Reflections on Lamentations

Lamentations 3: 21:30  (ESV)

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.

27 It is good for a man that he bear

    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence

    when it is laid on him;

29 let him put his mouth in the dust—

    there may yet be hope;

30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,

    and let him be filled with insults.


I pray this prayer often: “Lord, your mercies are new every morning.”  I had a vague notion it was scriptural, but had no idea where in the Bible to find it: tucked into Lamentations, of all places!  Framed by verses resounding with gratefulness and praise, it’s a beautiful reminder of the constant presence and provision of the Lord.


However, the next few stanzas should give us pause: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth”.  What’s that all about?  Isn’t this a gentle and grace-filled reprieve from the depravity and despair of a book named for sadness? 


In a season of extreme anxiety, isolation, and fear, sin rears its ugly head in new and uncompromising ways.  Many old habits believed long-conquered arise with frightening strength and frequency.  It has been a moment of surprising conviction, if we are willing to receive it: “Wait, you mean I’m still a sinner?  Like, really, in my core?” These are challenging and disarming realizations.  


I’ve found Matthew Henry’s commentary helpful regarding the aforementioned verses: “But here it seems to be meant of the yoke of affliction. Many have found it good to bear this in youth; it has made those humble and serious, and has weaned them from the world, who otherwise would have been proud and unruly, and as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.”


What great comfort the Scriptures bring: this is good for you!  God’s grace works through affliction, not around or after it; humility is born out of a realization of sin, REAL sin, not that paltry stuff we can overcome with our own will power and a good cup of coffee.  The sinful nature, the wickedness of our hearts, the seemingly unconquerable evil resident in every human being.  Jesus “himself knew what was in man” (John 2:35 ESV), yet in the power of the cross and resurrection “binds the strong man” (Mark 3:27) of our sins.  The means He uses is His business: the response is ours.


So how do we respond?  I’ll return to Henry:


1) Sit alone in silence, because it gives God room to work: When we are sedate and quiet under our afflictions, when we sit alone and keep silence, do not run to and fro into all companies with our complaints… When those who are afflicted in their youth accommodate themselves to their afflictions, fit their necks to the yoke and study to answer God’s end in afflicting them, then they will find it good for them to bear it, for it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are thus exercised thereby.”  


2) Put your mouth to the dust, because hope is possible when humility emerges: “When we are humble and patient under our affliction…Those who are truly humbled for sin will be glad to obtain a good hope, through grace, upon any terms, though they put their mouth in the dust for it;”


3) Turn the other cheek, because righteousness comes through suffering: “When we are meek and mild…he who can bear contempt and reproach, and not render railing for railing, and bitterness for bitterness, who, when he is filled full with reproach, keeps it to himself, and does not retort it and empty it again upon those who filled him with it, but pours it out before the Lord, he shall find that it is good to bear the yoke, that it shall turn to his spiritual advantage.”   


Let us bear the yoke in our youth.  It is hard.  It is humbling.  It is good.  


His mercies are new every morning.  Every.


For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2 21:24)

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