Friday, July 6, 2012

What Does Hesed Mean in the Hebrew Bible?

I was going through Proverbs with my kids this morning and came upon the word hesed (I'm not even going to attempt to use my SPAtlantis font on this one--just act like your coughing up a hairball when you read the h) in 3:3, so I shared with them what it meant and thought I would do the same here by arguing that the Book of Ruth is in the Bible for the theological purpose of teaching us about the term. Lo and behold, Charles Halton already did it for me in an article he wrote for SJOT. You can access it here:

If you've ever seen "The Notebook," you've witnessed the type of love that goes beyond what is normally required of one's commitments. The love expressed when the couple is old (not the type when they are young) is the type of love that does not merely fulfill the chore of love assigned to an individual, but loves without measuring what is required of it.

The term that is often glossed in the Bible as "loving-kindness" or "steadfast love" refers to a type of love that goes beyond what is required. It is a love that not only fulfills the duties of one's covenantal commitments (i.e., what I'm supposed to do and what is expected of me as a son, father, husband, etc.); but seeks to go above and beyond my duties and rights to do good to the other person. This is important, as our relationship with God and others should be one of hesed, as that is precisely the type of love that God gives to us as His people. This, in return, is the type of love we should have for God.

In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord is really contrasting the type of religion that only fulfills what is technically required by God's Word with a true relationship with the Lord that seeks to acknowledge Him in all our ways (Prov 3:6), with all our heart/thoughts (3:5), by seeking to go above and beyond the technical letter-fulfillment of the instruction He gives to us (3:3-4). And this type of love is produced in us because it is God's love for us. "In this is love, not that we  loved  God, but that He  loved  us and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10), and "We love, because He first  loved us" (4:19). So when you read the Psalms of God's love for you, or you sing a song about His "steadfast love," know that it is a love that goes beyond what would normally considered "good enough" to be defined as love, and instead seeks to do good to its object that transcends "normal" love and commitment. This is the love that the father in Proverbs instructs his son, along with his regular commitments, to "bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov 3:3). And in doing so, he will find favor with God and man, and have his crooked paths made straight, leading away from death, and instead, leading to life and shalom.

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