God's Merciful, Gracious, Loving-Kindness (A חסד Word Study)

There's a word that's been meeting me around every corner in Scripture lately. It's the Hebrew word, "chesed" (חֶסֶד) and while it has no exact English equivalent, it's the word used to refer to God's mercy, kindness, steadfast love and grace toward His people (*1). 

There is a notion to chesed (*2) that is distinctly covenantal. That is to say, chesed isn't chesed if it only happens once. You can have arbitrary kindness, but you can't have arbitrary chesed. Chesed is a consistent, unwavering, relentless devotion to or for someone.
"God's loving-kindness is that sure love which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel's persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Hebrew word which is translated loving-kindness." (*3)
This steadfastness of Yahweh is contrasted with man's utter lack of it. God's chesed is spoken of 200+ times in the Hebrew Bible (*4), but when man's chesed is referenced, it's in a satirical, almost humorous way. Isaiah makes the observation, "All flesh is grass, and all its chesed is like the flower of the field" (Is 40.6 *5). And Hosea compares our chesed to the morning marine layer and "the dew that goes away early" (Hos 6.4). Proverbs says that men love to boast of their chesed, but, in contrast, a man who is actually faithful is hard to find (Pr 20.6).

This inability for mankind to love consistently (*6) is a theme throughout the Bible. (See Ezekiel 16 for a poignant parable illustrating this.) But, in a stunning display of chesed, Jesus adds a new layer to God's love, namely: grace. To love something that doesn't deserve love, that is grace. To not destroy something that ought to be destroyed, that is mercy. At calvary, God's chesed displays both mercy and grace, in addition to His everlasting, unfailing love. And this is evident precisely because of our waywardness. Rejoice.


May God's chesed be your focus today.




Footnotes:
*1 - The KJV leans toward "mercy" or "kindness," while ESV likes "steadfast love," and the Greek LXX uses "grace." The thing is, to get a real picture of chesed we'd need to merge all these ideas. Sally Lloyd-Jones, in the Jesus Storybook Bible, translates chesed as God's "never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love." Excellent.
*2 - Pronounced hess-ED, with a light "k" at the beginning, like you're clearing your throat.
*3 - Excerpt from http://www.bible-researcher.com/chesed.html
*4 - Gen 39.21; Ex 15.13, 20.6, 4.6-7; Num 14.18-19; Deut 5.10, 7.9,12; 2 Sa 22.51; 1Ki 3.6, 8.23; 1 Ch 16.34,41; 2 Ch 5.13, 6.14, 7.3,6, 20:21; Ezr 3.11, 9.9; Neh 1.5, 9.17,32, 13.22; Ps 5.7, 6.4, Ps 25.6,7,10, 31.7, 33.5, 36.5, 7.10, 59.10, 62.12, 63.3, 85.10, 100.5, 103.4,8, 117.2, 130.7, 136; Pro 3.3; Isa 16.5, 54.8; Jer 31.3, 32.18; Lam 3.22; Dan 9.4; Joel 2.13; Jonah 4.2; Mic 7.18, etc.
*5 - Random side note: I believe the ESV's rendering of chesed as "beauty" in Is 40.6 is a mistranslation. Isaiah wasn't comparing our beauty to flowers (which would be a compliment), rather our ability to endure in our loyalty. Case study: Exodus 32.
*6 - In Jeremiah 2.2, God recalls the chesed of our youth: the idea being that there is a level of passionate devotion that a bride has for her husband in the early days of her marriage, which erodes with time. In this case, the allegation is that in Israel's first days of freedom from the Egyptians, she was faithful to her Bridegroom King, and the call is to return to that chesed.

1 comment: