Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hesed: The Unstoppable, Unrelenting Loyal-Loving-Kindness Of God

Biblical linguistic scholar William Mounce calls the Hebrew word hesed ‘one of the richest, most theologically insightful terms in the Old Testament.' James Strong says it is ‘one of the most important words in the vocabulary of OT theology and ethics.'
What is this word??

Because hesed is such a specific and nuanced word, it is very difficult to define in English. In various Bible translations it is rendered ‘steadfast love’ (ESV), ‘loyal love,’ or ‘covenant love’ (NET), ‘unfailing love’ (NLT), and ‘loving-kindness’ (KJV). It ‘denotes kindness, love, loyalty, mercy’ (Mounce). 'Strength, steadfastness and love’ are three strains of its interacting meanings (Strong). Daniel Block describes it as ‘that quality that moves a person to act for the benefit of another without respect to the advantage it might bring to the one who expresses it.’ He goes on to say that hesed is described mainly through action rather than emotion.

Hesed is more than kindness and more than love; it speaks of a committed relationship between two parties – a covenant. One who shows hesed is being faithful to his part of the covenant. But this word also implies going above and beyond the legal terms of the covenant, into the realm of generosity, choosing to show kindness and goodness even when the other party is undeserving (i.e. grace). Because of this, Strong says that “’devotion’ may be the closest English word to capturing the nuance of the original.’”

Hesed describes the specific relationship God has with his covenant people…The defining characteristic of God in covenant relationships with his people is that he shows them hesed.” (Mounce). “The entire history of Yahweh’s covenant relationship with Israel can be summarized in” (these terms). The association…with ‘covenant’ keeps it from being misunderstood as mere providence or love for all creatures. It applies primarily to God’s particular love for his chosen and covenanted people” (Strong).

So we see that this one little word encapsulates and describes God’s gracious choice to be devoted and faithful without fail to his own chosen, beloved people, and to act on their behalf with loyalty, kindness, goodness, mercy and grace. It is a special, relational love that keeps on going, despite our sin, simply because of God’s own choice and character.

This is the way God treats his covenant people. The Old Testament narratives illustrate this profoundly. Israel strays from God again and again, yet he continues to act on their behalf.
But what about Gentiles? What about the church? Is this unstoppable, special love for us as well?

The Church is the New Covenant People of God

God’s ultimate act of loving-kindness toward Israel was his faithfulness to send Christ to them – his own Son (Acts 10:36; Galatians 4:4). God did just as he promised; he was faithful to his end of the covenant. Yet Israel’s official response was to reject Christ. Jesus said that his blood inaugurates the promised new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15; 12:24). Therefore, through faith in Christ and his death/resurrection, those who believe are among the new covenant people of God (John 1:11-13; Gal 3:26-29). It was always God’s plan to bless the Gentiles and show them his covenant love, and this through Israel and their Messiah (Gen 12:1-3; Psalm 117). We see God’s covenant kindness displayed in the entire story of the Old Testament in his dealings with Israel. And we see it demonstrated amazingly at the cross, where Jesus died for his special, new covenant people, the church (Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25).
We Must Treat Our Brothers/Sisters with the Loving-Kindness We have Received from God

Because we have received hesed, we must show hesed:
“God requires such faithfulness and kindness” (from us) “because he himself is kind and has shown kindness to his people” (Mounce). [see Micah 6:8, Hosea 6:6] We show this faithful, loving-kindness in “response to the covenant” we have with God and as an outflow of “sanctification within” (Strong).

We reflect God’s loyal, devoted love to us when we show faithful, sacrificial kindness to one another. This is demonstrated in the story of Ruth (Ruth to Naomi in 1:8, 15-16; 3:10; Boaz to Ruth in 2:20; Ruth to Boaz in 3:10) and in the friendship-covenant between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:8). It is a sacrificial, selfless giving of loving mercy and kindness to another…that will not quit! This is best seen in the New Testament in the fact that Christ gave himself for us in love, and now we are to give ourselves in love to one another in the church (1 John 3:16). These kindnesses can be expressed toward strangers, but the 'covenant relationship' aspect of hesed is best demonstrated between committed members of local congregations toward one another. Members of local churches should learn to walk in love and kindness toward each other without thought to self, and even feel a sense of loyalty and devotion (commitment) to one another.

God’s Covenant Love-Kindness in Scripture

A quick word search will provide much blessing as you study hesed in Scripture. Here are a few to get you started:
Genesis 19:19 – Lot was shown hesed as the angels dragged him out of Sodom!
Gen39:21 – towards Joseph in prison
Exodus 15:13; 20:26; 34:6-7
Num 14:19 -  in forgiving sin
Deut 7:9
Ruth 2:20
2 Sam 9:3 – David and Mephibosheth
22:51 – to David
1 Kings 8:23 – Solomon’s prayer at Temple
Ezra 3:11 – sang about it
Neh 13:22 – spare me according to it
Job 10:12

Hesed is celebrated in the Psalms:
Ps 5:7 – approach God b/c of it; 13:5 – trust in it; 25:10 – for those who obey; 26:3 – it is before my eyes; 31:7 – rejoice in it; 33:5 – earth is full of it; 33:18 – hope in it; 40:10 – speak about it; 42:8 – God commands it over me; 48:9 – thought of it in the temple; 51:1 – forgive me b/c of it; 52:8 – trust in it; 59:16-17 sing of it; 63:3 – better than life; 66:20 – has not removed it; 89:1 sing of it; 90:14 satisfy us with it; 92:2 declare it; 94:18 it held me up; 100:5 endures forever; 103:4 among the benefits (see v11); 106:1 give thanks for it; 119:76 comfort; 130:7 – hope, redemption; psalm 136!;

Prov 16:6 – in relation to atonement
Isaiah 16:5- Messiah’s throne established in it; 54:7-8, 10 – won’t be removed; 63:7 – remember it;
Jeremiah 9:24 – know God through it
Lamentations 3:22!
Hosea 4:1 – God confronts Israel for not having it (6:6)
Zech 7:9 – show it to each other
Jonah 4:2 – Jonah mad at God for showing it to Gentiles
Micah 7:18-20 – not anger but love

May we praise God for his unstoppable, unrelenting loyal-loving-kindness toward us, who enjoy these blessings because of the blood of Christ!
And may we show this loyal, covenant love to one another in our local congregations, for the glory of Christ in the church.

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