Lamentations 3:39
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
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(39) Wherefore doth a living man . . .—Better, Why doth a man who lives? i.e., whose life is spared him (comp. Jeremiah 45:5), with all its possibilities of good, complain of sufferings which, however unjust as far as those who cause them are concerned, are, in relation to the sufferer, the just punishment of his own sins?

Lamentations 3:39. Wherefore, &c. — The prophet here seems to check and blame himself for the complaints he had made in the former part of the chapter, wherein he appeared to reflect upon God as unkind and severe. And from the doctrine of God’s sovereign and universal providence, which he had asserted in the last two verses, he draws this inference, Wherefore doth a living man complain? a man for the punishment of his sins? — No calamity or trouble befalls us, but what is the due reward of our sins; and is designed as a chastisement for them, in order to our purification and amendment, or for the trial of our grace, and in order to the exercise and increase of it. If we view our afflictions in this light, it will prevent all murmuring and repining against the providence of God. We shall learn to be patient and resigned under his chastising hand, and even thankful that he condescends to correct and try us for our profit, and by preserving us alive in the body still gives us space for repentance. “There seems,” says Blaney, “to be a peculiar emphasis laid on the words חי, [living,] and גבר, [man,] in this passage. גברis said to denote a man, because of his excellence and superiority over all other earthly beings. While a man therefore lives, and is possessed of those privileges of his nature, whatever he undergoes must be less than his sins have deserved, because death, which implies the loss of all those privileges, is the allotted wages of sin.” Mark well, reader, though we may pour out our complaints before God, we must never complain against or of God. How cogent are the reasons here suggested against such a conduct! We are men, let us herein show ourselves men. Shall a man complain? Shall a reasonable creature act contrary to all reason, and an immortal being forget or disregard his immortality? Shall he be so insensible of the value of the privileges of his nature, and of his obligations to God for them, as to abuse them to God’s dishonour, instead of using them to his glory? Shall he take upon him to censure or call in question the dispensations of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness toward him, and act as if he thought he knew better than his Maker what is good for him? Shall a living man complain — a man who has a thousand times forfeited his life, with all the blessings of it, but to whom it is still continued, and with it many of its comforts, and particularly the means of attaining life everlasting — a hope, or a foundation whereon to build a hope, of felicity and glory for ever? A man for the punishment of his sins? A punishment infinitely less than his sins have deserved? and a punishment, or chastisement, rather, which the omniscient God knows to be absolutely necessary to bring him to repentance and reformation, if he will by any means whatever be brought thereto? Surely, reader, if we be suffering for our sins, instead of spending our time in complaining and repining, we ought to be employed in repenting and reforming, and, that we may have at least one evidence that God is reconciled to us, we should endeavour to reconcile ourselves to his holy and gracious will. Or, to consider the matter in another point of view: Are we punished for our sins? It is then our wisdom to submit, and kiss the rod; for if we still walk contrary to God, he will punish us still seven times more, for when he judgeth he will overcome; but if we accommodate ourselves to him, though we be chastened of the Lord, we shall not be condemned with the world.

3:37-41 While there is life there is hope; and instead of complaining that things are bad, we should encourage ourselves with the hope they will be better. We are sinful men, and what we complain of, is far less than our sins deserve. We should complain to God, and not of him. We are apt, in times of calamity, to reflect on other people's ways, and blame them; but our duty is to search and try our own ways, that we may turn from evil to God. Our hearts must go with our prayers. If inward impressions do not answer to outward expressions, we mock God, and deceive ourselves.In all this did not Job sin with his lips - See the notes at Job 1:22. This remark is made here perhaps in contrast with what occurred afterward. He subsequently did give utterance to improper sentiments, and was rebuked accordingly, but thus far what he had expressed was in accordance with truth, and with the feelings of most elevated piety.

Lamentations 3:39So long as God spares a man's life, why does he complain? The chastisement is really for his good; only let him use it aright, and he will be thankful for it in the end.

A man for the punishment of his sins - Translate: Let "each man sigh for," i. e. because of, "his sins." Instead of complaining because God sends him sorrow, let him rather mourn over the sins which have made punishment necessary. The sense of the King James Version is, Why does a man ... complain "for his sins?" i. e. for the necessary results of them in chastisement.

39. living—and so having a time yet given him by God for repentance. If sin were punished as it deserves, life itself would be forfeited by the sinner. "Complaining" (murmuring) ill becomes him who enjoys such a favor as life (Pr 19:3).

for the punishment of his sins—Instead of blaming God for his sufferings, he ought to recognize in them God's righteousness and the just rewards of his own sin.


This verse admits of various senses, caused from the various interpretation of the Hebrew word, which we translate complain, which also signifies to mourn or grieve; so some render it, Why doth a living man grieve or vex himself? But the word is noted most generally to signify complaining or murmuring. The word also which we translate

sin sometimes signifieth that oblique act which we call sin; and those who interpret the former grieve or vex, thus understand the word translated sin, supplying some such words as these, Let him mourn for his sin. Why doth he mourn for his afflictions and plagues? let him rather spend his tears upon his sins. But the word also signifies the guilt of sin, or obligation to death, which it layeth men under: Sin lieth at the door, Genesis 4:7; so also Genesis 20:9; and also any punishment brought upon men for sin, Genesis 4:13, where we translate it punishment. This sense our translators follow. The prophet then, in the person of the Jews, checks himself in his complaints for their punishments from the consideration, that nothing had befallen them but what was the just reward of their sins.

Wherefore doth a living man complain?.... Or murmur, or fret and vex, or bemoan himself; all which the word (k) may signify; as the prophet had done in his own person; or as representing the church, Lamentations 3:1; and here checks himself for it; and especially since the mercies and compassions of God never fail, and are daily renewed; and the Lord himself is the portion of his people, Lamentations 3:23; and seeing he is good to them that seek him, and it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of God, and to bear the yoke patiently, Lamentations 3:25; and because of the unwillingness of God to afflict men, and his sympathy and compassion towards them under affliction, Lamentations 3:32; and especially since all is from the sovereignty of God, who does according to his will; and from whom all good and evil come, Lamentations 3:37; he is not to be complained of, or against, for anything he does; or to be murmured at; nor should men vex and fret themselves at their own adversity, or at the prosperity of others; or bemoan themselves, as if no case was like theirs, or so bad. It does not become "a man", a reasonable creature, a man grown up, to behave in this manner; as such should quit themselves like men, and conduct as such; a "man" that God is so mindful of, and cares for, and visits every moment, and follows with his goodness continually; a "man", sinful man, that has rendered himself unworthy of the least favour; and yet such is the lovingkindness, favour, and good will of God to man, that he has provided his own Son to be his Saviour; and therefore man, of all God's creatures, has no reason to complain of him; and is a "living" man too, in a natural sense; is upheld in life by the Lord, and has the common mercies of life; is in health, or however in the land of the living; out of hell, where he deserves to be; and therefore should praise, and not complain, Isaiah 38:19; especially if he is a living man in a spiritual sense; has a principle of spiritual life implanted in him; Christ lives in him, and his life is hid with him in God, and has a right and title to eternal life:

a man for the punishment of his sins? the word "punishment" is not in the text; but, admitting the supplement, if a man is a wicked man (and so the Targum interprets it), and is punished for his sins, no injustice is done him; he has no reason to complain; and especially of his punishment in this world, which is greatly less than his sins deserve, Ezra 9:13; and if he is a good man, and is chastised for his sins, he ought not to complain "for the chastisement" of them; since it is the chastisement of a father, is in love, and for his good: but the words may be rendered literally, "a man for", or "of his sins" (l); and be considered as a distinct clause, and as an answer to the former, so Jarchi; if a man will complain, let him complain of his sins; of the corruptions of his heart; of the body of sin and death he carries about with him of his daily iniquities; let him mourn over them, and bemoan himself for them; and if he does this in an evangelic manner, he is happy; for he shall be comforted.

(k) Sept. "quiritaretur", Junius & Tremellius; "taedio se confecit", Calvin; "fremet", Strigelius; "murmurabit", Cocceius. (l) "unusquisque propter sua peccata quiritatur", Piscator; "vel contra sua peccata fremat", Strigelius.

Why doth a living {t} man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?

(t) When God afflicts him.

39. The E.VV., making the whole line to be a question, are more in consonance with the construction of the two earlier members of the group, than is the other proposed rendering, viz. Of what should a living man complain? Each (should complain) of his sins. In that case we should require mourn rather than “complain.”

living] i.e. why should a man murmur at misfortunes, when they are due to him for his sin?

a man … his sins] mg. (less well) a man that is in his sins.

Verse 39. - Wherefore cloth a living man complain, etc.? The God of whom the poet speaks is the Searcher of hearts. Why, then, should a man complain when he knows that he deserves his punishment? The close of the verse should run, (Let) a man (rather sigh) over his sins. Lamentations 3:39Lamentations 3:37 brings the answer to this question in a lively manner, and likewise in an interrogative form: "Who hath spoken, and it came to pass, which the Lord hath not commanded?" The thought here presented reminds us of the word of the Creator in Genesis 1:3. The form of the expression is an imitation of Psalm 33:9. Rosenmller gives the incorrect rendering, Quis est qui dixit: factum est (i.e., quis audeat dicere fieri quicquam), non praecipiente Deo; although the similar but more free translation of Luther, "Who dares to say that such a thing happens without the command of the Lord?" gives the sense in a general way. The meaning is as follows: Nothing takes place on the earth which the Lord has not appointed; no man can give and execute a command against the will of God. From this it further follows (Lamentations 3:38), that evil and good will proceed from the mouth of the Lord, i.e., be wrought by Him; on this point, cf. Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6. לא תצא gives no adequate meaning unless it be taken interrogatively, and as indicating what is usual - wont to be. And then there is established from this, in Lamentations 3:39, the application of the general principle to the particular case in question, viz., the grievous suffering of individuals at the downfall of the kingdom of Judah. "Why does a man sigh as long as he lives? Let every one [sigh] for his sins." Man is not to sigh over suffering and sorrow, but only over his sin. התאונן occurs only here and in Numbers 11:1, and signifies to sigh, with the accessory notion of murmuring, complaining. חי appended to אדם is more of a predicate than a simple attributive: man, as long as he lives, i.e., while he is in this life. The verse is viewed in a different light by Pareau, Ewald, Neumann, and Gerlach, who combine both members into one sentence, and render it thus: "Why doth a man complain, so long as he lives, - a man over the punishment of his sins?" [Similar is the rendering of our "Authorized" Version.] Neumann translates: "A man in the face of [Ger. bei] his sins." But this latter rendering is lexically inadmissible, because על esua in this connection cannot mean "in view of." The other meaning assigned is improbable, though there is nothing against it, lexically considered. For though חטא, sin, may also signify the punishment of sin, the latter meaning does not suit the present context, because in what precedes it is not said that the people suffer for their sins, but merely that their suffering has been appointed by God. If, then, in what follows, there is an exhortation to return to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40.), and in Lamentations 3:42 a confession of sins made; if, moreover, Lamentations 3:39 forms the transition from Lamentations 3:33-38 to the exhortation that succeeds (Lamentations 3:40.); then it is not abstinence from murmuring or sighing over the punishment of sins that forms the true connecting link of the two lines of thought, but merely the refraining from complaint over sufferings, coupled with the exhortation to sigh over their won sins. Tarnov also has viewed the verse in this way, when he deduces from it the advice to every soul labouring under a weight of sorrows: est igitur optimus ex malis emergendi modus Deum excusare et se ipsum accusare.
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