19–24 In stark contrast, the tone changes in the very next breath. The poet confesses that in spite of the natural response to such devastating calamities, he chooses to foster a confident expectation in Yahweh. The Hebrew syntax of v. 20 uses the intensifying infinitive plus the cognate finite verb to emphasize that the experience of affliction and uprootedness is unforgettable: literally, “I certainly remember.…” Further, the certain recollection invites depression: “My soul is downcast within me.” Nevertheless, the stanza ends (v. 21) on a note of hope. The poet points to the choice of whether to focus on the calamity itself and be buried in self-pity, or on God’s character and his promise and, once again, on the confident expectation that doing so engenders (cf. v. 18).
The “this” in v. 21 that the lamenter chooses to recall points ahead to the next three-verse stanza. The grounds of this confident expectation are the many manifestations of God’s ḥesed (GK 2876)—his “loyal love”—and rāḥamîm (GK 8171)—“compassions”—which never expire or wear out. To the contrary, they are constantly being renewed. Addressing God directly, the poet confesses, “Great is your faithfulness/steadfastness.” It is because of these characteristics, he declares, that “we are not consumed” (v. 22).
He finishes the stanza by reflecting on the practical application of this truth: the locus and content of trust are often expressed over time and under trying circumstances. The poet’s choice of words invites the first audience to reflect on the significance of saying, “Yahweh is all I have—and all I need.” His use of the expression “the Lord is my portion” draws his audience back to the narrative of the book of Numbers, where Aaron and his priestly descendants are told that while the rest of the family would receive a “portion” of the land as an inheritance, they would not. Rather, Yahweh told them, “I am your share [portion] and your inheritance”—that is, you have me! (Nu 18:20). And for the third time in this poem, the outcome of confident expectation is emphasized: “Therefore I will [confidently] wait for him.” Thus ends the first part of the poem that speaks in the first person singular.
3:22–24 / Het. The eighth stanza is the most optimistic of the entire poem. Indeed, it is the most optimistic of the entire book. The fact that it is found in the middle indicates that while hope is present, it is neither the beginning nor the final thought. The pain is still too fresh and the end is not yet in sight. Even so, this stanza, though brief, indicates that the poet is has not completely abandoned himself to hopelessness.
The first line (v. 22) initially strikes one as odd. After all, the poet has repeatedly expressed the sentiment that his/their suffering is deep and pervasive. The destruction is nearly total. But here the poet acknowledges that though he and those he speaks of are deeply afflicted, they are still there. They are not completely consumed, and he attributes this to God’s grace as expressed in his khesed (covenantal love) and his rekhem (compassion). Psalm 77 is the poem of a desperate person who attributes his suffering to God. He accuses God of betraying his khesed and rekhem in verses 8–9. The poet in Lamentations sees the fact that anyone survived the debacle as evidence of God’s love and compassion.
Not only do God’s love and compassion not wear out, grow weak, or vanish over time, they are new every morning. That is, they are renewed as vital as ever before. In addition, verse 23 introduces yet a third quality of God’s covenantal love toward his people, his faithfulness (ʾemuna). This word refers to God’s persistence in his relationship with his people. God is often praised as displaying faithfulness in the Psalms (33:4; 92:2 ; 143:1).
Because of God’s love, compassion, and faithfulness, the poet, on behalf of the community, expresses his willingness to wait for him. Now things are bad, but God will make them good again. The metaphor of portion comes from land distribution. Joshua 19:9 refers to the land allotted to the tribes as their portion and associates the word with the word “inheritance” (nahala). The Levites had God as their special portion (Deut. 10:9), since they did not receive land, and now the man of affliction on behalf of the community lays claim to the same type of relationship.
3:22 Because of the Lord’s great love. The word hesed, stressing God’s faithful and loyal covenant/relational love, stands at the front of the verse and is plural. The NIV’s “great” is implied. This plural construction of hesed is fairly rare, occurring only five times in the Old Testament. In some of these texts it refers to actions or deeds resulting from this covenant love: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised” (Isa. 63:7); “do not blot out what I have so faithfully done” (Neh. 13:14). If this is the nuance, then it is God’s faithful loving actions (plural) and his compassions (plural) that are new (plural) every morning (3:23).
we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. The words translated as “consumed” (tamam) and “fail” (kalah) are practically synonyms, both meaning “to come to an end” or “to be completely finished.” The NIV translation correctly understands the subject of tamam as “we,” although several other translations understand the subject to be God’s hesed. The nuance is “We have not come to an end because his compassions have not come to an end.” The word translated as “compassions” conveys warm, emotional, tender care like that of a mother for her newborn. The term probably refers to what God does (“acts of compassion”) and not just what he feels. The stressed aspect of God’s tender, compassionate acts is their continuity; they never cease or stop. This is what gives hope in the midst of an otherwise hopeless situation. The term “new” refers to a fresh renewal of God’s acts of faithful love and compassion.
3:23 great is your faithfulness. The word translated as “faithfulness” connotes firmness, reliability, steadfastness, or fidelity. This line is a summary of the three lines above. God is incredibly trustworthy, as is seen through his repeated and renewed acts of faithful love and compassion.
3:24 The Lord is my portion. The word translated as “portion” is used of the portions created when either splitting up captured spoils of war or splitting up land for inheritance purposes. Although both meanings fit the context (spoils of Jerusalem carried off by Babylonians; all land inheritance lost), the reference probably is to the lost land inheritance. Having lost his land inheritance, the speaker turns to God as his inheritance—an inheritance that cannot be lost.
therefore I will wait for him. The word translated as “wait” (yahal) is the same word translated as “hope” in 3:21 and “wait” in 3:26. The noun form of this word occurs in 3:18, translated as “hoped.” This word implies an enduring expectant hope.
3:19–24. Jeremiah’s condition was parallel to Judah’s. His outward affliction (v. 19a; cf. vv. 1–4) and inward bitterness (v. 19b; cf. vv. 5, 13, 15) pushed him toward despair—he was bowed down (v. 20). However, his hope was sustained by recalling (surely my soul remembers) God’s loyal covenant love and His deep compassion for His people. There are two possible interpretations of v. 22 based on the textual variants. The Masoretic text has a first person plural verb of the Hebrew verb for “complete” (tamam) yielding the translation “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish” (HCSB and similarly, KJV, NKJV, NIV). However, the various ancient texts (LXX, Syriac, Aramaic) have an alternate reading with a third person plural verb of the same Hebrew verb, yielding the translation the Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease (NASB and similarly, ESV, RSV, NET). This variant reading is preferred because of the strong external support and the internal evidence of the synonymous parallel statement that follows, for His compassions never fail.
The Lord was punishing Judah for her sin, but He did not reject her as His covenant people. The word lovingkindnesses is chesed, a word describing God’s special characteristic of “loyal love” to those with whom He is in a covenant relationship (Dt 7:9, 12). Further, God’s “loyal love” is frequently linked with His forgiveness and mercy (Ex 34:6–7; Ps 103:4). Despite the Lord’s judgment, which resulted in sorrowful conditions, God would never abandon the people whom He had chosen. The covenant He made with Abraham (Gn 12:3) and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob (Gn 26:1–5; 28:4) was an unconditional, unbreakable covenant (Jr 31:35–37). The Sinai covenant made with Israel (Dt 28) had not been abrogated. In fact, God’s loyal love could be seen in His faithfulness in carrying out the consequences (curses) of the Sinai covenant. He had promised judgment for disobedience, while at the same time preserving a remnant of the people. This judgment on Jerusalem itself testified to God’s faithfulness and was proof that He had not abandoned His people. God’s never failing compassions (His gentle feeling of concern for those who belonged to Him) were still evident.
Could Judah push God so far that He would finally abandon her forever? Was God’s supply of loyal love and compassion limited? Jeremiah’s answer was, “No!” God’s lovingkindnesses are new every morning (Lm 3:23). God offered a fresh supply of loyal love every day to His covenant people, based on His character and covenant keeping faithfulness to Israel. He was faithful to discipline them for their sin because of His great love for them. He had not abandoned them or terminated His relationship with them despite their sin, and those who repented of their sin experienced His love, even in the midst of judgment. For Jeremiah and the faithful remnant living through the days of judgment, God’s presence and comfort were new every morning. Today those who love the Lord Jesus, but are going through difficult times, can daily experience the love and faithfulness of God’s presence and care by trusting Him, spending time in prayer, reading Scriptures, and staying in the fellowship of others who love and serve the Lord. Much like the manna in the wilderness, the faithful supply of God’s love could not be exhausted. This truth caused Jeremiah to call out in praise, Great is Your faithfulness (v. 23). Because of this, Jeremiah resolved to wait for God to act and bring about restoration and blessing. He could trust God despite his circumstances because he understood the inexhaustible supply of God’s loyal love.
Truth remembered (21–24)
But there is another kind of memory. It is the deliberate, determined, teeth-gritting decision to call something to mind. It is an action of the will, not a reaction of the emotions. It is a conscious and difficult choice: ‘I will think about this.’ That is the flavour of the remarkable verse 21—which though it is the last line of a stanza of negative remembering (19–20), becomes the first line of a glorious positive affirmation and the turning point of the whole chapter. ‘Nothing is heavier than one’s head when one is struggling; raising one’s eyes requires great effort. Yet such effort is exactly what is called for here. The man takes himself in hand. He makes a decision, voluntarily affirming his faith, and acts with resolution and determination.’
‘This,’ says the Man, with powerful contrasting emphasis, ‘This I call to mind’ (21). But call to mind feels a little too weak. The Man says (Heb.) ‘This I cause to return to my heart’. The heart in Hebrew is the seat not so much of the emotions as of the mind and will. The Man does not just happen to remember something. He makes it come back into his conscious thinking, so as to change his whole perspective. This is something he knows that he knows, and he knows that he needs to get it back into his thinking right now. Sometimes it takes a very emphatic act of will to remember what we already know, when everything in our present experience threatens to deny it and overwhelm us.
Something similar happens in the middle of Psalm 73. The author has been lamenting the prosperity of the wicked and the seeming futility of trying to live a godly life when all you get is daily afflictions (Ps. 73:1–14). But then, as we say in Northern Ireland, he catches himself on. He knows that he is thinking wrongly and if he were to voice his thoughts it would be a betrayal (v. 15). So he goes to the place of worship, into the presence of God, and ‘then I understood’ (v. 17). There is no apparent change in his circumstances, but a radical reversal of his perspective. So the psalm can confidently end where it falteringly began, by affirming the goodness of God (vv. 1, 28).
Something like that happens when the Man chooses to remember this. The hope that he thought had abandoned him forever reappears: therefore I have hope. The contrast between the end of verse 18 and the last word of verse 21 is astonishing. What can he have remembered that lifts a man who says he has lost all he ever hoped for into a place where he can say I have hope? What is the this that emphatically opens verse 21?
The opening words of verse 22 are the dramatic answer. In fact, they seem to be the intended object of what he calls to mind in verse 21: ‘This is what I call to mind … YHWH’s acts of faithful love!’
This is what happens, you see, when you let YHWH’s name into the text, even by the back door—as he did at the end of verse 18. Once utter the Lord’s name and you cannot help remembering the multiple proofs of his covenant love. After all, it is how YHWH proclaimed his own identity at the start of Israel’s journey with God
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness …
That journey seemed to have come to an end in the darkness and death of 587 bc and exile. But if YHWH was still God, then it surely could not be the end. For the character of the Lord God must be as eternal as God himself. And that is what verse 22 affirms in a beautiful chiastic structure:
This I call to mind …
Verse 23 turns this reality into a daily-renewed reminder, new every morning, and comes full circle back to the greatness of God’s faithfulness.
These verses (22–23), resonating as they do with harmonics from all over the scriptures, are deservedly famous. It is grievous that they suffer from being so often extracted from their context in the midst of the surrounding pain of the whole book of Lamentations. But ironically, they are often quoted and sung in the midst of personal suffering and danger by believers who may know nothing of what our Poet describes—the horrors of 587 bc—but who do know personal or community suffering (illness, bereavement, poverty, persecution, war, dislocation, disaster, etc.). So, in the devotions and songs of multitudes of believers ever since, the sustaining truth at the heart of the Man’s memory becomes embedded again in surrounding trauma, bringing a transforming perspective and renewed hope.
Lamentation is not the sole response of those who believe and are broken.
Or better—Lamentation also, though rarely and tentatively—smiles.
As here. Come, urges the poet, walk with me out of the night. God is still God, the promise holds firm.
Indeed, so psychologically and spiritually powerful is this new act of remembering that the Man forgets for a moment his self-absorption with the suffering that God (‘He …’) has afflicted on him and speaks directly to that same God—great is your faithfulness. He has not done this before. Lady Zion has addressed God, but the Poet has only ever spoken of God in the third person. ‘For the first time in the poem, he addresses God directly, as though God had been his silent audience all along and he knows he can turn and make contact with the divine Eavesdropper.’30
When he turns to more prolonged prayer in the second part of the chapter, it will be in a somewhat different tone. But when we get there we should not forget that the confession, protest and appeals that we will hear there are grounded on the solid affirmation of faith here: YHWH is the known and remembered God of proven covenant love, compassion and faithfulness—no matter what he has done, or has not yet done. All his actions must be viewed within that light, even if it strains our theology to the limits (as it will).
So the Man talks to himself yet again. In verse 18 (so I say …), he had voiced his utter loss of future and hope. Now, with his perspective transformed by what he has forced back into his mind, he can say something very different: I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’ (24). ‘I will wait’ is the verb of the same root as the lost ‘hope’ of verse 18. ‘Hope springs eternal’, but only when its focus is on the eternal Lord God.
22–24. Hope because of God’s faithfulness! Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed … The well-known Hebrew word ḥesed (great love) is used in the plural here. It refers to God’s covenantal love, his deeds of kindness towards his people. This verse declares that God has not made a complete end to his people (the plural we is used), despite their terrible plight, because he is still a God of compassion and ‘loving kindness’ (echoing Exod. 34:6–7). God’s great and loyal love and his compassion enfold Israel’s existence just as these words literally enfold the words in between in verse 22, thus forming a chiasm, with the second part reading ‘not to an end come his compassions’ (for ‘compassion’ see also Jer. 31:20).
Verse 23 states that God’s compassions are new every morning. Every day presents a new opportunity to experience a fresh outpouring of God’s great love and compassion, as well as his faithfulness, his steadfast consistent loyalty (cf. Ps. 92:2 where the first word is ḥesed and the second faithfulness, as in Lam. 3:23). The poet speaks of God as his portion (v. 24), a term used in the context of receiving a part of the Promised Land. The Hebrew word is translated as share in Deuteronomy 10:9 and Joshua 19:9, and is used in conjunction with the word inheritance. In several of the psalms, it is used as a metaphor for God as the psalmist’s highest treasure (see Pss 73:25–26; 142:5, where he is clinging to God in the midst of distress). The speaker resolves to wait for God; the verb also appears in verses 18 and 21, translated as hope.
3:22 This verse seems to contradict all that had been written up to this point (2:1–5). Yet the fact that there was a prophet left to write these words and a remnant left to read them show that not every person in Jerusalem had been consumed. The fact that there was a remnant at all was due to the mercies and compassions of God. Even in His wrath (2:1–4), God remembers to be merciful.
3:23 new every morning: Every day presents us with a new opportunity to discover and experience more of God’s love. Even in the midst of terrible sorrow, Jeremiah looked for signs of mercy. Great is Your faithfulness: Here is the heart of the Book of Lamentations. The comforting, compassionate character of God dominates the wreckage of every other institution and office. God remains “full of grace and truth” in every situation (Ex. 34:6, 7; John 1:14).
3:24 The Lord is my portion: This expression is based on Num. 18:20, in which Aaron was denied an inheritance in the land but was told instead that the Lord Himself was his portion and inheritance. The same idea is also found in Pss. 16:5; 73:26; 119:57; 142:5. I hope in Him: Hope is not a wishful thought, but a confident expectation in Lord. The Hebrew verb rendered hope suggests the idea of a “waiting attitude” (v. 21).
3:22 — Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
Do you know the Lord as trustworthy, reliable, and consistent? Or do you question whether God will be there for you in your hour of need? From cover to cover, the Bible proclaims, “God is there, and He cares!” He never abandons us.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT FINDING CONFIDENCE IN GOD
Lam. 3:23, 24
God’s people have only one way to face life: confidently. After all, He loves us, has saved us from eternal death, and is committed to guiding us through every moment of life. God wants us to live confidently—but too often we allow feelings of personal inadequacy and unworthiness to derail our confidence.
The apostle Paul lived through horrendous circumstances—rejected by his Jewish peers, stoned, abandoned for dead, ridiculed, ignored, and often beaten and imprisoned for his devotion to Christ. But Paul continued to maintain a confident hope, right up to the very end. How did he manage this?
When the apostle did not think he could face another day, he recalled one simple truth: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). He focused on his Lord, just as Jeremiah had: “Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in Him!” ’ (Lam. 3:23, 24).
The classic hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness expands on this important idea. Next time you sing it, don’t miss the wonder of it: God is faithful and does not change (Heb. 13:8). In this one truth we find our reason for hope and unwavering confidence. God’s unchanging nature teaches us that even when we feel unlovely, we remain beautiful to Him. We can do nothing to change His love for us—it is unconditional and flows freely from His throne of grace.
If God decided to change who He is, then every promise He has made would be in jeopardy. He would become untrustworthy. But the legacy of God is this: He loved us unconditionally yesterday, and He loves us with the same love today and tomorrow.
Do you trust Him? Have you experienced a strong assurance that comes from placing your faith in His unfailing love? Roll the burden of your heart onto Him and you will discover that you too can sing, “great is Thy faithfulness.”
See the Life Principles Index for further study:
- God assumes full responsibility for our needs when we obey Him.
Roll the burden
of your heart
Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (La 3:22–24). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles. 3:22 lovingkindnesses. This Heb. word, used about 250 times in the OT, refers to God’s gracious love. It is a comprehensive term that encompasses love, grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, truth, compassion, and faithfulness.
3:22–24 His compassions never fail. As bleak as the situation of judgment had become, God’s covenant lovingkindness was always present (cf. vv. 31, 32), and His incredible faithfulness always endured so that Judah would not be destroyed forever (cf. Mal 3:6).
3:23 Great is Your faithfulness. The bedrock of faith is the reality that God keeps all His promises according to His truthful, faithful character.
3:22 God’s steadfast love (his “covenant mercy” or beneficial action on his people’s behalf) never ceases, even in the face of Judah’s unfaithfulness and the resulting “day of the Lord” (cf. Joel 2:1–2; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:14–16). mercies. Or “compassion.” This type of mercy goes the second mile, replacing judgment with restoration. never come to an end. God is willing to begin anew with those who repent.
3:23 new every morning. Each day presents another opportunity to experience God’s grace. faithfulness. God’s covenantal fidelity and personal integrity remain intact no matter what happens.
3:24 my portion. As with the Levites (Num. 18:20), God is the speaker’s only inheritance (see Ps. 73:26). says my soul. This is what the speaker remembers in Lam. 3:21. I will hope in him. God daily offers fresh opportunities for reconciliation (cf. v. 18).
3:22 steadfast love. On the Hebrew word (ḥesed) see Ps. 36:5 note. The plural form, used here, recalls many acts or perhaps the riches of divine love.
mercies. God’s covenant devotion is always joined with His compassion, a term of profound emotion. We are not consumed because God’s compassion is not consumed. God’s wrath toward His people will end because His compassion cannot end (4:22; Hos. 11:8).
3:23 every morning. God’s love will bring the morning of salvation (Ps. 90:14; Mal. 4:2; Luke 1:78).
faithfulness. The unqualified reliability of God makes Him worthy of faith (Hab. 2:4).
3:24 my portion. This phrase recalls the territorial allocations to the Israelite tribes. The priests and Levites, who were landless, had the Lord as their portion (Num. 18:20; cf. Ps. 73:26).
 Ferris Paul W., J. (2010). Lamentations. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah–Ezekiel (Revised Edition) (Vol. 7, p. 618). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Longman, T., III. (2012). Jeremiah, Lamentations. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 368–369). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hays, J. D. (2016). Jeremiah and Lamentations. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 343). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.
 Dyer, C. H., & Rydelnik, E. (2014). Lamentations. In M. A. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (Eds.), The moody bible commentary (pp. 1195–1196). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Wright, C. J. H. (2015). The Message of Lamentations: Honest to God. (A. Motyer & D. Tidball, Eds.) (pp. 110–113). England: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Lalleman, H. (2013). Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary. (D. G. Firth, Ed.) (Vol. 21, p. 357). Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 951–952). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (La 3:22–23). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1487). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1138). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.