Chesed is an ancient Hebrew word. One that most Americans don’t know. I have a framed version on my desk at school, and it often receives questions and funny looks.
“What’s . . . CH-EES-D?” they ask.
I smile and relish the opportunity to tell about my favorite attribute of God, and I think the most important piece of God’s character.
“KES-ED,” I reply. “It is merciful, gracious, acts of loving-kindness. It’s what God does for us and what God wants us to do.”
They usually look at me still confused and anxious to move on, but I hope you’ll linger here with me for a little bit as I try to explain Chesed a more. (Many of you have heard me teach on this topic. I’m praying you’ve fallen in love with it too and don’t mind a refresher. It all leads to our 4th week of our Ruth online Bible study. We will get to Ruth in just a moment.)
How We translate Chesed
There are tons of Bible translations out there because our English language doesn’t always have the exact counterpart to a Hebrew or Greek word (the languages the Bible was written in.)
Chesed is one of those words. It’s often translated as love or mercy, sometimes kindness, but it really becomes all of those things wrapped up into one beautiful word. Read this definition from the Key Word Study Bible
from hasad,to be merciful, faithful. Love, kindness, mercy. One of the most important words of the OT, chesed denotes an act of kindness, love or mercy. The quality of kindness shown is usually that reserved for close friends and family members, but the act of chesed can be demonstrated in any relationship. . . . God chesed, however is not bound by the covenant itself, and though men may prove unfaithful to this relationship, God’s chesed is everlasting.Key Word, NIV 1516
Examples of Chesed
The best way to explain this word is to give examples. My favorite is found in the story of Rahab, the prostitute who lived in Jericho and hid the Israelite spies.
Joshua 2: 12-13
“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness (chesed) to my family, because I have shown kindness (chesed) to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”
In the Hebrew version Rahab begged for the same chesed she gave. What did she do? Even though no prior relationship or friendship existed, she showed the spies mercy and active kindness by hiding them from the Jericho authorities who were searching for them.
That is chesed.
It’s not a feeling. It’s action, not just love, but also mercy. All the people of Jericho feared the Israelites. They knew they were danger to their city. She had every right to turn the spies in, but Rahab had begun to believe in the power of their God. And so she helped them and asked they show her the same mercy and acts of kindness by sparing her family. And they did.
The Chesed of God in the Book of Ruth
This week as we continue digging deep into Ruth together, our Hebrew word focus is found in Ruth 1:8:
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness (chesed), as you have shown kindness (chesed) to your dead husbands and to me. . . .”
Naomi’s family’s move to Moab proved deadly. Her husband and sons died there and all she had were two Moabite daughters-in-law who had pledged to return to Bethlehem with her. (Last week we looked at Naomi’s decision to return home.)
But before they get there, Naomi changed plans and urged the girls to go back home to their families. She’s thankful for their coventental kindness, but she releases them from this bond. What’s more is her plea for God to grant such chesed to these grieving young widows.
It’s a dramatic scene that we’ll uncover more next week. But for now, let’s chew on this wonderful kindness of God, His chesed.
Bite of Bread Reading Plan on Chesed
If you haven’t purchased The Book of Ruth Bible Study: A 31-Day Journey to Hope and Promise, I’ve made the Bite of Bread Reading plan printable to help you study God’s chesed this week. You can click on the links below to see the printable available. (It’s free!)
Monday: Ruth 1: 8: Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”
Prompt: Kindness is chesed. Chesed is more than kindness. Look at the definition from my post and write down all that chesed encompasses.Which aspect seems the most important to you? Has God demonstrated this to you? How?
Tuesday: Psalm 136: 1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Prompt: His chesed endures forever. FOREVER. This scripture does not say that His chesed is conditional or holds an expiration date. How does the word chesed change the meaning of this verse?
Wednesday: Micah 6:8:
He has shown you, O
mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy (chesed)
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
Prompt: How does chesed change this wonderful verse? And how does Micah 6:8 fit so perfectly with the heart of the chesed giving God?
Thursday: Matthew 9: 10-13: While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Prompt: “Mercy” was translated from a Greek word closely associated with chesed, and the scripture Jesus is referring to (which we will study tomorrow) does use chesed. How did Jesus demonstrate chesed to all people? How can we do the same?
Friday: Hosea 6:6: For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Prompt: Can you guess the Hebrew word translated here as mercy? Yep, the beloved chesed. The very first time I connected Jesus’s words in Matthew 9: 13 with chesed I was ecstatic because of one thing. I love the many different aspects of chesed, but the most important one to me here is God’s desire for relationship with us. Not our sacrifices or religious duties. He wants our hearts. Have you ever just wanted to be friends with someone, but they didn’t get it?
Wednesday Night Study Together on Chesed
I’d love for you to come to my home Wednesday night! I’ll be LIVE via Facebook (just follow me) at 7:30 PM ET. Put on your comfy clothes, grab your favorite beverage (maybe popcorn!) and Bible and let’s do some digging. Wednesday is a great time to grab some spiritual nourishment to get you through the rest of the week. If you don’t do Facebook, you can always catch up on my YouTube channel. Subscribe to get notifications when I’ve posted the week’s message.
Thanks so much for spending your valuable time with me today. I pray it added value to your life and made you hungry for more of the Word of God. Nothing feeds us like His Word can.
Digging Deep in Chesed,
P.S. Here’s last week’s LIVE study on returning (shuwb) to God.