It seems that Lamentations was written about the time Jeremiah was pulled out of the dungeon. As he writes chapter three, Jeremiah relives the dreadful experience of his time in the dungeon and begins to ask “Why?”. Verses one through nineteen describe Jeremiah’s experience and the fear that he faced.
“I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” (Lamentations 3:1) Jeremiah had seen the affliction that had come upon Israel because of God’s anger over their sin. God was pouring out His wrath upon them.
“2He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. 3Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day. 4My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones. 5He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail. 6He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.” (3:2-6)
Down in the dungeon it was very dark. It was also full of mire, in which Jeremiah began to sink. His bones were broken. Had he been beaten, or did his bones break when he was thrown down into the dungeon? Perhaps it was a long way down to the miry pit. The walls were very high around him, and he could not get out.
Oh, how dark it was in that dungeon! like a grave! One shivers with the imagination that the mire was full of the bones of many who had been cast in before him. They had either drowned in the mire or starved to death.
Why was Jeremiah in the dungeon? He felt that God must have led him there. Like Job, he thought his affliction had come from God. No wonder he was frightened and sad. He thought God had turned against him in His wrath, and he did not know why. Oh, how deep was the darkness Jeremiah experienced!
“7He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy. 8Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer. 9He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.” (3:7-9)
One of the things that really bothered Jeremiah about living in prison was the confinement. He was closed in on every side, and he could not go in and out as he pleased. A heavy chain restrained him so that he could not wander at leisure. When he was allowed out of his cell, all the paths he went down were enclosed in hewn stone? Why had God shut him in, he wondered. Where was God. Did God care? It seemed to Jeremiah that God had shut him in and had shut out his prayer. Jeremiah felt that God was not even listening to his prayer, that God was purposely ignoring him. “Why am I left all alone in this place of suffering?” Jeremiah wanted to know.
“10He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places. 11He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate. 12He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow. 13He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins. 14I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.” (3:10-14)
Jeremiah was confused about all that was going on. He felt that God had singled him out to pick on him. He imagined God as a bear or as a lion lurking in secret places, waiting for him to come around the corner. “Pounce! I got you! Now you are in my clutches, and you can’t get away!”
Jeremiah also imagined God as an archer setting him up and putting a mark on him. Then God was taking his arrows out of His quiver and shooting at him. All of the arrows hit their mark - Jeremiah’s reins, or his innermost parts.
These were vivid imaginations, and, of course, they were not accurate. However, in his great suffering and loneliness, Jeremiah was not seeing God’s mercy and kindness. He was focused on his circumstances. Jeremiah was in prison, in pain, alone, and very hungry. Also, he was the laughing stock of all the people, who mocked him and made up derisive songs about him. All day long he suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It seemed to him that no one cared, not even God.
“He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood. 16He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.” (3:15,16)
As far as Jeremiah could see, his situation was hopeless. There was no way out of it. Things would always go on like this and would never change. God had filled his cup with wormwood, a bitter, poisonous drink; and Jeremiah must take it all. God had laid upon him hard things, things that broke him. Jeremiah said these things broke his teeth. This symbolizes that his strength was gone. When an old lion would lose its teeth, it could not eat. Soon its strength was gone, and it faced certain death. Jeremiah felt like an old lion. All his strength was gone, and he had no hope.
“And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity. 18And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD.” (3:17,18)
Jeremiah had no peace in his soul. His country was being torn apart by the enemy, and the people blamed him for this. Now he was in prison -- empty, alone, hungry, in pain, and useless. All the good things he used to have were gone. In his misery, he forgot what it was like to be prosperous.
Jeremiah had no more will to go on; he had lost hope. He felt that the Lord had forsaken him and that there was no more reason to keep on. Even the Lord would not help him now. “My hope is perished from the Lord,” he said. He had no more spiritual strength.
“Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. 20My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.” (Lamentations 3:19,20)
Jeremiah’s memory was filled with recollections of his suffering and misery. Oh, the bitter wormwood and the gall! His mind recalled the awful taste and how sick he felt after he drank it. These memories brought him very low. His soul was cast down within him. Yet, in the midst of all this suffering and these horrible memories, Jeremiah remembered something, something that gave him a glimmer of hope.
“21This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.” (3:21-24)
A flicker of hope cheered Jeremiah as He remembered that the Lord is merciful. He is full of compassion. Every morning, God’s compassions for His people are new and fresh. Man is sinful, but God is faithful, and His faithfulness is great. Though Israel was in dire straits from the awful things they suffered at the hands of their enemies, they were not consumed. Many had died, yet the Lord had not destroyed the whole nation. They deserved to be destroyed because of their sin, but God had promised to preserve them for ever; and God was faithful to keep that promise. In His mercy, He left a remnant of the people.
Jeremiah knew that this merciful God was his God. Jeremiah was in trouble, but God was with him in trouble. Remembering this, he said, “The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”
“25The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. 26It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” (3:25,26)
It was hard for Jeremiah to see God’s goodness in these trials, but he knew God was good. There were several ways in which God showed His mercy to Jeremiah. Perhaps Jeremiah had broken some bones when he was cast into the dungeon (See verse 4), but many of the people of Israel had been slain with the sword. (2:21) Jeremiah was hungry, but the Lord provided bread and water for him until all the bread in the city was gone. (See Jeremiah 37:21) Many of the Israelites died of starvation, but Jeremiah was preserved. Also, many of the Israelites were carried away captive when Nebuchadnezzar came in and captured the city. However, Jeremiah was taken out of prison and allowed to dwell among the people that Nebuchadnezzar had left in the land. Nebuchadnezzar commanded Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, to look after Jeremiah and make sure no harm came to him. (See Jeremiah 39:10-14) Jeremiah placed his hope in the Lord and waited on Him, and he rejoiced to see the salvation of the Lord in his deliverance from his trouble. Jeremiah sought the Lord, and the Lord was good to him.