Lamentations 3:1-21

This strain differs, as in the triple alliteration of its structure,
so also in its more distinctly personal plaintiveness. The prophet
expresses his own sense of sorrow, no longer representing Zion but
speaking for himself, while at the same time his grief is bound up with
the people, and none the less because he was an object of derision and
hatred to them for his love to them in faithfulness to Jehovah. Other
prophets may have been exempted for special ends of God, but none
tasted the bitterness of Israel's portion more keenly than Jeremiah.
His desire is that others should bear the grief of the people's state
as here expressed for the heart in order to final comfort and blessing
from God. In the opening verses he tells out his experiences in
trouble. "I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his
wrath." He hath led me and brought me into darkness, but not into
light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me
all the day." (Ver. 1-3.) He owns it to be from Jehovah's hand and rod.
Indignation was gone forth from God against Israel, and a true-hearted
prophet was the last one to screen himself or wish it. There was
affliction; this too in darkness, not light; and again with
oft-recurring visitation of His hand.

Next (ver. 4-6) Jeremiah recounts his wearing away; the preparations
of Jehovah against him; and his evidently doomed estate. "My flesh and
my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones. He hath builded
against me, and compassed me with gall and travel. He hath set me in
dark places, as they that be dead of old," (Ver. 4-6.)

In verses 7-9, the prophet shows that his portion was not only in
imprisonment with heavy chain, but with the awful aggravation that
entreaty and prayer could not avail to effect deliverance, the way
being fenced, not to protect but to exclude and baffle.

Then Jeremiah draws imagery from the animal kingdom to tell how God
spared him in nothing. "He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as
a lion in secret places. He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in
pieces: he hath made me desolate. He hath bent his bow, and set me as a
mark for the arrow." (Ver. 10-12.)

Nor does he content himself with telling us how he had been the
object of divine attack, as game to the hunter, but lets us see that
the mockery of his brethren was not the least part of his trial and
bitterness. "He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my
reins. I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with
wormwood." (Ver. 13-15.)

Inwardly and outwardly there was every sign of disappointment and
humiliation; and expectation of improved circumstances cut off even
from Him who is the believer's one resource. "He hath also broken my
teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes. And thou hast
removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity. And I said, My
strength peace and my hope is perished from Jehovah. (Ver. 16-18.)

Yet there is the very point of change. From verse 19 he spreads out
all before Jehovah, whom he asks to remember it; and from the utter
prostration of his soul he begins to conceive confidence. "Remembering
mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath
them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my
mind, therefore have I hope." (Ver. 19-21.) It is not Christ, but
assuredly the Spirit of Christ leading on an afflicted and broken
heart. Weeping may endure for a night; but joy cometh in the morning.

In what sense then are we to account for language so strong uttered
by a holy man, and this not about the persecutions of strangers or the
enmity of the Jews, but mostly indeed about Jehovah's ways with him?
Certainly not what Calvin and the mass of commentators before and since
make of it, as if it were the pressure of the hand of God on the
sufferers as Christians when their minds were in a state of confusion,
and their lips uttered much that is intemperate. Such an interpretation
does little honour to God, not to speak of Jeremiah, and makes the
Spirit to be a reporter, not merely of a few words or deeds which
betray the earthen vessel in its weakness, but of outpourings
considerable and minute, which, according to such a view, would consist
of scarce anything but complaints spoken according to the judgment of
the flesh under feelings so little moderated as to let fill too often
things worthy of blame. Can such a view with such results satisfy a
thoughtful child of God, who understands the gospel?

I believe, on the contrary, that the language is not hyberbolical,
but the genuine. utterance of a sensitive heart in the midst of the
crushing calamities of Israel, or rather now also of Judah and
Jerusalem; that they are the sorrows of one who loved the people
according to God, who suffered with them all the more because they did
not feel and he did that it was Jehovah Himself who was behind and
above their miseries and shame, inflicting all because of their sins,
with the added and yet keener fact of his own personal and poignant
grief because of what his prophetic office exposed him to, not so much
from the Chaldeans as from the people of God, his brethren after the
flesh. It was in no way the expression of his own relation to God is a
saint or consequently of God's feelings towards himself individually;
it was the result of being called of God to take part in Israel for Him
at a time so corrupt and so calamitous. I am far from meaning that
personally Jeremiah did not know what failure was in that awful crisis.
It is plain from his own prophecy that his timidity did induce him to
sanction or allow on one occasion the deceit of another, adopting if
not inventing it. But he seems to have been, take him all in all, a
rare man, even among the holy line of the prophets; and, though
morbidly acute in his feelings by nature, singularly sustained of God
with as little sympathy from others as ever fell to the lot of a
servant of God among His people. Even Elijah's experience fell far
short of his, both on the side of the people's wickedness among whom
lay his ministry, and on the score of suffering inwardly and outwardly
as a prophet who shared all the chastening which the righteous
indignation heaped on his guilty people, with his own affliction to
boot as a rejected prophet. He appears indeed in this to have the most
nearly approached our blessed Lord, though certainly there was a climax
in His case peculiar to Himself, hardly more in the intensely evil and
degraded state of Jerusalem then than in the perfection with which He
fathomed and felt all before God as one who had deigned to be of them
and their chief, their Messiah, who must therefore have so much the
deeper interest and the truer sense of what they deserved as a people
from God through the instrumentality of their enemies. As a fact this
came on them soon after under the last and most terrible siege by
Titus; but Jesus went beforehand through all before the cross as well
as on it, this apart from making atonement, with which nothing but the
densest ignorance could confound it, and mere malice attack others for
avoiding its own palpable error.