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The elegy which is contained in this chapter is alphabetic in its structure, like the two that precede it, but it is of a more complicated character, three consecutive verses beginning with the same letter of the alphabet.
(1) I am the man.—The lamentation is one of more intense personality. For that very reason it has been the true inheritance of all mourners, however widely different in time, country, circumstance, whose sorrows have approximated to that intensity.
The rod of his wrath.—The “wrath” is obviously that of Jehovah (comp. Proverbs 22:8; Isaiah 10:5), but there is something significant in the fact that He is not named.
(2) Into darkness.—The moral darkness of perplexity as well as misery. The cry of the mourner was like that of Ajax (Hom. Il. xvii. 647), “Slay me if thou wilt, but slay me in the light.”
(3) Against me is he turned.—Better, against me He turneth His hand again and again, the first verb being one of frequentative action, and giving that significance to the second.
(4) Hath he made old.—Better, He hath wasted, the verb describing the wear and tear of life rather than the effects of age. “Flesh,” “skin,” “bones,” are grouped together as representing the whole being of the mourner.
(5) He hath builded.—The attack of sorrow is presented under the figure of a siege. In the next clause the figure is dropped. “Gall” stands, as in Jeremiah 8:14, for bitterest sorrow. “Travel” is the old English form of “travail,” the two forms, originally identical, being now used with different meanings.
(6) He hath set me in dark places.—A verbal reproduction of Psalms 143:3. The “dark places” are those of hell or Hades. For dead of old read dead eternally or dead for ever, the adverb looking forward rather than back.
(7) He hath hedged.—From the darkness of Hades we pass to that of the prison-house, in which the mourner is “hedged” or confined, bound with a heavy chain (literally, brass).
(8) He shutteth out my prayer—i.e., stops it so that it does not reach the ear of Jehovah; and it is Jehovah himself who does this.
(9) He hath inclosed.—Yet another figure of resourceless misery follows. A massive wall of stone runs across the mourner’s way. When he turns aside into by-paths, they are turned and twisted in labyrinthine confusion, and lead nowhither.
(10) As a bear . . . as a lion.—The figure found in Hosea 13:8; Amos 5:19, is specially characteristic of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 5:6; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44). We are reminded of Dante (Inferno, i. 31-51).
(11) He hath turned aside.—The terror caused by the lion turns the traveller from his path, and there is no other; and then comes the attack by which he is torn in pieces.
He hath made me desolate.—Better, made me astonied, as in Ezra 9:3. The verb (which occurs forty times in Jeremiah’s prophecies and three times in Lam.), paints the stupefaction of terror.
(12) He hath bent his bow.—(Comp. Job 16:12.) The figure is changed, but there is a natural sequence of thought. The lion suggests the huntsman. but he appears on the scene not to save the victim, but to complete the work of destruction.
(13) The arrows of his quiver.—Literally, children. The other side of the analogy appears in Psalms 127:5.
(14) I was a derision.—The personal experience of the prophet breaks through the succession of imagery. The arrows that pierced to the quick were the taunts of the mockers who derided him (Jeremiah 20:7). “Their song.” (Comp. Job 30:9.)
(15) Bitterness.—The Hebrew gives the plural, bitternesses. With these, the sorrows which are as the bitter herbs of life (the same word meets us in Exodus 12:8, and Numbers 9:11), the mourner had been filled even to satiety, even as he had been made drunk with wormwood.
(16) He hath also broken my teeth.—The metaphor of food is continued. The mourner eats bread that is gritty, as if made of sand instead of flour. (Comp. Proverbs 20:17.) Here, again, we are reminded of Dante (Parad. xvii. 58), when he speaks of the bitterness of the bread which comes as the grudging gift of strangers.
(17) Thou hast removed my soul far off from peace.—The verb is found in this sense in Psalms 88:14. By some critics it is taken as passive, and in the 3rd person feminine. My soul loathes peace, i.e., has lost even the desire of better things; or, My soul is despised of peace, i.e., is shut out from it. But the Authorised version is preferable.
(18) I said, My strength.—The sorrow of the mourner comes to the very verge of despair. There was “no help for him from his God;” even that hope had left him. But, as the sequel shows, this despair was the beginning of a reaction. The very name of Jehovah (no longer Adonai) reminded him of the everlasting mercies.
(19) Remembering.—The verb, which is rendered by the Authorised version as a gerundial infinitive, is better taken as an imperative, Remember mine affliction; the prayer being addressed to Jehovah. The two terms of the first clause are taken from Lamentations 1:7. The mourner begins his prayer, as it were, by a recapitulation of his sufferings. (Comp. Psalms 69:21.)
(20) My soul hath . . .—The verb, as in Lamentations 3:17, may be either in the second person or the third; the former gives, Thou wilt surely remember that my soul is humbled. Psalms 42:4 supports the Authorised version.
(21) This I recall to my mind.—Better, This will I recall. The first gleam of hope breaks through the darkness. The sorrow has not been in vain; it has brought humility, and out of humility springs hope.
(22) It is of the Lord’s mercies.—It is, perhaps, part of the elaborate art of this poem that Lamentations 3:22-42, which form its centre, and that of the whole book, represent the highest point of trust to which the mourner attains, being both preceded and followed by words of lamentation.
(23) They are new.—The subject of the sentence is found in the “compassions” of the preceding verse. With the dawn of every day there dawn also the mercies of Jehovah.
(24) The Lord.—An inversion of the sentence gives a closer and more emphatic rendering: My portion is Jehovah. The phrase is a reminiscence from Psalms 16:5; Psalms 73:26; Psalms 142:5; Psalms 119:57, the thought resting primarily on Numbers 18:20.
(25) The Lord is good.—The alliterative form of the Hebrew makes “good” the first word of this and the two following verses, the adjective being predicated, first of the essential character of Jehovah, and then of the conditions in man on which the manifestation of that character depends.
(26) Quietly wait.—Literally, wait in silence: i.e. abstain from murmurs and complaints.
(27) Bear the yoke in his youth.—The words have been pressed “with a strange literalism” in favour of the view that the Lamentations were written in the youth of Jeremiah and on the death of Josiah. It may fairly be contended, on the other hand, that the tone of the maxim is that of one who looks back from the experience of age on the passionate complaints of his earlier years (Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 20:7-18).
(28) He sitteth alone . . .—Better, Let him sit alone, and keep silence when He (Jehovah) hath laid it (the yoke) upon him; and so in the next verses, Let him put his mouth . . . Let him give his cheek.
(29) He putteth his mouth in the dust . . .—The outward image is that of the prostration of an Eastern subject before a king: his very face laid in the dust, so that he cannot speak.
(30) He giveth his cheek . . .—The submission enjoined reaches its highest point—a patience like that of Job 16:10; we may add, like that of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:39.) It was harder to accept the Divine chastisement when it came through human agents. Not so had Jeremiah once taught and acted (Jeremiah 20:1-6; Jeremiah 28:15). (Comp. Isaiah 1:6.)
(31) For the Lord . . .—The counsels of submission are followed by the grounds of hope. The first, a quotation from Psalms 77:7, had been of old a favourite thought of the writer’s (Jeremiah 3:5; Jeremiah 3:12). The second (Lamentations 3:32) rests on the fact that compassion underlies chastisement (Psalms 30:5; Job 5:18; Isaiah 54:8); the third (Lamentations 3:33) on the truth that the primary eternal will of God is on the side of love, and that punishment is, as it were, against that will.
(33) Not . . . willingly.—Literally, not from the heart, as being the centre of volition as well as emotion
(34-36) To crush . . .—The triplet of verses forms one sentence dependent upon the final clause, “The Lord approveth not,” literally, doth not look on. By some critics the literal meaning is kept in the form of a question: Doth not the Lord look on this? The fact that the righteous judgment of God is against those who, unlike Him, cause wilful and needless suffering is another ground of hope to the sufferer. The three forms of evil specified are (1) the cruel treatment of prisoners of war, such as Jeremiah had witnessed daily at the hands of the Chaldeans; (2) the perversion of justice in a public tribunal acting in the name of God (Exodus 23:6); (3) every form even of private injustice.
(37-39) New grounds of patient faith are given: (1) In an echo from Psalms 33:9, affirming the sovereignty of God. The evil which He permits is under the control of this loving purpose; and (2) as far as it is not absolute evil, may be said to come from Him.
(39) Wherefore doth a living man . . .—Better, Why doth a man who lives? i.e., whose life is spared him (comp. Jeremiah 45:5), with all its possibilities of good, complain of sufferings which, however unjust as far as those who cause them are concerned, are, in relation to the sufferer, the just punishment of his own sins?
(40) Let us search . . .—Warnings against murmurs are followed by counsels which point to a more excellent way. Suffering calls a man to self-scrutiny. We should seek to know the sins which it is meant to punish and correct.
To the Lord.—The preposition is an emphatic one: even to the Lord. There is to be no halting half-way in the work of conversion.
(41) With our hands.—Literally, to our hands. There is, as it were, a psychological analysis of prayer. Men can by an act of will, lift up the heart as the centre of affection: this, in its turn, prompts the outward act of the uplifted hands of supplication; God is the final object to whom the prayer is addressed.
(42) We have transgressed . . .—The verses that follow (Lamentations 3:0;42-47) give the prayer which answers to the call of Lamentations 3:41. Both pronouns are emphatic: The suppliant has sinned and God has not yet pardoned, in the sense of ceasing to punish.
(43) Thou hast covered with anger.—Better, as in the next verse, Thou hast covered thyself. Wrath is as the garment in which God wraps Himself to execute His righteous judgments. In Lamentations 3:44 the wrath is represented more definitely as a cloud through which the prayers of the afflicted cannot pass.
(45) In the midst of the people.—Literally, peoples: i.e., the heathen nations of the world. A like phrase meets us in 1 Corinthians 4:13.
(47) Fear and a snare.—A quotation from Jeremiah 48:43, and Isaiah 24:17.
Desolation.—Better, devastation. The Hebrew noun is not found elsewhere, but the cognate verb in Isaiah 37:26 is rendered “to lay waste.”
(48) Mine eye . . .—A stronger utterance of the thought of Lamentations 1:16; Lamentations 2:18; Psalms 119:136.
(49) Trickleth down.—Better, poureth down.
(51) Affecteth.—Better, harmeth, or causeth grief to.
The daughters of my city.—The words have been understood (1) of the maidens of Jerusalem (comp. Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:18; Lamentations 2:20-21); and (2) of the daughter-towns which looked to it as their metropolis. Of these (1) is preferable.
(52) Without cause . . .—The words connect themselves in the Hebrew with “mine enemies” (comp. Psalms 35:7; Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4), and it has been inferred from this that Jeremiah speaks not of the Chaldeans as enemies of his nation, but of those who were individually his persecutors. The hypothesis receives some confirmation from the apparent reference in the “dungeon” and the “waters” to the narrative of Jeremiah 38:0. It has been urged, on the other hand, that those expressions may be figurative here, as they are in Psalms 42:7; Psalms 88:7; Psalms 124:4.
(53) Cast a stone upon me.—The words admit of two meanings: (1) that they cast stones at him; (2) that they placed a stone over the opening of his dungeon so as to prevent escape.
(55) Out of the low dungeon.—Here, again, we have to choose between a literal reference to Jeremiah’s sufferings or a figurative interpretation. The phrase is the same as that of Psalms 88:6.
(56) Thou hast heard . . . hide not thine . . .—There is something eminently suggestive in the sequence of the two clauses. The recollection that prayer was answered in the past, prompts its utterance in the present. Historically, the words may point to the intervention of Ebed-melech in Jeremiah 38:7.
At my breathing—i.e., the “sighs” or “sobs” of the mourner.
(58) Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul—i.e., Jehovah had appeared as the advocate, or next-of-kin protector, of the prophet in the persecutions which were aimed against his life. Another personal reference to the prophet’s sufferings. (Comp. Jeremiah 26:8-17; Jeremiah 37:14; Jeremiah 38:4.)
(60) All their imaginations . . .—Same word as the “devices” of Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 18:18, to which the writer obviously refers.
(61) Thou hast heard.—The verb governs the “lips” of the next verse as well as the “reproaches” of this. In the last clause we note the emphasis of iteration, the natural dwelling on what was prominent in the prophet’s thoughts.
(62) The lips . . . The organs of speech are used boldly for the words which they uttered, and so stand parallel with “reproaches” in Lamentations 3:61.
(63) Their sitting down, and their rising up . . .—The two words, as in Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; Psalms 139:2; include the whole daily and hourly conduct of those spoken of.
I am their musick.—The noun, though not identical, is cognate with that of Psalms 69:12, of which the complaint is, as it were, an echo.
(64) Render unto them . . .—The words are noticeable as being taken from Psalms 28:4, and reproduced by St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:14.
(65) Sorrow of heart—Literally, covering, with a sense like that of the “veil upon the heart” of 2 Corinthians 3:15, and so signifying the blindness of obstinacy. The imperatives in both Lamentations 3:65-66 are better rendered as futures—Thou shalt give; Thou shalt persecute.
(66) From under the heavens of the Lord.—The phrase is exceptional, but it is obviously equivalent to the whole world, considered as God’s kingdom.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Lamentations 3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27