Introduction

Hesed is an interesting and fascinating word that has a wide range of meaning. In studying the word hesed I’ve come to learn a great deal about the character and attribute of God as it relates to His kindness, mercy and love. This paper will explore the use of hesed in family relationships, relationships in general, and the religious use of hesed. The paper will conclude by applying the truth of hesed to everyday by life by examining how many believers who feel the Lord is far from them do not understand the character and attributes of God, and how to overcome those feelings.

Lexicon

According to the BDB, hesed means goodness or kindness.[1]

Concordance

The meaning of Hesed can be divided into the following three categories: family relationships, relational, and religious. Hesed occurs in the family relationships category seven times in the Old Testament- six times in Genesis, once in 1st Samuel and once in Ruth. Hesed occurs nine times in a relational way in the Old Testament- once in Ruth, once in Isaiah, once in Psalms, once in Esther, once in Daniel, twice in Ezra, once in Job once in Psalms and once in Zechariah. Hesed is used in a religious category forty times in the Old Testament- four times in Genesis, once in Exodus and Deuteronomy, six times in 2nd Samuel, fifteen times in Psalms, once in 1 Kings, once in 2nd Chronicles, once in Job, three times in Isaiah, once in Jeremiah, and once in Ruth.

Family Relationships

The first category is family relationships. The most valuable conclusions for an understanding of hesed can be derived from the circumstance that almost half of the occurrences under discussion make use of a stereotyped formula: hesed is constructed twenty-five times with asa and ‘im.[2] Hesed can be used to address the sphere of human interaction but when defined more precisely it relates to family relationships as the following examples will demonstrate. This family relationship is best seen between relatives specifically between Sarah and Abraham (Genesis 20:13), Laban and Bethuel- Isaac (Gen. 24:19), Joseph-Israel (Gen. 47:29), Orpha/Ruth-Mahlon/Chilion/Naomi (Ruth 1:8), Kenites-Israelites (1 Samuel 15:6), Abimelech-Abraham (Gen. 21:23). Hesed is shown to Lot in the intercession of Abraham and the Lord in sparing Lot’s family (Gen. 19:19).

Relational

The second category is relational. Hesed is a relational concept. Ruth 3:10 is the best example of the relational nature of hesed. Ruth 3:10 falls within scene three of Ruth a section where one finds Ruth at the threshing floor asking Boaz to marry her. This scene depicts the second crucial encounter between Ruth and Boaz, framed by the recurrence of “my daughter” (vv.1,18). Several uses of “know (Hebrew Yada and related terms from the same root) are woven into this scene: “relative” (v.2) “do not make yourself known” (v.3); “observe [or, “know”] the place where he lies”) (v.4) “my. Townsmen know you are a worthy woman” (v.11); “until you learn [or, ‘know’] how the matter turns out” (v.18). In Ruth 3:10 with the phrase this last kindness Ruth is claiming Boaz as her redeemer (v.9). It was a greater act of kindness, given the implications of redemption. The first act of kindness was that shown earlier to Naomi (2:11). Boaz was impressed that Ruth was not merely seeking marriage with eligible young men. The point is the relationship of Ruth to her mother-in-law and to Boaz, whom she prefers to the young men.

 

Religious

The final category is religious. This section will demonstrate that divine hesed also deals with the same phenomenon as in human actions. The recipients of God’s kindness include Abraham (Genesis 24), Jacob (Gen. 32:11), the men of Jabest-gilead (2 Samuel 2:5), the anointed of Yahweh (2 Samuel 22:51; Psalm 18:51, David (2 Samuel 7:15; 1 Kings 3:6), Job (Job 10:12), Ruth, Orphah, and Boaz (Ruth 1:8; 2:20) but also the thousands of generations of the devout (Ex. 20:6). His kindness can mean success in finding a bride (Gen. 24:12), increase in possessions (Gen. 32:11), active aid in the establishment of a dynasty (2 Samuel 7:15), or success and prosperity in general (2 Samuel 2:6; 15:20).

Theological Dictionary

The theological dictionary brought to light two observations not discussed above. The first noted in the theological dictionary is the history of Yahweh’s people, past, present and future, the life of the individual Israelite—in fact, the entire world—is the stage for the demonstration of Yahweh’s kindness.[3] This quote stresses the fact that the Lord God has decided to act in favor of Israel which means He has promised life, care, and preservation- He has indeed filled the whole earth with His kindness. The community responds to this glorious truth in worship, praising His kindness in hymns, confessing it and expressing their confidence and thanksgiving in the giving of this divine kindness.

The final observation is noted in the theological dictionary that hesed can refer to the fellowship of family and clan to the nation of Israel and to the whole world.[4] The Lord God is both the God of Israel and the God of the entire world He created. The Lords shows His common grace towards those who have not received His Son by allowing them to breathe, prosper, have a career, shelter and food on their tables. While the Lord will one day judge the living and the dead, He is always willing to forgive, and wants to give each person a chance to return to Him. God’s kindness finds expression in his endless reconciling love; always ready to forgive. Upon new birth the child of God is placed in a personal relationship and is called to live out the new reality of the grace of God they have received by now manifesting outwardly His grace towards others. Hesed shapes not only the relationship of Yahweh with human beings, but also that of human beings among themselves.

Application

Hesed has many uses in the books of Law, History, Psalms and Prophets that have been examined throughout this paper. The main focus of hesed though seems to be that the believer is to put their trust in the Lord in the midst of difficult situations or circumstances. Many times believers complain that God is far from them.  From my experience, believers often experience this mostly because they do not understand the character and attributes of God.

Most Christians know that God is a God of love, but fail to implement that love into their personal discipleship and ministry towards others. In other words what I am seeking to diagnose and then provide a solution to is that the problem of “God being far” for the believer is that one sees knowing and serving the Lord as an either-or proposition when the Bible argues for a both-and.  I am arguing in this section here for a paradigm shift of not being performance (ministry-focused first) but primary being focused first on knowing the Lord and then out of the abundance of knowing the Lord serving Him in ministry towards others.

As the believer’s life is grounded in the character of a God of love who sent His Son Jesus Christ to die in the place of sinners on the Cross- one can know God (through the death, burial, resurrection), and express His love to others (in ministry) towards others.

The main issue with God “being far” stems from not understanding what discipleship is. Jesus taught His disciples to take up the Cross and follow Him (Luke 9:27) but always emphasized a discipleship that moved itself from the knowledge of God in one’s heart to behavior, actions outwardly that expressed themselves in the life of their relationships and ministry towards others. As the Christians, the emphasis is on our growing in the “steadfast love” of the Lord putting our trust in the Lord and then calling for others to do same. By doing this, Christians will be able to demonstrate  to the world in word and deed that their lives are grounded in the character of God who loves and desires to redeem the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

This paper opened by exploring what hesed means through the use of a lexicon and a concordance and continued by examining the use of hesed in family relationships, relationship, and religious settings. In the theological dictionary section I explored the relationship of kindness towards Israel and how hesed applies to the new birth. In the application section, I argued that many believers struggle with the idea of God being far from them and diagnosed the issue as a discipleship issue, and the solution as a paradigm shift in first knowing the Lord and then serving Him.

In conclusion, for future study, I would recommend my readers look more at the religious use of hesed in the Old Testament specifically God’s kindness and mercy towards sinners. Studying the religious use of hesed in the Old Testament will help the reader to learn to appreciate and savor the Savior’s work in the Cross and resurrection.


[1] F. Brown, S. Driver, C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon (Mass: Hendrickson, 2005), page 338.

[2] G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1986), 46.

[3] G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1986), 62.

[4] I G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1986), 62.