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III. A Personal Lament (3:1–66)

The first twenty verses of this poem express the complaint of the writer who also is a member of the suffering nation. The language of this section is much like that of the complaints of Job against God. However, the mood of the writer changes quickly, and he expresses hope and confidence in God (vv. 21-42). The complaint is picked up again in vv. 43-54.

Unlike Job, the writer is clearly convinced that he and his nation are being punished because they have offended God with their sins (vv. 39, 42). Nonetheless, he maintains hope and remembers that his nation has not been totally destroyed because of God's great love (ḥeseḏ), and compassion (rāḥamîm) (vv. 22-23, 31-32). “Great is your faithfulness” (v. 23) is the joyous acclamation that comes out of the lips of the one whose heart has been pierced with arrows from God's quiver (see v. 13). In the midst of suffering, he proclaims that God is good and calls his people to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord (vv. 25-26; see Ro 8:22-25). At the present moment, the suffering community must bear the yoke and sit alone in silence, because both calamities and good things come from God (vv. 27-30, 37-38; see Job 2:10). The true character of God's people is best revealed through their patient waiting upon the Lord (see Ro 5:3-5). When suffering is the consequence of sin, the most appropriate thing to do then is to confess sin and to acknowledge guilt before God (vv. 39-42). God's ultimate will is not to cast his people off forever or to bring affliction upon them, but to restore them so that they may experience his unfailing love (vv. 31-33).

Vv. 34-36 introduce the theme of justice and human rights, which God will not allow to be perverted or to be denied to any individual. God's will is to liberate the captives and to protect the basic rights of individuals, of which the most significant is their right to live before him as his image. Those who have fallen from the grace of God and are living under bondage to sin are given hope of being restored into his image (see Isa 42:1-4; 61:1-3; Lk 4:18-19).

The lament of the community is continued in vv. 43-54. Those under judgment are deprived of any spiritual relationship with God. They are also treated by God as scum and refuse in the world, though they were once his prideful possession, a holy nation and a kingdom of priests (vv. 43-45; see Ex 19:5-6). Moreover, the nations in the world also treat them with contempt, hatred, and violence (vv. 46-54). Those who have been rejected by God are rejected also by the world.

The poem ends with a prayer for the punishment of the enemies of the suffering community (vv. 55-66). This prayer and other similar prayers in which God is asked to take action against the enemies have been a problem to the Christians on account of the love commandment in the NT (Mt 5:44). Most likely, the prayer here is not against the writer's own personal enemies, rather against those who defy God and who are stubbornly opposed to God's people. The only recourse for God's people in such cases is to leave that matter with God for him to act in judgment (2Ti 4:14-15).