Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This elegy Lam. 3 is both the most elaborate in form and the most sublime in its ideas of the five poems which compose the Book of Lamentations. It presents the image of the deepest suffering, passing on to the confession of sin, the acknowledgment of God's justice, and the prayer of faith for forgiveness. It is the ideal representation of that godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of Co2 12:10.
That hath seen affliction - i. e. hath experienced, suffered it.
Is he turned; he turneth - Or, "surely against me" hath he turned "his hand" again and again "all the day long."
Made old - Or, wasted: his strength slowly wasted as he pined away in sorrow.
He hath broken my bones - This clause completes the representation of the sufferer's physical agonies. Here the idea is that of acute pain.
He hath builded ... - The metaphor is taken from the operations in a siege.
Gall and travail - Or "travail;" i. e. bitterness and weariness (through toil).
Or, "He hath" made me to dwell "in darkness," i. e. in Sheol or Hades, "as those" forever "dead."
The prophet feels as if enclosed within walls, and fettered.
Shout - i. e. call for help.
Shutteth out - Or, "shutteth in." God has so closed up the avenues to the place in which he is immured, that his voice can find no egress.
Inclosed - Or, hedged Lam 3:7.
Hath, made crooked - Or, "hath" turned aside. A solid wall being built across the main road, Jeremiah turns aside into by-ways, but finds them turned aside, so that they lead him back after long wandering to the place from where he started.
Having dwelt upon the difficulties which hemmed in his path, he now shows that there are dangers attending upon escape.
The meaning is, "God, as a lion, lying in wait, has made me turn aside from my path, but my flight was in vain, for springing upon me from His ambush lie has torn me in pieces."
Desolate - Or, astonied, stupefied that he cannot flee. The word is a favorite one with Jeremiah.
This new simile arises out of the former one, the idea of a hunter being suggested by that of the bear and lion. When the hunter comes, it is not to save him.
Metaphor is dropped, and Jeremiah shows the real nature of the arrows which rankled in him so deeply.
"He hath" filled me to the full with bitterness, i. e. bitter sorrows Job 9:18.
Broken my teeth with gravel stones - His bread was so filled with grit that in eating it his teeth were broken.
Prosperity - literally, as in the margin, i. e. I forgot what good was, I lost the very idea of what it meant.
The prophet reaches the verge of despair. But by struggling against it he reaches at length firm ground.
Remembering - Or, as in the margin. It is a prayer to Yahweh.
My misery - Or, "my" homelessness (Lam 1:7 note).
This I recall - Rather, "This will I bring back to my heart, therefore will I hope." Knowing that God hears the prayer of the contrite, he begins again to hope.
Verses 22-42 are the center of the present poem, as it also holds the central place in the whole series of the Lamentations. In them the riches of God's grace and mercy are set forth in the brightest colors, but no sooner are they ended than the prophet resumes the language of woe.
That we - He is speaking as the representative of all sufferers.
The Lord is my portion - "My portion is Yahweh," see Num 18:20; Psa 16:5 ff.
Therefore will I hope in him - A more full expression of the confidence present in the prophet's mind in Lam 3:21, but based now upon God's faithfulness in showing mercy.
In these three verses, each beginning in the Hebrew with the word good, we have first the fundamental idea that Yahweh Himself is good, and if good to all, then especially is He so to those who being in adversity can yet wait in confidence upon His mercy.
And quietly wait - literally, "and be in silence," i. e. abstain from all complaining.
The yoke - Or, a "yoke." By bearing a yoke in his youth, i. e. being called upon to suffer in early age, a man learns betimes the lesson of silent endurance, and so finds it more easy to be calm and patient in later years.
Let him sit alone and keep silence;
For He (God) hath laid the yoke upon him.
Let him place his mouth in the dust;
Perchance there is hope.
Let him offer his cheek to him that smiteth him;
Let him be filled to the full with reproach.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, but only if he bear it rightly. To attain this result, let him learn resignation, remembering who has laid the yoke upon him. This reverential silence is described Lam 3:29, as putting the mouth in the dust, and so lying prostrate before the Deity; while Lam 3:30 the harder task is imposed of bearing contumely with meekness (margin reference), and not shrinking from the last dregs of the cup of reproach. Many who submit readily to God are indignant when the suffering comes through men.
Reasons for the resignation urged in the previous triplet.
Neither does God approve of wanton cruelty inflicted by one man on another. Three examples are given: the treatment of prisoners of war; the procuring an unjust sentence before a legal tribunal acting in the name of God (see Exo 21:6); and the perversion of justice generally.
Why then does a loving God, who disapproves of suffering when inflicted by man upon man, Himself send sorrow and misery? "Because of sins."
Literally, "Who is this that spake and it was done, though אדני 'ădonāy commanded it not?"
So long as God spares a man's life, why does he complain? The chastisement is really for his good; only let him use it aright, and he will be thankful for it in the end.
A man for the punishment of his sins - Translate: Let "each man sigh for," i. e. because of, "his sins." Instead of complaining because God sends him sorrow, let him rather mourn over the sins which have made punishment necessary. The sense of the King James Version is, Why does a man ... complain "for his sins?" i. e. for the necessary results of them in chastisement.
The prophet urges men to search out their faults and amend them.
And turn again to the Lord - Or, "and return to Yahweh." The prep. (to) in the Hebrew implies not half way, but the whole.
Literally, "Let us lift up our heart unto our hands unto God in heaven;" as if the heart first lifted up the hands, and then with them mounted up in prayer to God. In real prayer the outward expression is caused by the emotion stirring within.
In verses 43-66, far from pardoning, God is still actively punishing His people.
Rather, "Thou hast covered" Thyself "with wrath and pursued (Lam 1:3 note) us." The covering (here and in Lam 3:44) is that of clothing and enwrapping.
Desolation - Or, devastation.
The deep sympathy of the prophet, which pours itself forth in abundant tears over the distress of his people.
Or, "Mine eye" causeth pain to my soul, i. e. maketh my soul ache, because of the sad fate of the maidens (Lam 1:4, Lam 1:18, ...).
Or, "They who without cause are mine enemies have hunted me sore like a bird." Probably the prophet is speaking of his personal sorrows.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon - Or, "They destroyed my life in the pit," i. e. tried to destroy it by casting me into the cistern, and covering the month with a stone. See the margin reference.
Waters flowed over mine head - A figurative expression for great mental trouble.
A prayer for deliverance and for vengeance upon his enemies.
Out of the low dungeon - "The lowest pit" of Psa 88:6. Some consider that Ps. 69 was composed by Jeremiah, and is the prayer referred to here (Jer 38:6 note).
Thou hast heard - In sending Ebedmelech to deliver me. The next clause signifies "Hide not thine ear to my relief to my cry," i. e. to my cry for relief.
God now appears as the prophet's next of kin, pleading the lawsuits of his soul, i. e. the controversies which concern his salvation. and rescuing his life, in jeopardy through the malice of his enemies.
Wrong - Done to him by the perversion of justice.
Lam 3:60, Lam 3:61
Imaginations - Or, devices.
Their sitting down, and their rising up - i. e. all the ordinary actions of their life.
Musick - Or, song, "the subject of it."
The versions render the verbs in these verses as futures, "Thou shalt render unto them a recompence," etc.
Give them sorrow of heart - Or, "Thou wilt give them" blindness "of heart."
Persecute ... - Or, pursue them in anger and destroy them, etc.