For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

Before beginning our study of this chapter it is necessary to note that above and beyond the suffering of Judah and Jeremiah, much of the material is very obviously a foreshadowing of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ.


3:1.  “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.”


The lament continues as Jeremiah identifies himself with the guilty nation, and speaks as their representative.  It was Judah’s rebellion, and refusal to repent within God’s time, that had brought the stroke of his wrath upon them, their very great folly being demonstrated by the fact that repentant obedience would just as surely have secured blessing.


3:2.  “He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.”


Israel, redeemed from Egyptian bondage, had been led by a pillar of cloud in the daytime, and by a pillar of fire at night, for forty years in the wilderness, while God provided them with food and water, and finally brought them into Canaan with all its riches; but instead of remembering all His kindnesses, the ungrateful nation had forgotten, and turned to give to idols the worship that belonged to Him alone, with the result that He had cast her out of that good land, bringing first the ten northern tribes (Israel) into Assyrian bondage; and then the two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) into captivity in Babylon.


It is to be remembered, however, that their being brought into darkness had been because they themselves had preferred the darkness of idolatry rather than the light of God’s presence.  And so has it been with all men, as it is written, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God,” Jn 3:19-21.


God does not compel men either to sin or to live righteously, but leaves each man to choose his own path: the majority choosing to walk in darkness to eternal doom; a small minority trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and being willing to walk according to His leading in the path of light that leads to heaven.


3:3.  “Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.”


It was by her own foolish choice, in forsaking Him for idols, that Judah had made God her enemy, thus compelling Him to treat her as an enemy rather than as a well loved child: and so is it with all men.  By choosing to rebel against God, and to serve Satan, men make themselves the objects of His wrath rather than of His blessing.


3:4.  “My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.”


By refusing to accept God’s gift of eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the vast majority of men choose to remain in the state of death into which each is born as a result of descent from Adam, who by his rebellion brought death upon himself and all his children, so that whereas the believer, born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, “is renewed day by day,” 2 Cor 4:16, even though his body grows old,  but the unbeliever, lacking that new spiritual eternal life, simply grows old, the increasing failure of his natural body bringing him daily nearer to that dreadful moment when he enters the kingdom of death and darkness, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” Mk 9:44.


3:5.  “He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.”


This continues the description of rebel Judah, and of the natural man and his relationship with God.  Instead of being a protecting wall around him, as He is with the believer, the Lord as it were builds a wall around the unbeliever which encloses him within a realm of bitterness and hardship, from which there is no hope of escape except by repentant confession of sin, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  For the unbeliever, the path over which he travels through earthly life, leads to indescribable eternal torment.


3:6.  “He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.”


Those who prefer darkness to light, because they think it hides their sin, will have the terrible experience of entering into the impenetrable eternal darkness, described in Jude 13, “the blackness of darkness for ever.”


3:7.  “He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.”


Judah’s self-chosen path of imagined liberty proved to be the cause of God’s building an insurmountable wall around her, and of His loading her with heavy chains from which there was no possibility of escape.  And so is it with all who choose to follow the path of imagined freedom.  Though they are unaware of it, it simply builds a higher and thicker prison wall around them, and chains them more securely to the eternal torment of the lake of fire.


3:8.  “Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.”


The further misery of the unconverted is declared in the fact that the God whose voice they ignored when they reveled in sin, will refuse to hear them, when in the agony of despair, they cry out to Him, groveling at His feet in futile hope of mercy.


3:9.  “He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.”


Those who exhaust God’s patience by failing to avail themselves of His mercy in His time, will discover too late for remedy, that He Who would have led them in the paths of righteousness had they been submissive to His “good, and acceptable, and perfect will,” then becomes, not their Guide on the path of life, but their omnipotent Opponent Who blocks that way with immovable stones, shutting them out from His presence for ever, and shutting them up to walk in the way that ends in hell and the eternal torment of the lake of fire.


3:10.  “He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.”


As a bear or a lion crouched in hiding and waiting to pounce upon an unwary victim, so had God made Himself to rebellious and unrepentant Judah, and as He does to every man who refuses to repent of his sin and walk in obedience.  The hopelessness of the unrepentant sinner is clearly declared in the fact that a man seized by a bear or a lion is as good as dead, for he is powerless against them, and therefore even more helpless against the One Who has created them.


The unexpectedness with which death and judgment may come is further illustrated by the speed with which a lurking bear or lion pounces upon its victim.


3:11.  “He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.”


As a pouncing bear or lion tears its victim to pieces, so had God suddenly devastated rebellious Judah, using the Babylonians as His instrument.  The end of many an unrepentant sinner has often come with the same speed and unexpectedness, death cutting them down without a second’s warning, snatching them from occupation with earthly things into the awful reality and torment of hell.


Desolate is connected with the idea of being stunned, devastated, numbed, astonished.


3:12.  “He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.”


As an unerring archer draws his bow, and shoots at a target, so had God acted toward rebel Judah, the deadly accuracy of His aim being demonstrated in that that generation of Judah had been destroyed, those not slain in battle, languishing in captivity in Babylon, her place to be taken by the new generation which God would bring from Babylon seventy years later.


3:13.  “He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.”


The completeness of Judah’s destruction is declared in that God is spoken of as having discharged all His arrows into Judah’s kidneys, the organs believed by the ancients to be synonymous with the mind.  There was no hope for the recovery of that unrepentant generation.


3:14.  “I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.”


A more accurate translation of “my people” is all peoples: all nations, for it is clear that the derision was that of the surrounding nations, not of Judah herself.  She had become the subject of their satirical songs.


3:15.  “He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.”


The joy and gladness which had been God’s recompense of Judah’s former obedience, had been replaced with bitter anguish, likened here to that which results from having drunk poison; the lesson  taught in this being that sin brings death.


3:16.  “He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.”


Judah, who had feasted on Canaan’s milk and honey when she walked in obedience before God, but now a captive in Babylon because of disobedience, was forced to eat, what by comparison, was the equivalent of gravel: the coarse unpalatable food given slaves.  The food’s being likened to gravel may dramatize its coarseness and inferiority, while the broken teeth may portray the displeasure with which it was eaten: its revolting character making it as unpleasant to the eater as ordinary food would be to a man whose teeth had been broken thus making mastication extremely painful.


To put ashes or dust on one’s head, or to roll in ashes, was the expression of deepest sorrow, and here indicates the depths of Judah’s woe.


3:17.  “And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.”


In Php 4:7 obedient believers are assured that, “... the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  An obedient Judah had once walked in the enjoyment of that peace, but her rebellion had long since removed it far from her.


“Prosperity” as used here goes beyond financial well being, and includes the idea of all that is pleasant and conducive to happiness.


3:18.  “And I said, my strength and my hope is perished from the Lord:”


Jeremiah, continuing to act as spokesman for banished Judah, declares that the nation has been bereft of all power and hope because the Lord has departed from them on account of their sin.

This declaration of helplessness stands in stark contrast with the confidence of the obedient believer who can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me,” Php 4:13.


3:19.  “Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.”


Added to the loss of strength and hope was Judah’s consciousness of affliction and misery, coupled with the fact that God had compelled her to drink the cup of His retribution filled with the equivalent of bitterness and poison.  For that generation of Judah there was no hope of recovery: her refusal to repent in God’s time had sealed her doom.


3:20.  “My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.”


Like every sinner who dies unrepentant, that doomed generation of Judah remembered, as she would eternally, the rebellion that had cut her off from God, making her the object of His fierce wrath and judgment.


The humbling of soul may not be construed as indicating that it was the contrition which accompanies repentance exercised in God’s time, but rather that hopeless crushing agony of spirit which will continue for ever, first in hell, and then for ever in the lake of fire.


3:21.  “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.”


3:22.  “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”


This is clearly the confession of Jeremiah himself, not on behalf of that doomed generation of Judah, but rather relative to that generation still future that will emerge repentant and saved from the Great Tribulation, to inherit millennial blessing.


God’s great mercy and compassion impelled Him to give His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for the expiation of man’s sin, but it is effective only to secure remission of the sins of those who confess that they are sinners, and who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.  In spite of God’s great love, mercy, and compassion, and in spite of Christ’s vicarious death, all who refuse to give that confession, and exercise that faith, must suffer eternal torment in the lake of fire.


3:23.  “They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”


God’s mercies and compassions are new every morning, not in the sense that each new day presents a fresh opportunity for every sinner to repent and be saved by trusting in Christ as his Savior; but that first of all they are extended every day to every believer.  No matter what the failure of yesterday, each new day presents a fresh opportunity for each believer to live that day for God’s glory, and his own eternal blessing.


From another perspective, each new day presents opportunity for sinners to confess themselves sinners, and be saved by trusting in Christ, but there is no guarantee that each morning of each sinner’s life will be invested with that same character.  For those who refuse to repent and trust in Christ as Savior within God’s appointed time, there comes a day for each of them when salvation is still available to others but not to them, God’s warning being, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” 2 Cor 6:2, and again, “He, who being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.


3:24.  “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”


Each believer’s soul rests confidently on the sure foundation that the Lord Himself is his inheritance, the basis of his confidence being God’s assurance to every believer, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ....” Ro 8:16-17.


3:25.  “The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.”


To wait for God is to live undismayed by the seeming adverse circumstances of life, resting quietly in the knowledge that every circumstance is ordered or permitted by Him, for His glory and our eternal blessing.


To seek God is to inquire about Him, to acquire a deeper knowledge of Him, something that is accomplished by the daily, diligent study of His Word, for it is in that Word that He reveals Himself.  The better we know and obey Scripture, the better we know God.


3:26.  “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”


It isn’t sufficient that we should just hope for the fulfillment of all God’s promises, but that we should be tranquil while waiting.  How often the joy of our expectations is marred by perturbation!  How easily we forget that, “... all things work together for good to those who love God,” Ro 8:28!


3:27.  “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”


The thought appears to be that it is better for one to trust in, and obey Christ, while he is still young, one obvious advantage being that such a believer is not only preserved from youthful folly, but that he has the privilege of being able to serve the Lord in the vigor of youth.


The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary adds the instructive comment that, “... the old are full of prejudices,” and are therefore not susceptible to new ideas.


3:28.  “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he (God) hath borne (imposed, placed) it upon him.”


The obedient believer, in the midst of chastisement or testing, sits alone with God, silent, uncomplaining, recognizing that what the Lord does to His own is for their ultimate blessing.


3:29.  “He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.”


To put one’s mouth in the dust was a figure of speech used to describe the attitude of one who abjectly acknowledged his own unworthiness, and here it is used to express Jeremiah’s attitude, as the representative of sinful Judah.  He took the place she should have taken, his hope being that God, after having chastised her, would raise her up again; though, as noted already, the generation delivered into Babylonian captivity, was beyond hope.  It would be a future generation, that which will emerge repentant and believing from the Great Tribulation, that will ultimately inherit fulness of blessing in the Millennium.


3:30.  “He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.”


This continues the description of the godly man: he offers the other cheek to those who strike him, and meekly endures their verbal abuse.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the One in Whom this attitude was perfectly exemplified, as it is written, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting,” Isa 50:6; “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously,” 1 Pe 2:23.  The godly man likewise leaves his cause in God’s hands.


3:31.  “For the Lord will not cast off for ever:”


This applies, of course, only to the believer, as it is written, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Heb 12:6-7.


Unbelievers, on the other hand, will be cast off for ever.


3:32.  “But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.”


The chastening with which God punishes the believer’s sins, causes temporary grief, but His purpose is to teach His erring child the folly of sin; and with that objective accomplished, He then lavishes His limitless love on that same chastened child.


3:33.  “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.”


It is only with reluctance that God imposes affliction upon men, that step being taken only when they refuse to yield the obedience that enables Him to bless them.


3:34.  “To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,”


“... prisoners” is used here to describe those whose refusal to repent makes them the objects of God’s wrath; their being crushed under is feet being the metaphoric description of their being cast first into hell, and then eternally into the lake of fire.


3:35.  “To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,”


3:36.  “To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.”


The subversion of justice is something God will not tolerate.  He who is guilty of this sin will surely be punished, unless, of course, he repents.


3:37.  “Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?”


This declares the impotence of man and the omnipotence of God.  Nothing can occur apart from God’s permission or direction, and even what He merely permits is ultimately for His glory.


3:38.  “Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?”


“... the mouth of the most High” is an interrogative poetic reference to God as the Supreme Ruler, the One from Whom proceeds what man considers adversity, or what man considers prosperity or blessing.  The verse might be paraphrased, “Is not God the source of both adversity and prosperity?”


3:39.  “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?”


Since God is omnipotent and holy, what right then has mere man to complain when that same God punishes him for his sins? 


3:40.  “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.”


Instead of daring to question the ways of Him Who is omnipotent and holy, we ought to be constantly examining our own ways thoroughly, and when sin is discovered, to turn to God in repentant confession, so as to be restored to communion and blessing.


3:41.  “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.”


Since the heart is considered metaphorically to be the source of our thoughts and motives; and our hands as the synonym for our words and deeds, this verse translates into the truth that all our words and deeds are to be impelled by a pure motive.


3:42.  “We have transgressed and rebelled; thou hast not pardoned.”


The fact that though they confessed to having committed many sins in their rebellion against God, but had not been pardoned, makes it clear that either they had not abandoned their sin, or had yielded their confession too late, for, as noted already, confession without abandonment of sin is worthless; and furthermore, God has placed a time limit within which He will accept confession and grant pardon, but once a sinner crosses that invisible line, pardon is unavailable.  The generation of Judah about which Jeremiah spoke, had crossed that fatal line.  Failure to repent within God’s time had sealed their doom.


3:43.  “Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou has slain, thou hast not pitied.”


Scholars disagree as to whether God had covered Himself from Judah’s sight with a vail of anger, or whether He had covered her with His fierce anger.  Settlement of that question is unimportant, for in a sense both are true.  It is a fearful thing when one makes himself the object of God’s wrath, for then blessing is exchanged irrevocably for Divine persecution; His pardon and gift of eternal life are replaced with death and eternal pitiless punishment in the lake of fire.


3:44.  “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.”


There is a deadly finality about God’s hiding Himself from men and refusing to listen to their prayer; but sin unconfessed and unrepented of in His time, inevitably brings that deadly impenetrable cloud which prayer cannot pierce, thus leaving the tardy penitent to perish.  The Judah addressed by Jeremiah stood confronted with that same terrible cloud, as will every sinner who refuses to repent in God’s time.


3:45.  “Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.”


She whom God had desired to promote above all nations, had, by her sin and refusal to repent, made herself instead as the scum of the earth.


3:46.  “All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.”


The nations whom God had meant Judah to rule over, mocked and jeered at her fallen state.


3:47.  “Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.”


How great the difference between what Judah could have been, and what her rebellion had made her!  Like a bird or animal caught in a trap from which escape was impossible, that generation of the nation also faced certain death, the glory and blessing she might have enjoyed being reserved for the repentant believing remnant that will yet emerge from the Great Tribulation to rule over the millennial nations.


3:48.  “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.”


3:49.  “Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,”


Jeremiah could only weep as he beheld the ruin Judah’s rebellion had brought upon her, his sorrow deepened by the knowledge of what she had forfeited by her sin and refusal to repent in God’s time.


3:50.  “Till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven.”


It was the prophet’s wish that God might look down in pity, but he knew it was futile, for God had already made it clear to him that the doom of that generation was sealed.


3:51.  “Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.”


The ruin which Jeremiah beheld broke his heart, for the few who had been left in the ravaged city and desolate land were existing in utter wretchedness.


“... the daughters of my city” were the surrounding dependent towns and villages.


3:52.  “Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without a cause.”


This lament relates to the prophet’s personal experience rather than to that of Judah.  His enemies, without cause, had sought with implacable hatred to take his life, simply because he had faithfully declared the truth to them, announcing the destruction of Jerusalem, and the captivity of the people, while the false prophets had proclaimed the very opposite.


3:53.  “They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.”


3:54.  “Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.”


The reference here is to his imprisonment as recorded in Jer 38.


3:55.  “I called upon they name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon.”


3:56.  “Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.”


3:57.  “Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.”


This is an abbreviated account of his deliverance from the dungeon as recorded in Jer 38.


3:58.  “O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.”


Here the prophet gratefully acknowledges his deliverance as the work of God on behalf of His sorely tried servant.


3:59.  “O Lord, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.”


He continues to importune God for vindication.


3:60.  “Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.”


3:61.  “Thou hast heard their reproach, O Lord, and all their imaginations against me;”


3:62.  “The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.”


3:63.  “Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their music.”


This is the expression of his confidence that God was fully aware of the vindictive scheming of his enemies, and of the fact that from morning to night he, Jeremiah, was the butt of their taunts and murderous scheming.


3:64.  “Render unto them a recompense, O Lord, according to the work of their hands.”


3:65.  “Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.”


3:66.  “Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the Lord.”


This call for vengeance was perfectly appropriate for the age of law, but not for this present age of grace.  The Divine principle governing the life of today’s believer is as recorded in Mt 5:38-48.

[Lamentations 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough