1 - 18 The Man Who Saw Affliction
1 I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
2 He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
3 Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
4 He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
6 In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
7 He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
8 Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.
9 He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
10 He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
[Like] a lion in secret places.
11 He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;
He has made me desolate.
12 He bent His bow
And set me as a target for the arrow.
13 He made the arrows of His quiver
To enter into my inward parts.
14 I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
Their [mocking] song all the day.
15 He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
17 My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
18 So I say, “My strength has perished,
And [so has] my hope from the LORD.”
In verse 1, there is a new ‘I’ person. In Lamentations 1, the ‘I’ person is the city speaking out about the suffering that has come upon her. In Lamentations 2, it is Jeremiah who speaks of and to the city, to voice her lament to the LORD. That chapter concludes with that as well. Now we come to a third “I”. The city has spoken in the female form. But now a man speaks. It is someone from among the people who has experienced suffering himself and now describes it as his own personal suffering. Who else could this be but Jeremiah?
“Seen” here implies not only observation, but also participation in it. It means here an actual experiencing. Furthermore, it also appears that this man is innocent. He does make himself one with the guilty people and speaks of “we”, but personally he can say in verse 52 that he has enemies who pursue him without cause. The people in Lamentations 1 cannot say that. They are partly to blame. But here someone is speaking very personally, someone from the guilty people, but who is himself innocent.
We also hear here the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in the remnant from the time then. That is how it will be in the future. The faithful remnant will have to experience everything. They will suffer doubly: both at the hands of the enemies from outside and at the hands of the apostate people from inside.
This has been the part of the Lord Jesus, Who makes Himself one with this remnant. We often hear this in Psalms. His voice makes itself one with that of the remnant. We hear the Innocent speak, “I am the man”. The rod of God’s wrath comes down on Him.
The depth of Jeremiah’s suffering is reflected in the three complaints in verses 1-3. He has “seen”, experienced, and witnessed misery
1. through the rod of the LORD’s wrath (verse 1),
2. because the LORD leads him into darkness (verse 2), and
3. because the LORD turns His hand against him again and again (verse 3).
In contrast to the expectation of being led by God as his Shepherd into light and joy, he has been driven in darkness, which is misery (verse 2). The word for “driven” does not have the meaning of God’s gracious guidance, but of driving animals. He was driven harshly by the rod of God’s wrath.
The suffering he experiences as a result is without ceasing (verse 3). It goes on and on, without a moment to be able to take a breath. We can think of the great tribulation for the remnant, but also of the Lord Jesus and His suffering on the cross.
In verses 4-18 follow the evidence of His suffering. In them we hear how this suffering was experienced. The first evidence is the wasting away of His flesh and skin and the breaking of His bones (verse 4). Flesh, skin and bones make up the whole body. The breaking down of the individual parts may be the result of a serious illness (cf. Psa 38:3) or an aging process, where everything breaks down and wastes away. The breaking of the bones refers to the removal of all strength and an end to the ability to live (Isa 38:13).
In doing so, he indicates the severity of this illness. The removal of the strength to bear it shows the depth of his suffering. All his strength is failing him. We hear here the language of Psalm 22 and Psalm 69. We also hear someone like Job speaking in these verses (Job 7:5; 19:20; 30:30).
In verse 5 we are confronted with suffering from the outside. Jeremiah uses the picture of a besieged city, against which the enemy is erecting a siege wall to harass the inhabitants of the city. His suffering feels, as if the LORD has thrown up a rampart of bitterness and hardship against him. He is surrounded by it, hemmed in. From all sides, destruction grins at him like a high, impregnable wall. Nebuchadnezzar has built against Jerusalem and surrounded the city (Jer 52:4), but Jeremiah knows that the LORD is doing it.
He feels so hopeless and despairing that he already counts himself among those who have died (verse 6; Psa 143:3). His comparison with “those who have long been dead” also means that he is not only abandoned and alone, but also that he is forgotten, gone from memory. No one thinks of him anymore. That is how hopeless he feels. Inside wasting away, around him a wall, while he is in deadly darkness (Psa 88:10-12). Is there a more tragic condition imaginable in which a human being can find himself?
Verses 7-9 are a climax and evaluation of the previous three verses, reflecting his feelings of total loss of freedom of movement. Jeremiah feels like someone who is completely walled in (verse 7). He is encased in concrete that surrounds him like armor. He feels surrounded by a wall of misery inflicted upon him by the LORD. In his stone shell he is also bound with chains of bronze. The chains of bronze with which Zedekiah was brought to Babylon (Jer 39:7; 52:11), he feels as if he was bound with them himself. This is hard on the prophet to whom the LORD promised that He would make him walls of bronze against the people (Jer 1:18).
Jeremiah feels so hemmed in that he believes that even his prayer does not reach God’s ears (verse 8; verse 44). It is dramatic to experience that God does not hear, that He closes His ears to prayer (cf. Psa 22:1b-2; 77:9). The way out upward also seems closed.
Not only does he feel himself enclosed in a narrow, walled-off space, but he also sees that all his roads, if he could go them, are blocked with hewn stones (verse 9; cf. Job 19:8). And if he could go a way, it turns out to be crooked. We cannot enter a road that is blocked (cf. Hos 2:5b). If we go a crooked way, we won’t end up where we want to be. Here, to Jeremiah’s feelings, the LORD makes his path crooked. He is not coming out to Him. That is something to be distraught about. Balaam’s way is also blocked by the LORD (Num 22:26), but that is because this bad man is on his way to do a bad work.
In verse 10 the picture changes again (cf. Hos 13:7-8; Amos 5:19). Jeremiah experiences God as “like a bear lying in wait” and “a lion in secret places”. A bear and a lion are tearing animals that know no compassion. They are out to attack and devour their prey unexpectedly. They lurk and hide and wait patiently until their unsuspecting prey is near them. Then they strike ruthlessly.
It is to him as if the LORD has so deflected his ways that he did have to fall into the claws of the bear and the lion (verse 11). The LORD has allowed him to fall into a trap. In this way the LORD has torn his life apart and made him desolate. There is no life left in his life and it cannot emerge from it.
The next picture of the LORD looms before Jeremiah: that of an archer (verse 12). He feels himself the prey of God’s arrow on the bow that He has stretched against him and aimed at him. He experiences that God is after him.
The arrows from the LORD’s quiver hit him in his inward parts, literally his kidneys (verse 13; cf. Deu 32:23; Job 16:13). The kidneys are the seat of wisdom (Psa 16:7; mind is literally kidneys). He has lost all his wisdom. He cannot understand or reconcile this with what he knows of God.
Besides feeling like the target of God’s arrows, he is also the target of jeers (verse 14). It is not here as in Lamentations 1 where the people lament about their enemies, but here Jeremiah speaks as the innocent about what his own people do to him (Jer 20:7b).
What Jeremiah says in verse 15 is the experience of Job (Job 9:18; cf. Rth 1:20). The LORD has said that He will do this to Judah and the false prophets (Jer 9:15; 23:15), but now that fate befalls the faithful prophet. Instead of good food, he is given nothing but bitter food to eat. It is not even possible to refuse it, for it is administered to him. He has to eat it. He is saturated with it and drenched in it.
Taking in that bitter food is like biting on gravel (verse 16). Biting one’s teeth on gravel is the punishment for telling lies (Pro 20:17). When you have that experience, even though you have always spoken the truth, you feel being pressed down in dust or ashes (cf. Jer 6:26). Then there is no more peace, nor is there any memory of the good (verse 17).
Verse 18 is a kind of conclusion to the previous verses, in which Jeremiah expressed his feelings (cf. verse 54b). Such a spiritual state of utter despair robs a person of all his strength. What is left when nothing remains of what was expected of the LORD? The lament ends in despair. Yet despair does not have the last word. Despair brings to prayer and prayer brings to hope. We see this in the following verses.
The question may well be asked what we do with our laments when we become despondent and think that the expectation of the Lord is gone. When that expectation is gone, what good is prayer? As a result, multitudes have fallen away from the faith, showing that they had no living relationship with the Lord. But for the believer, precisely when there is despair, the way out is to pray again.
19 - 21 Prayer
19 Remember my affliction and my wandering,
the wormwood and bitterness.
20 Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Even though Jeremiah thinks the LORD does not hear (verse 8), he continues to pray (verse 19). He cannot help but think of the LORD. It simply cannot be that the LORD does not hear. Would it leave Him unmoved when He sees his misery and homeless situation? Would it not move Him when He notices the wormwood and the bitterness that the wretched must take to himself as a bitter, disgusting food?
For all the despair, he himself cannot help but think of the LORD (verse 20). Then new hope comes (verse 21). The hope was gone, there was despair, but after prayer there is hope again. There is the reminder of what kind of God he is dealing with, that He is and remains merciful and gracious. He takes this to heart. He takes here an intention of heart. He ‘regroups’ himself. That is why hope suddenly flares up here.
Isn’t it the same with us? We can also sometimes fail to see the aforementioned attributes of God for a time. We can become despondent about it, all the more so when we only see suffering and distress and ruin. But when we remember that He is greater than all distress, we will intend to stay with Him (cf. Acts 11:23) because He is the unchanging One. Then hope also returns.
It is important, however, to keep in mind the difference there is between an Old Testament believer and a New Testament believer. The Old Testament believer does not know full salvation through the work of Christ. He lives one moment in the assurance that he has been accepted by God, while the next moment he may have lost that assurance again.
The believer who lives after the work of Christ on the cross may live in the full assurance of salvation. That he may occasionally go through a period when this is not so experienced by him is something else than doubting salvation.
However, it may be that even believers in this day and age do not live in the full assurance of salvation. The cause of this is usually wrong teaching from God’s Word. This is especially the case with those who use the law as the standard for their lives.
22 - 33 Insights and Perspectives
22 The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
23 [They] are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
26 [It is] good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD.
27 [It is] good for a man that he should bear
The yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone and be silent
Since He has laid [it] on him.
29 Let him put his mouth in the dust,
Perhaps there is hope.
30 Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
Let him be filled with reproach.
31 For the Lord will not reject forever,
32 For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
33 For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.
Now instead of lamenting he begins to speak of the LORD’s lovingkindnesses (verse 22). For the first time in this chapter he involves the whole people. He does not say “that I am not consumed”, but “that we are not consumed” [as ‘indeed never cease’ can also be translated]. In verses 40-47 he also speaks in the plural. He knows that his feelings about the lovingkindness, compassion and faithfulness of the LORD are shared by all who cling to the LORD in their distress.
The eyes must be open for it to be able to say that. We learn this in our dealings with God. If we have an eye for His lovingkindness and that His compassion never fails, there is the comfort of His presence every day (verse 23). Each day we may begin with that and count on it to remain with us, for His faithfulness is great. Each new day is a renewal of God’s goodness.
To say that the LORD is kind and compassionate means that they feel supported by Him in the need in which they are. To say that His faithfulness is great means that they count on Him to keep His promises. One is for the present and the other for the future. For one, the believer looks upward; for the other, the believer looks forward. Both aspects are an encouragement to hold fast to Him.
What Jeremiah says in verse 24 is also what the priest and Levite say, who have no portion in the land, but whose portion is the LORD (Num 18:20; cf. Psa 16:5a; 73:26; 119:57a). He is their ground of life; He will provide for them and sustain them. By “my soul” is meant the whole person.
No support is left for him but the LORD alone. It is now not just a hope in what the LORD gives, as in verses 21-23, but a hope in the LORD Himself. It is not a general hope, but a hope with an Object. This is how Jeremiah overcomes his despair. He communicates this so that all who are in great suffering will also have that hope. To have God as our portion is the only basis for hope.
Verses 25-27 all three begin not only with the same letter, but also with the same word, the word “good” (tow). This word expresses the will and intention of God. These verses show three aspects of goodness. The first aspect is the goodness of the LORD Himself, of His nature, His Being (verse 25). When the prophet has sight of this again, he testifies to it. Even though the LORD must bring pain and suffering, it is necessary to hold on to the fact that He is good. He expresses it that the LORD is good to everyone who waits for Him. This He is not only for him, but for all who seek Him.
The second aspect of goodness has the believer’s happiness in mind. It is good if we do not consume our strength with lamenting and grumbling, but wait for God’s time and expect our help from Him (verse 26). He gives relief in His time. Therefore it is good to hope for His salvation, His outcome, and to wait for it silently.
Even though we are in great distress and even though we have to denounce ourselves because of our sins and even though we have to see God’s wrath in what is happening, if we flee to Him, He gives relief. Again, it is important to keep in mind the distinction already mentioned between an Old Testament believer and the New Testament believer (verse 21).
The third aspect of goodness is bearing the yoke that the LORD puts on someone in his youth (verse 27). It involves bowing under what He brings upon someone. One is taught not to rebel against it, but to accept it in the knowledge that God’s goodness governs it. The intention is that someone in the growth and blossoming of his life already learns to deal with situations of brokenness and failing strength.
Such a yoke is good because it paves the way to the good of the previous two verses. The yoke teaches one to submit to the will of the LORD. Many have problems with the yoke later because they did not learn to bear it in their youth. It is about learning to bear the yoke of obedience and trust. Those who are exercised in it will have an easier time later. If we only spoil our children and always give them what they ask for, they will not know how to deal with setbacks later.
Also, verses 28-30 begin not only with the same letter, but also with the same encouraging word, the word “let”. In connection with the previous verses, this means that those who acknowledge that the LORD is good can show it in their attitude under suffering. There is an ascending level of difficulty in these verses. Verse 29 is more difficult than verse 28, while verse 30 is even more difficult than verse 29.
The yoke in youth (verse 27) is the yoke of suffering that the LORD imposes (verse 28). The yoke of service He imposes will separate a person from ordinary life and make him one who is cast out. To sit alone and be silent involves both acceptance of God’s will and the refusal to lament to people.
Young people especially have had a hard time during the siege and fall of Jerusalem. Their whole future lies in ruins with the city. They find it difficult to bear their fate. However, if they have the same firm confidence in God’s promises in these terrible circumstances as Jeremiah has expressed here, it will bring them enormous spiritual gain.
Then there should be no rebellion, but a quiet acceptance of it (verse 29). It is suffering for His sake. Then we bear His yoke. The word “perhaps” does not remove the certainty of hearing. The word expresses that there is no right to be heard and that it cannot be claimed.
Bearing the yoke leads to the willingness to be treated like a slave (verse 30). The bidding of the cheek here means that the people are bowing under the judgment that God is exercising. It is He Who strikes. When the Lord Jesus speaks of turning the other cheek (Mt 5:39), it has to do with other people hurting us for His sake. It is going the way of reproach after Him and on that way experiencing what His portion has been.
If the Lord is our portion, that is our portion also. He gave His back to those who stroke Him, and His cheeks to those who plucked out the beard (Isa 50:6). Many bear in patience the afflictions that come from God, but when people do something to them, they react in anger. The God-fearing endure the latter as well as the former as sent from God.
Also, verses 31-33 begin not only with the same letter but also with the same word, the reasoning word “for”. They give reasons that make bearing the yoke easier for they offer hope and prospects. We may feel that He has rejected us forever, but He does not (verse 31). For Jeremiah, He is “the Lord” (Adonai), Who controls everything; nothing gets out of His hands. He determines both the severity and duration of the suffering. The time of suffering is over when He has accomplished His purpose with it.
Again, we have here the enormous contrast with the experience of the New Testament believer. We may say: “We know.” This is not pride or a false sense of security, but the language of one who sees the sacrifice of Christ as God sees it. The uncertainty of the Old Testament believer has been removed by the Offering for New Testament believers and replaced by the certainty that God is for us.
Another reason to bear the yoke and not cast it off is the knowledge that after He has caused grief, He also has compassion (verse 32). And He does this in an overwhelming way. He not only takes away all sorrow, but He does so in a way that that sorrow is forgotten in light of “His abundant lovingkindness”. That great lovingkindness is so compassionate that nothing remains of the sadness (cf. 2Cor 4:16-17).
The third reason to accept the yoke is the knowledge of God’s heart (verse 33). He is not a God Who takes pleasure in afflicting and grieving people. He does so with pain in His heart. Yet He knows that this is necessary because He wants man to return to Him. Therefore, He does it out of love.
34 - 39 The Lord Sees Evil
34 To crush under His feet
All the prisoners of the land,
35 To deprive a man of justice
In the presence of the Most High,
36 To defraud a man in his lawsuit—
Of these things the Lord does not approve.
37 Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass,
Unless the Lord has commanded [it]?
38 [Is it] not from the mouth of the Most High
That both good and ill go forth?
39 Why should [any] living mortal, or [any] man,
Offer complaint in view of his sins?
Jeremiah now deals in one long sentence (verses 34-36) with the objections of people to what he has just said. Also these three verses begin not only with the same letter, but also with the same word, the word “to” or “that”. This word is the introduction to the observation of some facts which the believer perceives and which he cannot reconcile with God’s goodness. Nor can he see causing grief as an evidence of His love.
Someone may object: ‘It may be true that the LORD does not bring grief willingly, but what about the evils and troubles that people bring upon us?’ Surely, God’s people suffered greatly from the inhumane treatment of the Babylonians (verse 34). The enemy crushed them under his [not: His] feet.
Added to this is the fact that they are burdened with utter lawlessness and are defrauded in lawsuit (verses 35-36). Justice is being bent, not caring that they are committing this injustice “in the presence of the Most High”. Why should they? The Most High does not seem to care. He does not intervene to punish this injustice.
The doers of evil do not remember that He is omnipresent and that nothing is hidden from Him. This leads them not only to pervert the law, but to act in total contradiction to it. Those who stand in their right are proven wrong. The believers wonder if God even knows, if He sees, and if He still cares about them.
Jeremiah responds to this with the question which is at the same time the answer, that the Lord certainly does see all evil. Nothing escapes Him, nor does He forget all the evil that has been and is being done. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25b). Here, asking the question is like answering it. Of course He does justice. There is no evil that happens on earth over which He would have lost control. Man has no power and evil does not have free rein to do what pleases them without the permission or direct will of God. He is “the Most High”, that is, He is above every conceivable power. He is “the Lord”, Adonai, which is the sovereign Ruler.
Verses 37-38 underscore the omnipotent power of “the Lord”, which necessitates the acceptance of His will. When He speaks, something always happens, whether in view of creation (Psa 33:9; Gen 1:3), or as here (verse 37) in view of the relationships among the people. Everything, both good and ill, comes from the hand of God (verse 38; Isa 45:7; Amos 3:6b). No one can act in his own right. Each is dependent on Him. How, then, would God have no knowledge of what befalls them? Do they think this is beyond God’s control?
“The Most High” is above all people and nations. Everything is under His authority. Kings may think that they govern everything, but they only do what He determines. The Most High has everything under His control. He determines whether trouble or peace should be sent, He decrees whether evil or good events or times are needed. What befell Israel came from God’s hand as punishment for their sins. What happens to us comes from Him and not from a stranger. That thought helps to find peace in the circumstances.
Jeremiah rejects the objections with a question that is an answer (verse 39). No man who is alive has a reason to complain to God. The fact that he is alive is already a proof of God’s mercy. His power does not fall short. The only thing they (and we) may complain about is about their (our) sins, not about circumstances. To complain about our circumstances is to complain against and about God. These words are preparation for the next section.
40 - 45 Prayer of the People
40 Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the LORD.
41 We lift up our heart and hands
Toward God in heaven;
42 We have transgressed and rebelled,
You have not pardoned.
43 You have covered [Yourself] with anger
And pursued us;
You have slain [and] have not spared.
44 You have covered Yourself with a cloud
So that no prayer can pass through.
45 [You have made us mere] offscouring and refuse
In the midst of the peoples.
These verses connect directly to verse 39 and contain the call to lament about themselves before the LORD. The prophet here is going to speak in the “we” form. He is speaking on behalf of the people here, leading them down the road of confessing their sins. The first thing to do is to examine their ways, that is of their deeds, to discover where things have gone wrong (verse 40). Then they will see that the fault lies in leaving the LORD. Therefore, they must return to Him.
Let them turn to Him in prayer, toward God in heaven (verse 41) and no longer to the queen of heaven and other pagan idols. It must be a genuine return to the LORD, that is with the heart, and not a meaningless outward waving of the hands. The lifting up of the hands is the usual attitude of prayer (Exo 9:33; 1Kgs 8:22; Ezra 9:5; cf. Psa 25:1; 143:8). But the point is that the heart, the whole inner man, is involved in prayer.
The failure to forgive has been shown by the disciplining (verse 42) that has come because of their unrepentant attitude and persistence in sin. Here they acknowledge the righteousness that God has not forgiven, for their confession has not been a matter of their heart (verse 44).
In verses 43-45, the prophet goes on to acknowledge God’s righteous anger. The people admit that because of their sins the LORD must cover Himself with anger as if it were a garment (verse 43). The people see from Him only His anger. He must pursue them because they want to flee the righteous discipline. But He knows how to find them and kills them, not sparing them.
Besides covering Himself with anger and killing them without sparing them, He also covers Himself with a cloud (verse 44). In this way He makes Himself inaccessible to them. They experience this when they cry out to Him. Their prayer does not come to Him, because it is not a prayer of repentance for their sins, but only because of the misery in which they are.
That which has escaped His anger has been made by Him to be offscouring and refuse (verse 45). There is nothing left of their former fame and the former prestige they had among the peoples. For Paul, this is an experience because of his faithfulness to the commission he received from his Lord (1Cor 4:13b).
46 - 54 Renewed Complaints
46 All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
47 Panic and pitfall have befallen us,
Devastation and destruction;
48 My eyes run down with streams of water
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
49 My eyes pour down unceasingly,
50 Until the LORD looks down
And sees from heaven.
51 My eyes bring pain to my soul
Because of all the daughters of my city.
52 My enemies without cause
Hunted me down like a bird;
53 They have silenced me in the pit
And have placed a stone on me.
54 Waters flowed over my head;
I said, “I am cut off!”
Jeremiah goes on to describe the vile treatment they are subjected to on the part of the enemy. He sees all their enemies open their mouths to devour them (verse 46). This fills them with fear. He sees the pitfall, devastation and destruction before him, with no one to save (verse 47). That whole sight fills him with intense sorrow, so that tears run down from his eye like streams of water (verse 48). The downfall of the daughter of his people affects him deeply.
He will continue to cry, he cannot do otherwise, for he has no rest (verse 49). There will only be rest, when “the LORD looks down and sees from heaven” (verse 50; cf. Exo 3:7-10). That is, He will then look upon His people and come down to redeem them. What Jeremiah now sees is a torment to his soul (verse 51). All the daughters of his city are in deep misery.
In verses 52-54 Jeremiah compares himself
1. to a bird that is the target of a hunter (verse 52),
2. to a wild beasts caught in a pit (verse 53), and
3. to one who is near drowning (verse 54).
It shows the hopelessness of his situation and that of Judah. There is no hope of survival.
In these verses Jeremiah is again speaking of himself. What he says in verse 52, the Lord Jesus also said. Without cause, He too was persecuted, hated, scorned and killed. Jeremiah also literally experienced being thrown into a pit (verse 53; Jer 37:11-21; 38:1-6).
In verse 54 we again hear the cry from a depth of misery (cf. Psa 69:1b-2; Jona 2:3). He imagines himself and them lost because he feels cut off from God’s compassions. But it is precisely because of the thought of this that he turns to the LORD from the pit in the next verse.
55 - 66 Prayer for Deliverance
55 I called on Your name, O LORD,
Out of the lowest pit.
56 You have heard my voice,
“Do not hide Your ear from my [prayer for] relief,
From my cry for help.”
57 You drew near when I called on You;
You said, “Do not fear!”
58 O Lord, You have pleaded my soul’s cause;
You have redeemed my life.
59 O LORD, You have seen my oppression;
Judge my case.
60 You have seen all their vengeance,
All their schemes against me.
61 You have heard their reproach, O LORD,
All their schemes against me.
62 The lips of my assailants and their whispering
[Are] against me all day long.
63 Look on their sitting and their rising;
I am their mocking song.
64 You will recompense them, O LORD,
According to the work of their hands.
65 You will give them hardness of heart,
Your curse will be on them.
66 You will pursue them in anger and destroy them
From under the heavens of the LORD!
From the darkest night of misery, Jeremiah called on the Name of the LORD (verse 55). This is what Jonah also does when he is in the darkness of the belly of the fish (Jona 2:1-10). In that great distress and as he cries out to the LORD with an appeal to His Name, he receives the inner assurance that the LORD has heard his voice (verse 56). But then, let Him not hide His ear from him. Let Him not consider Himself deaf to his sighs and cries for help. During prayer he remembers an earlier occasion when he cried out to the LORD. Then He has been near to him. Then he heard His voice and what He answered: “Do not fear!” (verse 57).
Jeremiah also remembers that the Lord, Adonai, has always helped and vindicated him against the accusers (verse 58). His accusers are gone and his life is no longer in danger. He owes the redemption of his life to the Lord. The highest Power has vindicated him and redeemed his life.
This gives him courage to knock on God’s door to bring him justice now that he has been wronged again. He emphatically addresses Him in verse 58 as “O Lord”, Adonai, and in verse 59 as “O LORD”, Yahweh. He makes a penetrating appeal to Him as the sovereign Ruler (Adonai) and the faithful God of the covenant (Yahweh).
The LORD knows that His servant feels wronged, that he has been wronged unjustly. Therefore, he asks Him to judge his case against his enemies (verse 59). After all, his enemies are out for vengeance and are schemes against him (verse 60).
The LORD not only heard his pleading, but also the reproach of the enemies and their schemes against him (verse 61). He has heard their talking and even their whispering that they have uttered against him all day long (verse 62). They have no other occupation. Their lives are filled with hatred against him. Let the LORD observe all their movements, for he is their mocking song (verse 63).
This chapter ends with a new assurance. It is more of an assurance than a question to the LORD to recompense the enemies what they deserve (verse 64). Jeremiah asks this not out of vindictiveness, but from the certainty of the justice of God, Who will not always let His people be prey to the boundless arbitrariness of their enemies. Jeremiah does not take the law into his own hands, but leaves the retribution to the LORD.
He does ask, entirely consistent with God’s dealings with such men, that the LORD will close their hearts to His call and seal their judgment so that the curse will come upon them (verse 65). He adds that the LORD will pursue them in His anger to such an extent that they will be destroyed from under the heavens (verse 66).
He does not ask all this out of a desire for personal satisfaction. He asks that because of what they have done to God’s people, God’s city and God’s temple, and thus ultimately to God Himself. He longs for the glorification of God’s Name.