Ever since my first year of Hebrew, I’ve been fascinated with the word hesed. It is one of the dominant OT words for how God deals with us, and without question the most frequently praised attribute of God: “for his hesed endures forever!” Dr. Terry Rude, my first year Hebrew prof., defined it as God’s ‘loyal lovingkindness.’ Of its ± 248 occurrences, the KJV translates it mercy 149x, the NASB – lovingkindness 176x, the NIV – love, ESV – steadfast love, NET Bible – loyal love, NLT – faithful love.
As Dr. John Oswalt said in his Aldersgate Forum lectures on holiness last week: this is a very difficult word to translate. In fact four PhD dissertations in the last century were dedicated to determining the meaning(s) of this word, and I even ventured a shot at it in a lengthy footnote (Ch. 5, ftnt. 34) in my dissertation.
Despite looking at all its occurrences, studying its semantic range, reading Gordon Clark’s dissertation on it, and so on, I have not been satisfied with my practical grasp of the term. What has particularly bothered me is that I rarely ever rejoice in and thank God for His hesed, yet that is clearly the focal point of OT praise.
This was bothering me particularly on Wednesday of this week, so I told my Hebrew students that they really ought to begin wrestling with this word. Today I took up my own advice again. But this time with a different focus. Rather than attempting to refine my understanding of the sense(s) or meaning(s) of the word, I decided to look at its referents.
When God does hesed with people (that’s the Hebrew idiom), what does He do? In other words, if I am to find evidence of God’s hesed in my life, what am I supposed to look for? Here’s the data I found in 20 minutes during my devotions this morning:
Examples of God's Hesed at work:
- God delivering Lot from Sodom -- deliverance, saving of life (Gen. 19).
- God guiding Abraham's servant to Rebekah -- providing leadership (Gen. 24).
- God granting His servant favor in the eyes of his superior (Gen. 39; Ezra 7, 9).
- Guiding Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 15:13).
- Does Exod. 34:7 imply that forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin is God's hesed at work? Num. 14:19 appears to support the idea: Moses prays that God would forgive the iniquity of the people in accordance with His great hesed.
- Ruth 1:8 -- Naomi's prayer that God would deal with Orpah and Ruth with the same hesed that they have shown to their (now) dead husbands and to Naomi -- thus a kindness, a loyalty -- sticking with Naomi, helping care for her (Ruth 1:20).
- God's provision of Boaz as a redeemer for Ruth and Naomi is evidence of His hesed (Ruth 2:20).
- God took away His hesed from Saul = no longer spoke to Him, permitted him to be tormented by an evil spirit, i.e., no longer protected him spiritually (2 Sam. 7:15).
- To show kindness is to do the hesed of God with another person (2 Sam. 9:3).
- God keeps covenant and hesed by keeping his promises for good to those to whom He makes them (1 Kings 8:23). For example, God did "great hesed" with David by making Solomon his son king in his place (2 Chron. 1:8).
- Psalm 6:5 a prayer for deliverance on the basis of God's hesed.
- Psalm 21:7 Because of God's hesed, the one who trusts in him is not shaken. God's establishment and strengthening is an evidence of his hesed.
In sum, what I learned this morning is that God’s deliverance, salvation, guidance, kindness, forgiveness, loyalty, keeping of His promises to do good, protection – all these are evidences of His hesed at work! No wonder Moses hungered to be satisfied with God’s hesed. And I have begun to rejoice in and thank God for his never-ending hesed!