, but personates his people.
4. God hath shut him up in the hand of his enemies, hedged him in with their forces, builded the mounts against him, and compassed him with gall and travail; every effort to disentangle himself only riveted the chain the faster, and made it the more heavy. His ways are inclosed as with hewn stone, he cannot break through; all his schemes are traversed, and all his paths crooked; the farther he advances, the more he is bewildered. Note; Such will the crooked paths of sin be found; the farther we go in them, the more miserable shall we grow.
5. The Lord seemed to have made an utter end of him, emaciated through famine, and his strength broken. As a lion and a bear waiting to seize their prey, so God seemed to watch over him for evil. He was filled with bitterness under the sense of what he felt, and with the apprehension of the greater evils that he feared; and staggered as one drunk with affliction; covered with ashes, in the dust he lay, and ate worse than the bread of mourners, his teeth broken with gravel-stones, which were mingled with the meal; nay, he hath pulled me in pieces, as one torn limb from limb. Thus had God dispersed the Jews, and laid their land utterly desolate.
6. The Lord refused to be intreated. The loudest cries are in vain; he would neither hear the prophet's intercession, nor the people's prayer for themselves; and, when prayer fails of profiting, the case appears desperate indeed.
7. He was a derision to all the people: they mocked at and made merry with him, ridiculing his sorrows, and pleased with his sufferings; and to a generous spirit very hard is this to be borne.
8. He almost sunk into despair. Thou hast removed my soul far off from peace; no prospect of it remained: I forgat prosperity, not expecting its return: and I said, my strength and my hope is perished from the Lord; abandoned by him, and no more expecting help and support from him; and then despair was unavoidable; and this arose from the view of his affliction and misery, which seemed more than he was able to bear.
9. The Lord Jesus was emphatically this man of sorrows, destitute, afflicted, tormented, stricken, smitten of God, enduring all the wrath which our iniquities deserved; derided in his agony, his soul in darkness and dereliction when he hung upon the cross, and his misery complete.
2nd, At last a gleam of cheering hope breaks through the dreadful gloom. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me; and real humiliation is the sure way to returning consolation: or the words may be more truly rendered, Thou wilt surely remember, expressing his faith in God, notwithstanding all his sorrows; or, my soul meditates within me; on thy grace, mercy, truth, and faithfulness; this I recal to my mind, therefore have I hope, which still excludes despair. A variety of reasons he suggests to encourage this hope, and comfort his heart in God.
1. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, as we have deserved to be. It is mercy, infinite mercy, which spares any sinner for a moment: we may wonder that we are out of hell, and be ashamed to complain, when all temporal affliction is so much less than our iniquity deserves. His compassions fail not, though sometimes they seem exhausted, and his loving-kindness quite gone for evermore; yet it is our infirmity, yea, our sin, when we fear it, and a little patience will prove it so; for they are new every morning, both temporal mercies, which every day fall thick around us as the drops of dew, and spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus, the source of which is inexhaustible.
2. Great is thy faithfulness. His truth confirms what his mercy promises; and, however obscure his present dispensations may be, he never fails them who simply, believingly, and perseveringly, cast all their dependance upon him.
3. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul. Since God hath engaged to be such to his believing people, faith embraces the promise; and they who have an interest in his love and favour have all the heart can wish, and a possession which, when we are deprived of every earthly good, is enough to make us happy, and satisfy all our wishes. Therefore will I hope in him, when every other support fails. And this hope will never make us ashamed, for the Lord is good unto them that wait for him, and will not disappoint their expectations, bestowing on them, according to their necessities, a rich supply for every want; to the soul that seeketh him, in earnest prayer and humble perseverance, in the use of those means of grace which he has appointed; for, though the answer may be delayed, the mercy is sure to be granted to all who hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord; not murmuring against God, but acquiescing in his holy will, patiently expecting his salvation, temporal, spiritual, and eternal; for it is good to do so; our highest interest as well as our bounden duty.
4. Our very troubles are designed of God for our benefit. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth: the yoke of afflictions, which serves to wean the mind from earthly vanities, and teach us to seek our better rest above; or the yoke of the commandments, Christ's easy yoke, which the sooner we take upon us, from the earliest days of youth, the pleasanter we shall find it: though the former sense seems here particularly intended. Such a one sitteth alone, retired to commune with God, to search out his own spirit, and to see and humble his soul under the cause of his afflictions; and keepeth silence, no murmuring word escapes him, he is dumb and openeth not his mouth, because he hath borne it upon him, willingly yielding his neck to the yoke; or, because he (God) hath laid it on him, and therefore this consideration silences every thought of discontent. He putteth his mouth in the dust, confessing his vileness, and just desert of all that he suffers, and humbly bows before the chastening rod, if so be there may be hope, or peradventure there is hope; not as if doubting of the promises, but as confessing his own unworthiness to obtain the mercy that he seeks. Thus humbled, he giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him, can bear without resentment every indignity; he is filled full with reproach, the lot of all who follow Christ; he never returns railing for railing, however, but contrariwise blessing, learning of him to be meek and lowly of heart. Such is the spirit and temper of a real penitent; and the issue of such sufferings and submission cannot but be good, very good for us.
5. The Lord will not cast off for ever, which is the great argument for patience to every returning penitent; for without repentance and faith on our part, he cannot bless us consistently with his nature and perfections. Our heaviness, indeed, for a time, may be great, through manifold temptations; but though he cause grief, his chastisements all flow from his paternal heart towards those who cast themselves upon him in Christ Jesus, and are designed to work godly sorrow which leads to eternal salvation; and therefore, when the end of the affliction is answered, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies, which are in Christ Jesus boundless and infinite to all the faithful; for with no other view does he ever correct his dear children; he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men, he takes no delight in our miseries; by our unfaithfulness we provoke him, as a tender father, with reluctance to take the rod; but he feels for us when he chastises, is grieved in our affliction, and gladly lays down the rod when it has answered the end for which he sent it. O how great are the tender mercies of our God! How can we do other than kiss the rod of such a father!
6. Though he permits, for wise and holy ends, the oppression of the wicked, he is far from approving it. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth, as the Chaldeans trampled on his captive people, to turn aside the right of a man by partial judgment, before the face of the Most High, openly, in defiance of him whose vicegerents the judges of the earth are, to subvert a man in his cause by some clandestine and knavish arts, the Lord approveth not; he condemns all such injustice, and will avenge it; or doth he not see? however secret the transaction, from his all-piercing eye it cannot be hid, and he will in no wise spare the guilty.
3rdly, They who truly know God and themselves will find abundant arguments for submission to his will and pleasure.
1. He is the uncontroulable sovereign. Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? His counsels only can take effect: nothing can contradict his appointing, permissive or suffering will. Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good? Assuredly. Every dispensation of his providence, prosperous or afflictive, is most holy, just, and good: whatever, therefore, be his will should be our delight.
2. We have never reason to complain. Wherefore doth a living man complain? a worm, whose breath is in his nostrils, and in whose heart folly is bound up; a most incompetent judge of the dispensations of infinite wisdom; a living man, whose life has long since been forfeited to divine justice, and to whom it is an amazing act of mercy that he is out of hell; a man for the punishment of his sins? how dare he complain, when all his sufferings here are so much less than his deserts: considerations these, which should ever silence all repining, lead us to acknowledge God's mercy as well as justice in our severest afflictions, and thankfully to acquiesce in every dispensation.
3. Our business under every trouble is, to examine into the cause, and in deep humiliation return unto God. Let us search and try our ways; for, though at all times self-inquiry is needful, it is most peculiarly so under humbling providence; for verily there is a reason for them; a gracious God doth not willingly afflict. The rule of judgment is the word of God; and prayer must direct us to the right application of it, that, under the influence of divine light, we may discover the true state of our souls, and turn again to the Lord in whatever way we may have departed from him; knowing, that except we are converted we cannot be saved; and assured that, in all his dealings toward us, God's great design is to lead us to repentance. Blessed and happy are they who learn to correspond with him herein.
4. In simplicity and godly sincerity we are called upon to devote and surrender ourselves to God. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens; in prayer looking up to him whose glory is in the heavens, and whose throne ruleth over all; our hearts engaged, and unreservedly offered on his altar; without which no service of the lips is at all available; and when we do so, this sacrifice of a contrite spirit God will not despise, nor ever cast out the prayer that cometh not out of feigned lips.
4thly, Nature will feel, and we are not forbid to mourn, though we are forbid to murmur.
1. The prophet, in the name of all his people, with deep acknowledgment confesses their sins; We have transgressed and have rebelled; for sin is rebellion against the Majesty of Heaven, and sinners the vilest of traitors.
2. He bewails their miseries, arising from a sense of God's displeasure. Thou hast not pardoned; at least no tokens of it appeared, while their afflictions continued unremoved: thou hast covered with anger and persecuted us; like a thick cloud it hung over them, and extinguished for a while every ray of his light and comfort; while, like a battering storm, their troubles beat upon them incessantly. Thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied; given them up to the merciless sword of the Chaldeans; nor did their cries apparently reach his mercy-seat. Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through; so apt are we when we do not find an answer of mercy from God soon, to conclude that it is of no profit to pray, and are tempted to give up all hope.
3. He laments the derision to which they were exposed. Thou hast made us as the off-scouring and refuse in the midst of the people; to be trodden down by the heathen, see 1Co 4:13 and their enemies scoffed at their distress; a sure symptom of a base mind, thus to insult the miserable.
4. Their fears were great, their desolations grievous: taken in the snare of their foes; terrified with their threatenings; their land and the cities of Judah utterly destroyed, and the people led into captivity, or slain with famine, pestilence, and the sword. Chased like a bird, they fled before their foes, who without cause persecuted them; yet, unable to escape, they seized them, and buried them alive in dungeons; or carried them alive to Babylon, which was the house of their prison, and shut them up in captive bonds, as the dead, at the mouth of whose sepulchre the ponderous stone is laid. Waters of affliction flowed over mine head; and, sunk as it were in the abyss of hopeless misery, then I said, I am cut off, ready to resign themselves to despair. Note; Many whom Satan has cast down by their sins, he seeks to keep down by despair.
5. In this state of wretchedness the prophet, in the person of the church, and on her account, weeps bitterly. Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water; unutterable is his anguish for the destruction that he beheld: without intermission mine eye trickleth down; and every scene of desolation that presented itself pierced his heart with fresh anguish, and drew forth a new torrent of tears over all the daughters of his city, or, more than all the daughters of my people; none, even of the tender sex, were so deeply afflicted and profuse in tears as the prophet; and thus he resolved to continue weeping and praying, till the Lord should look down and behold from heaven, and pity, pardon, and deliver them. Note; (1.) Let nothing drive us from waiting upon God. (2.) Our hearts will find no such relief from their anguish, as by pouring our sorrows into the bosom of a compassionate God. (3.) If we continue instant and patient in prayer, we shall assuredly find at last an answer of peace.
5thly, Sad as their state was, it was still within the reach of prayer; and therefore,
1. The prophet cries unto God, I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon; which may refer to the prophet's own case, when ready to perish in this miserable situation; or may be his prayer for the people, reduced now to the deepest distress. Thou hast heard my voice; it is the expression of his humble confidence, or the encouragement that he drew from past experience; thou hast heard, and wilt hear, the prayer of faith, therefore hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry, in the present calamity: or it may be read, Thou didst not hide, &c. and so is a continuation of his grateful acknowledgment of past mercies. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee, manifesting thy gracious presence and support: thou saidst, Fear not; and that encouraged my drooping heart. O Lord, thou hast pleaded the cause of my soul, thou hast redeemed my life; rescuing him from the instant death which threatened him in the dungeon; or delivering the people from their oppressions under the yoke of Egypt, Philistia, and other nations; and this emboldened his hope that the Lord would yet deliver them. Note; (1.) There is no prison so deep, but prayer can find a ready way out of it to the throne of God. (2.) Past mercies should encourage present hope. (3.) That is the effectual prayer, when the soul breathes forth its fervent desires, and still feels more than it can utter. (4.) They who by faith commit their souls to God, need fear no evil.
2. He refers his case and his people's unto the Lord. God had seen the wrong that his enemies had done him, their malicious designs, and their revengeful spirit: he had heard their reproaches and insults, and how they daily made themselves merry in deriding him; and therefore he appeals to him for judgment against them, not in a spirit of revenge, but that the justice of God may be seen in the righteous retaliation of their unprovoked malignity. Give them sorrow of heart, to curse unto them, the heaviest of all plagues, and the just desert of their wickedness. Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the Lord, their deeds of darkness having made them unworthy of the light of day. Note; (1.) Though fools still mock on, and sport at God's people, the day is near when their mirth will be turned into mourning. (2.) Woe to those against whom God's oppressed people appeal to him for justice.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Lamentations 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent