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III. THE PROPHET’S RESPONSE TO DIVINE JUDGMENT (THE THIRD LAMENT) CH. 3
As mentioned previously, this lament is an acrostic in triplets; the same succeeding Hebrew consonant begins three verses instead of just one, as in the previous chapters. The verses are about one third as long as most of those in the first two chapters.
This chapter also differs from the others in this book, in that: it contains a first-person narrative of the prophet’s reactions to the sufferings he endured as the Lord’s faithful servant. It is similar to the "confessions" sections in the Book of Jeremiah, where the prophet opens up and lets the reader into his heart and mind.
"Jeremiah proposes his own experience under afflictions, as an example as to how the Jews should behave under theirs, so as to have hope of a restoration; hence the change from singular to plural (Lamentations 3:22; Lamentations 3:40-47)." [Note: Jamieson, et al., p. 664.]
Faithful servants of the Lord of all ages can identify with many of the prophet’s sentiments expressed here.
"Chapter 3 is the heart of Jeremiah’s short book. This chapter gives the book a positive framework around which the other chapters revolve. The black velvet of sin and suffering in chapters 1-2 and 4-5 serves as a fitting backdrop to display the sparkling brilliance of God’s loyal love in chapter 3." [Note: Dyer, "Lamentations," p. 1216.]
In parts of this chapter, Jeremiah spoke for the people of Jerusalem and Judah, as well as for himself (e.g., Lamentations 3:22; Lamentations 3:40-47).
"He speaks as a representative Israelite, facing the dark and baffling ways of Providence." [Note: Price, p. 698.]
"In many respects this elegy crystallizes the basic themes of Lamentations, and as a fore-shadowing of the passion of Jesus Christ has definite affinities with Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 223.]
Jeremiah claimed to have seen much affliction because Yahweh had struck Jerusalem in His anger (cf. Job 9:34; Job 21:9; Psalms 89:32; Isaiah 10:5).
"The two preceding poems ended with sorrowful complaint. This third poem begins with the complaint of a man over grievous personal suffering." [Note: Keil, 2:402-3.]
A. Jeremiah’s sorrows 3:1-18
The Lord had driven the prophet to walk in the darkness of His judgment, rather than in the light of His blessing and presence (cf. Lamentations 3:6). The Lord had disciplined him repeatedly for a long time, in that while He was judging Jerusalem, Jeremiah was suffering along with the people.
Jeremiah’s suffering included sickness and pain, as when someone does not get enough food to eat or breaks a bone (cf. Psalms 42:10; Proverbs 5:11). Fever pains sometimes resemble the pain of a broken bone (cf. Lamentations 1:13-14; Job 30:17; Psalms 32:3-4; Psalms 51:8; Isaiah 38:13). He may have experienced these physical ailments, or he may have simply described his inner pain in terms of physical afflictions.
Bitter experiences and hardship had assailed the prophet as Yahweh had judged His people (cf. Jeremiah 8:14). Jeremiah’s existence had turned into a living death for him (cf. Psalms 143:3).
The Lord had imprisoned His prophet in his affliction; he could not escape from it (cf. Job 19:8; Psalms 88:8; Jeremiah 38:6; Hosea 2:6).
The Lord would not ease his suffering in answer to prayer (cf. Psalms 18:42; Jeremiah 7:16). It was as though the Lord had opposed Jeremiah’s progress toward restoration and made it very difficult.
Jeremiah felt like the Lord was lying in wait to devour him, like a wild animal (cf. Psalms 10:9; Psalms 17:12). The Lord had desolated Jeremiah by opposing his ways and making him feel torn apart.
Jeremiah felt as though he was a target that the Lord was shooting at and that Yahweh had wounded him severely (cf. Job 16:13).
The prophet’s contemporaries mocked and ridiculed him constantly. He had become full of bitter experiences, like poison, which the Lord had given him to drink (cf. Job 9:18).
"Wormwood is the name given to certain plants used for imparting a bitter flavor to some drinks; the name has no connection with either worm or wood." [Note: Ellison, p. 718.]
Jeremiah felt like his teeth were broken and that God had given him stones to eat instead of bread.
". . . the teeth have become broken and ground down because God has given His people stones to eat as punishment for venerating the images of Baal." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 224.]
Jeremiah had forgotten what peace and happiness were like. He had also lost his strength and his hope.
Jeremiah prayed that the Lord would remember his affliction and bitterness (cf. Job 13:15).
B. Jeremiah’s hope 3:19-40
He himself remembered something that gave him hope.
The prophet remembered that the Lord’s loyal love (Heb. hesed) never ceases and that He is ceaselessly compassionate.
There are new evidences of Yahweh’s lovingkindness and compassion every day that testify to His great faithfulness (cf. Psalms 36:5; Psalms 36:7). His daily provision of manna for the Israelites in the wilderness was one example of this.
"The word translated ’compassions’ draws attention to God’s emotional response to the needs of His people [cf. Genesis 43:30; 1 Kings 3:26]. The terms rendered ’love’ [or "lovingkindness"] and ’faithfulness’ are closely related in meaning [cf. Psalms 89:24; Psalms 92:2; Psalms 98:3; Hosea 2:19-20]. They refer to God’s devotion to His covenant people and to the promises He made to them." [Note: Chisholm, p. 362.]
This verse was, of course, the basis for the classic Christian hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas O. Chisholm (b. 1866). It has also inspired modern composers (e.g., "The steadfast love of the Lord never faileth; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness, oh Lord, great is Thy faithfulness . . .").
Jeremiah reminded himself that Yahweh was his portion. Consequently he had hope (cf. Numbers 18:20). By calling the Lord his portion, the prophet was comparing Yahweh to an allotment of land that provides the necessities of life (cf. Psalms 16:5-6; Psalms 73:26; Psalms 119:57; Psalms 142:5).
"To have God for our portion is the one only foundation of hope." [Note: Jamieson, et al., p. 664.]
Those who wait for the Lord and seek Him eventually experience His goodness. Waiting for the Lord’s deliverance silently is a good practice (cf. Psalms 37:9; Hosea 12:6; Zephaniah 3:8; Romans 8:25; Galatians 5:5).
Likewise shouldering the heavy burden of God’s revealed will in one’s youth is a good thing.
"Early discipline begets mature dependability." [Note: Price, p. 699.]
Such a person should bear his burden without complaining since God has placed it on him (cf. Psalms 39:2; Psalms 94:17).
He should also humble himself since there is hope that God will help him.
"The expression is derived from the Oriental custom of throwing oneself in the most reverential manner on the ground, and involves the idea of humble silence, because the mouth, placed in the dust, cannot speak." [Note: Keil, 2:416.]
The afflicted do well to yield to the antagonism of others and to allow others to heap reproach on them, rather than retaliating (cf. Matthew 26:67; Luke 22:64; John 18:22; John 19:3).
"Many take patiently afflictions from God, but when man wrongs them, they take it impatiently. The godly bear resignedly the latter, like the former, as sent by God (Psalms 17:13)." [Note: Jamieson, et al., p. 664.]
The Lord’s rejection of His own is only temporary (cf. Jeremiah 3:5; Jeremiah 3:12). Compassion and loyal love will replace grief eventually (cf. Job 5:18; Psalms 30:5; Isaiah 54:8).
The Lord does not take pleasure in afflicting people or in bringing them grief.
The Lord disapproves of injustice in its many forms and of the brutal oppression of prisoners (cf. Psalms 69:33; Psalms 146:7; Isaiah 42:7; Luke 4:18).
The plans of those who anticipate a particular future only come to fruition if the sovereign Lord ordains them. The Most High is the ultimate source of all good and bad things.
Jeremiah wondered how anyone could complain against God, since all mortals are sinners and therefore deserve divine punishment. He counseled self-examination and returning to the Lord.
"Jeremiah wrote seven principles about the nature of Israel’s affliction: (1) Affliction should be endured with hope in God’s salvation, that is, ultimate restoration (Lamentations 3:25-30). (2) Affliction is only temporary and is tempered by God’s compassion and love (Lamentations 3:31-32). (3) God does not delight in affliction (Lamentations 3:33). (4) If affliction comes because of injustice, God sees it and does not approve of it (Lamentations 3:34-36). (5) Affliction is always in relationship to God’s sovereignty (Lamentations 3:37-38; cf. Job 2:10). (6) Affliction ultimately came because of Judah’s sins (Lamentations 3:39). (7) Affliction should accomplish the greater good of turning God’s people back to Him (Lamentations 3:40)." [Note: Dyer, "Lamentations," p. 1218.]
Jeremiah lifted up his heart, as well as his hands, to God in heaven; his praying was heartfelt, not just formal.
1. A recollection of past sins 3:41-47
C. Jeremiah’s prayer 3:41-66
The following section of the lament falls into two parts, marked by Jeremiah’s use of the plural (Lamentations 3:41-47) and singular personal pronouns (Lamentations 3:48-66). In the first part, he called on the Judahites to confess their sins to God. In the second part, he recalled God’s past deliverance in answer to prayer, which motivated him to ask God to judge his enemies. In both sections, the prophet modeled proper behavior for his people.
He and his people had transgressed the covenant and had rebelled against the Lord, and He had not pardoned their sin but allowed them to experience judgment.
The Lord had become angry over the sins of His people and had pursued them in judgment, slaying them without stinting.
The Lord had blocked Himself off from His people, as a cloud blocks the heavens, so their prayers would not affect Him.
The Lord had made the Judahites as scum (Heb. sehi), namely, rejected as unfit for use. This Hebrew word occurs only here in the Old Testament. This is how the other nations regarded them. Judah’s enemies had also spoken against her (cf. Lamentations 2:16).
The results of God’s judgment for the Judahites had been panic. They had stumbled into pits that ensnared them. Devastation and destruction had become their allotment.
Jeremiah wept profusely and unremittingly because of the destruction that the Judahites had experienced (cf. Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 14:17). He would do this until the Lord acknowledged the plight of His people by sending them some relief. What Jeremiah saw of the devastation of Jerusalem pained him greatly. Here "the daughters of my city" may refer to the dependent villages surrounding Jerusalem that the foe also took. [Note: Jamieson, et al., p. 665.]
2. A recollection of past deliverance 3:48-66
The prophet’s enemies had pursued him mercilessly, as hunters track a bird.
They silenced him by placing him in a pit and covering its mouth with a large stone (cf. Jeremiah 38:1-6). He thought he would drown because of the water that engulfed him.
Jeremiah prayed to the Lord out of his desperate condition (cf. Psalms 88:7; Psalms 88:14; Psalms 130:1; Jonah 2:1-3). He believed the Lord had heard his prayer, and he begged that the Lord would pay attention to his petition and grant him deliverance.
In the past, the Lord had heeded Jeremiah’s prayers and had given him hope. The Lord had come to his rescue and had redeemed (delivered) him from destruction (cf. Leviticus 25:25-28; Leviticus 25:47-54; Ruth 4:1-12).
"No greater testimony can a sinner offer to God than to say, in thanksgiving, ’Thou hast redeemed my life’ (Lamentations 3:58)." [Note: Jensen, p. 135.]
Jeremiah knew that Yahweh had seen his affliction. He asked that He would judge him, knowing that the Lord would be fair.
"Perhaps because of their status as the Chosen People the Jews were always sensitive to abuse and injury inflicted from outside, whatever the source. Consequently they found it impossible to overlook these hostile acts, with the result that the imprecations which they hurled at their enemies, while typical of such Near Eastern utterances, seem to possess an unexpected and unusual degree of vindictiveness (cf. Psalms 137:9)." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 231.]
The prophet’s enemies plotted against him constantly, but he called on God to witness all that his enemies were doing and how they had mocked him.
Jeremiah believed that the Lord would pay his enemies back as they deserved (cf. Psalms 28:4; 2 Corinthians 3:17). He would harden their hearts and so bring judgment on them.
The Lord would pursue them anywhere they might go and destroy them in His anger. The Lord did this to Jeremiah’s enemies when the city fell to the Babylonians (cf. Jeremiah 39:4-7; Jeremiah 52:7-11; Jeremiah 52:24-27).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Lamentations 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27