Ps 100.5 – For the LORD is good, forever His kindness, and for all generations His faithfulness.

The word that The Hebrew Bible translates “kindness” is hesed, the word that expresses God’s covenant love to his people. I like how the Hebrew emphasizes this characteristic putting the qualification first: forever! His kindness/hesed.

If God’s hesed is forever this means that there is no end to it, that it will not flag or fail or falter, that there will never come a day when we will wake up and God’s hesed will be gone or missing. “Forever” means that his hesed does not depend upon us or our actions or our faithfulness, but on God and his character and promises. It means that even when day and night cease and history comes to an end, God’s love/hesed will still be present, strong and sure. It means that we can wake up every morning in peace and hope because no matter what the storms that batter us from outside, God is present, God is active, God is faithful.

Spurgeon writes here: “Towards his own people mercy [hesed] is still more conspicuously displayed; it has been theirs from all eternity, and shall be theirs world without end.

The second article is from Practical Theology Today. I don’t remember seeing this website before but the articles resonated with me on a number of levels. The writer is Curt Hinkle.

Hesed and Emet

The Hebrew word hesed (sometimes transliterated as chesed) is translated into English as either steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, love, or unfailing love, depending on the translation of the Bible. Looking at Psalm 85:10, we see the treatment of hesed by various translations:

  • Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (NIV)
  • Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (ESV)
  • Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (NASB)
  • Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. (NKJV)

Hesed is such a rich and robust term that no single English word (or two words, in the case of “steadfast love”) captures its essence. Hesed is not just mercy, but covenant loyalty and relational fidelity. It is freely given, often unexpectedly, without requiring anything in return. Even though hesed stems from covenant (contract) loyalty, there is a sense that the loyalty surpasses the letter of the law. In Hosea, God said that he desires mercy (hesed), not sacrifice (law), which Jesus reiterated (Matthew 9:13). Jesus further reinforced this thought when addressing the Roman law forcing locals to carry soldiers’ packs for a mile; Jesus suggested going an extra mile (Matthew 5:41).

Hesed, you can see, describes the rich and robust depth of God’s character.

Though hesed is usually directional in its Old Testament usage – from God to his people – there is a sense that it was to be practiced ethically in the the way people treated each other, be it relatives, friends, or foreigners. Boaz recognized hesed (kindness) in Ruth’s character (Ruth 3:10). One also thinks of God’s desire that his people not seek vengeance, but show love toward their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) which Jesus reinforced, as part of “Great Commandments” (Mark 12:30-31). The author of Mark used the term agape (love), the Greek equivalent of hesed. Again, think “go the extra mile.”

Hesed is used 248 times in the Old Testament, 50% of its usage is in the Psalms, so it isn’t difficult to spot. As you read, be looking for it. Pay attention to the context in which it is used. I find myself translating the English back to Hebrew, knowing the richness and robustness of the word. I recently read Psalm 85 (above) and wrote in my journal, “Hesed and emet meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” As in Psalm 85, hesed and emet are often found together, increasing the richness and robustness of the description of God’s character. May you experience the hesed of God as you spend time with Him in Scripture.