The Bible: God and Suffering


The Small Scrolls



sacred scrollsIn the Holy Writings the Lord God tells us the story of his glory in Jesus Christ. We are near the end of the Old Testament Scriptures, where God resumes the storyline of his work in human history. These writings provide some of God’s answers to his purposes in the exile of the old covenant people from the Promised Land. When we read the books of Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, we hear of the difficulties the people suffered. The anguish of heart expressed in Lamentations deeply stirs anyone with even a small amount of love for people. It forces us to think and to feel. We live in a world filled with wars, plagues, poverty, desertion, betrayal, hatred, etc. We ask, “In a world like this, is there any hope? Can we confidently expect any way out of the deep mess we’re in?” God’s people wanted to know that in the time of the exile and on through the post-exilic period until the Messiah, Jesus, came. It looked like Yahweh had abandoned Israel, but the Holy Spirit through the human writer, probably Jeremiah says, “There is hope in Yahweh himself, in spite of his present actions.” In other words, listen to God’s word, not to your circumstances.

Structure of Lamentations

  • Poem One: Jerusalem’s plight (1:1-22)
  • Poem Two: Yahweh’s fierce anger (2:1-22)
  • Poem Three: The man who has seen affliction (3:1-66)
  • Poem Four: Jerusalem’s death throes (4:1-22)
  • Poem Five: The community at prayer (5:1-22)

Ideas and features of Lamentations

  • It is made up of poems that express sorrow and grief about the fall of Jerusalem; we get to feel the view from the street about the events described in 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 52
  • Each poem contains 22 verses (except the third which has three times as many); this corresponds to the 22 consonants of the Hebrew alphabet; the first four poems are acrostics (the “A to Z” of grief); the form provides for ordered passion
  • The feminine metaphor recurs in the poems: widow, queen, daughter of Zion, daughter of Judah, daughter of Jerusalem, etc.
  • It upholds the righteousness of God to lead people to repentance
  • The book is not simply about suffering, but about the suffering of the old covenant people at a specific time of salvation history; it talks about suffering and hope for the people of God

The questions raised by Lamentations are only fully answered in Christ and the gospel; the emptiness of despair had to await what Jesus accomplished (cf. Rm 8-11)

Lamentations 3:1-26

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
3 surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
5 he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
6 he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.



I. Despairing, desperate desolation (3:1-18)

The writer represents the whole community. He tells us the agony that the old covenant people were in.

A.The types of affliction he felt

1.Separation from God’s compassion and comfort (3:2-3, 6) – It was a strange situation for God’s people to be found in cut off from God (cf. Ps 22:1)

2.Physical sufferings (3:4, 17-18) – Grief because of the destruction of the city brought physical effects (cf. Ps 32:3-4; 42:10)

3.Bitter happenings (3:5, 15) – If you want to know what bitter tastes like, let some medicines stay on your tongue too long and you’ll be looking for a way to get that taste out of your mouth. What happens when your situation in life is bitter and your life tastes terrible? Or to change the metaphor, what do you your life and everything around you stinks?

4.Prevention of escape (3:7, 9) – The Lord made sure there would be no human help or rescue

5.Refusal to hear their calls for help (3:8) – God wouldn’t hear any cry for mercy; they would have to bear the consequences of their sins

6.Mockery by people (3:14) – Cruel words can break a person’s spirit

7.Direct opposition by the Lord (3:10-13) – This is the absolute bottom

B.A refusal to look at second causes in the experience of affliction

1.Observe carefully how the writer traces his suffering back to God and his actions. He knows that God has done this. This is contrary to much modern prosperity teaching that wrongly asserts that God never causes people to suffer, especially his covenant people. This prosperity heresy is erroneous in a number of ways, but I will only mention two. First, it ignores the setting of redemptive history and the law covenant made with Israel (cf. Lev 26; Deut 28). Second, it disregards passages that teach that the Lord does discipline his people (Heb 12).

2.We must understand that in any event, there can be and might be three actors: the Sovereign Lord, the spiritual forces of evil (Satan and/or demons), and humans. Each actor works according to his motives. God’s motives are completely holy and righteous, Satan’s are completely evil, and the motives of humans are affected to various degrees by sin. Though people probably don’t agree, God is Maker and Judge and must enforce his righteous will. The Judge of all the earth does right (cf. Gen 18:25; Deut 32:4; Neh 9:33; Ps 119:137; Rm 3:5-8), and the Lord Jesus Christ will bring about justice when he comes (2 Th 1:5-10). Therefore, as Jeremiah writes these laments, he bows before the Lord the Judge. He knows the threats that the Lord made in the law covenant and he bows before the Lord as he carries out the threats. This in no way lessened the agony he experienced. But it did put him on the side of confessing God’s righteousness.

Transition: If we had to end the message here, it would be a message of gloom and doom. But praise God, there is hope. Let’s listen to this joyful message.

II. Wonderful, unmerited favor (3:19-26)

A.The good effect the affliction had on him

1.He thought about his tragedy, but not in such a manner that he forgot the Lord. The man who has seen affliction was not hesitant to talk about affliction, wandering, bitterness, and gall. He confessed that he was downcast in his inner person. He faced reality head on.

2. But he also thought about something else, or more exactly, Someone else, and he realized there was a better alternative than the dust of desolate death.

B.The hope (confident anticipation) of the godly (3:22-26)

1.He saw a reason to hope (3:22). In spite of the affliction, they were not consumed. “Yes, this experience is awful, but I’m still here! God has not put an end to me. I will call out to him anew.”

2.He traces his survival back to the Lord: to the Lord’s great love and compassion (3:22), to the Lord’s faithfulness (3:23) and to his goodness (3:25). Notice how he remembers what the Lord is and uses God’s characteristics to fuel his hope.

3.He maps out a better way (3:24-26). Find the Lord as your portion. What you really need is found in God and not in any of your circumstances, whether pleasant or terrible. This means that we must focus on the Lord (“wait”, “seek”) and his salvation.

Apply: So then, the great question for you today is this. Is your trust in the Lord? Are you willing to commit yourself and your all to him? Or will you still treasure your own way and your pride so much that you perish forever? My friend, turn from yourself to the Lord! God’s love and compassion welcome you back. Trust in the Lord, Yahweh, right now.

~ Dave

Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.