We may observe throughout this chapter a struggle in the prophet’s breast between sense and faith, fear and hope; he complains and then comforts himself, yet drops his comforts and returns again to his complaints, as Ps. 42:1-11. But, as there, so here, faith gets the last word and comes off a conqueror; for in these verses he concludes with some comfort. And here are two things with which he comforts himself:—
I. His experience of God’s goodness even in his affliction. This may refer to the prophet’s personal experience, with which he encourages himself in reference to the public troubles. He that has seasonably succoured particular saints will not fail the church in general. Or it may include the remnant of good people that were among the Jews, who had found that it was not in vain to wait upon God. In three things the prophet and his pious friends had found God good to them:—1. He had heard their prayers; though they had been ready to fear that the cloud of wrath was such as their prayers could not pass through (Lam. 3:44), yet upon second thoughts, or at least upon further trial, they find it otherwise, and that God had not said unto them, Seek you me in vain. When they were in the low dungeon, as free among the dead, they called upon God’s name (Lam. 3:55); their weeping did not hinder praying. Note, Though we are cast into ever so low a dungeon, we may thence find a way of access to God in the highest heavens. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee (Ps. 130:1), as Jonah out of the whale’s belly. And could God hear them out of the low dungeon, and would he? Yes, he did: Thou hast heard my voice; and some read the following words as carrying on the same thankful acknowledgment: Thou didst not hide thy ear at my breathing, at my cry; and the original will bear that reading. We read it as a petition for further audience: Hide not thy ear. God’s having heard our voice when we cried to him, even out of the low dungeon, is an encouragement for us to hope that he will not at any time hide his ear. Observe how he calls prayer his breathing; for in prayer we breathe towards God, we breathe after him. Though we be but weak in prayer, cannot cry aloud, but only breathe in groanings that cannot be uttered, yet we shall not be neglected if we be sincere. Prayer is the breath of the new man, sucking in the air of mercy in petitions and returning it in praises; it is both the evidence and the maintenance of the spiritual life. Some read it, at my gasping. “When I lay gasping for life, and ready to expire, and thought i was breathing my last, then thou tookest cognizance of my distressed case.” 2. He had silenced their fears and quieted their spirits (Lam. 3:57): “Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee; thou didst graciously assure me of thy presence with me, and give me to see thee nigh unto me, whereas I had thought thee to be at a distance from me.” Note, When we draw nigh to God in a way of duty we may by faith see him drawing nigh to us in a way of mercy. But this was not all: Thou saidst, Fear not. This was the language of God’s prophets preaching to them not to fear (Isa. 41:10, 13, 14), of his providence preventing those things which they were afraid of, and of his grace quieting their minds, and making them easy, by the witness of his Spirit with their spirits that they were his people still, though in distress, and therefore ought not to fear. 3. He had already begun to appear for them (Lam. 3:58): “O Lord! thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul” (that is, as it follows), “thou hast redeemed my life, hast rescued that out of the hands of those who would have taken it away, hast saved that when it was ready to be swallowed up, hast given me that for a prey.” And this is an encouragement to them to hope that he would yet further appear for them: “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, and therefore wilt deliver my feet from falling; thou hast pleaded the causes of my life, and therefore wilt plead my other causes.”
II. He comforts himself with an appeal to God’s justice, and (in order to the sentence of that) to his omniscience.
1. He appeals to God’s knowledge of the matter of fact, how very spiteful and malicious his enemies were (Lam. 3:59): “O Lord! thou hast seen my wrong, that I have done no wrong at all, but suffer a great deal.” He that knows all things knew, (1.) The malice they had against him: “Thou hast seen all their vengeance, how they desire to do me a mischief, as if it were by way of reprisal for some great injury I had done them.” Note, We should consider, to our terror and caution, that God knows all the revengeful thoughts we have in our minds against others, and therefore we should not allow of those thoughts nor harbour them, and that he knows all the revengeful thoughts others have causelessly in their minds against us, and therefore we should not be afraid of them, but leave it to him to protect us from them. (2.) The designs and projects they had laid to do him a mischief: Thou hast seen all their imaginations against me (Lam. 3:60), and again, “Thou hast heard all their imaginations against me (Lam. 3:61), both the desire and the device they have to ruin me; whether it show itself in word or deed, it is known to thee; nay, though the products of it are not to be seen nor heard, yet their device against me all the day is perceived and understood by him to whom all things are naked and open.” Note, The most secret contrivances of the church’s enemies are perfectly known to the church’s God, from whom they can hide nothing. (3.) The contempt and calumny wherewith they loaded him, all that they spoke slightly of him, and all that they spoke reproachfully: “Thou hast heard their reproach (Lam. 3:61), all the bad characters they give me, laying to my charge things that I know not, all the methods they use to make me odious and contemptible, even the lips of those that rose up against me (Lam. 3:62), the contumelious language they use whenever they speak of me, and that at their sitting down and rising up, when they lie down at night and get up in the morning, when they sit down to their meat and with their company, and when they rise from both, still I am their music; they make themselves and one another merry with my miseries, as the Philistines made sport with Samson.” Jerusalem was the tabret they played upon. Perhaps they had some tune or play, some opera or interlude, that was called the destruction of Jerusalem, which, though in the nature of a tragedy, was very entertaining to those who wished ill to the holy city. Note, God will one day call sinners to account for all the hard speeches which they have spoken against him and his people, Jude 1:15.
2. He appeals to God’s judgment upon this fact: “Lord, thou hast seen my wrong; there is no need of any evidence to prove it, nor any prosecutor to enforce and aggravate it; thou seest it in its true colours; and now I leave it with thee. Judge thou my cause, Lam. 3:59. Let them be dealt with,” (1.) “As they deserve (Lam. 3:64): Render to them a recompence according to the work of their hands. Let them be dealt with as they have dealt with us; let thy hand be against them as their hand has been against us. They have created us a great deal of vexation; now, Lord, give them sorrow of heart (Lam. 3:65), perplexity of heart” (so some read it); “let them be surrounded with threatening mischiefs on all sides, and not be able to see their way out. Give them despondence of heart” (so others read it); “let them be driven to despair, and give themselves up for gone.” God can entangle the head that thinks itself clearest, and sink the heart that thinks itself stoutest. (2.) “Let them be dealt with according to the threatenings: Thy curse unto them; that is, let thy curse come upon them, all the evils that are pronounced in thy word against the enemies of thy people, Lam. 3:65. They have loaded us with curses; as they loved cursing, so let it come unto them, thy curse which will make them truly miserable. Theirs is causeless, and therefore fruitless, it shall not come; but thine is just, and shall take effect. Those whom thou cursest are cursed indeed. Let the curse be executed, Lam. 3:66. Persecute and destroy them in anger, as they persecute and destroy us in their anger. Destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord; let them have no benefit of the light and influence of the heavens. Destroy them in such a manner that all who see it may say, It is a destruction from the Almighty, who sits in the heavens and laughs at them (Ps. 2:4), and may own that the heavens do rule,” Dan. 4:26. What is said of the idols is here said of their worshippers (who in this also shall be like unto them), They shall perish from under these heavens, Jer. 10:11. They shall be not only excluded from the happiness of the invisible heavens, but cut off from the comfort even of these visible ones, which are the heavens of the Lord (Ps. 115:16) and which those therefore are unworthy to be taken under the protection of who rebel against him.
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