I am fascinated by the concept of Hesed in the old testament. The term is found many times in its various forms and there is no exact English equivalent. Myles Coverdale, one of the first translators, coined the word loving-kindness ( “louinge kyndnesse” ), it speaks of the unconditional love which the creator God bestows on his created image, humankind. This love is guaranteed by God’s covenant relationship and promise with His people.
The hesed of God is firm and dependable because God is firm and dependable. God chooses Abram to receive his blessing which he heaps upon this totally undeserving, barren, nomadic shepherd. Abraham responds with faith and totally commits himself into God’s promise leaving everything that provides any earthly security to follow the commands and promises which he has been given. Because of his faithful response Abraham is given the family and blessing which God promised him. His seed finally comes to total fruition in the person of Jesus Christ and all who are adopted as His sons through faith.
Hesed expresses the primary character of the Trinity in their relationship with each other. Each preferring the others and offering unconditional honour and service to each other. Primarily demonstrated by Jesus’ servant relationship with His heavenly Father, and the Father’s response “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”.
His ultimate act was the sacrificial act of love on the cross, which restored the creator’s universe to its ultimate glory; so it and the God image of human kind within it, express the perfect character of the trinity of love.
Yahweh, the great I am, is always revealing himself to those who seek Him. This is characterised by God’s relationship with Moses, first revealed as “I am”, at the burning bush. Then slowly over Moses’ life until that moment of divine revelation on the mountain, Exodus 34:6 the The Hebrew is shown here
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,(ESV)
The true God of the old testament is the exact opposite of the usual caricature of a vengeful angry old man. Our problem is that so often we create an image of God who is like us and this is always a false idol.
One of the lovely images of God is that of a loving husband as found in Hosea 2
“The LORD’s Mercy on Israel
14“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
15And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achore a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
16“And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD. (ESV).”
In fact the very best of human relationships, found often between husband and wife, show us something of the divine covenant love of God. The wonderful book of love poetry called the “Song of Songs” was often allegorised by the early Church Fathers to represent the love relationship between Jesus and His disciples, which include all who believe.
Loving-kindness should be one of the main characteristics which mark out God’s people and is the sign of God at work through His church. It has a wonderful attractiveness which draws people into the Church of Christ.
The book of Ruth is one of the best places to find examples of Hesed in the old testament. This is yet another beautiful love story. This is best demonstrated in the relationships between the main characters in the story who all show this Hesed love to each other. Ruth refusing to desert Naomi clinging to her and her God. Boaz shows his love to Naomi through his loving-kindness to Ruth and Ruth shows that to Boaz by marrying Him out of family devotion, above the prospect of marrying a younger more sexually attractive man. Finally God shows his ultimate love by providing a baby for Ruth; Obed the ancestor of David and ultimately Jesus Christ. There is a lovely fuller treatment here .
So what does this mean for you and me, we receive Hesed love from Jesus and we pass it on to our friends neighbours to the foreigner and stranger and even our worst enemies and we will be truly children of our Heavenly Father.