3:1-66 This is the central chapter of the lament. It is distinctive in form and content from all others in the book. Like chaps. 1; 2; 4, it is an alphabetic acrostic, but here there are three verses devoted to each of the successive letters of the twenty-two-letter Hebrew alphabet. The identity of I am the man (v. 1) strikes us immediately. Who is speaking here? It is an individual “i” (vv. 1-24) that changes to a “we” (vv. 22,40-47) and back to “I” again in vv. 48-66. Some say it is a generalized “everyman,” others suggest a historical personage such as King Jehoiachin. But it is probably Jeremiah speaking as a collective personage. He suffered as an “I” while carrying out his unpopular role as prophet, prayer warrior, and pleader for his people; and he also suffered as a “we” as his people and his city were destroyed.
3:1 The rod of God’s wrath was Babylon. God used this nation as his instrument of judgment against his people (Jb 9:34; 21:9; Ps 89:32; Pr 22:8; cp. Is 10:5, where Assyria is described as the rod of God’s judgment).
3:3 God’s hand was repeatedly . . . against his erring people, bringing to frustration every plan and desire they had as long as they held out against God.
3:4-6 The days of rebellion by the people against God had aged the poet and left him like a dead man. Like the nation, Jeremiah could sense life ebbing away.
3:5 God was encircling the poet with bitterness, or “gall.”
3:7-9 God had walled . . . in his representative Jeremiah and weighed him down so that he felt he was walking in a maze—paths that led nowhere, full of dead ends.
3:10-11 In another bold figure of speech, God is compared to a bear waiting in ambush or a lion in hiding (see Hs 13:8; Am 5:19). There is a mixing of metaphors here; Jeremiah had already compared Israel’s enemies to lions (Jr 5:6; 49:19; 50:44). Thus what God had permitted the nation’s enemy to do (stalk and destroy Judah) could also be attributed to God himself.
3:15-16 So cruel was the mocking laughter that it was like getting a full meal that consisted of bitterness and wormwood. It was like feeding on the gravel of Baal worship instead of the bread of life, God’s word.
3:19 Four terms show the depth of Jeremiah’s sorrow: affliction . . . homelessness . . . wormwood, and poison. Jeremiah’s memory of the past was bitter to the utmost.
3:20-24 Just as quickly as the prophet was tempted by bitter thoughts, he adopted a better line of thought: instead of brooding over his anguish and sorrow, he will put his hope in the love of the Lord because his mercies never end. The fact that Jeremiah was still alive was proof that God’s faithful love was constant. Here is the heart of this book: Great is your faithfulness! The Lord himself was the poet’s portion (see Ps 16:5; 73:26; 119:57; 142:5).
3:25-39 The dominant thought of this section is that the Lord is good. Three of the stanzas in this section (vv. 25-27,31-33,34-36) begin not only with the same letter from the Hebrew alphabet, but with the same Hebrew word in each line.
3:25-27 God’s goodness is presented in three aspects. (1) God is good in his nature and being. (2) God is good to those who have learned to wait silently and endure his lessons through suffering. (3) God is good to those who submit agreeably to divine providence.
3:28-30 This triad teaches how a person is to suffer patiently. (1) Sit alone and be silent, which allows for reflection with God. (2) Put your mouth in the dust, which keeps you from speaking in anger. (3) Offer your cheek to the striker, an attitude of humility. Each tactic is increasingly difficult, and each raises the hope that God will deliver his people from trouble.
3:31-33 There are three reasons for hope. (1) The Lord will not reject his people forever. (2) God’s compassion outweighs the sorrow he sends. (3) God does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind.
3:34-36 God does not look favorably on humanity’s cruelty and injustice (Ps 22:18; Pr 23:31; Is 53:2). None of our injustices fall outside God’s control or oversight. He sees it all and keeps accurate books. Therefore, denying justice and disregarding human rights invites the judgment of God, in whose presence all this takes place (Ps 113:5-6).
3:38 Everything, both adversity and good, comes from the hand of God. Even evil is something that he will sometimes permit according to his wisdom.
3:40-47 Jeremiah shifted to the first-person plural pronoun (us and our) for the rest of this chapter. In these verses his representative role is made plain. He will lead his people in a confession of their sins and exhort them to return to the Lord.
3:40 No phrase is more characteristic of the prophets—especially Jeremiah—than turn back to the Lord (see Jr 3:1). It is the OT word for repentance. It called for the people to examine and probe their ways, an act that implied their sin was hidden from the eyes and hearts of those who had been deceived (Jr 17:9).
3:42 This verse states the content of the prayer. The contrast between we and the Lord (you) is emphatic and specific.
3:43-45 It was impossible for God to answer the prayers of the people as long as sin festered in their lives. God’s wrath was like a cloud that prayer could not penetrate.
3:46-48 The third line of the triad of vv. 46-48 dramatically (as in v. 40) breaks back into the first-person pronoun with its reference to my eyes (which continues in v. 49), so this is a lament against Israel’s enemies.
3:49-51 The fate of defenseless women in the city was a cause for much grief, and an indication of just how total Jerusalem’s undoing was.
3:52-54 Jeremiah referred to his experience of being thrown into a pit (Jr 38:4-6). He also expressed his pain and anguish over the wretched condition of his own people and what they had endured from the Babylonians. Water flooded over my head is a metaphor for all sorts of distress (Jb 27:20; Ps 42:7; 66:12; 88:7; 124:4; Is 43:2). This representative sufferer was hunted . . . like a bird and for no reason. In that way he was like Jesus, the chief substitutionary sufferer (Jn 15:21).
3:56-57 God heard Jeremiah’s plea. His words of assurance were, Do not be afraid.
3:58-60 There was no better judge for Jeremiah’s case than the Lord, who saw all and yet was able to defend the prophet’s cause and redeem his life.
3:61-63 The Lord, the Omniscient One, heard and saw everything. Jeremiah and Israel could be sure they were in good hands.
3:64-66 Sufferers must leave revenge (pay them back) in the hands of the Lord. Jeremiah never raised his own hand to seek personal vengeance for all he had suffered.