Read Lamentations Three
The Man of Suffering causes us to anticipate the Man of Sorrows who would one day come and make Israel right before God again. This is as true a reading of the Old Testament as the brightest scholar could find.
But … when we launch into the first few verses of Lamentations 3, we don’t sense Messianic anticipation. Not yet, at least.
Before God is perceived as coming Messiah, He will be perceived in four different metaphors. Lamentations 3:1-18 offers us four distinct depictions of the Man of Suffering’s experience of the Divine.
Read Lamentations 3:1-6. Who does the Man of Suffering identify as the one afflicting him in verses 1 through 6?
What metaphor does the poet use?
The Man of Suffering uses familiar, Jewish language to describe God. The “rod” of verse one comes from the Hebrew word sêbet. In its original cultural context, the word has a broad meaning – it can reference the scepter of authority or a rod of punishment. But its most common, familiar use describes a shepherd’s rod.
The shepherd’s sêbet would have been a thick piece of wood, looking something like a baseball bat to the modern eye. It was not long and lean to serve as a walking stick (that’s what a staff was for), but it would likely have one heavier end, weighed down by pieces of metal or stones, making the rod wieldable as a weapon. The shepherd’s rod was incredibly useful in the hands of a strong shepherd seeking to protect his flock from wild animals.
Where have we seen this metaphor used of God before?
Read Psalm 23. Consider how David describes God as a shepherd of His people. How does this contrast with the poet’s description of God as shepherd?
What words does David use to describe God’s shepherd rod?
How does this contrast to the way the Man of Suffering describes the rod of God?
What indictment is indicated in the poet’s description in Lamentations 3:1-6?
Israel has known God as their personal and national shepherd. He is the one who has led them like a flock through their historic wilderness journeys and has delivered them safely to the other side. God’s shepherding rod in Psalm 23 is described as a comfort to His people. In the hands of a good and kind shepherd, the rod is a sign of sure protection for the sheep. They can sleep soundly at night knowing that the shepherd’s rod is in His hand, a comfort when they fear their enemies will attack.
But in Lamentations 3:1-6, the Divine Shepherd is perceived to have gone rogue. Where the good shepherd has led His people from the darkness into the light, the rogue shepherd has led them into the darkness. The rod that they expected to be turned against their enemies has been turned against them. The shepherd who should feed them allows for their bones to waste away, and instead of protecting them from harm, the rogue shepherd has broken their bones. The good shepherd guides them through the valley of death and delivers them safely on the other side, and the rogue shepherd leads them into the darkness and the place of death.
This is not a description of God’s character, but the experience of one under the wrath of God. Let us not forget that God’s wrath is fiercely kindled against sin! And those under his Divine wrath cannot stand.
Consider the big picture of Israel’s situation and circumstances. Through this suffering, what is God calling them to?
God will stop at nothing to call His people to repentance and back to Himself! God is in the process and about the work of calling His people to repent, and He has gone to great lengths to seek the ultimate good for His people. We might read of Israel’s physical situation and think God cruel and unkind, but when we think of their spiritual situation – far from God and continuing to run from Him – we realize His great and persistent and lavish love in pursing them to bring them back to Himself.
If the Man of Suffering had this perspective of God’s activity in his life, how do you think it would change His perception of God’s shepherd rod?
Consider your own life. Have you ever thought God cruel where He was really calling you to repentance for your own good?
PRAY & REFLECT
Confess to God times you thought Him unkind or cruel (He already knows – He can handle it!). Ask Him to give you a bigger perspective to see His call to repentance in your life and to respond.