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.