Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew term "hesed" has a range of meaning: "loyal steadfast love", "mercy,"
"goodness and great kindness." Because there is no English equivalent to this Hebrew term, Miles Coverdale created
the biblical word "lovingkindness" to convey the depth and meaning of "hesed." Translators of the Septuagint saw
that the contextual meaning of "hesed" included mercy and translated accordingly with the Greek term "eleos" (mercy).
To begin to understand the depth of this term, it is important to note that "hesed" is used only of parties that
have some significant relationship between them. It is not used in the context of casual relationships, as for
example, the indiscriminate kindness one might display towards anyone.
God's love for the nation of Israel
When in reference to God's love of Israel, the translation "lovingkindness" represented the type of attitude that
two parties should have in a covenant relationship. Within its meaning were two essential parts of that attitude:
love and loyalty. Some examples of this can be seen here:
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God,
compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness (hesed) and truth; who keeps
lovingkindness (hesed) for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave
the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and
fourth generations." (Ex 34:6-7)
Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant
and His lovingkindness (hesed) to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will
repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am
commanding you today, to do them. Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do
them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness (hesed) which He swore
to your forefathers. (Deut 7:9-12)
When viewed within the context of God's history of dealing with His covenant people, "hesed" has a deeper and
significant meaning. Despite the obstinate rebellion of His people, God's covenant commitment portrays a love that is
steadfast, sure and reliable. Though unfaithful, the nation of Israel could not do anything that would invalidate God's
unilateral and unconditional covenant He made with Abraham. Against God's "hesed," the nation of Israel's "hesed" is
contrasted and is translated as "devotion" or "loyalty." In this contrast, man's shallow temporal faithfulness to the
covenant is noted.
The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness (hesed), forgiving iniquity
and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to
the third and the fourth generations.' 19 Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of
Your lovingkindness (hesed), just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now."
"Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, I remember
concerning you the devotion (hesed) of your youth, The love of your betrothals, Your following after Me in
the wilderness, Through a land not sown." (Jer 2:2)
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty
(hesed) is like a morning cloud And like the dew which goes away early.
A human being's love for another
With God's "hesed" including the sense of forgiveness, grace and mercy, the meaning takes on the sense of
"kindness" when used with human interpersonal relationships.
Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly (hesed)
with you, that you also will deal kindly (hesed) with my father's household, and give me a pledge of truth,
and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our
death." So the men said to her, "Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come
about when the Lord gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully (hesed) with you."
He said, "Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering
over your maid, for you are a close relative." Then he said, "May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You
have shown your last kindness (hesed) to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor
or rich. (Ruth 3:9-10)
Saul said to the Kenites, "Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, so that I do
not destroy you with them; for you showed kindness (hesed) to all the sons of Israel when they came up from
Egypt." So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
(1 Sam 15:6)
With the Hebrew term "hesed" confined to the Old Testament, it would not have been possible to gain a sense of
its full meaning without the New Testament. Against the background of His righteousness and judgment in the Old
Testament, God's provision of His only Son for atonement of mankind's sin portrays a lovingkindness of unfathomable
depth. And it forces us to re-examine our "hesed".