Lamentations 3:1-66

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The nation (the people in the realm of the kingdom of Judah, especially inhabitants of the capital Jerusalem) apparently are represented under the figure of a man and his suffering. He was the man who had “seen affliction” because the “rod” of punishment had been directed against him in expression of God’s wrath. (3:1) With no hope of relief from the distressing circumstances, he felt that God had driven him into a state of darkness, depriving him of all light. Only gloom remained for him. (3:2) “All the day” or continually, he felt God’s “hand” or power (“blows” [Targum]) repeatedly directed against him. (3:3)

The suffering YHWH permitted to come upon the “man” (the nation) is represented as causing his “flesh” and “skin” to waste away and his bones to be broken. (3:4) He referred to YHWH as besieging him and surrounding him with venom or bitterness and hardship or misery (3:5), forcing him to sit in dark places like men long dead in the gloom of the abode of the dead. (3:6)

There was no avenue of escape for the “man” (the nation), for YHWH had walled him in and the “copper” or bronze fetters that restrained him were heavy. (3:7) Even though he cried out to YHWH for help, he received no response. He felt that YHWH had shut out his prayer from being heard. (3:8) There was no way out of the distressing circumstances, for YHWH had blocked his ways as with hewn stones and made his paths tortuous or filled with obstructions. (3:9)

To the “man” (the nation) on account of the injury inflicted through the agency of the warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, YHWH was like a fierce “bear lying in wait,” “like a lion in concealment,” ready to pounce on prey. (3:10) He led the “man” off from his ways, forced him aside into danger, tore him to pieces, and made him into one reduced to a desolate state. (3:11) His readying for attack is described as treading the bow, placing his foot in the center and tying the string on one end to the other side, and then setting up the “man” as a target for the arrow shot from the bow. (3:12)

The “sons of the quiver” designate the arrows, and YHWH is represented as driving them into the “kidneys” of the “man” (the nation) (3:13) This “man” had become a laughingstock on account of his suffering, and “all the day” or continually the subject of their mocking song. (3:14) What YHWH had permitted to befall him was comparable to being filled with “bitter things” and sated with “wormwood” (“drunk with gall” [LXX]), a plant with a very bitter taste. (3:15)

The crushing of the teeth with gravel, like the breaking of the bones (verse 4), may simply be part of the poetic imagery illustrating great suffering. Another possible explanation (based on ancient Jewish sources) could relate to the experience of the survivors of the Babylonian conquest who were taken as captives into exile. On the way, they may have had to bake bread in pits that were dug in the ground. Therefore, the grit the bread came to contain may have damaged the teeth when it was eaten. In a state of misery, people may have seated themselves in ashes. YHWH permitted this to happen. For this reason, the things the people experienced are attributed to him. The Septuagint says that God fed him dust or ashes. (3:16) Robbed of “peace,” the “man” (representing the nation or the people) had no “peace” in his “soul.” All sense of security and well-being was lost. According to the Septuagint, God shoved his “soul away from peace.” The extremely distressing situation had eclipsed all memory of good or prosperity. (3:17) In the case of the “man” or the people, the “eminence” or former dignity (“strength” [Targum]; “victory” [LXX]) had vanished. “Expectation from YHWH,” or any hope that he would provide help or relief, had ceased to exist. (3:18)

The plea for YHWH to remember the “affliction,” the “wandering” (as one in a homeless state), the “wormwood (a very bitter plant),” and the “gall” would have been a petition to give attention to the suffering and misery and to bring relief. (3:19; see the Notes section.) In the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, the next verse concludes with “my soul,” and the renderings of modern translations commonly apply the expressions in this verse to the “man” (representing the people). “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.” (NLT) “I remember them indeed [my distress, my wanderings, wormwood, and gall] and am filled with despondency.” (REB) “I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” (NIV) “Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.” (NAB, revised edition) The expression “my soul” was anciently identified as a scribal emendation, with the alternate reading being “your soul.” When the reference is understood to apply to the “soul” or the person of YHWH, the thought is that he would remember what his people had experienced and condescend to “bow low” over them in order to give them compassionate attention and to bring relief. (3:20) Just what is recalled to “heart” or remembered depends on whether the previous verse is understood to read “my soul” or “your soul.” For the reading “your soul,” the reference would be to recalling that the time would come for YHWH to turn his favorable attention to his afflicted people as if bowing down to raise them from their low circumstances. This would provide the basis for hope or patiently waiting for him to act to deliver his people from their distress. Numerous modern translations that render verse 20 according to the Masoretic Text (“my soul”) represent what is remembered to be the thoughts about God’s compassion that are expressed in the words that follow. “I shall wait patiently because I take this to heart: The LORD’s love is surely not exhausted, nor has his compassion failed.” (REB) “Then I remember something that fills me with hope. The LORD’s kindness never fails!” (CEV) “Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: The LORD’s unfailing love and mercy still continue.” (TEV) (3:21)

If it had not been for YHWH’s unfailing love or loyalty, not even a remnant of his people would have survived the calamities that befell them. All would have perished. His mercies or compassionate care and concern for them did not end. (3:22; see the Notes section.) His mercies are “new each morning,” always fresh and never limited, ineffectual, or weak as if drained. His “faithfulness” is “great,” indicating that he can always be relied upon. (3:23) To have YHWH as one’s share would mean to have a relationship with him and to benefit from his loving care. It is this “share” that makes it possible for one to wait patiently on him to provide help. (3:24)

YHWH is “good,” bestowing his favor and blessing, on the one hoping or trusting in him for his help. He is good to the “soul” or person who seeks him, wanting an approved relationship with him and demonstrating this desire when choosing to heed his commands. According to the Targum, seeking him relates to seeking his instruction. (3:25) When enduring distress, it is good for one to wait patiently and silently, without complaining, for the coming of deliverance from YHWH. (3:26) It is “good” or beneficial for a man to bear the “yoke” of affliction “in his youth.” Reverential persons who have endured hardships in youth find it much easier to deal with distressing circumstances later in life. They have personally experienced God’s loving care and his giving them the strength to endure. This provides them with a sound basis for the hope that God will again grant them the needed aid. (3:27; see the Notes section.)

When a yoke of affliction is placed upon a person, the recommended course is to “sit alone and in silence,” not broadcasting one’s plight and complaining bitterly. (3:28) The individual is admonished to assume a humble position as would one whose mouth touched the dust of the ground. This indicates that he should humbly submit to the trials and hardships that God is allowing him to bear. At the same time, one should continue to look to God, recognizing that he can provide aid. There may still be “hope.” (3:29; see the Notes section.) Instead of rising up in violent revolt against oppressors, one is advised to give his “cheek” to the person doing the smiting and to be sated with the reproach or insult that may be hurled at one. According to the Targum, the individual should do this out of “fear” or reverential regard for the Lord. (3:30)

The “Lord will not cast off” his people for all time to come. According to the Targum, he will not give them over “into the hand” or power of the enemy. (3:31) Although he had caused grief for them (“humbled” [LXX] them), letting them be severely punished for their unfaithfulness to him, he, in time, would show them compassion in keeping with the “abundance” or greatness of his unfailing love or kindness (“mercy” [LXX]). (3:32) From his “heart,” YHWH does not afflict or grieve the “sons of man” (or earthlings). It is not his desire to punish, but to grant people opportunities to repent so that he can deal favorably with them. The Targum indicates that God caused destruction to come upon the “sons of man” because of their not afflicting the “soul” (probably meaning fasting as a sign of sorrow and repentance) and not removing haughtiness from the “heart.” (3:33)

The Lord does not approve or countenance the mistreatment of fellow humans. He disapproves crushing “all the prisoners of the earth” or land under the feet, ruthlessly abusing them. (3:34) One who turns aside or perverts judgment or justice for a man will not escape the attention of the Most High, for it is a corrupt act done before his face or in his presence. (3:35) The Lord could never approve subverting or depriving a man of the rightness of his cause, unjustly condemning him. (3:36)

All matters are under the Lord’s control, taking place because he willed it or permitted it. Therefore, when someone says something and it happens, this would be because the Lord allowed it or commanded it. (3:37) The Most High is the source of all that is good, and so both evil things and good do not proceed from his “mouth” or from him. When people are punished for their corrupt ways in expression of his judgment, this is right or just. This punishment is not an evil act. (3:38) For this reason, a “living man” (an earthling) has no valid basis for complaints. A man deserves to be punished for his sins. (3:39)

For the survivors of the military campaign against the kingdom of Judah, including the capital Jerusalem, it was a time for them to search or consider and to examine their wayward ways, seriously thinking about the result to which their corrupt ways had led them. Thereafter their determination should have been to “return to YHWH” as a repentant people. (3:40) The plea directed to God for forgiveness was not to be a mere raising of the arms with open palms like petitioners, but it was to be a sincere plea that originated in the deep inner self — a lifting up of the “heart” to “God in heaven.” (3:41) There needed to be a sincere acknowledgment of sins without any justification. “We have transgressed and rebelled.” The Targum adds why God had not forgiven. It was because the people had not returned to him. (3:42)

The punishment that YHWH permitted his people to experience was severe. Through his use of the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, he “covered himself with anger” as if he had clothed himself with the wrath directed against his people. He pursued them and slaughtered them without compassion. (3:43) With reference to them, he had covered himself with a cloud, making it impossible for any prayers from his people to pass through to him. (3:44) On account of the humiliation, suffering, hardship, and misery that had befallen the people, YHWH is represented as having made them “offscouring and refuse,” mere dirt, among other peoples. (3:45)

All the “enemies” of the people “opened” (“their mouth” [LXX], apparently with insults, taunts, and abusive and hateful words) against them. (3:46) The people were in a state of “dread,” for their foes had triumphed over them. The reference to “pit” or pitfall could mean that they found themselves to be trapped with no means of escape. In the Septuagint, there is no mention of “pit.” It says “fury,” probably meaning the fury that their enemies directed against the people. The people came to be in a state of “devastation and destruction.” (3:47) The “man” (representing the people or the nation) expressed his sorrow. Tears flowed from his eyes like “rivers of waters” because of the ruin of the “daughter” of his people (or his own people). (3:48) There was no letup in his weeping. His eye had no pauses or breaks from the flow of tears. (3:49) This would continue until such time as YHWH would look down and see “from heaven,” taking note of the distress and bringing relief. (3:50) The continual weeping meant that his eye had caused grief to his “soul” or to him. This was because of “all the daughters of [his] city.” In this case, the “daughters” could be the women or maidens of the city. It is also possible that the city is Jerusalem, with neighboring towns being designated as “daughters.” (3:51)

The expressions from verse 52 onward may reflect the plots of Jeremiah’s enemies and may serve to point to what his people would experience before deliverance would come from YHWH. Without any justification, his foes hunted him like a bird, to be caught and killed. (3:52; compare Jeremiah 11:21-23; 15:15.) In a “pit,” the enemies silenced his life or tried to bring it to an end. They hurled stones at him, apparently to kill him. (3:53; compare Jeremiah 38:6, 9.) His experience was comparable to that of a drowning man, with the water flowing over his head. Therefore, he felt that his end had come. (3:54) In his desperate circumstances in a pit that was very deep, he called on God’s name, the person whom the name represented and used the personal name YHWH. (3:55) He wanted to be sure that YHWH would hear, or respond to his plea, and prayed that he would not close (literally, “hide”) his ear to his “cry for help.” (3:56) YHWH drew near when he called on him, assuring him, “Do not fear.” According to the Targum, God used his angel to save him in answer to his prayer. (3:57; compare Jeremiah 38:10-13.)

YHWH came to the aid of his servant, taking up his case (literally, the legal “controversies of my soul”). He redeemed his life, not permitting his enemies to put him to death. (3:58) YHWH saw the wrong that the enemies of his servant did to him. Therefore, he appealed to YHWH to judge his case. (3:59) YHWH had seen all “vengeance” enemies directed against his servant, “all their devices” or schemes to harm him. (3:60) YHWH heard their “reproach,” insult, or ridicule, “all their devices” or their plotting against his servant. (3:61) “All the day” or continually, the lips of his assailants spoke against him. Their thoughts, imaginings, or mutterings were focused on bringing about his end. (3:62) YHWH knew all about their activities — “their sitting and their rising” and that his servant had been the focus of their taunt “song.” (3:63)

The lament concludes with the expectation that YHWH would act against the enemies. He would repay them “according to the work of their hands” or according their evil deeds. (3:64) YHWH would give them “covering of heart,” which could refer to letting them develop an ever-increasing obstinacy that would lead to their ruin. Another possible meaning would be to deprive them of understanding and thus bring about their end. The curse of YHWH would be upon them. (3:65) In his anger, he would pursue them and “destroy them from under the heavens” or wherever they were on the land beneath the sky. The “heavens” are identified as the “heavens of YHWH,” the domain under his control. (3:66)


In verse 19, the Septuagint conveys a different meaning. Instead of a plea directed to God, the “man” (representing the people) says, “I remembered from my poverty [or as a consequence of my misery] and out of [or because of] my persecution, bitterness and my gall.” (Rahlfs’ printed text; others punctuate the text differently)

The oldest extant manuscripts of the Septuagint do not contain the wording of verses 22 through 24. A common view is that the words were omitted on account of scribal error.

According to the Targum, the “yoke” (verse 27) is the “yoke of the commandments.” (Compare Acts 15:10.)

The wording of verse 29 is not included in the Septuagint.