The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

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Chapter 3 - Renewed Hope in Affliction

"Wherefore doth a living man complain?"
"I am the man that hath seen affliction!" said Jeremiah as he now takes up his lament, placing himself in the position of his erring brethren -- just as Christ would do (Introduction to ch. I): "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" (Heb 12:6). The same process of correction which Jeremiah and the faithful of his countrymen had to undergo is designed for the faithful of all ages. But throughout all affliction is this one overriding thought: "Great is Thy faithfulness... The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him" (vv 23, 25). God's faithfulness is seen in this chapter in two different ways: in mercy and sustenance now, and in a sure reward in the future.

Verses 1-18: Darkness, Affliction, Derision

"The Lord is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2Pe 3:9). In each of the first four chapters, the early verses chronicle great affliction. However, these early verses serve only as a preliminary feature -- to introduce to us the greatness of God's mercy upon His chastened children.

In the phrase "I am the man" (v 1), Jeremiah speaks for his nation Israel -- God's "firstborn" (Exo 4:22), who is afflicted, with the purpose of calling back the wicked (Ezek 33:11). Yahweh is touched by this as well (v 33; Isa 63:9). He will pity those who learn from their sufferings and return to fear Him (Psa 103:13). In speaking of himself, Jeremiah speaks for Jesus as well -- and as a type of him and all the saints, for whom Jesus is the primary example to follow. Jesus was the only-begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 3:16) -- and thus the "firstborn". He was afflicted (Isa 53:4), and he learned obedience by the things he suffered, even to death (Heb 5:8; Phi 2:5-8), being rewarded by his Father in becoming the "firstfruits of them that sleep" (1Co 15:20).

The "rod" of God's wrath (v 1) is an expression for correction (Job 37:13), and tribulation:

  1. God used Babylon as His rod to punish Israel, just as He had previously used Assyria as the "rod of His anger" (Isa 10:5, 15).
  2. Christ suffered and died because, like all of Adam's descendants, he was of flesh, with all the susceptibilities of the flesh. Federally, he died for all men (by "crucifying the flesh" even before his physical death, he demonstrated endurance in affliction, seeking not his own will and desires but those of his Father) if those men will identify with this man of affliction by a life of "dying". But the "rod" of God's correction was not used upon him, since he never sinned -- never violated the purpose which was entrusted in him. If we will accept the affliction of chastisement and training and character building, the "rod" of the affliction of God's "wrath" will not be forthcoming.
"He turned His hand against Me all the day" (v 3) is similar in thought to "I will turn My hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy sin..." (Isa 1:25). The pure metal, salvaged through the long purging process, is to be kept for use; the dross will be cast away as worthless. Dross is the refuse of smelting of precious metal through intense heat. Figuratively it is used of what is base or worthless (Ezek 22:18, 19; Psa 119:119). The "furnace" of affliction is purging us -- we will either come out of this furnace reflecting the brightness of the pure metal, that is, the image of Christ; or we will be cast away as unfit for future use.

The phrase "He hath set me in dark places" (v 6) can have a threefold interpretation: (1) The grave, as in a political death (Ezek 37:2); (2) A dungeon, as where Jeremiah was placed (v 53; Jer 37:16); and (3) Christ's death and burial (Mat 27:66).

The phrase "As they that be dead of old" can be rendered as "they that have been dead since ancient times". Perhaps the idea that he is trying to convey is that he has been forgotten, as though he had been dead a long time. This brings to mind Ezekiel 37 and the national resurrection of Israel. From 586 BC to the present, Israel has not had a king reigning upon the throne of David. The kingdom has been "dead" a very long time.

Verses 19-21: The Desired Effect: A Remnant Saved

It is surely no coincidence that in the first 18 verses of black despair, God's name is not mentioned at all until the end of the last verse. (The nearest Jeremiah comes is to refer to God with "He" and "His" -- until v 17 when God is addressed as "Thou"). But it is at this point of despair that hope rises, and comfort and consolation strengthen the prophet. It was surely the mention of God's Memorial Name in v 18 that effected the transformation. For "Yahweh" is a God who remembers His promises, and will one day fill the earth with His glory (Num 14:21; Isa 11:9), no matter what interruptions may prevail in the meantime.

To fulfill God's purpose, a repentant and forgiven remnant must be saved.

Although speaking of an earlier captivity, Psalm 137 is illustrative of this Divine principle. Through bitterness and suffering and adversity, the Jew learns to turn to God:

"By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down, yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion...
How shall we sing the Lord's song
in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning;
if I do not remember thee,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem
above my chief joy" (vv 1,4-6).
The Jews who returned from the 70 years captivity in Babylon were a much more disciplined and righteous band than those who had been originally carried there. The rebels, the half-hearted, the greedy, and the idolaters had been left behind -- often of their own free will.

In the same way, when God brings the Jews back to Israel in the period after Christ's return, He will purge out the rebels (Ezek 20:38; Zec 13:9). The Jews will return to their homeland with a renewed spirit, cleansed at last from their heathen associations, and much the better as a nation for their two millennia spent in division and scattering. Already those Jews who have returned to the land have begun to demonstrate this renewal and rededication to Jerusalem, although they still know only to trust in themselves and not in God.

Again, the lesson to us may be stressed: God is constantly bringing discomforts and hardships and challenging decisions upon us (but not in punishment, for the punishment of spiritual Israel has been set aside for a special time) to instruct us, to turn us in the right direction. His chastenings upon His children are as gentle proddings. If we will but yield to them, we will be directed in the right paths. The Book of Lamentations is the ideal representation of that "godly sorrow which worketh repentance not to be repented of" (2Co 7:10).

"This I recall in my mind; therefore have I hope" (v 21). Examination and evaluation are the tools of the man of reason; no matter what circumstances he finds himself in, he will seek the cause and the desired effect. How wonderful that God cares enough to remind us of our high calling! It is a confirmation that He is there; and if He is there, there is always hope. Jeremiah, the righteous remnant, Christ, and the saints all have known that all things work together for good to God's elect. What a privilege to be chastised! For then we are not illegitimate, but we are truly sons!

Verses 22-30: The Lord's Mercies, Service and Separation

These few verses demonstrate the attitude of life for Jeremiah and the righteous in view of God's hand upon them. In the same sense it is prophetic of the life which Christ led, and the lives of all true believers in the ages since -- a reliance upon the Lord's mercies, a patient faith and hope, and a bearing of God's yoke. These verses form the most sublime of exhortations. Here is the heart, the core, of Lamentations' comfort and instruction for us.

"The LORD'S mercies" (v 22) in the Old Testament are invariably connected with God's promises, or covenants. "Mercy" and "covenant" are used alongside one another in Psa 89:28. In v 1 of that psalm the author says:

"I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever:
with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations..."
The mercies of God he identifies in vv 3,4 and throughout the psalm:

"I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn unto David My servant,
Thy seed will I establish for ever,
and build up thy throne to all generations."
God's covenants of promise (to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham and the fathers, and to David) were the only channel through which God's forgiveness and mercy might come to His people. The Law of Moses could only convict man of his sins for failing to keep it perfectly. But the promise of an everlasting inheritance in the land of Canaan implied very definitely a forgiveness of past sins leading to immortality. Law will not in the end bring us life; but mercy will! All of God's various temporary blessings are only types of that one great future blessing.

God's compassions are "new every morning" (v 23) for God watches over His servants always. Man must sleep, but God is always awake, never withdrawing His life-giving spirit for the benefit of all flesh. The Angel of His Presence keeps us (Isa 63:9). Remember the fresh manna from heaven which the Jews found every morning except the Sabbath, without fail (Exo 16:15,35; Num 11:9). In the Lord's prayer we are taught to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread". Like the manna in the wilderness: this daily bread points to the True Bread from heaven, the Truth of God, His promises which shall never fail, to give us encouragement each day!

"The LORD is my portion" or "inheritance" is the exact meaning of the name of Jeremiah's father, Hilkiah. Again, this bears a direct relation to God's promises:

"The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance
and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot...
For Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell;
neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.
Thou wilt shew me the path of life:
in Thy presence is fulness of joy;
at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psa 16:5,10,11).
In conjunction with this is seen the hope of a resurrection to eternal life, first of Christ and then of all those "in Christ".

"The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him" (v 25). The righteous are pictured by Isaiah as saying, in their time of deliverance, "We have waited for Him (Isa 25:9; 30:18). The same thought is found in the New Testament:

"Ye turned from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come..." (1Th 1:9, 10).
More is implied in these verses, however, than a simple passing of time now in expectation of receiving the promise at Christ's return. A "watchman" of God was not only to wait, but to observe keenly the signs of the times, and to watch himself and keep his garments unspotted (Isa 21:7-12; Ezek 33:1-9). He was not to waste his opportunities, but to redeem the time, because the days were (and are!) evil (Eph 5:16; Col 4:5). And finally, he was to wait patiently and without complaint (Jam 5:7), not seeking his reward in this world, but in the age to come.

"Waiting for the Lord" has always implied a separation from evil. The way of true holiness has always meant a "sitting alone" (v 28). "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful" (Psa 1:1). Jeremiah -- though preaching to all his neighbors -- was to maintain a distinct and different lifestyle. The references to separation from the ways of the world are so numerous throughout Scripture: Deut 22:10; 2Co 6:14, 17; Heb 7:26; Jam 4:4; 1Pe 2:11, 12; 1Jo 2:15-17; 3:1; 4:5; 5:19; Gal 6:14; John 17:6-9.

Verses 31-33: The Central Theme: Chastening is Necessary and Helpful

This fact has been covered sufficiently in previous comments. Indeed, it seems to be the main message of the entire book:

"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby" (Heb 12:11).
"For the Lord will not cast off forever" (v 31). The gospel of the kingdom is intimately connected with the "hope of Israel", as Paul shows (Acts 28:20). God's deliverance of the natural Jews from their enemies is related to, and concurrent with, the deliverance from mortality of His saints.

"For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (v 33). In Isa 28:21 the prophet comments upon a "strange work, a strange act" of God. The "strange work" is evidently performed upon the Jews ("that dwell in Jerusalem"-- v 14), and it involves judgments. This work appears peculiar to the unenlightened Gentile, but it is eminently necessary for the Jews' preparation. This affliction of His children is necessary, but in itself it gives God no pleasure. Neither does the death of the wicked give Him pleasure (Ezek 18:32; 33:11), for He is not willing that any should perish (2Pe 3:9) -- but sadly, it is necessary that many do. God will vindicate His most Holy Name. He will be gracious at last to those who love Him, but He must of necessity be vengeful upon those who hate Him, or are indifferent toward Him.

Verses 34-36: "The LORD Approveth Not"

God cannot approve of certain things, and -- much as He may hate to destroy even the wicked -- it must be done to erase their ways from the earth; the earth must ultimately be filled with only those things which glorify Him (Num 21:14; Isa 11:9), and to this end He is working.

Note the things of which God disapproves -- and thus by implication what pleases Him: These are things that men might regard as very mundane matters, matters of small consequence one way or the other. God considers them very important: the simple code of behavior found in the book of Proverbs, the essential day-to-day acts of goodness and justice (which often God alone sees). It was the weight of seemingly minor violations of His law, over a long period, that eventually caused God's mercy to be exhausted. These sins (vv 34-36) are what brought the horrors of the Babylonian invasion. "Shall such "minor" offences as gossip and "clever" business practices cause us also to be driven from God's presence?

Verses 37-41: A Living Man Should Not Complain

Under the hand of God's chastening, the sons are commanded to "turn again". "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" Two examples answer this question:--

  1. The nation of Israel, once politically dead (v 6), is alive today because of God's direction of world affairs (Ezek 37:10). All things are for their benefit.
  2. We who were once "afar off" among the Gentiles, dead in trespasses and sins, have been made "alive" (Eph 2:13; Rom 6:13) in Christ (Gal 2:20), and are now God's sons (1Jo 3:1-3), enduring chastening (Heb 12). Can we ever complain in view of what we would have been if God had not called us to the Truth? Let us, as Paul did, glory in tribulation, "knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed..." (Rom 5:3-5).

Verses 42-66: Prayer

"We have transgressed" (vv 42-54), but "Judge my cause" (vv 55-66). Two things are essential for us to do before God will hear our prayers and take our cause for His own:

  1. We must realize our sinful condition, and
  2. We must repent and seek to change our ways.
This prayer is a gradually unfolding realization of the ways of God, and His boundless love and compassion toward those who trust in Him.

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