The Lord, The Lord, A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in hesed and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

Untranslatable Depth

Is it any surprise that a word that our Lord uses to describe Himself is so full of meaning that the English language is utterly inadequate to translate it?  Just in the verse above, every translation chooses a slightly different aspect of hesedto emphasize – ESV uses steadfast love, KJV uses mercy, NKJV uses goodness, HCSB uses faithful Love, and the NASB translators invented the word lovingkindness in an attempt to capture its meaning as fully and literally as possible.   And this is just in this one verse!  In other places this word is translated favordevotionloyalty, etc. The deep meaning of hesed encompasses all of this, and more.  It resonates throughout the scriptures in doctrine, in song, in praise, in encouragement, dancing with words such as truth, justice, compassion, and covenant.  We are introduced to it in Genesis 24:12 as Eleazar calls upon God’s hesedto Abraham in fulfilling his mission,  we hear it from the mouth of God Himself as He displays His glory and nature to Moses at the reinstating of the Old Covenant, we hear it sung over and over in the psalms as God’s hesedbecomes the turning point from despair to hope, and we recognize it on the lips of Jesus as He rebukes the Pharisees and exhorts them to “Go and learn what this means – I desire hesedand not sacrifice.” 

Hesed: When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Michael Card, Inexpressible Hesed

Hesed and Covenant

My first encounter with the term hesedcame as I was working my way through Precept Ministries popular “Covenant” study.  It was one of the first words I ever attempted to do an original language study on, and I quickly became absolutely fascinated with this word.  As I saw its connection with the concept of God’s covenant love, it became a doorway to me to see references to covenant throughout scripture.  And what’s more, because God’s hesedis the basis for His covenants, hesedbecame for me the foundation of my understanding of God’s faithfulness, His love, His forgiveness, His mercy.  Because of the hesedof God, I know I have eternal life, I know my sins are forgiven, I know I am loved and welcomed, even though I have no merit of my own to claim any of this. It is all the hesedof my God – and yours.  Understanding hesedwill change your perspective of God.  No longer will it make any sense to try to earn His love and favor – His hesedhas covered all of that.  By His own admission, he abounds in hesed– in faithful, steadfast, love and mercy to those who don’t deserve anything.  Like Mephibosheth, who was blessed by hesedthat David desired to show to Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan, in Christ we are blessed by the hesedthat our heavenly Father delights to show to His beloved Son.  As we understand this more and more, our hearts will sing like Ethan the Ezrahite who declares “I will sing of the hesedof the Lord forever!”, and our desires will be transformed as we seek to show others the hesedthat we have been shown.  

Inexpressible

With the majority of the references to hesedbeing found in the psalms, how fitting it is that singer/ scholar Michael Card has taken on the task of uncovering the meaning of this diamond of a word.  With the precision of a scholar and the poetic heart of a songwriter, Card has taken this Inexpressible word and brought us a book that gives us a sweet glimpse of what God is talking about when He uses this inexpressible term.  Easily read by a layman, Inexpressible is a book that is a must-read for anyone who is seeking to know God, and to walk in His ways.  For new believers and those who have been walking with the Lord for decades, this book will be a treasure as your heart is opened to understand the love and faithfulness that our Savior longs for you to embrace.  

Defining the Indefinable

Card gives us this definition – not one he takes credit for, but as close to an English translation as he can come – “Hesed: When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” As your heart embraces this truth, your life will be utterly transformed.   

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Official Book Description

God’s identity is beyond what we could ever fully express in human words. But Scripture uses one particular word to describe the distinctiveness of God’s character: the Hebrew word hesed. Hesed is a concept so rich in meaning that it doesn’t translate well into any single English word or phrase. Michael Card unpacks the many dimensions of hesed, often expressed as lovingkindnesscovenant faithfulness, or steadfast love. He explores how hesed is used in the Old Testament to reveal God’s character and how he relates to his people. Ultimately, the fullness of hesed is embodied in the incarnation of Jesus. As we follow our God of hesed, we ourselves are transformed to live out the way of hesed, marked by compassion, mercy, and faithfulness. Discover what it means.

Cover image provided by MockUpShots.com.