What if God was fickle? Imagine if God’s love had limits, and came to an end. Would there be good news to proclaim; or would we be given the law, and only those who kept it perfectly (no one!) would be free from judgment.
We would be under judgment, not grace.
חֶסֶד (hesed) is translated as “steadfast love” in most English translations of the Old Testament and is one of the most beautiful words in the entire Bible. It is his steadfast love which motivated the Son to become a man: the atoning sacrifice for the sin of his rebellious image-bearers, so they could be reconciled and free from guilt and shame. But how often do we read about his steadfast love without pausing to truly reflect on what it means?
What Does Hesed Mean?
Consider the following verses as a portrait of God’s astounding steadfast love.
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6 ESV)
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV)
“You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” (Job 10:12 ESV)
“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalms 106:1 ESV)
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV)
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18 ESV)
Although most translations render חֶסֶד as “steadfast love,” there remains the question about what it actually means.
In 1927 Nelsen Glueck proposed that Hesed means covenantal faithfulness.
In brief, Glueck built on the growing idea that Israel was bound to its deity by covenants like the Hittite and other treaties. He held that God is pictured as dealing basically in this way with Israel. The Ten Commandments, etc. were stipulations of the covenant, Israel’s victories were rewards of covenant keeping, her apostasy was covenant violation and God’s חֶסֶד was not basically mercy, but loyalty to his covenant obligations, a loyalty which the Israelites should also show.
“חסד,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1:305.
While this sounds compelling as God’s faithfulness to his covenant people, it also falls short in grasping the depth and riches of God’s love for his people. Rather than Hesed being his covenantal love, it seems better to understand Hesed as the faithful love which led God to make the covenant in the first place. His love is not bound within a covenant, it is bound to himself and it flows out of his own divine nature.
“So, it is obvious that God was in covenant relation with Israel, also that he expressed this relation in hesed, that God’s חֶסֶד was eternal (Note the refrain of Ps 136) -though the חֶסֶד of Ephraim and others was not (Hos 6:4). However, it is by no means clear that חֶסֶד necessarily involves a covenant or means fidelity to a covenant.”
“חסד,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1:307.
In summary, God’s Hesed is his redeeming love. Despite the sinful rebellion of God’s people, they are rescued from judgment and reconciled through God’s work of salvation. It is important to note this is God’s steadfast love for his people, which enters into the realm of the doctrine of election. Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s Hesed expressed towards Israel. In the New Testament, the Gentiles are “ingrafted branches” as full members of “God’s people” while some branches are pruned off since “not all Israel is true Israel” (Rom 9:6-7, 11:11-24).
Why Hesed Matters
Hesed love is one of God’s attributes. Why does any of this matter?
- Hesed is the drive behind his work of salvation.
- It is his Hesed which reached down to sinners and sent the Son as the atoning sacrifice for humanity to be redeemed and reconciled.
- It is his Hesed which sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to indwell believers, reconciling them to God the Father by uniting them with God the Son through faith.
- It is his Hesed which means not one sheep will ever be snatched from the Father’s hand (John 10:29).
We continue to rely on the steadfast love of God each and every day. When we read about God’s “steadfast love” and skip over it, we are skipping over the holy motivation behind our salvation. Next time you read it, notice the context of God’s provision for your salvation… and give thanks.
September 5, 2020 at 11:23 am
Mike, appreciated your blog about God’s steadfast love. I was the youth pastor at South Shore Baptist while a student at Gordon Connell in the late 1960’s under Dick Camp. I’m a retired pastor now but still writing. Blessings on your ministry!
September 5, 2020 at 11:47 am
Thank you so much for your encouragement. SSBC is a great church, what a blessing to interact with you, even though it’s in this limited way. Retired pastors never stop ministering… thankful for your faithfulness.
September 14, 2020 at 2:01 pm
Hi mike , this was an amazing break down , I am 24 year old single mom and today I just decided to google the definition of Steadfast love to better understand a passage I was reading from the Bible and that search lead me here, I am almost in tears. I am a returning believer and this just overwhelmed my heart with gratefulness I’m so glad God doesn’t love just for who we are But love us because of who he is . Your writing did not go in vain peace and love to you.
September 14, 2020 at 2:11 pm
Thank you so much, Taylor. I’m encouraged to hear about the Lord’s work in your life. Blessings to you.
September 15, 2020 at 1:59 am
I must say this was beautiful and peaceful to read. you put everything so well together. I’m interested in your book “Lead Them to Jesus” I have a teen son who’s doing homeschool in the 9th grade and 2 smaller little ones. And we have not attended Church physically since March due to covid. I continue to talk to them about the importance of being faithful to God and every week that passes I pray things go back to normal. They were accustomed to attending Church every Sunday.
September 17, 2020 at 1:40 pm
Hi Rosebine, thanks for reading and commenting. This has been such a strange and difficult season for many of us… especially for our kids. Reaching out to the pastor at your church for recommendations for worship-at-home would be a great way to stay connected with your home church while discipling your kids during this quarantine.
September 17, 2020 at 9:14 am
After reading Psalm 51:1, I googled steadfast, and read your article. Thank you for encouraging us with this description of God‘s magnificent love for his people! Like others here, the beauty of God’s love brought me to tears. I also just subscribed to the Thanos to Theos podcast, & listened to some content. My son just graduated college with a digital media degree, and is interviewing for a part-time job with a local church. They emphasize being equipped for both the technical ministry, and the “loving church attendees” ministry. Though he knows and loves the Lord, I’m concerned by how much he is influenced by culture, & I constantly try to help him view culture in light of Christ’s gospel. I will share the podcast with him! Praying God continues to bless your ministry!
September 17, 2020 at 1:38 pm
Thanks Sheryl, I’m glad the post on God’s Steadfast Love was helpful. And welcome to the Thanos to Theos… it’s been a really fun project. If you like it, feel free to give it a rating/review on iTunes (the more ratings/reviews a podcast has, the easier it is to find when people are searching for it).
January 18, 2021 at 12:36 pm
Hi Pastor Mike. I’m Evangelin from India. I got the Promise Verse on God’s Steadfast Love. So I was studying on how its translates in other Bible Versions like ESV NLT etc. And by God’s Grace tapped into this website Living Theologically.com. I’m fascinated and Astonished by the depth of knowledge God has given you to write this article. It really an Eye opener and made me to fall in love with God even more deeper. Thank God for Blessing Nations with such an amazing love infact Hesed upon us. God Bless you Abundantly. Thank you so much!!!
April 22, 2021 at 7:56 pm
Thank you for this blog Mike. It helped a lot in my understanding of God’s “hesed” to me and to the youths I’m serving. It raises the bar of accountability for me in doing the ministry. Knowing these young people are dearly loved by our God.
May 24, 2021 at 2:16 pm
Absolutely grateful beyond words for God’s unweaving love for me. When I really think about it it makes me realized I cannot do anything to make Him love me more or love me less. His love is His love period.