The third poem in Lamentations is the pinnacle of the mountain of this book. You will notice that there are 66 verses instead of the 22 verses that the other poems in this book have. This third poem is still an acrostic, but there are three lines that begin with each successive letter of the alphabet, rather than one line like the previous two poems.
Hope Lost (3:1-20)
The first 20 verses of this poem describes the intensity of the author’s pain. His grief is so great that he is physically ill and has physical pain. “He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones” (3:4). Now his flesh was not falling off of him nor were his bones literally broken but he is using imagery to describe the physical anguish he feels for the pain he is in. Broken bones picture a loss of hope in the future. In the Old Testament the bones of the righteous are not broken which means they have hope in the future of what God will do (cf. Psalm 34:20; contrast Isaiah 38:13). Further, the author is swallowed up in bitterness (3:5). He feels walled in, chained down, and blocked off (3:7-8). God has shot arrows through his body, even into his bowels, crushing his emotions (3:10-13). His pain is so great that he says, “I have forgotten what happiness is” (3:17). The crowning statement for this section is in verse 18.
So I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” (3:18)
Has life made you feel this way? If you have been alive long enough I think you are able to declare that you have felt this way. We have been through such turmoil that are grief and sorrow have destroyed us from within. We have forgotten what happiness is. We are so surrounded by the darkness that there seems no hope for the future. Therefore, our strength and endurance have perished, and with that strength waning away, so has our hope. We must see the devastation the author is feeling. His grief is incalculable, his strength is gone, and his hope is lost. But notice that this is not the end of the poem nor is this the end of the book. Too many times people stop right here. They are consumed by grief and wallow in their pain and sorrow. But we are learning that this is not where we stop! We cannot stay in this situation. Even though our days are filled with bitterness and tears, we cannot end our day on this note. The author, even in the midst of great pain and grief, is going to teach us how we can go forward through our sorrows.
Hope Renewed (3:21-24)
Listen to verse 21 because what the author does here is very important for handling our times of deep despair and grief. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Notice the author commits to an act of the will, rather than acting on his emotions and feelings. He does not say that all is hopeless and therefore he will give up in his hopeless despair. Not at all! He says that he will put something in his mind while he is in this state of pain and grief. He is going to put hope in his heart because he is going to put his mind on something in particular. Verses 22-24 record what he is going to think about. Essentially, the author is going to preach to himself in his time of despair. Here is what he preaches to himself:
The steadfast love of the Lord 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.” (Lamentations 3:22–24 ESV)
The first thing he preaches to himself is that the steadfast love of the Lord never ends. God’s faithful, covenant love never stops. His compassion and his mercies never come to an end. They never fail. The author recalls the multiple proofs of God’s faithful love. He calls to mind how God’s love never ends. Think about how God has been faithful to you. Think about how God has done good for you repeatedly in the past. His love never fails toward you. This is the knowledge we have to help us in our time of grief and despair.
Second, the author preaches to himself that the steadfast love and mercies of the Lord are renewed every morning. Every day presents a new opportunity to experience a fresh outpouring of God’s great love and compassion! Each day offers new hope for the compassion of God to be on display in your life. While the future looks dark and all seems hopeless, each day is another day to see the steadfast love of the Lord. The author is calling upon himself to live one day at a time. Just see the mercy of God for today. Do not worry about tomorrow’s difficulties and issues. Live in the compassion and mercy of God today. Great is the faithfulness of God! He will get you through today. God is faithful toward us each and every day.
Third, you will notice that the author speaks to himself again in verse 24. His soul says, “The Lord is my portion.” A portion relates to the land allotted by God to each Israelite. Notice that the author says the Lord is his portion. He declares his dependence on the Lord for his provisions and his survival. God will take care of me is what he is preaching to himself. Therefore, the author’s conclusion is: “Therefore I will hope in him.” We have a saying in our culture: “Hope springs eternal.” If you have been in sorrow and grief then you will know that this is not the case. What is true is this, if we can modify the saying: Hope springs eternal only when hope is focused on the Lord. This is how we give ourselves the hope and courage we need in times of pain and grief.
Hope Proclaimed (3:25-39)
Now the author takes his hope and proclaims to the rest of the people who are in grief and pain. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Verses 25-26 proclaim the need to wait for the Lord and seek the Lord. Wait for his deliverance. Wait for his salvation. The Lord will help but we must seek him and wait for him.
Now the author gets to preaching to himself and the people in verses 27-30. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” This is a reference to the yoke of suffering and pain because it is instructive and is helpful to a person. The earlier we learn from this yoke, the more valuable it will be for later in life. Accept God’s will and refuse to complain (3:28). Bow before the Lord and be humble in heart and mouth (3:29). Remember that we are servants of the Lord (3:30). Remember who you are. Submit to the Lord. Bow and have hope.
His message continues by building faith. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” Even in grief, God will have compassion because of his abundant steadfast love.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18–19 ESV)
Here is a great picture of the character of God. “For he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (3:33). The punishment for the people’s sins is not from his heart. It is not willingly. He does not want to have to judge people but he must because God is just. This is the point of verses 34-36. God is just and does not approve of our sinful ways. This takes us back to the first point the author made in the first poem. God is always right. You see this idea in verses 37-39. Who are we to complain against God? We are the ones who are full of sins! God is in the right. God is always just. God is pure and holy. We are only getting what we rightfully deserve. In fact, we are not receiving what we should for our sins because of the steadfast love of the Lord toward us. This keeps our minds in the right frame of mind. This keeps us in humility when we see that we deserve nothing and everything we have in life is a grace poured out from God.
Hope In Prayer! (3:40-51)
With this, the author declares that we need examine our ways and pray to the Lord. Any time we examine ourselves and look at our lives honestly, it should cause us to pray because we know that we have woefully fallen short of God’s glory. So we turn to the Lord, tearing our hearts before our God (cf. Joel 2:13). So the author will continue to pour out his tears and prayers to the Lord until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees. Remember this was what the author cried in the first poem. He had no words in his prayer except, “Look, O Lord.” He will continue to pray because he has hope in the steadfast love of the Lord whose mercies are new each morning.
Hope For Restoration (3:52-66)
Notice the feelings of despair that continue in the heart of the author and in the hearts of the people in verses 52-54. The despair is so great that it is as if water has closed over his head and he is drowning. He says that he is lost. But listen to what happens. In the depths of his despair he cried to the Lord and the Lord heard his plea (3:55-57). God came near when he cried out to the Lord and gave him the hope and courage he needs. Hope comes from calling on the name of the Lord, turning to him in prayer without rest. Now the author sees that God is near him and has taken up his cause. God sees what has happened to this one who cries out to God. God sees the evil of those who are afflicting him (3:58-63).
Here is the author’s hope: God will repay (3:64-66). God is going to take care of all of this suffering, pain, and grief one day. Because God is a just and faithful God and because he compassionate toward those who wait for him and seek him, he knows that God will act faithfully against those who have brought this pain to him.
Messages From The Lament
God’s people recognize that their lives are not determined by some cold, impersonal fate or destiny. Our lives are in the hands of the living God, who is good, who hears our cries, and will act for his people. Our praise and hope are motivated by the knowledge of this truth: the Lord is good and the Lord is faithful. God’s goodness is intrinsic to his glory (cf. Exodus 34:6-7; Mark 10:18). The compassion of God is particularly helpful for us to consider in grief. The compassion of God is an aspect of his love which focuses particularly on the depth and tenderness of his feelings toward his people when they are in need. This is the author’s hope. Even though he feels that all hope is lost, he is able to tell himself and others that God’s faithfulness is great and his mercies are new every day.