Lamentations 3:15 – Wormwood and Wine
He has filled me with bitterness, He has sated me with wormwood.Lamentations 3:15
In his lament concerning the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah includes himself in the guilt and punishment of all the people, and expresses in his personal suffering the effect of the vengeful hand of the LORD for all the sins that Israel had committed. He does not pretend to stand above the people and their sins, but shares in their sin, so describing himself as one worthy of punishment. In his lament, he cries out concerning the bitter cup that the LORD has given him to drink, the cup of wormwood and gall.
The cup of wormwood – a mixture of bitter herbs – was the symbol for the cup of God's wrath and was given to the people of Israel according to the predictions of the prophets, Isaiah 51:17ff., Jeremiah 8:14, 9:15, cf. 25:15. These prophesies were given in the hope that repentance might yet come. But for the most part, there was no real and lasting conversion to the LORD, and therefore the full punishment of the royal city had to come.
Yet this was not the end of the story! As the prophet also says in this lament, cf. vs. 22ff., God cannot forget His people, nor can He make a full end of them. Indeed, they were not able to drink the full cup of His wrath, even though this is what they deserved. For the LORD God punished, but also had compassion, and in overflowing love and mercy He returned to save His people, the remnant who trusted and held firm to His name of power.
The LORD was able to do this because of His promise concerning the coming of Jesus Christ, His only Son. Indeed, He was the only one able to drink this cup of God's eternal wrath. And He was also willing to drink it to the dregs! He announces Himself to be the only one able to drink it in His words to the sons of Zebedee, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I am to drink?" Matthew 20:22. They said, "We are able," but little did they know the full extent of that cup!
In effect, Jeremiah anticipates the work of Jesus Christ in the words of his lament. Jeremiah could not fully drink the cup either, but his words reach ahead to the work of the true Prophet and High Priest, Christ Jesus, who on reading them, knew what He had to do. These words come to their fulfillment in the bitter agony of His death on the cross. He had to drink the bitter cup of God's wrath, and so fulfill the words of Psalm 69: "They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink," vs. 21.
So, when the Lord Jesus was offered the bitter drink, the wine mixed with gall (Matthew 27:34), He also saw fulfilled symbolically what this text spoke of. In that action the Father told Him that the hour had come in which His full wrath was to be outpoured. In holding this drink before Him, the Father announced the coming of the full curse. And His refusal to drink the wine mixed with gall is also a sign of His obedient acceptance of His Father's will. He would bear this curse in His own strength, without any aid!
So He drank the cup of God's wrath right to the last drop, and that without any assistance or help from any other. As never before, and as never after, He was filled with bitterness, and sated with wormwood. The full measure of God's wrath came upon Him during the bitter hours of His sufferings on Golgotha.
And because Jesus drank the wormwood, we may drink the wine. Wine is the opposite of wormwood. It represents the drink of the feast of the resurrection, the drink of restored life in God's fellowship, the drink of the coming Kingdom. Jesus Himself promised that He would drink it new with us in His kingdom, Matthew 26:29. And as a foretaste we may drink of the cup of the new covenant in His blood!
For the miracle of substitution has taken place! He has turned the wrath that lay upon us into a blessing. He has changed our wormwood into wine! Where before there was only one drink for us according to what we deserved, He graciously transforms it into another far surpassing anything we ever dreamed of. Our drink of eternal death has become in Him a drink to eternal life, a cup of blessing with life-giving power.
So He can also say that in the final judgment only those who reject the call of the Lamb will receive a bitter cup to drink. The false and apostate city Babylon will receive a double drought for all her sins, Revelation 18:16. But in Christ Jerusalem's warfare is ended. In Christ, she has paid double for all her sins! So the real and lasting feast may begin in Him, the feast of wine of the lees, (Isaiah 25:6), the feast of resurrection and life, joy and everlasting praise to the only Saviour!
This is the eternal feast given for all those who confess their sins, turn to Christ, and trust and believe in Him alone! He has turned our mourning into joy, our wormwood into wine! Daily we may live in the power of His grace, looking forward to the final marriage feast of the Lamb, when He will drink the wine new with us in His kingdom!