Lamentations 3 – “Great Is Your Faithfulness”
“The third poem is significantly different in structure from the others, being made up of single lines grouped in threes, and commencing with the same consonant of the Hebrew alphabet.” (R.K. Harrison)
“In the Hebrew Bible, the first three verses all start with aleph, the second three verses with beth, and so forth.” (Philipp Ryken)
A. Opposed by the LORD.
1. (1-9) The man afflicted by the LORD.
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.
He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones.
He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago.
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
a. I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath: In chapters 1 and 2, Jeremiah wrote mainly as Jerusalem personified. Here he began to write as the voice of an individual sufferer. Yes, this was Jeremiah, but it certainly was not only him. He and many others had seen affliction, and they knew that it came as God’s discipline (the rod of His wrath).
i. “The sufferings of the people of Judah are described as though one man had experienced them. It is possible to interpret this chapter as a record of the feelings of Jeremiah himself, or as a personification in an otherwise unknown individual or the nation’s tragic sufferings.” (Harrison)
ii. “Jeremiah’s personal lament is a reminder that suffering is always personal. When nations go through times of tragedy and tribulation, the greatest suffering always takes place at the individual level.” (Ryken)
iii. “That which is most impressive in this song is the identification of the prophet with the people and with God. He recognized the necessity of the suffering, but suffered with the sufferers.” (Morgan)
iv. He has led me and made me walk in darkness: “This seems to be the hardest part of our lot, that God should lead us into darkness: ‘He hath led me, and brought me into darkness.’ Yet dear brethren, that is, on the other hand, the sweetest thing about our trial; because, if the darkness be in the place where God has led us, it is best for us to be in the dark.” (Spurgeon)
b. Surely He has turned His hand against me: Jeremiah did not stay in this dark and desperate place, but he would not deny being there. Many times through the affliction he felt God to be his adversary, not his friend.
i. He has turned His hand against me: “A metaphor from buffeters, who double their blows, beating their adversaries on both sides, as the smith doth his red hot iron upon the anvil till he hath shaped it.” (Trapp)
c. He has besieged me: Even as Jerusalem was literally besieged, so Jeremiah (and countless others) felt themselves surrounded by bitterness and woe and slowly strangled by God.
i. He has hedged me in: “This also may refer to the lines drawn round the city during the siege. But these and similar expressions in the following verses may be merely metaphorical, to point out their straitened, oppressed, and distressed state.” (Clarke)
ii. He has hedged me in: Harrison saw this as a picture of cruel imprisonment. “The walling-up of prisoners within confined spaces so that they died very quickly was a form of torture made popular by the Assyrians.”
iii. He has made my chain heavy: “As the convict sometimes drags about his chain, and has a ball at his foot, so the prophet felt as if God had clogged him with a heavy chain, so that he could not move because of its terrible weight.” (Spurgeon)
d. He shuts out my prayer: When things are right with our relationship with God, He is our refuge and defense in affliction. In their depths of affliction, this was not the experience of Jeremiah and the people of Judah. They were surrounded, hedged, and blocked.
2. (10-18) God an adversary in many ways.
He has been to me a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in ambush.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He has bent His bow
And set me up as a target for the arrow.
He has caused the arrows of His quiver
To pierce my loins.
I have become the ridicule of all my people—
Their taunting song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.
He has also broken my teeth with gravel,
And covered me with ashes.
You have moved my soul far from peace;
I have forgotten prosperity.
And I said, “My strength and my hope
Have perished from the LORD.”
a. He has been to me like a bear lying in wait: Using the eloquence that misery sometimes brings, Jeremiah described all the ways that they felt God opposed and even attacked them.
·God was the like the bear and the lion waiting for a surprise attack.
·God was like the archer who bent His bow and was directed at the target.
·God was like the mocker who led the taunting song against His people.
·God was like the judge, giving a cup of judgment and wormwood for the condemned to drink.
·God was the brute, breaking my teeth with gravel.
i. He has bent His bow: “This figure shows the power of the archer’s arm, which transfixed the poet with arrows.” (Ellison)
ii. He has also broken my teeth with gravel: “What a figure to express disgust, pain, and the consequent incapacity of taking food for the support of life; a man, instead of bread, being obliged to eat small pebbles till all his teeth are broken to pieces by endeavouring to grind them. One can scarcely read this description without feeling the toothache.” (Clarke)
iii. With gravel: “It could be argued that it refers to the type of bread made from the sweepings of the granary floor that Jeremiah must have received toward the end of the siege.” (Ellison)
iv. To pierce my loins: Literally, kidneys. “In the sacrificial tariffs of the Pentateuch, animal kidneys were held to be one of the locations of life, this being thought true of human kidneys also. In addition, emotional attributes of joy (Proverbs 23:16) and sorrow (Job 19:27; Psalm 73:21) were credited to them.” (Harrison)
b. My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD: No wonder Jeremiah and Jerusalem could say this. With God as adversary, what strength is there? What hope is there of either peace or prosperity?
i. “The poet’s mention of ‘the LORD’ broke the spell of misery that had bound him.” (Ellison)
B. Rising hope in God’s help.
1. (19-20) The sinking soul.
Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
a. Remember my affliction and roaming: Jeremiah did not prescribe positive thinking for this deep affliction. He actually felt it useful to remember it, to understand it for what it was, and to not pretend it wasn’t there.
b. My soul still remembers and sinks within me: It was good for Jeremiah’s soul to sink, to find its bottom point so that he could build on the right foundation.
i. “It is evident that in the preceding verses there is a bitterness of complaint against the bitterness of adversity, that is not becoming to man when under the chastising hand of God; and, while indulging this feeling, all hope fled. Here we find a different feeling; he humbles himself under the mighty hand of God, and then his hope revives.” (Clarke)
2. (21-23) New mercies from a faithful God.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
a. This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope: For perhaps the first time in the book, hope is allowed. Having sunk low in his soul (Lamentations 3:20), Jeremiah now remembered something that started hope within.
i. “In a magnificent expression of faith in the unfailing mercies of God, the writer looks to the distant future with renewed hope.” (Harrison)
ii. “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.” (Spurgeon)
b. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed: This was one of the things Jeremiah remembered. He remembered that as beat down and defeated the people of Jerusalem and Judah were, they were not yet completely consumed. There was still a remnant, and remnant with a promise of restoration. Wherever God leaves life, He leaves hope.
i. “The vital word in this verse is ḥeseḏ (‘great love’ [mercies]), the covenant love and loyalty of the Lord that leads to rahamim (‘compassion,’ ‘mercy’), derived from reḥem (‘womb’).” (Ellison)
ii. “See where Jeremiah gets his comfort; he seems to say, ‘Bad as my case is, it might have been worse, for I might have been consumed, and I should have been consumed if the Lord’s compassions had failed.’” (Spurgeon)
c. Because His compassions fail not: Even in the severity of correction God’s people endured, there was evidence of His compassions. There was rich comfort in realizing that the tender affection of God was not completely spent; these compassions were new every morning.
i. “The passage is full of beauty, as it deals with that tender compassion of God which had never been absent even in the work of punishment.” (Morgan)
d. They are new every morning: Each dawning day gives mankind hope in fresh mercies and compassions from God. We need a constant supply and God has promised to send them without fail. No matter how bad the past day was, God’s people can look to the new morning with faith and hope.
i. These mercies are always new because they come from God. “Our treasures, which we lay up on earth, are the stagnant pools; but the treasure which God gives us from heaven, in providence and in grace, is the crystal fount which wells up from the eternal deeps, and is always fresh and always new.” (Spurgeon)
·Every morning ends the night.
·Every morning brings a new day.
·Every morning brings new provision for the day.
·Every morning brings new forgiveness for new sins.
·Every morning brings new strength for new temptations, duties, and trials.
e. Great is Your faithfulness: All this made Jeremiah consider the great faithfulness of God; that He never fails in sending His mercies and compassions. Even in their catastrophe, God was faithful. He faithfully announced His judgments and performed them, and God would prove to be just as faithful in His promised restoration.
i. “The prophet addressed him personally and directly: ‘Great is your faithfulness’. In the process of remembering God’s attributes, Jeremiah was drawn back into living fellowship and intimate communion with his faithful God.” (Ryken)
3. (24-26) God’s goodness to the seeking soul.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the LORD.
a. The LORD is my portion: As in Psalm 119:57, Jeremiah found the key to satisfaction—finding one’s portion in the LORD. Whatever measure he was to receive, whatever inheritance, whatever future, it would all be found in Yahweh.
i. These are the words of a satisfied soul. Jeremiah had no other place of satisfaction, so he was settled with the portion received, and that portion was the LORD Himself.
ii. “The poet said in effect, that he has had so little of this world’s goods and pleasures because his share has been the Lord.” (Ellison)
b. Therefore I hope in Him: God couldn’t really be his hope until he was first his portion. This was a pathway to hope for him.
c. The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him: All the misery of God’s people had come because they would not truly seek God and wait for Him. They rejected and rebelled for generations, then looked to others for rescue. Seeking Him again would bring renewed expressions of His goodness.
i. “Do not be in a hurry; do not expect to be delivered out of your trouble the first time you begin to cry unto God. Oh, no: ‘the Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.’ (Spurgeon)
ii. “There are times when the only thing a sufferer can do is wait for God. But waiting is good because God is worth waiting for.” (Ryken)
d. It is good that he should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD: Everything previous in Lamentations was deep in despair, and the misery was by no means over. Yet these flashes of light are welcome and necessary. Against all the despair, Jeremiah proclaimed to himself and all others the goodness of hope and patient seeking of God.
i. “Hoping and waiting differ but as the mother and daughter, hope being the mother of patience and waiting; or as the habit and act, hoping and waiting being ranch the same, flowing from a gracious power and habit given the soul to wait. Quietness is necessary to waiting, for all turbulency and impatience of spirit under sad providences is opposed to waiting.” (Poole)
4. (27-29) Hope for the silent soul.
It is good for a man to bear
The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him;
Let him put his mouth in the dust—
There may yet be hope.
a. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth: There are seasons of adversity, and sometimes it is better to have those seasons when one is young. If God disciplines us when we are young, it is to train us for a fruitful future.
i. The yoke in his youth: “Early habits, when good, are invaluable. Early discipline is equally so. He who has not got under wholesome restraint in youth will never make a useful man, a good man, nor a happy man.” (Clarke)
ii. “Such burdens can best be borne in youth when a man has the requisite vigour, and when his personality needs to be disciplined more than would be the case in his more mature years.” (Harrison)
iii. Spurgeon suggested many reasons why it is good to bear the yoke when young:
·It is good because obedience to God is best learned when young.
·It is good because it saves from a thousand snares.
·It is good because it keeps from bearing the devil’s yoke.
·It is good because it gives you more years to serve God.
·It is good because it gives one many years of experience.
b. Let him sit alone and keep silent: Under adversity, it is best to not try and figure everything out right away. These are good times for reflection (sit alone) and listening rather than speaking. In this patient seeking of God, there is reason for hope.
i. Keep silent: “There came a young man to Demosthenes to learn oratory; he talked away at a great rate, and Demosthenes said, ‘I must charge you double fees.’ ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Why,’ said the master, ‘I have first to teach you to hold your tongue, and afterwards to instruct you how to speak.’ The Lord teaches true penitents how to hold their tongues.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Silence implies both an acceptance of God’s will and a refusal to complain to men. With this should go the complete submission to God pictured in v.29 by the Oriental obeisance. It leads too to the willingness to be treated like a slave (v.30), for the yoke was a symbol of servitude (but cf. Jeremiah 20:1–2).” (Ellison)
5. (30-36) The goodness of God even in His justice.
Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him,
And be full of reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off forever.
Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitude of His mercies.
For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
To crush under one’s feet
All the prisoners of the earth,
To turn aside the justice due a man
Before the face of the Most High,
Or subvert a man in his cause—
The Lord does not approve.
a. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him: Jeremiah said this in the context of patiently enduring suffering (Lamentations 3:27-29). His sense is that they should patiently receive the suffering and reproach God had appointed for them.
i. “In offering the cheek to the smiter the captive was conveying the idea of absolute surrender.” (Harrison)
ii. Jesus gave his cheek to the one who strikes him as He patiently received the suffering His Father had appointed (Matthew 26:67-68, Luke 22:64).
b. For the Lord will not cast off forever: The suffering endured was not everlasting. In His wise judgments God caused grief, but promised to also show compassion, and would do so according to the multitude of His mercies.
c. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men: When God does allow or send His judgments, He does not do it with a happy heart. His discipline is not happy nor is it unfair (to turn aside the justice due a man). As Abraham said of God, shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25).
i. “It is no pleasure to God to afflict men. He takes no delight in our pain and misery: yet, like a tender and intelligent parent, he uses the rod; not to gratify himself, but to profit and save us.” (Clarke)
ii. To turn aside the justice due a man before the face of the Most High: “The MT of verse 35 lends force to the concept of natural or inherent human rights when rendered, to pervert the right which a man has in the very presence of the Most High. God therefore disapproves heartily of any attempt to deprive an individual of his rights in the law (36), or to condemn him unjustly.” (Harrison)
C. Prayers of humble trust in God.
1. (37-39) The God who cannot be opposed.
Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass,
When the Lord has not commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
That woe and well-being proceed?
Why should a living man complain,
A man for the punishment of his sins?
a. Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? In a season of great suffering or calamity, it may be difficult to remember that God rules over all things – if not directly, then in what He allows. Yet the consideration of God’s sovereignty would also become the source of their hope. It was and is worse to be at the mercy of blind fate.
b. Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? To give emphasis, Jeremiah asked the same question in different words.
c. Why should a living man complain: We may complain against God and His sovereignty, but that is profitless and ungrateful. The living man should be grateful he still has life, and recognize there is some justice in the punishment of his sins.
i. “He who has his life still lent to him has small cause of complaint. How great soever his affliction may be, he is still alive; therefore, he may seek and find mercy unto eternal life. Of this, death would deprive him; therefore let not a living man complain.” (Clarke)
ii. “If he be tempted to murmur, let him remember that he is yet alive, and that is more than his part cometh to, since it is the Lord’s mercy that he is not consumed, and sent packing hence to hell. Life in any sense is a sweet mercy, even that which to the afflicted may seem a lifeless life.” (Trapp)
2. (40-47) Humbly turning back to God.
Let us search out and examine our ways,
And turn back to the LORD;
Let us lift our hearts and hands
To God in heaven.
We have transgressed and rebelled;
You have not pardoned.
You have covered Yourself with anger
And pursued us;
You have slain and not pitied.
You have covered Yourself with a cloud,
That prayer should not pass through.
You have made us an offscouring and refuse
In the midst of the peoples.
All our enemies
Have opened their mouths against us.
Fear and a snare have come upon us,
Desolation and destruction.
a. Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the LORD: Even under the great sense that God was their opponent and adversary (Lamentations 3:1-18), Jeremiah recommended the proper and humble approach.
b. Search out and examine our ways: Sins must not be casually and superficially confessed and dealt with. We don’t live constantly focused on our sins and failings, but there are appropriate times to carefully, deliberately search out and examine our ways.
c. And turn back to the LORD: All the self-examination in the world does little good if it does not lead us back to this place. We should, we must, turn away from sin and self and turn back to the LORD.
d. You have made us an offscouring and refuse: In the desire to turn back to the LORD, Jeremiah knew that it was important to honestly see their condition. They were under God’s severe discipline, and that because of their deep and persistent sin.
i. “The nation’s recognition of itself as offscouring (so most evv) employs a descriptive term sehi, occurring here only in the Hebrew Bible, and in the context denotes anything rejected as unfit for use. Its New Testament counterpart (1 Corinthians 4:13) is equally rare, depicting the suffering of the apostles.” (Harrison)
ii. “That is, thou hast made us to all nations extremely contemptible, so as they value us no more than the sweepings of their houses, or the most vile, refuse, and contemptible things imaginable.” (Poole)
3. (48-51) Weeping over destruction.
My eyes overflow with rivers of water
For the destruction of the daughter of my people.
My eyes flow and do not cease,
Till the LORD from heaven
Looks down and sees.
My eyes bring suffering to my soul
Because of all the daughters of my city.
a. My eyes overflow with rivers of water: Earlier in Lamentations 2:18 Jeremiah expressed a prayer in the mouth of Jerusalem’s enemies, a prayer that the city and her walls would weep without end. Here Jeremiah fulfills that role with tears that flow and do not cease, without interruption.
b. Till the LORD from heaven looks down and sees: The intense weeping of Jeremiah and those like him must continue until God looks and sees, taking notice of and mercy to their misery.
4. (52-56) Praying for help under enemy attack.
My enemies without cause
Hunted me down like a bird.
They silenced my life in the pit
And threw stones at me.
The waters flowed over my head;
I said, “I am cut off!”
I called on Your name, O LORD,
From the lowest pit.
You have heard my voice:
“Do not hide Your ear
From my sighing, from my cry for help.”
a. My enemies without cause hunted me down like a bird: Jeremiah and those like him felt under constant pressure from capture or killing. They were against him like a fowler is against a bird. He was overwhelmed like a man drowning in a pit (the waters flowed over my head).
i. Silenced my life in the pit: “Seemeth not to be here taken literally, for the lowest and nastiest place in prisons, which probably was the portion but of a few of the Jews; but metaphorically, for the lowest and saddest condition of misery. Their enemies had brought them into the deepest miseries.” (Poole)
b. I called on your name, O LORD: Even from the pit Jeremiah knew he could call upon the LORD, and that God would hear His voice. Even if he could only manage a sigh, it would be his cry for help that he longed for God to hear.
i. From my sighing, my cry for help: “He dared not even to complain, nor to cry, nor to pray aloud: he was obliged to whisper his prayer to God. It was only a breathing.” (Clarke)
ii. “As breathing is a proof of animal life, so is prayer, though never so weak, of spiritual. If therefore you cannot speak, weep – tears also have a voice; [Psalms 39:12] if you cannot weep, sigh – a storm of sighs may do as much as a shower of tears; if you cannot sigh, yet breathe, as here. God feels breath; and happy is he that can say, In thee I hope, Lord, and after thee I breathe or pant.” (Trapp)
iii. “A mother listens for the breathing of her babe in the dark. It will tell her so much. The soft, measured breath, or the laboring, gasping breath. God never hides His ear from our breathing; or from those in- articulate cries, which express, as words could not do, the deep anguish and yearning of the heart. If you cannot speak, cry, sob, or groan, then be still. God can interpret all.” (Meyer)
5. (57-63) Thankful and confident of future help.
You drew near on the day I called on You,
And said, “Do not fear!”
O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul;
You have redeemed my life.
O LORD, You have seen how I am wronged;
Judge my case.
You have seen all their vengeance,
All their schemes against me.
You have heard their reproach, O LORD,
All their schemes against me,
The lips of my enemies
And their whispering against me all the day.
Look at their sitting down and their rising up;
I am their taunting song.
a. You drew near on the day I called on You: Jeremiah knew that God responded when he called upon Him. God’s response to this seeking soul was, “Do not fear!”
i. You drew near: “Jeremiah seems to record this fact with a considerable amount of surprise. He marvels that God should have drawn near to him, for his condition was a very pitiful one. He was so low that life seemed ebbing out, and he groaned.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Do not fear: “How powerful is this word when spoken by the Spirit of the Lord to a disconsolate heart. To every mourner we may say, on the authority of God, Fear not! God will plead thy cause, and redeem thy soul.” (Clarke)
b. Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul: From formerly feeling forsaken, Jeremiah rested in the confidence that God was his advocate. Like a lawyer pleading for his client, God pleaded the case for his life.
i. Earlier in this chapter, Jeremiah felt God was his adversary (Lamentations 3:1-18). Now he prayed to God as his advocate.
ii. “You perceive there is not a word concerning himself or his own pleadings. He doth not ascribe his deliverance in any measure to any man, much less to his own merit; but it is ‘thou’.” (Spurgeon)
c. LORD, You have seen how I am wronged: Jeremiah rested in the confidence that God was a righteous judge, who would see how he was wronged and who would rightly judge his case.
i. “If you will turn to the lives of any of the saints of God, you will discover that they were the victims of slanders of the grossest kind. To this very day it is asserted by Romanists that Martin Luther was a drunkard. In his own day he was called the German beast, that for lust must needs marry Catharine. If you turn to the life of Whitfield – our great and mighty Whitfield – in more modern times, what was his character? Why, he was accused of every crime that even Sodom knew; and perjury stood up and swore that all was true. As for Wesley – I have heard that on one occasion he said that he had been charged with every crime in the calendar, except drunkenness; and when a woman stood up in the crowd and accused him of that, he then said, ‘Blessed God, I have now had all manner of evil spoken against me falsely, for Christ’s name sake.’” (Spurgeon)
d. You have seen all their vengeance: Jeremiah brought his case to God, telling him of all the ways that his enemies had attacked him. They did it by despising him (their reproach), with schemes, with whispering lies, and their taunting song against him.
i. Their taunting song: “Mocking or taunt-songs were also frequently used to express derision or contempt for an enemy.” (Harrison)
6. (64-66) Giving vengeance to God.
Repay them, O LORD,
According to the work of their hands.
Give them a veiled heart;
Your curse be upon them!
In Your anger,
Pursue and destroy them
From under the heavens of the LORD.
a. Repay them, O LORD, according to the work of their hands: God had repaid Jerusalem and Judah for all their sin and disobedience. Now Jeremiah prayed that Yahweh would repay their enemies, and give them a veiled heart even as Judah was blind.
b. Your curse be upon them: According to the terms of the covenant Israel made with God (as in Deuteronomy 27-28), Israel would be terribly cursed if they disobeyed and rejected God. Those curses came upon Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day; now he prayed that those curses come upon their enemies.
c. In Your anger, pursue and destroy them from under the heavens of the LORD: Jerusalem and Judah had faced the anger of God and the destruction that came from it. Now he prayed that their enemies would face God’s anger.
i. “These past deliverances created his assurance that Jehovah would yet act on behalf of His people and destroy their enemies from under the heavens.” (Morgan)