There is only a single narrator in this one and it seems to be a man who has had this broad judgment of God land upon him (and his descriptions are rough). Yet, there is a turn in v.22, and he reminds himself of the things he knows of God and his character.
At the beginning here, we transition from this justice coming upon the nation of Judah/city of Jerusalem to the perspective of a single fella. It makes the situation much more personal. Where we were able to relegate some of the impacts in chapters 1 and 2 to a broad group who assuredly deserved what they were getting, here we have a man who could just as easily have been one of us, and we get to live out some of this judgment through his perspective.
This man has been in darkness (like the sun has fallen, get it?) and has thought it is certain that God’s hand was against him over and over again. It’s tough to know how much of v.2 and forward is intended to be literal (does he really have broken bones?) or is it a figurative description of what it’s like to be under God’s judgment? The ESV study notes on this are inconsistent, they seem to pick and choose which ones to take literally and which ones not to dependent, it seems, upon whether there is a compelling OT reference for the item in question. I’m not sure it matters either way as either are really possible in the chaotic circumstances of the Babylonian siege.
We do see similar themes carried through to a personal level from what we’ve heard in the first 2. This man is captive (v.7) and God is not listening to his prayers (v.8). And God seems to be hindering his progress at every potential turn (he has made his paths crooked.) The opposite, of course, is what is used to describe John the Baptizer’s work that God set up to prepare people for Jesus. God is a path man one way or the other.
In v.10, that bear/lion combo from Amos shows up (dang, I mean, that’s some consistency on how God speaks right there.) Obviously, “…tore me to pieces” has to be figurative, the man who is speaking is not dead. I’m not sure why the kidneys are in play in v.13 but it’s a very specific and intentional target. It’s also unclear as to whether it is this specific targeting that has made this man a laughingstock (maybe the arrow is still in his kidney, like sticking out of his body all goofy looking) or it’s just a continuation of how God has brought him low. He eats bitterness and drinks wormwood (also bitter, generally associated with some kind of rough times in the Bible, Revelation and Amos included).
Speaking of eating, he also eats gravel. Again, probably not literal, although it could be given the extent of the famine described in Jeremiah and referenced in Lamentations 2. This man has no joy, no hope of happiness, and he says, “My endurance has perished, so has my hope from the Lord.” He calls out that his troubles would be remembered by others as he himself continually remembers them.
But…in spite of all of this…our man remembers the following and has hope. The steadfast love of God never ceases! His mercies never come to an end! They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness, The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him”! I added the exclamation points (no punctuation would have been in the Hebrew). But what a thing to remember. Think of our modern cultural despondence about much more minor things as what this man is going through at the direct hand of God. And yet, his powerful reminders bring him hope. Man alive, we have got to fight for some perspective in our modern lives. We have blindness, relative cultural blindness, and assuredly the world around us and the Biblical examples in the OT should change that in us.
In v.25 our man extols the virtues of patience, in waiting on God to do what God does. It is not only necessary, it is good! Let him sit alone in silence, let him put his mouth in the dust, let him give his cheek to the one who strikes (familiar, yes?) and let him be filled with insults. What a call to perseverance!
And then the assurance that God will not tarry forever. Yes, he has caused grief here, but he will have compassion and does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. (Interesting, what do we call this, then? How does this narrator man see it this way?) In v.34, we are reminded of things God does not approve of – mistreatment of prisoners, the denial of Justice in the presence of God, he’s not down with it.
v.37 is a reminder of God’s sovereignty. To pull this all together, rough times have come upon God’s people and yes, God directed it. Yet, we know God is a God of endless mercy and faithfulness (even when Israel has not been faithful) and he abhors injustice. And so, yes, this is all at his hand. The major question here is, do we trust him? If He can be trusted, then we are assured He is just. If he cannot be trusted, than our laments will fall on deaf ears regardless.
Narrator man decides that God is indeed right and just here, so the reaction is that the community should test and examine their ways and return to the Lord! He cries out that the people would return to God and that, in turn, God would allow their prayers to go through, that ultimately He would return to them (remember the preceding themes of his absence from the Temple).
And this happens. Dig on v.55. In the depths of the pit (when our man is at his lowest), God does indeed hear him. In fact, God responds and says, “Do not fear!” Now we see that God has indeed taken up this man’s cause, redeemed his life (we should probably see all of this as a consequence to the calls of repentance in v.40 onward).
v.64, God will repay the the wrong done to this man by his enemies. Our man seems confident that the curse he is under will move to them and that same anger that landed on him will be directed to them and that God will pursue vengeance on his behalf.
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