New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Lamentations 3:1 I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath- The same word is used of Judah's affliction (Lam. 1:3); he was setting himself up as Judah's representative in the hope they too would pass through his pattern of depression, the stages of grief, and then repentance and begging for the restoration of the Kingdom which we find at the end in Lam. 5:16-21. See on Lam. 1:1.

Lamentations 3:2 He has led me and caused me to walk in darkness, and not in light-
Lam. 2:21,22 have revealed a peak of identity between Jeremiah and his sinful people, who had tried to murder him previously. Although he appears to go too far in justifying his people, his identity with his people reflected God's identity with them even in their suffering for disobedience. Walking in darkness rather than light is the language of condemnation, and is used in John's letters in that sense. He was identified with Israel even in their condemnation, and in this looks forward to the intensely representative work of the Lord Jesus.

Lamentations 3:3 Surely against me He turns his hand again and again all the day-
Jeremiah personalizes the suffering of Israel; he really felt he was the one being judged and condemned. See on :12.

Lamentations 3:4 My flesh and my skin He has made old; He has broken my bones-
What follows is based upon Jeremiah's experience in the dungeon. But he seems to have reapplied those feelings to how he felt as the representative of God's people in their condemnation and suffering at the hands of their invaders; see on :19. Just as his lamentations were originally written to lament the death of Josiah, but he has extended and reapplied them to his grief for Zedekiah and Jerusalem (2 Chron. 35:25). He applies his lament for himself in the dungeon to how he laments for himself as the subject of Divine condemnation at the hands of the Babylonians. Even though he was personally innocent and didn't unduly suffer from the Babylonian invasion. In all this we have a window into the nature of the feelings of the Lord Jesus as He died on the cross, the death of a criminal, thereby tasting death for every sinful man- whilst personally innocent.

Lamentations 3:5 He has built against me, and surrounded me with gall and travail-
Building against could refer to the building of bulwarks against the wall of Jerusalem (s.w. Dt. 20:20), as if Jeremiah feels as if he is Jerusalem. But the same words are used of how Jeremiah had been given God's word, in order to build against as well as destroy (Jer. 1:10). He felt torn between identification with God's word, and identification with his sinful people and his pity for them. "Gall" was specifically the judgment for Israel's sins (Jer. 8:14; 9:15) and for the false prophets (Jer. 23:15)- the very ones who had plotted to murder Jeremiah. But now he identifies himself even with his worst enemies in pity for them.

Jeremiah's deep identity with his people in their sinfulness and suffering for it all points forward to the Lord's identity with us, bearing our nature and on the cross totally identifying with sinners. Therefore His sufferings on the cross have connections with the punishments for Israel's sins (e.g. being offered gall to drink = Jer. 8:14; Lam. 3:5). Israel were temporarily forsaken by God because of their sins (Is. 49:14; 54:7), and therefore so was Christ. Christ was chastened with the rod of men "and with the stripes of the children of men", i.e. Israel (Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24; Mic. 5:1), in His death on the cross.

Lamentations 3:6 He has made me to dwell in dark places, as those that have been long dead-
And in this case, a priest like Jeremiah would feel ritually unclean and separated from God. It was the Lord's intense identity with us as sinners which likewise led Him to genuinely feel forsaken by God (Mt. 27:46). These feelings were in the first instance Jeremiah reworking his feelings when in the dungeon; see on :4. Perhaps that dark place felt like a tomb, and maybe dead bodies were thrown into it.

Lamentations 3:7 He has walled me about, that I can’t go forth; He has made my chain heavy-
Jeremiah was kept it seems in a cabin in the wall of the dungeon, and in chains. This would have been the basis for his feelings of being walled about. As he sees Judah going into captivity in chains, he recalled the time when he was in chains. Thus he reapplied his feelings in the dungeon to how he now felt as he saw Judah taken captive; see on :4.

Lamentations 3:8 Yes, when I cry, and call for help, He shuts out my prayer-
The only way to eat in the dungeon would have been to have food lowered down, and seeing the city was suffering famine, chances of survival were slim. The pit in which there was no water (Jer. 38:6) would have reminded him of Joseph's experience (Gen. 37:24), and he may well have looked therefore towards some miraculous deliverance. His thoughts at this time are here in Lam. 3, where he wrote in his mind a prayer or psalm about it, but now reapplies this to his feelings for Israel. But he felt his prayers were shut out by the covering placed upon the dungeon (Lam. 3:8,53), and he was enclosed within hewn stone (Lam. 3:9)- what the dungeon walls were made of. It was presumably a sewer, with excrement falling before his face. He therefore felt he was in a living death and burial, surrounded by gravel stones as if in a grave (Lam. 3:16). His enemies mocked him from above (Lam. 3:14), pouring water that was probably excrement upon him (Lam. 3:54; as the dungeon was a sewer), his teeth were broken from the beating and perhaps from the descent into the dungeon (Lam. 3:16), and he felt bitter with God rather than full of faith and hope in deliverance (Lam. 3:15). But then his faith revived, reflecting how God had still not destroyed Judah by His great grace (Lam. 3:22), and therefore every day he survived until morning he saw as God's grace to him, in which he could hope (Lam. 3:23). He realized he was Judah's representative; for they too were to be sent forth from Babylon, the pit in which there was no water (Zech. 9:11). And this gave him hope; just as God's great grace to Israel historically should be basis for our hope. And so again we see his totally identity with Israel; God would not hear their prayers, having told Jeremiah not to pray to Him for them; and he feels that is true for himself personally, such was his identity with his people.

Lamentations 3:9 He has walled up my ways with cut stone; He has made my paths crooked-
The cut stone was what he would have remembered from being in the dungeon; see on :8. The Jews had made their own paths crooked or perverse (s.w. Jer. 3:21; 9:5). But now Jeremiah seems to blame God for their sin as well as the judgment for it; see in :11. This total taking of their side is in one sense wrong, but yet it indicates the amazing identity of the Lord Jesus and even God Himself with impenitent sinners. For at the exile, God's heart bled for His sinful people, as Jeremiah's did, despite their impenitence.

Lamentations 3:10 He is to me like a bear lying in wait, as a lion in secret places-
Babylon and the nations are portrayed as the beast waiting to pounce upon Judah in judgment. Jeremiah clearly sees that God is behind them, and appears more angry with God than he does with those Gentile nations. But he repeatedly refuses to see Israel's sin as the root cause for all this. See on :46.

Lamentations 3:11 He has turned aside my ways-
As in :9, Jeremiah blames God for their sins. He recognizes that Israel's way had turned aside from God (s.w. 'revolted' Jer. 5:23; 6:28; Ez. 6:9), and he identifies with them in that, feeling he has personally turned aside. But he wrongly blames God for it. It is this nadir of spirituality which serves to highlight the wonderful climax of the book in Lam. 5:16-21 when he comes to total confession of sin and desire for restoration, taking full guilt for sin without blaming God or circumstance.

And pulled me in pieces; He has made me desolate- Continuing the likeness of Yahweh to a lion in :10. But Jeremiah was treated very well by the Babylonian lion; he was given preferential treatment and offered a good retirement package in Babylon. But he as it were ignores that, and focuses upon his identity with God's people who had been torn apart by the lion.

Lamentations 3:12 He has bent His bow, and set me as a target for the arrow-
Again as in :3, Jeremiah is intensely personalizing Judah's suffering. He feels he himself is mere target practice for God, and is the sole target for God's wrath; and yet as noted on :33, he does move on from this. This is typical depressive feeling; that the sufferer alone is suffering. And yet Jeremiah arrived in that position because of his deep identity with God's people. Depression is at times caused by identification with others who are suffering; internalizing their situation can be a factor in personal depression. It was so with Jeremiah; and yet he comes to this position from a basic love for the people.

Lamentations 3:13 He has caused the shafts of His quiver to enter into my kidneys-
Notice how Jeremiah’s bowels were turned for his people, because he felt that he had shared in their sin. The arrows of God entered into his kidneys, and this is why he so cried out in pain. But God’s arrows were against a sinful Judah (Lam. 2:4). Yet Jeremiah so identified with them that he felt they had entered him; and this is why he could cry out in the way he did. Even though he hadn’t rebelled, he felt that because they had, so had he, as he was so identified with them. He reached such a level of grief through identifying himself so closely with those for whom he grieved. Time and again, the descriptions of his personal suffering and grief are expressed in the terms of the very sufferings which he had prophesied as coming upon a sinful Israel. And so with us, if we feel and show a willful solidarity with the people of this world, with our brethren, then we will grieve for them. If we maintain the selfish, modern detachedness from them, then we will never have a heart that bleeds for them. Jeremiah could so easily have shrugged his shoulders and reasoned that Judah had had their chance; and it wasn’t on his head. But he didn’t. His attitude was that he had to seek the sheep until he found it.

There are intentional parallels between Jeremiah and Judah; he was their representative, as well as God's representative to them; just like the Lord Jesus. Jeremiah was afflicted (Lam. 1:9; 3:1) as Judah (s.w. Lam. 1:3,7); Built against (:5), as Jerusalem was “built against” by the invaders, Jer. 52:4; he “Waxed old”, i.e. prematurely aged (:4), as the heavens and earth of Judah were to “wax old” (s.w.) and pass away (Ps. 102:26; 50:9; 51:6). Jeremiah felt his prayers were not heard (:8), as Judah’s weren’t. They “Hedged me about, that I cannot get out… inclosed my ways” (:7,9), just as Judah “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up [s.w.] your way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths” (Hos. 2:6). “He was unto me as a bear” (:10), as “I will meet them as a bear” (Hos. 13:8; Am. 5:19); and “As a lion”, as God was to Judah through the Babylonians (Jer. 5:6; 49:19; 50:44 etc.). God bent His bow against him (:12), as against Judah (Lam. 2:4 s.w.). “Mine affliction and my misery” (3:19) are the same words in Lam. 1:7 “her affliction… her miseries”. He drank gall (3:5,19), as Judah had to (Jer. 8:14; 9:15; 23:15). There were none to comfort him (Lam. 1:21), as none to comfort her (Lam. 1:9). He bore a yoke (Lam. 3:27), as Judah bore the yoke of condemnation by Babylon (Jer. 27:8,12).

And so Jeremiah feels that he himself has committed Israel’s sin along with them: “We have transgressed and have rebelled” (Lam. 3:42). He feels that God will not hear his prayer (Lam. 3:44), even though this was only true for the people and not for Jeremiah personally. In this he looks forward to how the Lord Himself genuinely felt forsaken by the Father, even though He Himself was never forsaken.

Lamentations 3:14 I am become a derision to all my people, and their song all the day-
Jeremiah has been identified so closely with the people, as demonstrated throughout this commentary so far. But this is the more noteworthy because he achieves this even although that people mocked him continually. He loved those who mocked him, and loved to the point of total self-identification with them.

Lamentations 3:15 He has filled me with bitterness, He has sated my thirst with wormwood-
When in the dungeon, which is the basis for this chapter, Jeremiah was at the mercy of his tormentors for food and water. And they lowered down to him water with wormwood. The Lord too was offered such bitter drink on the cross.

Lamentations 3:16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel stones; He has covered me with ashes-
This gives the impression of a living death, as if the ashes of the funeral pyre and the gravel of the grave had been poured upon his body. Jeremiah didn't die, neither in the dungeon nor in the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. But he felt as if he had. He thereby as it were "tasted death for every man" as did the Lord, so intense was his identification with his people (Heb. 2:9).

Lamentations 3:17 You have removed my soul far off from peace; I forgot prosperity-
GNB "I have forgotten what health and peace and happiness are". Jeremiah had only known peace and prosperity before his prophetic call. So he seems to be complaining about and resenting his entire prophetic call.

Lamentations 3:18 I said, My strength is perished, and my expectation from Yahweh-
Jeremiah appears to be alluding to Prov. 10:28; 11:7, using the same Hebrew words as there; with the implication that he is now amongst the condemned, who are left without hope- in contrast to the righteous, whose hope doesn't perish. He so identified with his condemned people that he absolutely felt a personal, condemned sinner; and perhaps there was something of that in the Lord's desperate cry "Why have You forsaken me?"; see on Mt. 27:46.

Lamentations 3:19 Remember my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall-
See on :1. He had likely been given gall to drink as this was the punishment for false prophets (Dt. 29:18; Jer. 23:15). And yet in the judgment of Jerusalem, Jeremiah so pitied those who did this to him that he feels as if he has drunk the gall which they were to drink, such was his identity with them (see on :5). Thus he reapplied his dungeon experiences to his grief for Jerusalem; see on :4. GNB gives "homelessness" for "misery"; as if he felt his own uncertain residency, living temporarily at Gedaliah's house, was a way of fellowshipping the homeless exiles. Jer. 40:6 observes: "Then went Jeremiah to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah, and lived with him among the people who were left in the land". It is repeatedly emphasized that Jeremiah "lived... among the people". Even though he lived in Gedaliah's house in relatively luxury, his living is described according to how Jeremiah perceived it- he lived "among the people" (also Jer. 40:1; Jer. 39:14). And this of course is an example to us, wherever our lot be cast. In this manner we from relative luxury and stability can fellowship and identify with those who are literally homeless and exiles.

Lamentations 3:20 My soul still remembers them, and is bowed down within me-
The referent of "them" is unclear. If the suggestion on :19 is correct, then it would refer to the homeless exiles, with whom Jeremiah identified through his far less radical homelessness. Or the reference could be to his former peace and prosperity noted on :17.

Lamentations 3:21 This I recall to my mind; therefore have I hope-
The referent of "this" would seem to refer to the grace of Yahweh which he comments upon in :22. Jeremiah had previously been looking only negatively at what he "remembered"- a former life of peace and prosperity (:17,20). But now he recalls to mind Yahweh's many graces toward him. And again we have a lesson here for us in depression. We can focus solely upon the past losses, the negatives; but we can also choose to remember all the past graces. We have some power over what we recall to mind. And Jeremiah, who had been saved from death in the dungeon and other plots on his life by divine grace alone, had many "graces" he could remember.

Lamentations 3:22 It is because of Yahweh’s graces that we are not consumed, because His compassion doesn’t fail-
See on :21. Jeremiah was commanded not to make lamentation for the punishment of his people (Jer. 16:5). But he did, and God inspired the record of them in Lamentations, and because they are inspired words, He spoke through those words to all subsequent generations. The reason for this was that God's covenant, referred to as "kindness and mercy" in Jer. 16:5, was broken; they were not at peace with Him. And so they should not be pitied in their death. And yet although the covenant was broken by Israel, and God broke His side of it in response to that... He in fact still treated them as His covenant people. This is not to say that God is not serious about His statements. He is; but His love, grace and pity is displayed as the more extraordinary, in that it leads Him to break the words and threats spoken in justifiable and understandable wrath. For the same Hebrew phrase "loving kindness and tender mercies" is used again by Jeremiah in Lam. 3:22, where he reflects that these have not been withdrawn from God's people, even though Zion is now in ruins. See on :39.

Lamentations 3:23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness-
The fact life goes on morning by morning is itself a huge example of God's grace (:21) and faithfulness. In the dungeon, existence was a daily struggle. The fact Jeremiah was alive each morning was evidence to him of God's grace, and he recalls this to mind and applies it to the suffering of Judah. The fact some of them remained alive was evidence enough of His faithfulness. Remember that in the context, Jeremiah has been accusing God of unreasonably rejecting him and Judah. But now he sees that whilst there is life, there is no simply hope- but also the actual experience of God's faithfulness and grace every morning. See on :39.

Lamentations 3:24 Yahweh is my portion, says my soul; therefore will I hope in Him-
Jeremiah was a priest, and the priesthood were promised that although they would have no "portion" or inheritance, yet Yahweh was their portion (s.w. Num. 18:20; Dt. 10:9). Jeremiah returns to his basic, core spirituality. He had lost his peace, stability and prosperity (:17). But he shouldn't have focused on those things, because his relationship with Yahweh was his real portion. And he therefore had hope that in the restored kingdom, he would receive an eternal inheritance. Jeremiah was identified with Israel, and they were to be a nation of priests. They had lost their physical inheritance, so that they might become a nation of priests who had Yahweh as their inheritance. Here we see how the Father was working through their loss of their natural inheritance. And Jeremiah is emerging from his depression in appreciating this.

Lamentations 3:25 Yahweh is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him-
Jeremiah reflects that in the dungeon, he had waited for Yahweh, and been delivered. Instead of focusing solely upon the losses, the tragedy of the invasion... he now turns towards the concept of waiting for Yahweh, and hoping in Him. But he confesses that the waiting and hoping will only be for the one who seeks Yahweh. Jeremiah is yet to come to the unconditional repentance which is the climax of the book in Lam. 5:16-21, but he is edging towards it by reflecting that the "hope" for those who "wait" for Yahweh is only for those who seek Yahweh. Isaiah's prophecies of a restored Kingdom for the exiles were for those who "wait for Him" (s.w. Is. 40:31; 49:23). And Jeremiah was surely aware of those prophecies.

Lamentations 3:26 It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh-
Jeremiah had so far in Lamentations been implying that he expected Yahweh to act immediately to save Judah from their tragedies. But now he recognizes that it is good to have to wait for that salvation. He still hasn't stated clearly that Judah must repent, and their condemnation [from which they needed salvation] was solely due to their sins. But he is edging closer to it. 

Lamentations 3:27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth-
Jeremiah realizes that his own sufferings had led him to wait and hope in Divine salvation, especially when he was in the dungeon awaiting death. And he realizes that his personal path must be Judah's. He had literally carried a yoke in the acted parable of warning Judah to submit to the yoke of Babylon (Jer. 27:2). And Judah were now themselves beneath that yoke, which was a figure of servitude to the Gentiles in Jer. 2:20. And he realized that it had been spiritually "good" for him. So instead of lamenting the exile, he was beginning to see a long term purpose and blessing in it.

Lamentations 3:28 Let him sit alone and keep silence, because He has laid it on him-
Jeremiah may have himself in view here. See on :27. He considers such sitting alone as "good". Earlier he had been rebuked for his attitude of resenting that he "sat alone" and had kept away from the "assembly" of the rejoicers (Jer. 15:17,19); and so we are to assume that he had said these things in resentment that he had had to stand alone amongst men. He had resented how he "sat alone"; yet this is the very term used of how Jerusalem was to "sit alone [solitary]" (Lam. 1:1). He was her representative, and yet he seems to have resented that. He was after all being representative of those who had hated him and tried to kill him. As Jeremiah wrongly lamented his own 'sitting alone', so he ought to have perceived that he should not have lamented Jerusalem's likewise. But now he seems to have learnt his lesson, and sees his aloneness as "good".

Jeremiah sat in silence in the ruins of Zion just as the condemned Jews were to (Jer. 25:37 s.w.), totally identified with his sinful and judged people, in response to how there was to be no funeral wailing for the dead but rather, silence (Ez. 24:17).

Lamentations 3:29 Let him put his mouth in the dust, if so be that in this case there may be hope-
Here Jeremiah edges closer towards the concept of repentance; for putting the mouth in the dust surely implies some regret. But GNB "We should bow in submission, for there may still be hope" would continue the allusion to the need to bear the yoke of the Babylonians in :27,28, and thereby come to the ultimate freedom of God's restored Kingdom in Israel.

Lamentations 3:30 Let him give his cheek to Him who strikes him; let him be filled full with reproach-
Without yet appealing for unconditional repentance, Jeremiah edges yet further towards it. For to be smitten on the cheek was the sign of reproof for some kind of wrong doing; and he urges Judah to give their cheek to God to strike, and to allow themselves ["let him be..."] to filled with shame. For it was from this basis that they could come to a position of waiting for the Lord in hope. When the Lord Jesus was smitten on the cheek we see how He absorbed the spirit of these things.

Lamentations 3:31 For the Lord will not cast off forever-
Yahweh 'cast off' Judah (Jer. 12:7; 23:33) but only because they had cast Him off (Jer. 15:6 s.w.). And yet God did not cast off His people (Jer. 33:26); Jeremiah personally was persuaded that God would not cast off His people for ever (Lam. 3:31). He will show them mercy as if He had not cast them off (Zech. 10:6); this reversal of their casting off was to be through the repentance of the exiled community (Lev. 26:44). But even this didn't happen, and yet God still did not cast them away (Rom. 11:2). His love and grace was such that He holds on to them. This desperate holding on to His people is seen in the experience of every person who joins God's people through baptism into Christ. They may indeed be cast off ultimately, but that is because they cast Him off, and wrestled against His insistent desire to keep hold of them eternally.

Lamentations 3:32 For though He cause grief, yet He will have compassion according to the multitude of His graces-
"Grief" or 'to grieve' here is the same word for in :33, where Jeremiah moves on from simply lamenting the "grief" to appreciate that this was not done willingly; and he now realizes that at best there is a paradox, in that God causes grief and yet at the same time is the God of all grace. And somehow His compassion will be revealed. Previously in the Lamentations, Jeremiah has seen only one part of the picture- the immediate suffering. But now he moves on to realize that there is another side to the dialectic, and that is God's grace. "Compassion" is the word used of what would be revealed when the exiled Israel repented and returned to God (s.w. Dt. 30:3). Jeremiah is moving towards the conclusion that radical repentance is required to release that revelation of compassion.

Lamentations 3:33 For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men-
This is a marked improvement from his earlier tone of criticism toward God. He had earlier complained that God was but an archer, using him for His target practice (:12). But now he recognizes that the ever present 'gracious' side of God means that we can never conclude that suffering is inflicted willfully by God nor in any merely capricious sense.

Lamentations 3:34 To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth-
Instead, the restoration prophecies speak of Yahweh's releasing of the prisoners (s.w. Zech. 9:11,12; Ps. 68:6; 69:33; 79:11; 102:20). And yet Judah were prisoners, and apparently crushed. But Jeremiah begins to see that this is not to be man's last end. The prophecies of restoration, uttered by himself too, spoke of freedom for the prisoners. They were not to be always imprisoned, let alone crushed. Jeremiah is speaking here firstly of his own experience of prison- he had not been crushed there, but released. And his path was to be Israel's. But this is not to say that exiles were not crushed; the word is used about their crushing in Is. 57:15. But Jeremiah was coming to see that this was part of a bigger picture. He had used the same word of how a repentant Judah would be humbled or crushed, and then the suffering would end (Jer. 44:10). They were not willingly crushed nor need they remain crushed; for salvation and restoration was and is part of God's essential purpose and personality.

Lamentations 3:35 To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High-
The idea is that when men come before God's face to be judged, God will not pervert their "right" or 'sentence'. This is parallel with :36- God will not "condemn a man unjustly in his judgment" (LXX). Jeremiah is rapidly moving away from his depressive focus upon just one part of the picture- i.e. the immediate suffering before his eyes. He accepts that God is just and will not bring condemnation for the sake of His own ulterior motives. Jeremiah is also recognizing that all the suffering was a result of a judgment given by God- and it was a right judgment.

Lamentations 3:36 To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord doesn’t approve-
LXX "condemn a man unjustly in his judgment". As explained on :35, Jeremiah is now realizing that the judgments which Judah were experiencing were just. God would never condemn unjustly.

Lamentations 3:37 Who is he who says, and it comes to pass, when the Lord doesn’t command it?-
The obvious complaint a reader would make to Jeremiah's earlier lamentations, his complaining about the judgments, is that they had all been prophesied by none other than Jeremiah himself. He had almost disassociated himself from his prophetic past. But now he reflects that the evil being experienced had all been spoken by Yahweh ahead of time. It was all within a tightly controlled Divine program.

Lamentations 3:38 Doesn’t evil and good come out of the mouth of the Most High?-
As noted on :37, Jeremiah is now accepting what to us the readers is glaringly obvious- the tragedy he has been lamenting had all arisen from the prophetic words which he himself had spoken. The evil came from Yahweh's mouth or word. And Jeremiah is driven to the same conclusion as the restoration prophecy of Is. 45:5-7- that both good and evil are alike from Yahweh. In his depressed state, he had seen only the evil as coming from Him. But now he starts to see a wider picture.

Lamentations 3:39 Why does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?-
He had learnt in the dungeon that just to be alive is a sign of God's grace. And the more we appreciate and understand the function of our own bodies, the more we will likewise accept that our existence every moment is but by God's grace. This has been the force of Jeremiah's conclusions in :22,23. And so a living man should not complain. And Jeremiah moves again closer to the final truth he will arrive at in Lam. 5:16-21; here he recognizes that the judgment is a punishment for sin, and anyone left alive after it had no reason to complain about anything. This may be a helpful tool in coping with depression. The "living man" whom he challenges may well be himself.

Lamentations 3:40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh-
I have argued that the book of Lamentations begins with Jeremiah bitterly complaining that God is as good as dead (see on Lam. 1:1), with him looking solely at the tragedy before his eyes, and progresses to a climax of unconditional repentance in Lam. 5:16-21. But the progression is a jagged graph. There are increasingly points at which he does recognize that the sufferings are directly due to Judah's sins, he increasingly sees that there is a future hope and the God of judgment is also a God of grace. And he vaguely implies that repentance is needed, but always quickly returns to accusing God of unreasonable behaviour. And now in these verses he does speak clearly of the need for repentance. But his appeal for repentance here is still tinged with a cynicism, that God will not hear and has not listened (:42), and that He still lacks pity (:43), and has put a barrier between human prayer and His response (:44). Jeremiah has yet to come to the appeal for unconditional repentance with which the book climaxes.

And so in likely allusion to the descriptions of God searching and trying our hearts in the Psalms, Jeremiah says that Judah should "search and try our hearts"- we should seek to know ourselves as God does. David's invitations to God to search and try him (Ps. 17:3; 26:2; 139;23) imply he has done so himself (cp. Ps. 77:6). God now searches and tries the hearts, and will [at judgment day] give every man as his work shall be (Jer. 17:10 cp. Rev. 22:12). The spirit of man is [i.e. is intended to be] the candle which God also uses for His examination of men (Prov. 20:27); there is thus a link intended between our self-examination and the way God looks at us. His judgment must be ours. As sin is condemned by Him, so we should examine ourselves to the point of self-condemnation.

Lamentations 3:41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in the heavens-
As noted on :40, this appeal for repentance is still far from unconditional. Sacrifice was now impossible because the temple had been destroyed. But as a priest, Jeremiah surely had in view how that instead of 'lifting up' the heave offerings of animal sacrifice, the people were instead to grab hold of their own hearts and lift them up to God, and they could lift them as high as heaven. This is surely consciously alluding to how David realized that sacrifice and offering was not what God was essentially looking for, but rather broken, repentant and contrite hearts (Ps. 51:16,17). We marvel at how God worked through the loss of the temple to bring His people more fully to Himself.

Lamentations 3:42 We have transgressed and have rebelled; You have not pardoned-
As noted on :40, this apparent appeal for repentance is tinged with the self justification which robs 'repentance' of its real power. To say 'OK let's repent, OK we sinned... but God, You didn't forgive us, and so [by implication] all this grief came upon us unfairly'... is to miss the point. Repentance axiomatically requires a declaration that God is right and we are wrong, our sin is inexcusable, His judgment is right, and only by utter grace can we now be saved. David learnt all this very well at the time of his great repentance. Jeremiah has alluded to it in theory (see on :41), but he is still far from grasping the real spirit of David. And our repentance is often so similar. It's why repentance in practice seems to end up a process, rather than the one time act that it is intended to be.

Lamentations 3:43 You have covered with anger and pursued us; You have killed, You have not pitied-
See on :40,42. Jeremiah is appealing for repentance, but goes straight on to accuse God of being a pitiless murderer. The word for "pitied" is used in a word play in 2 Chron. 36:15,17. God had pitied His people by patiently sending prophets like Jeremiah to them. But because they despised that pity, they didn't want it, He sent upon them the Babylonians who did not pity them. And so in Jer. 15:5, Jeremiah had asked the rhetorical question: "For who will have pity on you, Jerusalem?". And the answer was, only Yahweh. But now Jeremiah has slipped back to seeing only part of the picture, focusing on the tragedy before his eyes; and this refusal to see a bigger picture leads him to charge God wrongly with being pitiless. When Yahweh's pity is one of the most recurrent themes of His self revelation. Truly God had threatened in Ez. 5:11: "Neither shall My eye spare, and I also will have no pity". But the wonder of God's grace was that His eye did spare and He did pity at the restoration (Ez. 36:21; Joel 2:18; Mal. 3:17 s.w.), just as His eye had spared them in the desert (Ez. 20:17). This reveals the emotion of God, His pity even for the spiritually weak, and how this triumphs over His judgment.

Lamentations 3:44 You have covered Yourself with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through-
As explained on :40, here and in :43 Jeremiah seems to be tingeing his appeal for repentance with the thought that God had cut Himself off from His people, and placed a barrier between Him and them through which repentance couldn't pass. This all sets the scene for the final unconditional confession and appeal for repentance and restoration by grace which we have at the end of the book in Lam. 5:16-21. Here Jeremiah appears to be almost sarcastic; the cloud of incense from the incense altar, which as a priest he was familiar with, represented prayer (Rev. 8:3,4). But Jeremiah is saying that this cloud has been used by God as a barrier through which prayer could not pass. So his appeal for repentance in :40,41 is far from absolute.

Lamentations 3:45 You have made us an off-scouring and refuse in the midst of the nations-
Paul alludes to this in 1 Cor. 4:13, where he says that God made him and the apostles like this to "the nations" to whom they preached; and yet more specifically, Paul considers that they were off-scouring and refuse in the eyes of the Jews. It's as if he realized that Jeremiah was not quite correct here; for Israel had made themselves to be despised amongst the nations, to whom they had prostituted themselves. And so Paul is saying that the Gentile "nations" are as the Jews, and the true Jews are prophets like himself, the true and spiritual Israel.

Lamentations 3:46 All our enemies have opened their mouth wide against us-
Jeremiah likens the Gentiles to a devouring beast, and yet He has called God just that (:10). He sees God as making Himself gross, in that He was manifest through those nations. And that is a deeply unfair take on the whole situation. Again, Jeremiah has slipped back to seeing only one aspect of the picture. As with Job, God may well have cut him some slack in this because he was reasoning as someone who is the parade example of a man in depression.

Lamentations 3:47 Fear and the pit have come on us, devastation and destruction-
Jeremiah initially wrote the lamentation of chapter 3 concerning his own enclosure in the pit / dungeon, in fear for his life. And yet he now reuses the material concerning Israel, his people with whom he was so identified; and yet apparently forgetting that he had been revived from that pit by grace.

Jer. 48:44; 49:5 describe condemnation as fear being brought upon people (as Job 3:25; Prov. 1:27), and Is. 24:18 and other passages speak of the condemned fleeing from “the noise of the fear”. “The fear” is almost a way of saying ‘the judgment of God’ (Lam. 3:47). The torment of the rejected will be their fear (1 Jn. 4:18). Psychologically, we need to get in touch with our own fears now, face our fears of condemnation eye to eye, and work through them- in repenting and coming to believe firmly in God’s gracious acceptance, living in the spirit of the true love which casts out fear. I know men and women who knew God and walked with the Lord, but now say ‘it means nothing to me’. They shrug when I nervously mention to them the reality of judgment to come- and I’m not very bold at bringing the conversations around to that issue, because it is just so fearsome and of such magnitude. They tell me that they’re indifferent. But somewhere deep within them, no matter what good actors they are before the stage of our human eyes, there has to be a deep and awful fear. And it is that fear which will be revealed and which will grip them in that final day. Perhaps the greatest mental torment of the rejected will be realizing how they could have been in the Kingdom of God; they will then perceive how great was the potential which they had had in the brief years of their mortality.

Lamentations 3:48 My eye runs down with streams of water, for the destruction of the daughter of my people-
What he saw with his eye affected his mind / heart (:51). Let us not see the doom of others, the pain and suffering of another life, and walk on by not permanently moved. What we see should affect our heart- if we have a heart that bleeds. And a bleeding heart doesn’t merely bleed- it does something concrete, in prayer and action. Consider other examples of the bleeding heart of Jeremiah: “Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth [“my stomach is in knots”, the Net Bible], for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city” (Lam. 2:11). “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water… my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled” (Lam. 1:16,20). And this is the more impressive when we recall that it was his own people who had tried to murder him, and very nearly succeeded when he was cast into the dungeon. In this he reflects the amazing love of God for His people.

Lamentations 3:49 My eye pours down, and doesn’t cease, without any intermission-
He considers his tears to be his prayer to God, begging for intervention (:50). God often considers our situation and feelings to be our prayer of intercession. Otherwise, the acceptability of prayer would simply be a reflection of our ability to verbalize. And some are better at this than others. His lack of "intermission" is alluding to the appeal of Is. 62:7 to give God no rest until He reestablish Jerusalem. But again he is pleading a Scripture without attention to the wider context- which is that the reestablishment would come when Judah returned to their God. And then they would be returned to their land and Zion would return to her glory. Jeremiah has so often made this point in his prophecies, repeatedly playing on the word shub, to return / repent.

Lamentations 3:50 Until Yahweh look down, and see from heaven-
The aspect of repentance is still missing from all this emotional appeal to God. At this stage, Jeremiah is still asking God to respond to the tragedy simply for the sake of the tragedy. See on :49.

Lamentations 3:51 My eye affects my soul, because of all the daughters of my city-
What he saw with his eye affected his mind / heart. Let us not see the doom of others, the pain and suffering of another life, and walk on by not permanently moved. What we see should affect our heart- if we have a heart that bleeds.

Lamentations 3:52 They have chased me relentlessly like a bird, those who are my enemies without cause-
Jeremiah now reuses material from a previous composition about his feelings in the dungeon, but reapplies those feelings to suffering Israel with whom he so identified. Those who had chased Jeremiah without cause were the Jews. And now he parallels those Jews with the Babylonians, and himself with the Jews. He ought to have perceived that in fact the Jews who had so persecuted him were but receiving the same judgment which they had passed upon him. But he didn't want to see that, because he in the end had a heart of love for his people; and that love manifested itself in a sense of identity with them. See on :66.

Lamentations 3:53 They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and have cast a stone on me-
See on :52. The rest of this lamentation directly concerns Jeremiah's experience in the dungeon, where he experienced a living death. His point is that he now saw those experiences as those of Judah; he identified with them even in their death. And thus he points forward to the Lord Jesus, who by God's grace tasted the death of a sinner for every sinful person; and yet was like Jeremiah resurrected from it and was personally innocent of their sins.

Lamentations 3:54 Waters flowed over my head; I said, I am cut off-
Jeremiah in the dungeon felt as if he was dead; see on :54. His enemies mocked him from above (Lam. 3:14), pouring water that was probably excrement upon him, as the dungeon was a sewer.

Lamentations 3:55 I called on Your name, Yahweh, out of the lowest dungeon-
The implication was that as Jeremiah had called upon Yahweh and been saved from the dungeon, so should Judah. But still Jeremiah is begging for divine intervention simply on the basis that the people were in dire straits. Still he is not emphasizing the need for unconditional repentance, and that was what would lead to the deliverance and restoration he so hoped for.

Lamentations 3:56 You heard my voice; don’t hide Your ear at my breathing, at my cry-
This implies that Jeremiah was literally about to die, or he felt he was; and his last breaths were in prayer. And he wished Judah to pray likewise; although still in the analogy, there is no place for their repentance, which was so critical.

Lamentations 3:57 You drew near in the day that I called on You; You said, Don’t be afraid-
We don't know whether or not Jeremiah heard a literal voice telling him not to be afraid; perhaps the voice of Yahweh was manifest in the voice of Ebedmelech, who would have removed the stone and called down to Jeremiah "Don't be afraid!". But Jeremiah is now seeing this as hopefully representative of the restoration prophecies which assured Jacob not to fear, because they would be restored (Is. 43:1; Jer. 30:10). And likewise Yahweh would 'draw near' to the restored Judah (s.w. Jer. 30:21).

Lamentations 3:58 Lord, You have pleaded the causes of my soul; You have redeemed my life-
Jeremiah understood his prayer as having entered the court of heaven, although it was offered from the absolutely lowest point; death by thirst and starvation in a deep sewer. And there in heaven, his case was judged, and the decision given to redeem his life from that living death. And so Ebedmelech was motivated by God to rescue him. And Jeremiah clearly thought this was possible for Judah, if they likewise prayed. But he is carefully omitting the factor of repentance, which was so critical for Judah.

Lamentations 3:59 Yahweh, You have seen my wrong. Judge my cause-
Jeremiah was the innocent suffering wrongfully, and he could rightly ask Yahweh to judge his case and deliver him by doing justice rightly. But the analogy with Judah breaks down; because they needed to repent, and were suffering less than their iniquities deserved, but rightfully. See on :58.

Lamentations 3:60 You have seen all their vengeance and all their devices against me-
The motive for Jeremiah's persecution and consignment to death was a wrongful desire for revenge because he had faithfully spoken God's word. But the situation of Judah was not analogous, because they were being judged for their "devices" against God (s.w. Jer. 6:19). Jeremiah had asked to see Divine "vengeance" upon the Jews who threw him into the dungeon (s.w. Jer. 11:20). But now he did see it, and his prayer was answered, he likes to change around the analogy; Babylon was taking vengeance upon Judah wrongfully, so he implied; and he asks God to take note of that and change things. But his appeal for 'right' to be done by reversing the Babylonian victory is misplaced- only repentance and throwing themselves upon grace rather than any concept of vengeance could change things.

Lamentations 3:61 You have heard their reproach, Yahweh, and all their devices against me-
Jeremiah had prayed that the Jews would suffer Divine vengeance for reproaching him (s.w. Jer. 15:15). But now he is asking for God to revenge the Babylonians for reproaching those same Jews. As explained on :60, his appeal for 'right' to be done by reversing the Babylonian victory is misplaced- only repentance and throwing themselves upon grace rather than any concept of vengeance could change things. The reproach against Israel was to be "everlasting" (s.w. Jer. 23:40). Only a desperate, repentant appeal to God's grace could change that, and not until Lam. 5:16-21 does Jeremiah finally advocate such an appeal.

Lamentations 3:62 The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day-
God not only heard the words spoken against Jeremiah, He even observed the lips of those who framed those words. This is how intensely He is sensitive to words; but see on :60,61.

Lamentations 3:63 You see their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their song-
As noted on :62, God sees the lips of those who speak hard things, just as He sees the fingers which tap them on keyboards today. And He watched their sitting down and rising up, their body language. This is His sensitivity to His people, and Jeremiah is asking that God be likewise sensitive to the sufferings of Judah; but see on :60,61.

Lamentations 3:64 You will render to them a recompense, Yahweh, according to the work of their hands-
These are the words of Joel 3:4,7; Obad. 15 about the works of Judah's enemies being rendered back to them. Jeremiah had prayed for this to be done to Israel; but now he asks for this policy to be applied to Israel's enemies. But see on :60,61. The truth was that Jeremiah had prayed for a recompense upon the Jews, and that was now happening before his eyes. And he was in vain seeking to backtrack and change things.

Lamentations 3:65 You will give them hardness of heart, Your curse to them-
This is yet more evidence that God can work directly upon the human heart, even in response to the prayers of others for that. The climax of Jeremiah's imprecations against Israel was that they would be given hard hearts, and receive the curses for breaking the covenant. And indeed his prayer was heard. But now he was desperately trying (albeit in vain) to have his prayer reapplied to the enemies of Israel.

Lamentations 3:66 You will pursue them in anger, and destroy them from under the heavens of Yahweh
- Yet Jeremiah in :43 has just complained that God had pursued His people at the hands of the Babylonians. Now Jeremiah's imprecation, uttered in the dungeon, had come true... he bitterly regretted it and resented God doing what he had asked. The lesson clearly is to be careful what we pray for, lest it come true. To be destroyed from under the heavens is what God wanted to do to Israel for their idolatry, meaning to disown them as His people (s.w. Dt. 9:14). That is what Jeremiah had prayed for his people when he was in the dungeon, and indeed they had broken the covenant and the curses for that were coming upon them (:65).