It is easier to chide ourselves for complaining than to chide ourselves out of it. The prophet had owned that a living man should not complain, as if he checked himself for his complaints in the former part of the chapter; and yet here the clouds return after the rain and the wound bleeds afresh; for great pains must be taken with a troubled spirit to bring it into temper.
I. They confess the righteousness of God in afflicting them (Lam. 3:42): We have transgressed and have rebelled. Note, It becomes us, when we are in trouble, to justify God, by owning our sins, and laying the load upon ourselves for them. Call sin a transgression, call it a rebellion, and you do not miscall it. This is the result of their searching and trying their ways; the more they enquired into them the worse they found them. Yet,
II. They complain of the afflictions they are under, not without some reflections upon God, which we are not to imitate, but, under the sharpest trials, must always think and speak highly and kindly of him.
1. They complain of his frowns and the tokens of his displeasure against them. Their sins were repented of, and yet (Lam. 3:42), Thou hast not pardoned. They had not the assurance and comfort of the pardon; the judgments brought upon them for their sins were not removed, and therefore they thought they could not say the sin was pardoned, which was a mistake, but a common mistake with the people of God when their souls are cast down and disquieted within them. Their case was really pitiable, yet they complain, Thou hast not pitied, Lam. 3:43. Their enemies persecuted and slew them, but that was not the worst of it; they were but the instruments in God’s hand: “Thou hast persecuted us, and thou hast slain us, though we expected thou wouldst protect and deliver us.” They complain that there was a wall of partition between them and God, and, (1.) This hindered God’s favours from coming down upon them. The reflected beams of God’s kindness to them used to be the beauty of Israel; but now “thou hast covered us with anger, so that our glory is concealed and gone; now God is angry with us, and we do not appear that illustrious people that we have formerly been thought to be.” Or, “Thou hast covered us up as men that are buried are covered up and forgotten.” (2.) It hindered their prayers from coming up unto God (Lam. 3:44): “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud,” not like that bright cloud in which he took possession of the temple, which enabled the worshippers to draw near to him, but like that in which he came down upon Mount Sinai, which obliged the people to stand at a distance. “This cloud is so thick that our prayers seem as if they were lost in it; they cannot pass through; we cannot obtain an audience.” Note, The prolonging of troubles is sometimes a temptation, even to praying people, to question whether God be what they have always believed him to be, a prayer-hearing God.
2. They complain of the contempt of their neighbours and the reproach and ignominy they were under (Lam. 3:45): “Thou hast made us as the off-scouring, or scrapings, of the first floor, which are thrown to the dunghill.” This St. Paul refers to in his account of the sufferings of the apostles. 1 Cor. 4:13; We are made as the filth of the world and are the off-scouring of all things. “We are the refuse, or dross, in the midst of the people, trodden upon by every body, and looked upon as the vilest of the nations, and good for nothing but to be cast out as salt which has lost its savour. Our enemies have opened their mouths against us (Lam. 3:46), have gaped upon us as roaring lions, to swallow us up, or made mouths at us, or have taken liberty to say what they please of us.” These complaints we had before, Lam. 2:15, 16. Note, It is common for base and ill-natured men to run upon, and run down, those that have fallen into the depths of distress from the height of honour. But this they brought upon themselves by sin. If they had not made themselves vile, their enemies could not have made them so: but therefore men call them reprobate silver, because the Lord has rejected them for rejecting him.
3. They complain of the lamentable destruction that their enemies made of them (Lam. 3:47): Fear and a snare have come upon us; the enemies have not only terrified us with those alarms, but prevailed against us by their stratagems, and surprised us with the ambushes they laid for us; and then follows nothing but desolation and destruction, the destruction of the daughter of my people (Lam. 3:48), of all the daughters of my city, Lam. 3:51. The enemies, having taken some of them like a bird in a snare, chased others as a harmless bird is chased by a bird of prey (Lam. 3:52): My enemies chased me sorely like a bird which is beaten from bush to bush, as Saul hunted David like a partridge. Thus restless was the enmity of their persecutors, and yet causeless. They have done it without cause, without any provocation given them. Though God was righteous, they were unrighteous. David often complains of those that hated him without cause; and such are the enemies of Christ and his church, John 15:25. Their enemies chased them till they had quite prevailed over them (Lam. 3:53): They have cut off my life in the dungeon. They have shut up their captives in close and dark prisons, where they are as it were cut off from the land of the living (as Lam. 3:6), or the state and kingdom are sunk and ruined, the life and being of them are gone, and they are as it were thrown into the dungeon or grave and a stone cast upon them, such as used to be rolled to the door of the sepulchres. They look upon the Jewish nation as dead and buried, and imagine that there is not possibility of its resurrection. Thus Ezekiel saw it, in vision, a valley full of dead and dry bones. Their destruction is compared not only to the burying of a dead man, but to the sinking of a living man into the water, who cannot long be a living man there, Lam. 3:54. Waters of affliction flowed over my head. The deluge prevailed and quite overwhelmed them. The Chaldean forces broke in upon them as the breaking forth of waters, which rose so high as to flow over their heads; they could not wade, they could not swim, and therefore must unavoidably sink. Note, The distresses of God’s people sometimes prevail to such a degree that they cannot find any footing for their faith, nor keep their head above water, with any comfortable expectation.
4. They complain of their own excessive grief and fear upon this account. (1.) The afflicted church is drowned in tears, and the prophet for her (Lam. 3:48, 49): My eye runs down with rivers of water, so abundant was their weeping; it trickles down and ceases not, so constant was their weeping, without any intermission, there being no relaxation of their miseries. The distemper was in continual extremity, and they had no better day. It is added (Lam. 3:51), “My eye affects my heart. My seeing eye affects my heart. The more I look upon the desolation of the city and country the more I am grieved. Which way soever I cast my eye, I see that which renews my sorrow, even because of all the daughters of my city,” all the neighbouring towns, which were as daughters to Jerusalem the mother-city. Or, My weeping eye affects my heart; the venting of the grief, instead of easing it, did but increase and exasperate it. Or, My eye melts my soul; I have quite wept away my spirits; not only my eye is consumed with grief, but my soul and my life are spent with it, Ps. 31:9, 10. Great and long grief exhausts the spirits, and brings not only many a gray head, but many a green head too, to the grave. I weep, ways the prophet, more than all the daughters of my city (so the margin reads it); he outdid even those of the tender sex in the expressions of grief. And it is no diminution to any to be much in tears for the sins of sinners and the sufferings of saints; our Lord Jesus was so; for, when he came near, he beheld this same city and wept over it, which the daughters of Jerusalem did not. (2.) She is overwhelmed with fears, not only grieves for what is, but fears worse, and gives up all for gone (Lam. 3:54): “Then I said, I am cut off, ruined, and see no hope of recovery; I am as one dead.” Note, Those that are cast down are commonly tempted to think themselves cast off, Ps. 31:22; Jonah 2:4.
5. In the midst of these sad complaints here is one word of comfort, by which it appears that their case was not altogether so bad as they made it, Lam. 3:50. We continue thus weeping till the Lord look down and behold from heaven. This intimates, (1.) That they were satisfied that God’s gracious regard to them in their miseries would be an effectual redress of all their grievances. “If God, who now covers himself with a cloud, as if he took no notice of our troubles (Job 22:13), would but shine forth, all would be well; if he look upon us, we shall be saved,” Ps. 80:19; Dan. 9:17. Bad as the case is, one favourable look from heaven will set all to rights. (2.) That they had hopes that he would at length look graciously upon them and relieve them; nay, they take it for granted that he will: “Though he contend long, he will not contend for ever, thou we deserve that he should.” (3.) That while they continued weeping they continued waiting, and neither did nor would expect relief and succour from any hand but his; nothing shall comfort them but his gracious returns, nor shall any thing wipe tears from their eyes till he look down. Their eyes, which now run down with water, shall still wait upon the Lord their God until he have mercy upon them, Ps. 123:2.