A Three-Strand Word

One morning I came across a reference to a Hebrew word in Proverbs 3:3. The word is hesed, and it is powerful. Hesed unites three concepts in one quality: love, strength, and steadfastness.

Think about it. What is love worth if it's impotent? Or fleeting? And steadfastness devoid of love is cold loyalty. To capture its fullness, the ESV Bible often translates hesed as "steadfast love." You might see it in yours as "loving-kindness."

Hesed appears 240 times in the Old Testament, such as when

  • God remembers Joseph in prison (Gen. 39:21)
  • Abraham's servant appeals to God's hesed to help him find a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:12)
  • the Lord comes to Moses on Mt. Sinai and introduces himself as "abounding in steadfast love" (Ex. 34:5-7)
  • the psalmist sings that God will fulfill his purpose for him, [because] his steadfast love endures forever (Ps. 138:8)
  • the prophet grieves for broken, sinful, destroyed Israel and yet knows "the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning" (Lam. 3:22-23).

It is God's steadfast love and faithfulness that led him to provide a way of salvation while "we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8). We owe our souls to God's hesed.

Yet Scripture enjoins us to practice hesed also. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy [hesed]?" (Micah 6:8)

What does that look like? I have some ideas,* but I want to suggest one practice in particular: keeping your word. Interestingly, hesed is often paired with emet and emunah, which respectively mean "truth" and "faithfulness." And "truth" can be rendered as "reliability." God's hesed is often demonstrated as an act of keeping his word. He says he'll do something, and he always delivers. He is reliable.

Is my word reliable? Big or small, when I say I will do something, I should do it if it remains in my power. Being flaky isn't a personality trait, it's sinful and shows a lack of hesed toward people. You should go to that party if you said you would. You should invite that person over if you said you would. If you told your church you could teach Sunday school next week, don't plan a trip to the beach because you got a crazy deal on airfare (unless you can arrange a substitute yourself). If you told your daughter you'd do something with her "in a minute," do it with her in a minute! I get being kind. It's not hard to make a friend. But what about staying kind? What about keeping friends? Too often my love has not embodied the fullness of hesed. So that's why the Proverbs 3:3 song uses a translation that renders hesed and emet as "love and faithfulness." It was the most singable way I could find to capture the richness of those words. As a composition, this one is one of my very favorites on the album.

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart." 

*Some ideas: remembering the lowly and poor; persistent prayer for your people; regular visits; determination not to stay offended; remembering birthdays; letting love cover a multitude of sins; not avoiding people you shouldn't avoid...

Information on hesed is sourced from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Thomas Nelson, 1985).

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