For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. Lamentations 3:33.
We have an interesting question to answer in this issue, although to a certain extent it involves a question of translation. The question reads: "How can we reconcile Lam. 3:33 in the light of God's disciplining His children and passing judgments on men, e.g., plagues, disease or death?"
The person who sent this question in for consideration is correct on a very important point. God sends His judgments upon this wicked world. And, while these judgments are expressions of God's wrath against the wicked, and while the righteous share in these judgments, they are, for God's people, what the questioner calls, "disciplining," and what the Scriptures call, "chastisement" (See, e.g., Heb. 12:5-13, in what is probably the most detailed instruction of chastisement anywhere in Scripture).
The book of Lamentations speaks of this judgment upon the wicked nation of Judah, which judgment was, of course, the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the nation. But the prophet Jeremiah speaks in these verses of the fact that that captivity was also chastisement for the elect remnant in the nation.
Judgment is always God's fury against the wicked. It is rooted in God's hatred. Chastisement is always God's love for His elect people, and has as its purpose correction and salvation.
It is this latter which is Jeremiah's concern in these verses. He writes in the context: "For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." 3:33 follows upon these two vss.
The translation of the AV will do, but the word "willingly" could be misinterpreted and may, therefore, leave the wrong impression. The Hebrew (as the margin of my Bible makes clear) is literally, "from His heart." That is, "He doth not afflict from his heart."
The commentators suggest two possible interpretations of the expression, "from His heart." Some say that the expression means, "arbitrarily." God does not afflict arbitrarily. Others say that the expression can better be interpreted as meaning, "as if it gave Him joy." This latter interpretation is probably the one which the AV adopted when it translated "from His heart" with the word, "willingly." That God does not willingly afflict His people means that God is most reluctant to afflict them. He does so, so to speak, only as a last resort. He takes no pleasure in chastising them.
Whatever may be the correct meaning of the expression "from the heart," both ideas which the commentators suggest are true of chastisement.
We ought to insert here that the text is speaking emphatically of the chastisement of the elect people of God; and that, therefore, the expression, "children of men" refers also to God's elect. The text is only referring to the judgments upon the wicked insofar as these judgments which came upon the wicked nation of Judah are shared by God's people who are, by them, chastised.
God's chastisement is never arbitrary. That is certainly true. God is all-wise, and He knows exactly how to fit the chastisement with the sin which brought about a need for correction. We do not always know how to do this when we chastise our children. Sometimes also teachers in school show a remarkable insensitivity to the need to make the chastisement fit the sin. They invent strange punishments which sometimes, I fear, do more harm than good. But parents, who in the disciplining of their children are called to imitate, in as far as they are able, God's discipline of His people, must use wisdom so that their chastisement does not become arbitrary.
But God's chastisement is also without joy for Him. If I may speak as a man, God has no pleasure in chastising His children, but instead is grieved by it -- as He is grieved by their sin. A parent will some-times say to his child when he spanks the child, "This hurts me more than it hurts you." That can really be true. Parents do not enjoy punishing their children for their sins. But they know that sometimes punishment is necessary in order to teach their children the right ways. They punish reluctantly.
The same is true of God. Psalm 103:8 tells us that God is slow to anger. He is very merciful. He is not a cruel Father Who delights in seeing His children suffer; He is merciful beyond description. He loves His children dearly and He is sad when they are in need of chastisement.
The fact that the people of God are called in the text, "children of men" means that God is patient with His people in their infirmities and weaknesses, and remembers that they are weak and frail. A versification of Psalm 103 that has always meant a great deal to me goes like this: "Mindful of our human frailty / is the God in Whom we trust. He Whose years are everlasting, / He remembers we are dust."
But sin grieves our Father also. And sin endangers our souls. So, when it becomes necessary, God chastises, sometimes severely, that we may be corrected and saved. He has no joy in seeing us hurt, but He has great joy in accomplishing His own purpose in our salvation -- by whatever means it takes to accomplish that goal.
Thankful for the mercy of God, we must submit to His chastisement, humble ourselves under His mighty hand, and turn from our evil ways.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 8
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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