HESED in the Hebrew Bible

Hesed חֶ֫סֶד  in the Hebrew Bible, Survey of Literature and Summary

  1. The Hebrew word hesed חֶ֫סֶד  is found 249 times in 239 verses in the Hebrew Bible. It is often translated mercy, kindness, or lovingkindness. See Strong’s #2617. He bases his request on “your lovingkindness” (חֶ֫סֶד hesed). This is an attribute of Yahweh. Versions vary in the translation: KJV, mercy; NKJV, mercy; NIV84, unfailing love; NASB95, Lovingkindness; NET Bible, faithfulness; Lexham English Bible, steadfast love; ESV, steadfast love; RSV, steadfast love.
  2.  Important works on hesed.
    1. Nelson Glueck wrote, Hesed in the Bible. Glueck emphasizes covenant love as an obligation.
    2. An article on hesed by Norman H. Snaith is reproduced from A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson (New York: MacMillan, 1951), pp. 136-7 http://www.bible-researcher.com/chesed.html. Snaith emphasizes God’s steadfast covenant love and mercy that is sure, persistent, and freely given, and says it is the nearest equivalent to χαρις.
    3. Katharine Sakenfield, wroteThe Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible, Scholars Press 1968. Sakenfield emphasizes voluntary and freely given loyal love from God.
    4. Gordon R Clark wrote The Word Hesed in the Hebrew Bible, T&T Clarke, 1993. Gordon Clarke emphasizes that hesed parallels and combines with tender mercy, faithfulness, truth or certainty, salvation or deliverance, and righteousness; hesed is part of God’s character, and that it is not obligation.
    5. Charles Ryrie, The Grace of God, Moody, 1963, presents his usual clear insights. On page 20-21 he summarizes, “Chesed is the firm loving-kindness expressed between related people and particularly in the covenants into which God entered with His people and which His chesed firmly guaranteed.” Charles Ryrie includes intensity of feeling, a relationship in the act of kindness that goes with God keeping his covenants to Israel, and the idea of steadfast loving kindness.
    6. Ken Banks “God’s Hesed: Its Meaning and Theology,” Piedmont International University, Fall 2014, is a good article summarizing Glueck, Snaith, Sakenfield, Clarke, and Ryrie. He summarizes the above writers by saying that hesed has embedded within it mercy and kindness, faithfulness and covenant keeping, truth and certainty, and steadfastness. These result in the everlasting hesed.
    7. Allen P Ross wrote in A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol 1, page 568-570, which is summarized below.
  3.  Dictionary meanings. Goodness, kindness (BDB); Kindness, lovingkindness, mercy (Strong’s 2617); obligation to the community, loyalty, faithfulness, favor, kindness, grace (Halliday); kindness, loving kindness, mercy (TWOT).
  4. Summary of study by from Allen P Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1, Psalms 1-41. Kregel, 2011. Page 568-570.
    1. The word describes God’s faithful and loving care for his people and their faithful love in return. The verb hasad means to be good or kind. The adjective hasid means kind, pious, faithful, godly.
    2. Hesed, according to Glueck and others, refers to a kind of behavior that arises from a relationship which has rights and obligations (marriage, household, government). When it is used for God, “loyal love” or “covenant faithful love” convey the meaning.
    3. Isaiah 40.6 has various translations. The antecedent seems to be flesh, though the LXX refers to grass. Different translations are loveliness (NASB, NKJV), loyalty (LEB), promises (NET), glory (NIV), goodliness (KJV).
    4. Groups of meanings.
      1. General kindness, favor (Gen 40.14; Joshua 2.12; 1 Kings 20.31; Proverbs 11.17).
      2. Kindness based on relationship (Genesis 20.13; Ruth 3.10).
      3. Faithful covenant love (Deuteronomy 7.12; 1 Kings 8.23; Exodus 15.13; Psalm 33.22; Psalm 6.4; Psalm 51.1; Psalm 109.21-26; Psalm 36.5; Jonah 4.2; Exodus 34.7; Psalm 118.1-2).
      4. Piety, faithful covenant acts by God’s people in response to God (Hosea 6.4; Isaiah 57.1).
      5. It is often paired with truth to form a hendiadys which means faithful loyal love (Psalm 15.2)
  5. Hesed in the Psalms, 127 times in 127 verses. Psalm 5.7; 6.4; 13.5; 17.7; 18.50; 21.7; 23.6; 25.6,7,10; 26.3; 31.7,16,21; 32.10; 33.5,18,22; 36.5,7,10; 40.10,11; 42.8; 44.26; 48.9; 51.1; 52.1,8; 57.3,10; 59.10,16,17; 61.7; 62.12; 63.3; 66.20; 69.13,16; 77.8; 85.7,10; 86.5,13,15; 88.11; 89.1,2,14,20,28,33,49; 90.2; 94.18; 98.3; 100.5; 101.1; 103.4,8,11,17; 106.1,7,45; Psalm 107.1,8,15,21,31,43; 108.4;109.12,16,21,26; 115.1; 117.2; 118.1,2,3,4,29; 119.41,64,76,88,124,149,159; 130.7; 136.1,2,3,4,5,6,7, 8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16, 17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26; 138.2,8; 141.5; 143.8,12; 144.2; 145.8; 147.11.
  6. So What? This word group identifies God’s loyal gracious promise keeping love to his people. We can depend upon him to view us this way and to treat us this way, even when he tests us or disciplines us. Maybe Ryrie’s steadfast loving kindness is the clearest way to express hesed. Our side of the equation is to trust our gracious promise keeping loving God no matter what the situation or condition may be.