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For New King James text and comment, click here.
Lamentations 3:37-5:22 Listen
For background information on Lamentations, click here to read the introduction.
Jeremiah's personal grief (Lamentations 3:37-66)
37 Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
38 Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
39 Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
42 We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
43 Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
44 Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
45 Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
46 All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
47 Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
48 Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
49 Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
50 Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
51 Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
52 Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
53 They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
54 Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
55 I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
56 Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
57 Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
58 O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
59 O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
60 Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
61 Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
62 The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
63 Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
64 Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
65 Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
66 Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
You will recall that this chapter has 66 verses, and that every three verses begins with a word beginning with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Jeremiah talks about his personal suffering on behalf of fallen Jerusalem. (To read the notes on the first 36 verses of this chapter, click here.)
As Jeremiah continues his laments, he makes a personal suggestion in verses 40-41, "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." It's still the answer for the people of Jerusalem, repent! Jeremiah has had a tough life. When he proclaimed the prophecies God had given him, his own people made his life miserable; they put him into a dungeon and even tried to kill him. Could it be that Jeremiah is asking for vindication in these verses before those leaders of Jerusalem who had made his life so miserable prior to the fall? It would appear so.
There's a meaningful lesson for us in verses 42-45:
Lamentations 3:42 We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
Lamentations 3:43 Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
Lamentations 3:44 Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
Lamentations 3:45 Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
Notice in verse 42 that God "hast not pardoned" BECAUSE they had "transgressed" and "rebelled." In that state of rebellion, God was as an enemy to them (verse 43), and their prayers were not answered (verse 44). I'm reminded of Proverbs 28:9 (see notes), "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." In other words, the first step to answered prayers is to have a heart that is right before God.
But wait...there's more here - VENGEANCE! Notice particularly verses 64-66:
Lamentations 3:64 Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
Lamentations 3:65 Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
Lamentations 3:66 Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
Lest you misunderstand Jeremiah, let's look at some similar requests:
Jeremiah 11:20 But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause.
Jeremiah 12:3 But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.
Jeremiah 15:15 O LORD, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke.
Jeremiah 17:18 Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.
Jeremiah 18:21 Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.
Jeremiah 18:22 Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet.
Jeremiah 18:23 Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thus with them in the time of thine anger.
Keep this in mind: Jeremiah was calling upon God to do the vindicating and to ration out the appropriate measure of vengeance. After all, Jeremiah endured years of abuse from the leadership of Judah simply because he stood for God.
Incidentally, Jeremiah refers in verse 53 to the time in Jeremiah 38 (see notes) when he was cast into the dungeon (aka cistern). We see Jeremiah pleading his case against his enemies in verses 58-66. Ironically, his enemies were the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who rejected his message. Not only did they reject, they persecuted him for his prophecies. They do get their just due in Jeremiah 52 (see notes).
Tough, tough conditions in Jerusalem (Lamentations 4)
1 How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.
2 The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
3 Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
4 The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.
5 They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.
6 For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.
7 Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
8 Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.
9 They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.
10 The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.
11 The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.
12 The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
13 For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,
14 They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
15 They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.
16 The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.
17 As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.
18 They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.
19 Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
20 The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.
22 The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.
This chapter goes back to the acrostic style of chapters 1 and 2. There are 22 verses; each verse is arranged alphabetically with all the verses beginning with a word having as its first letter the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet - 22 letters. It's poetry, sad poetry. These verses show us how tough it was in Jerusalem at the time of the fall. Nebuchadnezzar's army simply surrounded the city of Jerusalem, and over a period of 18 months they ran out of food according to Jeremiah 52:4-6 (see notes). Add to that a drought, and we see unbearable conditions in Jerusalem. Notice verse 4, "The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them." Imprisoned in Jerusalem without food - the babies were starving for nourishment. And then...the unthinkable in verse 10, "The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people." That's right - cannibalism right there in Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, everyone suffered the same discomfort prior to their fall due to this starvation tactic used by the Babylonians - even the leadership. Verses 7-8 indicate that the appearance of the leaders of Jerusalem (Hebrew: "naziyr" i.e. consecrated ones, translated in the KJV as Nazarites) were visibly malnourished and poorly groomed.
And why did all of this befall Jerusalem? Because they rejected God, they were given into the hands of the Babylonians. That is made clear in verse 11, "The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof." The Babylonians were only used as a tool of God to chastise the rebellion of Judah.
Conditions after the fall (Lamentations 5)
1 Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.
2 Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.
3 We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.
4 We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.
5 Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.
6 We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.
7 Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.
8 Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.
9 We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.
10 Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
11 They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.
12 Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured.
13 They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.
14 The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their musick.
15 The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.
16 The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!
17 For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.
18 Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.
19 Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
20 Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
21 Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
22 But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.
No more acrostic style in this chapter - it's all free-form writing. Jeremiah talks about the dire conditions of Babylonian captivity in Jerusalem. Don't dwell here with visual images; it's a heartbreaking chapter (if chapter 4 wasn't already). It's simple, forthright reading, but it's a very sad chapter. That's why the book is called "Lamentations."
Jeremiah concludes in verses 19-22 by pleading before God, "We did get what we deserved, but won't you restore us to the way it was back in the good ol' days?" Hey! When leadership is bad, everyone suffers - women, children...everyone. Notice the last verse of Lamentations, verse 22, "But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us." There was no question in Jeremiah's mind: God had brought about Jerusalem's destruction because these Jews had rejected God.