"So then, thou must know that, Yahweh thy Elohim, he, is Elohim,—the faithful El, keeping his covenant and his hesed with them that love him, and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations" (Deu. 7:9). Hesed is a foundational Hebrew word that has no Greek or English equivalent. People have translated it mercy, kindness, lovingkindness, goodness, love and on and on we go but these words do not define hesed. The American rabbi, Nelson Glueck, professor at Hebrew Union College, wrote his doctoral dissertation, in July 1927, on hesed. This article is based upon his book, 'Hesed in the Bible,' which I encourage everyone to read. (I do not recommend the preface, 'Recent Studies in Hesed,' by Gerald A. Larue, which is full of the doctrines of men.)
Bible translators have a difficult task in translating words from one language to another, when many times, there is no equivalent term. Different cultures also make understanding a word very difficult, when someone has no knowledge of this culture. These words should then be transliterated rather than translated, explaining the term and the culture surrounding the term but the public would, probably, not purchase the Bibles. Joseph Rotherham translated, hesed, as lovingkindness, which makes it easy to replace lovingkindness with hesed, when reading his translation but hesed is not lovingkindness, which means, an "affectionate tenderness and consideration; kindness arising from a deep personal love, as the active love of God for his creatures." Other Bible translations have used mercy and many different words to translate hesed, making it impossible to know when it is being used. Mercy is defined as "a forbearance and compassion shown by one person to another who is in his power and who has no claim to receive kindness," which is also not hesed.
The majority of Christians have been Hellenized, studying Greek rather than Hebrew; Hebrew being the foundation of the Word of Yahweh. They begin studying the New Testament, usually the Gospel of John rather than beginning with Genesis. Also, they read from Bible translations that have been corrupted by the traditions of men, an example being the removal of Yahweh. By doing so, they read their man-made theology into Yahweh's Word. For example, Hades, a Greek underworld, where everyone is alive is not Sheol, which is Hebrew, where people are not alive. Hades has been translated as Sheol, when they hold nothing in common. These Christians study 'agape,' but know nothing of 'ahab.' They study 'the LORD,' but not 'Yahweh.' Nelson Glueck has done well by examining hesed as used by Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures. Many Christian theologians will distort hesed because they have ingested a doctrine that is nowhere to be found in the scriptures, which is the manmade doctrine of, 'God's unconditional love.'
The culture in the Hebrew middle east, as in many countries today, was or is rooted in the fact that every stranger is an enemy. The whole conception of the duties of humanity is framed within the narrow circle of the family or the tribe; relations of love are either identical with those of kinship or are conceived as resting on a covenant. This truth is absolutely imperative in understanding the people in the Word of Yahweh. One must not interject our present culture into the lives of Abraham and Sarah. There were no policemen and courts of justice in their time, a time when there were warring bands of marauders.
Hesed (Strong's 02617) is used 248 times, 128 of which are in the Psalms. It's first usage is in Genesis 19:19. (See Appendix B for all of it's usages.) Hesed is defined by Glueck as:
Hesed as Human Conduct
In I Sam. 20:8 hesed appears quite clearly as conduct in accordance with the mutual relationship of rights and duties between allies. Between David and Jonathan, who were already united by the bonds of friendship (which, as we shall see, also required the hesed relationship), there existed a sacred covenant concluded in the name of Yahweh. Through this covenant their friendship was transformed into brotherhood and hesed was the mode of conduct each had to assume toward the other. The covenant they entered "put both under the solemn obligation to take care of the welfare and safety of his friend. David, therefore, appeals to this obligation when asking for Jonathan's protection. Any breach of this obligation was punishable by death." David implored Jonathan to protect him against Saul, the latter's father, since he feared for his life. In doing so, he pointed to the covenant between them. He asked for hesed, conduct in accord with the relationship existing between him and Jonathan. It was Jonathan's duty, required by hesed, to come to David's assistance and, if necessary, to sacrifice his own life for that of his friend. David said: "You should show your servant brotherliness, for you have brought your servant into a Yahweh-Covenant with you."
It could hardly be stated more explicitly that hesed is the conduct required in the mutual relationship between allies. The obligations and rights acquired through a covenant are translated into corresponding actions through hesed. Hesed is the real essence of covenant, and it can almost be said that it is its very content. The possibility of the origin and existence of a covenant was based on the existence of hesed. Where hesed and covenant occur side by side in the Bible, they are not to be understood as being entirely synonymous but as being mutually contingent upon one another. In those passages where hesed and covenant seem parallel to each other, everyday usage may not have made a sharp distinction.
Hesed is also used in I Sam. 20:14,15, to signify the attitude which must exist between allies. David, who had implored Jonathan to grant him hesed as he had promised, was in turn entreated by Jonathan never to withhold from him and his house the hesed of the covenant sworn to him in the name of Yahweh. Jonathan asked David to keep faith with him and never to reject him. Jonathan implored David not to have him and his family slain as a possible threat to the throne, according to Oriental practice, when he was king and no longer had anything to fear from his enemies. In the latter case, he called on Yahweh to demand this of David. The hesed to which Jonathan appealed was the hesed sworn to in the name of Yahweh, as in vs. 8. In vs. 15 the hesed which Jonathan asked from David for himself and his house is naturally the same hesed as in vs. 14. David was obligated to show Jonathan and his family, during Jonathan's lifetime and beyond, the brotherliness he had sworn to him." The concept of duty is very closely related to hesed, especially as duty was commonly understood in ancient Israel. Duty was but another facet of right." Hesed was the relationship among people who formed a fellowship which required the fulfillment of mutual responsibilities.
After becoming king, 2 Sam. 9:1, 3, 7, David intended to show hesed, for Jonathan's sake, toward Saul's house, which had been almost entirely exterminated. He recalled his relationship to Jonathan and was ready to offer Jonathan's family the hesed which he owed to him and his house. The loyal love, which David practiced when he learned of Meribaal's existence, by restoring to him his grandfather's possessions and assigning him a seat at his own table, was in reciprocity for the hesed shown him by Jonathan."
Hesed as Conduct corresponding to a Mutual Relationship of Rights and Duties
Only in the Book of Ruth is the word hesed used in a sense similar to that employed in the older sources. In Ruth 3:10 it is clearly shown that hesed is that mode of conduct which is in accordance with familial obligations. Ruth obeyed her mother-in-law and hid herself close to where Boaz slept. After he had fallen asleep, she nestled at his feet. Boaz awakened at midnight and was startled to find her there. Upon his questioning, Ruth told him who she was and asked him, as a kinsman of her husband, to fulfill his obligation to her as redeemer and to marry her. Boaz declared his willingness to do so, provided that a nearer kinsman of her husband would renounce his duties and rights. He blessed Ruth, who had so loyally shown hesed to her husband, saying, "May you be blessed by Yahweh, my daughter; you have made this last hesed greater than the first, in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich." The hesed which Ruth had demonstrated to her husband even after his death, by leaving her native land and father's house and following Naomi, was surpassed by the sense of love and loyalty she subsequently demonstrated. Instead of marrying a younger man, Ruth preferred to turn to the older Boaz, her husband's kinsman, in order, by virtue of this marriage, to have offspring for her husband who had died childless. Here hesed indicates a development beyond the ordinary use of the term in the older sources, since hesed in this context refers more to a subjective mode of conduct willed by an individual, and not simply to an attitude of obligation. Ruth was by no means obliged to go with Naomi. She was as free as Naomi's other daughter-in-law to return to her own people. Yet, in faithful love she followed her mother-in-law. In true religiosity she complied with Jewish custom. Ruth took it upon herself to practice hesed in order to fulfill the obligations of a Jewish widow. Boaz is blessed by Naomi, in Ruth 2:20, for the kindness he had shown Ruth. She says,
The relationship between Yahweh and man, very frequently expressed by hesed, requires of man the fulfillment of certain conditions. Only those who serve Yahweh in faithfulness participate in communion with him and receive hesed from him. It was he who had shown hesed to the living and the dead. From his servants, Boaz discovered who Ruth was and then had shown her special kindness. Further, Boaz was in no way perplexed when Ruth asked him to fulfill his obligation as "redeemer" and to marry her. She gave him no other explanation than that he was the "redeemer." Boaz was aware of his relationship to Ruth and also knew who was still a closer kinsman to her than he. Boaz thereupon declared, without hesitation, his readiness to marry her if the other kinsman would forego his claim. His conduct toward Ruth, therefore, was in accordance with hesed. That evening, when Ruth told her mother-in-law that she had met Boaz and told her of his friendliness toward her, Naomi acknowledged him as a relative. In his conduct toward Ruth, she recognized the attitude of a relative conscious of familial obligations. By his kindness to Ruth, Boaz had honored his deceased kinsman and fulfilled his obligations, and for that Naomi blessed him."
Hesed as the Reciprocal Relationship of Yahweh
I, will become his father, And, he, shall become my son: If he commit iniquity, then will I correct him, with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the sons of men; But, my hesed, shall not depart from him,—as I caused it to depart from Saul, whom I caused to depart from before thee. So shall thy house and thy kingdom be made steadfast unto times age-abiding, before thee,—thy throne, shall be established unto times age-abiding.
The very fact of Yahweh's choosing David, after having rejected Saul, created a relationship entailing hesed. (In Ps. 132:11-12 mention is made of the oath Yahweh swore to David to maintain his throne faithfully, if his descendants would keep the divine covenant.) Yahweh explains, and at the same time strengthens, his promise when he says the relationship between him and David's descendants is to be the same as between father and son. The relationship between father and son was, as is known, a mutual relationship of rights and duties, which made necessary the reciprocal practice of hesed. As Kittel remarks, David's descendants were to be Yahweh's sons "in an ethical sense." "God is considered father and he as God's son, and this entails ethical obligations." Yahweh's ethical demands could not have been emphasized more strongly, and his own obligations could not have been more emphatically underscored. A father would never withhold his hesed from his sons; if he did so, he would not be a father. It is self-evident that the sons had to comport themselves with hesed to the father, otherwise they would risk punishment.
In Ps. 89 the contents of 2 Sam. 7:14-16 are repeated almost verbatim in poetic form. The author, who bases his entire poem on Yahweh's hesed, stressed every aspect of the relationship between Yahweh and David, which made the practicing of hesed both possible and necessary. Yahweh swore by his faithfulness to show David hesed, by designating the relationship between himself and David as that which exists between a father and his first-born. He committed himself to the obligation involved in his promise to show hesed to David and his descendants, as was called for in the covenantal relationship existing between them. This hesed was one with Yahweh's emet, as is evident in several places in Ps. 89. In verse 34, Yahweh says that he will not withhold his hesed or break his loyalty with David's descendants...Hesed, in Ps. 89, is parallel not only to 'emet,' but also to covenant — and herein lies the essential difference between Ps. 89 and 2 Sam. 7:14-16. We read in Ps. 89:28: " Age-abidingly, will I keep for him my hesed, And, my covenant, hath been made steadfast for him;." This parallelism can be understood only if it is recognized that Yahweh's promise to show David's house hosed is identified in Ps. 89 with covenant...Although the parallel in verse 29 between hesed and covenant evidences that the two concepts are related, they are still not identical in meaning. Hesed is the result of a covenant relationship, as of any other relationship, and to that extent distinct from covenant. However, since covenant and hesed, above all, express the idea of covenant, the difference in meaning is, for practical purposes, only a formal one and serves only to highlight clearly the concept of hesed. In this chapter hesed could be rendered as "covenantal loyalty."
In 1 Kings 3:6 Solomon says: " Then said Solomon—Thou, didst deal, with thy servant David my father, in great hesed, according as he walked before thee, in truth and in righteousness and in uprightness of heart, with thee,—and thou hast kept, for him, this great hesed, that thou hast given unto him a son, to sit upon his throne, as it is this day." As a result of this promise, Yahweh had acted toward David in accordance with the covenant, just as David had fulfilled the obligations resulting from this hesed relationship with Yahweh by walking before him in loyalty, righteousness and uprightness. Unexpressed in the above passage remains Solomon's wish, which appears in 2 Chron. 1:8-9, that Yahweh grant him also the promise given to David: " And Solomon said unto Elohim, Thou thyself, didst deal with David my father in great hesed,—and hast made me king in his stead. Now, O Yahweh Elohim, let thy word with David my father be brought to pass,-for, thou, hast made me king over a people, for multitude like the dust of the earth." In faithfully fulfilling His promise, Yahweh should also act toward him according to the demands of covenantal loyalty. That Solomon calls Yahweh's hesed "great" does not change the characteristic of obligatoriness in the concept hesed. It is thereby emphasized that it is Yahweh's hesed, that which he was committed to enact by virtue of his promise."
Hesed as Divine Conduct
Hesed in the New Testament
Another Greek word that is used for hesed is hosios. Hesed (0217) a noun, comes from the verb, hasad (02616), which has an adjective, which is hasid (02623). Psalm 16:10 states, "For thou wilt not abandon my soul to sheol, neither wilt thou suffer thy hasid, to see corruption." This same verse is quoted in Acts 2:27 and 13:35, using the Greek word hosios. Acts 13:34 quotes Isaiah 55:3, which states, "...That I may solemnise for you a covenant age-abiding, The hesed to David, well-assured," but it uses hosios for heced. The rest of the usages of hosios that are relevant are, 1 Tim. 2:8, Heb. 2:26, Rev. 15:4 and 16:5. "The hasid is the faithful servant of Yahweh who gains communion with him because he has proved himself worthy, through ethical and religious conduct. He relies on Yahweh. He practices justice, shows loyalty and love, and orders his daily life according to the divinely ordained ethical commandments. In Ps. 37:28, as in Ps. 97:10 and 1 Sam. 2:9, the hasid is contrasted with the wicked and the godless; he enjoys the love of Yahweh, while the sinner faces extinction." Rotherham translates hasid, as, 'man of lovingkindness.' (See the usages of hasid in Appendix C.)
Yahweh is still a covenant Elohim today. We are his family (tribe), where hesed is reciprocated between us and him. Ephesians 2:11-22 declares these truths, by stating, "Wherefore, keep in remembrance—that, at one time, ye, the nations in flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by the so-called Circumcision in flesh, made by hand, That ye were, in that season, separate from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and godless in the world; But, just now, in Christ Yahoshua, ye, who at one time were afar off, were made nigh in the blood of the Christ; He, in fact, is our peace—who made both one, and, the enclosing middle-wall, took down, The enmity, in his flesh—the law of commandments in decrees—bringing to nought,—that, the two, he might create in himself, into one man of new mould, making peace. And might fully reconcile them both, in one body, through means of the cross,—slaying the enmity thereby; — And, coming, he announced the glad-message—of peace, unto you, the far off, and peace, unto them that were nigh; Because, through him, we have our introduction—we both—in one ruah (spirit), unto the Father. Hence, then—no longer, are ye strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens of the saints, and members of the household of Yahweh,— Having been built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, there being, for chief corner stone, Yahoshua Christ himself,— In whom, an entire building, in process of being fitly joined together, is growing into a holy shrine in Yahweh; In whom, ye also, are being builded together, into a habitation of Yahweh in ruah (spirit)." Yahweh's hesed goes to them who love him and keep his commandments.
As Yahweh withdrew his hesed from King Saul, because of his conduct, so also he has warned the Body of the Christ, who have chosen to live a life as fornicators, drunkards etc., to expect the same. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 states, "I wrote unto you in my letter—not to be mixing yourselves up with fornicators; — Not at all, meaning the fornicators of this world, or the covetous and extortioners, or idolaters,—else had ye been obliged, in that case, to go out of the world! But, now, I have written unto you not to be mixing yourselves up,—if anyone named a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one as this, not so much, as to be eating together." Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 5:5, concerning a fornicator, "To deliver such a one as this, unto satan, for the destruction of the flesh,—that, the spirit, may be saved in the day of the Lord." This corresponds to Exodus 20:5-6, which is dealing with his commandments, which states, "For, I, Yahweh, thy Elohim, am a jealous El, visiting the iniquity of fathers, upon sons, unto three generations and unto four, of them that hate me; but shewing hesed unto thousands of generations, of them who love me, and keep my commandments."
(When quoting scriptures, from the Rotherham Emphasized Bible New Testament, I will substitute the Hebrew words
(For Footnotes and Appendixes, see PDF version.)
© 2005-2023 Chuck Cunningham