41 Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
42 “We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven.
43 “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
killing without pity;
44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can pass through.
45 You have made us scum and garbage
among the peoples.
46 “All our enemies
open their mouths against us;
47 panic and pitfall have come upon us,
devastation and destruction;
48 my eyes flow with rivers of tears
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
49 “My eyes will flow without ceasing,
50 until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees;
51 my eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the daughters of my city.
52 “I have been hunted like a bird
by those who were my enemies without cause;
53 they flung me alive into the pit
and cast stones on me;
54 water closed over my head;
I said, ‘I am lost.’
55 “I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
56 you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!’
57 You came near when I called on you;
you said, ‘Do not fear!’” – Lamentations 3:41-57 ESV
In these verses, we have recorded a powerful prayer of intercession, as the prophet of God models for the suffering citizens of Judah what true repentance must look like. He begs them to take stock of their circumstances and learn the lesson God is attempting to teach them. It is not too late. But they are going to have to take ownership for their actions. Complaining over their condition must be replaced with confession for their sins. And Jeremiah walks them through the painful, yet necessary process of returning to the Lord with humble and contrite hearts.
First, they must admit their guilt.
We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven. – Lamentations 3:42 ESV
They were in the midst of the furnace of God’s judgment and there was no sign of relief in sight. It was as if God had vacated the premises and left them to fend for themselves. Even their prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling and return to them unheard and unanswered. Their conditions were abysmal and any hope of rescue seemed unlikely. Things were so bad in Judah that their neighbors considered to be “scum and garbage.” Those two words are very graphic, comparing the condition of the people of God to dung or refuse. Nobody had it as bad as the people of Judah.
And Jeremiah puts their feelings of despair into words: “We are filled with fear, for we are trapped, devastated, and ruined” (Lamentations 3:47 NLT). This brutal assessment of their condition was a vital part of the repentance process. They could not afford to treat their circumstances lightly or to wrongly assume that “this too shall pass.” It was essential that they come to grips with the devastating reality of their condition and the true cause behind it: Their sin.
Their suffering was directly tied to their willful rebellion against God. And all the innocent lives that had been lost in Judah could be laid at their doorstep. And Jeremiah expresses his deep sorrow and regret over all those who had died unnecessarily as a result of Judah’s stubborn resistance to God’s call to repentance.
My tears flow endlessly;
they will not stop
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
My heart is breaking
over the fate of all the women of Jerusalem. – Lamentations 3:49-51 NLT
Jeremiah’s grief is not self-centered or focused on his own pain and suffering. He expresses his deep heartache over all those whose lives have been dragged down the path of sin and forced to suffer its consequences.
As a prophet of God, Jeremiah was well-acquainted with suffering. He knew from first-hand experience what it was like to confront the prospect of death, even while innocent of any wrong-doing. He describes a point in time in which he had been thrown in a pit by his enemies and left to consider an untimely end.
My enemies, whom I have never harmed,
hunted me down like a bird.
They threw me into a pit
and dropped stones on me.
The water rose over my head,
and I cried out, “This is the end!” – Lamentations 3:52-54 NLT
This event is recorded in Jeremiah 38:6.
So the officials took Jeremiah and put him in the cistern of Malkijah, one of the royal princes, that was in the courtyard of the guardhouse. There was no water in the cistern, only mud. So when they lowered Jeremiah into the cistern with ropes he sank in the mud.
This personal experience had left a lasting impact on Jeremiah. He describes how he had prayed from the bottom of that cistern, begging God to rescue him.
But I called on your name, Lord,
from deep within the pit.
You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading!
Hear my cry for help!”
Yes, you came when I called;
you told me, “Do not fear.” – Lamentations 3:55-57 NLT
During one of the darkest moments of his life, Jeremiah had called out to God from the pit and God had graciously answered, telling His servant, “Do not fear.” Trapped in darkness, mired in the mud, and left for dead, Jeremiah called on His God. And that is exactly what he wants the people of Judah to do. Yes, their circumstances were bleak. Things couldn’t have been any worse for them. But all they had to do was call on the name of the Lord.
The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
he is filled with kindness.
The Lord is close to all who call on him,
yes, to all who call on him in truth. – Psalm 145:17-18 NLT
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. – Psalm 46:1 NLT
But did the people of Judah believe that truth? Were they willing to trust in the righteousness of God and place their hope in His goodness and grace? They were in trouble, but their God was bigger than their greatest problem. He had brought judgment upon them, but He was more than willing to restore them if they would only confess their sin and cry out for His help.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.