Lamentations 3 - Ellicott's Commentary On The Whole Bible

Bible Comments
  • Introduction open_in_new

    III.

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:1 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:2 open_in_new

    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.”

  • Lamentations 3:3 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:4 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:5 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:6 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:7 open_in_new

    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).

  • Lamentations 3:8 open_in_new

    He shutteth out my prayeri.e., stops it so that it does not reach the ear of Jehovah; and it is Jehovah himself who does this.

  • Lamentations 3:9 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:11 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:12 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:14 open_in_new

    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.)

  • Lamentations 3:15 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:16 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:17 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:18 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:19 open_in_new

    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.)

  • Lamentations 3:21 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:22 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:23 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:25 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:27 open_in_new

    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).

  • Lamentations 3:28 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:29 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:31 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:34-36 open_in_new

    (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.

  • Lamentations 3:37-39 open_in_new

    (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.

  • Lamentations 3:39 open_in_new

    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?

  • Lamentations 3:40 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:41 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:43 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:52 open_in_new

    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. 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.

  • Lamentations 3:53 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:55 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:56 open_in_new

    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 breathingi.e., the “sighs” or “sobs” of the mourner.

  • Lamentations 3:61 open_in_new

    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.

  • Lamentations 3:66 open_in_new

    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.