Hesed is a truth that brings me to my knees in gratitude and worship. Let me explain.
One of my friends in China was once in a terrible car accident. I will never forget the description she shared with me later on that first day in the hospital. The doctors weren’t sure if she would survive, and she lay unconscious in a small, stuffy hospital room. Her husband spent hours and hours that day, gently, carefully, painstakingly removing glass shards from her hair. He slept for days in an old chair in a room with little ventilation. Once she woke up, he walked long distances to bring her lychees, her favorite fruit. Hesed.
In our world today, we know so little hesed. Relationships are discarded when they are no longer flashy and exciting, or when they no longer meet our needs. Everything around us screams: “have it your way.” The loudest voices in our world shove and push and ooze arrogance.
Now picture this: a successful, prominent college and seminary president. His career is soaring and he is highly respected by all. Then, one day, his wife of over 40 years is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. What do you think he would do? Pay for the best possible professional staff to come take care of her?
The true story of Mr. Robertson McQuilkin has stayed with me for years. This president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary shocked the world when he resigned from his job to care full-time for his wife. This man was at the top of his game; he had everything: money, power, reputation. And he walked away from it all to care for his wife. ..to change her clothes, cook her meals, sit with her in their garden, and make sure she was always surrounded by ones she loved. Instead of dealing with 10 million dollar budgets, he was washing the laundry and making coffee for his beloved. Hesed.
Scholars all seem to agree that there is no English equivalent for this Hebrew word. Translators use phrases like “loyal love,” “loving kindness,” “steadfast mercy,” or “undeserved love” in their attempt to capture the heart of hesed. It has become one of my favorite words in the Bible.
It’s used 241 times in the Old Testament. I think God wants us to hear loud and clear: My child, see my heart and let it fill you with joy. I am the God who loves you with HESED love.
Hesed in the Old Testament is God’s posture towards his people; his never-failing, unrelenting, forgiving love and faithfulness. It is his tenderness and mercy that is new every morning. It is His unshakable generous kindness that moves on our behalf, even when we don’t deserve it.
Hesed is unbreakable and unconditional. It is love that will never end, always wants my good, and fights for me. It is kindness that is immeasurably more than I ask or imagine, and mercy that sees me in my darkest moments and loves me still.
As you move about your days, bargaining in markets, meeting with teammates, leading studies of the Word, riding taxis, navigating a new culture, homeschooling your kids, blundering your way through a new language, remember God’s heart for you. Remember that his hesed is under you and around you on every side. His love is so big for you that we don’t even have an English word to capture it. Savor that you are loved that much.
And as you wrestle with loneliness or discouragement or your circumstances, as you question your future, or wonder why things haven’t turned out the way you hoped, remember God’s heart for you. Remember how wide and high and long and deep is His hesed. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken” Isaiah 54:1.
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.
It would be easy right now for me to say: Ok. Now. You go and DO hesed. We, the church, need to have that kind of love for each other and for the world. We sure do. But, please, loved ones, I beg you, allow yourselves the true pleasure of basking in the hesed of God. Just be with Him and let that truth sink into the deep places. Let His hesed be the rock on which you stand – knowing that His love is absolutely unshakeable and will never, ever let you go. And when we let the hesed of God – embodied in Jesus Christ – so fill us, it will begin to flow out of us onto the people around us.
Don’t try to muster up hesed on your own. You don’t have it. But, HE does. He IS hesed. And when you let Him so gloriously fill you up with His incredible love, it will be His hesed that will naturally flow out of you onto our hurting world.
You are really, really loved, my friends…with an unending, unrelenting, unconditional, unbelieveable love. Live in that truth today.
How has God poured out His hesed over your life?
Will you spend some time today thanking Him for this undeserved gift of incomparable love?