It runs, pursues after you.
You hide, it seeks, and finds you.
If you go to the highest heights or lowest depths, it is there.
You may give up, but it never, ever, ever gives up on you.
You may lose your grip, but it does not lose its grip on you.
There is no end or limit to it.
Why? Because it is Hesed.
This Valentine’s Day my thoughts are entwined around “Hesed.”
Hesed has filled my mind and heart until I am nearly bursting with delight.
Now, before you think I am in a “relationship” or have a boyfriend who happens to be named “Hesed,” let me explain.
Truthfully, I am rejoicing and delighting in God’s covenant love, known in the Hebrew language as “hesed.”
Just recently introduced to this incredible word, I continue discovering its many facets.
Translators have struggled to find the right English word to fit its broad and deep meaning1. They’ve tried “steadfast love,” “faithful love,” “everlasting love,” “kindness,” “mercy,” etc. But many readily admit these words don’t quite cut it.
As I’ve been learning, this is God’s “covenant love,” the love that doesn’t let go, will never lose its grip on you, that is loyal beyond loyal, is abundant, “great in extent,” everlasting, good, and it keeps showing up no matter where you go or what you get yourself into. It is the love that goes to all heights and depths to seek out, rescue and restore God’s chosen ones. It never gives up, never runs out, never dries up.
Hesed, pronounced “kheh'•sed,” is used 248 times in the Old Testament – the first instance in Genesis and the last in Zechariah, and in 239 verses in between.2 More than half of these are found in the Psalms.
At times, hesed is used in interpersonal relationships when one person requests kindness and mercy, like when Joseph asked for hesed (kindness) of the cupbearer so he could be delivered from prison.
But, I think hesed takes on its fullest and deepest meaning when God uses it to describe Himself.
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love (hesed) for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Exodus 34:6-7a
“In Psalm 136, the central message of the entire psalm is the truth that God’s mercy, lovingkindness, or steadfast love (hesed) endures forever. Hesed is mentioned in every one of the twenty-six verses in Psalm 136. God’s steadfast love endures forever because God’s covenant relationship with his people endures forever. Hesed is often associated in the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because that covenant is without end and hesed is a ‘lovingkindness’ that endures forever.”3
This morning I taught from Micah 6:6-8. The familiar verse 8 clearly relays God’s expectation of His covenant people – “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” To my pleasant surprise, the word “kindness” is the Hebrew word “hesed.”
God asks us to show hesed to others – the same hesed He lavishly, freely and unreservedly bestows on us.
At the end of Micah, the prophet delights in God’s hesed love. The people of God have not yet repented or turned from their sins, but Micah is confident God will not forget them or retract His gracious love.
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever because He delights in steadfast love (hesed). He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love (hesed) to Abraham, as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.” Micah 7:18-20
Hesed, God’s covenant love, is shown not only in the Old Testament.
“In the New Testament, God went one step further. Hesed took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Hesed became not just a concept for us to grasp about God’s heart toward us, but had arms and legs and was born in Bethlehem. In Christ, hesed was no longer a what, it became a WHO. He showed us the ultimate hesed when he walked the lonely road to Calvary and stood in our place.”4
I feel as if I just met “hesed” and am still learning its width and breadth and depth.
Today, I rejoice in my Valentine, my Jesus, who faithfully shows me “hesed.”
Note: This post was partially inspired by a recent series of blog posts over at Velvet Ashes, focusing on “hesed.”