Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, When the Lord has not commanded it?Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That WOE and well-being proceed? Lam 3:37-38 NKJV
The Book of Lamentations in the Bible is a collection of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem, and it consists of five distinct poems divided into five chapters. It’s not known if the author is Jeremiah, or maybe one or more other authors. The first four poems are written as acrostics – chapters 1, 2, and 4 have 22 verses each, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, where the first lines begin with the first letter of the alphabet, the second with the second letter, etc. The fifth poem is not acrostic but still has 22 lines. According to wikipedia an acrostic can be used as means to aid memory, and a famous acrostic was made in Greek for the saying “JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, SAVIOUR” (Ιησούς Χριστός, Θεού Υιός, Σωτήρ; Iesous CHristos, THeou Yios, Soter—ch and th being each one letter in Greek). The initials spell ICHTHYS (ΙΧΘΥΣ) which is Greek for fish.
It’s evident that we shouldn’t make doctrines out of poems, since poems normally mirror the truth in a poetic way. Poems must be read through the filter of more clear non-poetic texts.
What else does the same chapter say?
4 My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.—12 He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.13 He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.—16 He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes. (KJV)
Hardly something we should understand literally.
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.22 It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
The jews in exile could very well have been consumed by their enemies, but God is full of grace and listens to earnest prayers. Since God is compassionate, he is hardly the guy who predestines people (before the creation of the world) to be tortured in hell for the only reason that they ended up as the non-elect group of people that God had always wanted them to be (if we should try to be consistent with TULIP).
25 The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It doesn’t say here that God decides to be good to only SOME random people, and that he makes them wait for him and seek him. No, it says that God is good unto those who wait for him and seek him, and the normal reading would be that people use their own free will to make this choice to wait for him and seek him.
29 He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
Another example of something that can’t be understood literally.
32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.33 For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. 34 To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth.
God doesn’t literally crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth, but he does allow afflictions to occur (sometimes he even causes them directly, as he did with the global flood) and mostly due to the need to punish his people (Israel) for their rebellion and wickedness. It’s not always pleasant for a Father to discipline his children, but sometimes it’s necessary, and hopefully (albeit not certain) it might produce something good – depending on how those affected will react. God is always willing to forgive a truly repentant heart.
35 To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,36 To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
God does not approve of people who turn aside the right of a man and who subvert his cause. This means that neither would God deny anyone the chance to be ELECT and saved (which those are who believe in Christ), and to be able to seek him and repent for past sins that have been committed. A God who does not subvert a man’s cause would not predestine him to be a wicked non-elect, and send him to hell for being this wicked non-elect person. That would be contrary to being a just and compassionate God, who makes sure that each person has a chance to get his soul saved.
37 Who is he that saith, and IT cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?38 Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?39 Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
(v. 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That woe and well-being proceed? NKJV)
V. 37 is a common “proof text verse”, because taken out of context (and ignoring the fact that it’s from a poetic book), it might sound as though nothing happens that God hasn’t approved of and even predestined. It’s important to understand what “it” refers to in relation to “who is he that has said”. The verses right before speak about being fair and to not subvert a man’s cause, and the verses right after talk about God’s PUNISHMENT FOR SINS. There wouldn’t be a need for God to punish people for doing his exact will, so the only reason for punishing people would be because they acted against his will. If they acted according to his will (by rebelling against him and by worshiping false gods), they would rather deserve rewards and much praise. Out of the mouth of God proceeds both woe (calamity) and well-being, and that means that God is able to show mercy and to answer earnest prayers, just as he is able to punish people for being rebellious. It’s on judgment day when we are really supposed to be judged based on our deeds, and receive both punishments and rewards, but God can also interfere here on earth. Not as in predestining people to sin (God doesn’t even tempt anyone, much less cause anyone to sin) but as in allowing things to take place which could be used for discipline in relation to his chosen people Israel. Sinners ALWAYS act against the will of God with no exception, and that would even include Judas Iscariot.
40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.42 We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.—47 Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destructions of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
The text doesn’t suggest that we should search and try GOD and the manner that he has predestined us and our ways. If God has predestined each one of our steps, then there is no need to investigate the way he has ordained things because we can always trust that he has done a proper job. In reality God has not at all predestined our actions, and that’s why it makes sense to be asked to search and try our ways – if perhaps we have sins to confess and if we can amend our ways. The author admits that they (the Israelites) indeed have transgressed and rebelled against God, and he also feels that God has not pardoned (due to the physical pain that had affected them in such a severe way). However, in other verses in the same chapter, the author still feels there is much hope and that God eventually will listen to their earnest prayers and come to their aid.
61 Thou hast heard their reproach, O Lord, and all their imaginations against me; 62 The lips of my enemies And their whispering against me all the day. 64 Repay them, O Lord, According to the work of their hands.
Notice that the author feels that it’s about their reproach, their imaginations, they who rise up against him and their device against him. He feels it’s the lips of his enemies which are at fault, and hopes that God will repay them according to the work of their hands. If God is the one who has merely used Israel’s enemy as a tool in his hands and caused them to act the way they did, it wouldn’t make sense to turn around and repay them for those exact deeds.