A Study of Lamentations 3:39
“Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?”
We must not understand by the word “punished,” anything of a vindictive nature. God never punishes the sins of His elect penally; that is, not as He punishes the sins of the reprobate. The eternal covenant forbids this. “Fury is not in me, says the LORD.” The elect are accepted in Jesus, are pardoned in Him, are complete in Him. This is their eternal and unalterable covenant standing–the fruit and effect of their everlasting union with the Son of God. But though this forbids punishment in its strictly penal sense, it by no means excludes chastisement. Thus we are not to understand by the word “punishment” in the text the infliction of God’s righteous wrath, that foretaste of eternal damnation with which, sometimes even in this life, He visits the ungodly; but it signifies that chastisement which is the privilege of the heir, and distinguishes him from the bastard. It is under this chastisement, then, that the living man is brought to complain, and He will often see in the afflictions that befall him the rod of the LORD as the chastisement of sin. When He thus sees light in God’s light, He may justly say, “WHY should any living man complain when punished for his sins?”
Are they not chastisements, not punishments; the rod of a father’s correction, not the vindictive stroke of offended justice?
Perhaps his property is lost through unlooked-for circumstances, or the roguery of others; and he is brought down from comparative affluence to be a poor man. When he can see that this is a chastisement for his pride and carnality in former days, he is able to put his mouth in the dust. Or if the LORD afflicts him in his body so that he shall scarcely enjoy a day’s health, when he sees and feels how he abused his health and strength when he possessed them, and at the same time perceives from how many hurtful snares his bodily affliction instrumentally preserves him, he is able at times to bear it meekly and patiently.
He may also have serious afflictions in his family, or find, like David, “his house not so with God” as he could wish; but when he sees that a sickly wife or disobedient children are but so many strokes of chastisement, and far lighter than his sins demand, when he sees that they come from the hand of love, and not from eternal wrath, that they are the stripes of a Father, not the vindictive strokes of an angry judge, he feels then that love is mingled with chastisement, and his spirit is meekened, and his heart softened, and he is brought down to say, “Why should any living man complain?”
Now, until a man gets there he cannot but complain. Until he is brought spiritually to see that all his afflictions, griefs, and sorrows are chastisements and not punishments, and is able to receive them as the stripes of love, he must and he will complain. But, generally speaking, before the LORD lifts up the light of His countenance upon him, before He gives him a sense of peace in his conscience, He will bring him “to accept,” as the Scripture speaks (Leviticus 26:41), “of the punishment of his iniquity.” He will thus receive these strokes of chastisement with a subdued spirit; he will confess that they are justly deserved; and his obstinacy and rebelliousness being in a measure broken, he will lie as a poor and needy supplicant at the foot of the cross.