Thursday, July 23, 2020

{Hesed} love

I want to share this morning a word that has become so precious to me in this season. I don’t know about you- but the past 5 months have been some of the hardest months I’ve ever faced. Not only are we dealing with a global pandemic, and racial tensions, but in the middle of all of that my family relocated back to New Jersey unexpectedly. We are still WGM missionaries, and are seeking the Lord for what He may be calling us to next. I read recently in the Titus Women’s Minsitry e-news an incredible call to prayer because many missionaries have returned to the USA this year unexpectedly and for various reasons- it feels as though God is amassing a huge missionary force here in America and I’m curious to see His purposes in these days! All that to say- these have been days of global grief and massive stress and anxiety, and as we look to the Psalms we see a word we can grasp hold of that may be just the anchor we need in this storm. 

 The Hebrew word hesed occurs 246 times in the OT. I heard Dr. John Oswalt teach on it last summer, and it has come to life this year for me. Some English translations use “kindness” “mercy” “steadfast love” “lovingkindness” “favor” “unfailing love” “devotion” but none of these are sufficient by themselves. It is a deep, rich word that doesn’t have a single, perfect translation in English.  A couple more definitions “faithful love in action” and “undeserved love from a superior to an inferior” “unmerited kindness that seeks to actively intervene to help a loved one”. 

Ralph Davis says, “The order is: love gives itself, in covenant, and gladly promises devoted love in that covenant; the covenant partner then rests in the security of that promise and may appeal to it.” Think of a faithful marriage, and a parent-child relationship all rolled into one (but don’t take this too far it gets weird). Or even faithful marriage and master and servant combined. The idea is God has pledged Himself to us in faithful love, but He is also in authority over us- He owes us nothing. Michael Card translated hesed as “when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Understanding this word is not just important to us because it appears well over 100 times in the Psalms. This word is important because it is one of the words God uses to describe himself, as in Exodus 34:6-7, when he says to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in hesed and faithfulness, maintaining hesed to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” 

These have been the hardest days I have ever walked through. We hadn’t planned on being back in the USA indefinitely. Saying goodbye to the only life our little family has known was painful. And then comes the memory of this little five letter word “hesed”.  So I had to dig into why this word was so important.


Adrian Van Breda helped me understand “God’s hesed is experienced particularly when we are in the midst of adversity. Psalm 94:18 says, “When I said, My foot is slipping, Your hesed love, O Lord, supported me.” The sense here is that God’s hesed is grasped at while we are still in the adversity. Hesed does not necessarily remove the adversity or even the distress and anxiety that adversity evokes. Within each situation we have to seek out again God’s hesed and rediscover what it means to be loved while we struggle with life. Hesed becomes a lifeline or an anchor onto which we hold for dear life. While we struggle, someone may reassure us that God loves us, but actually that knowledge is something we have to find for ourselves.” 


I needed to not only know God loved me in this season- I needed to experience it. I experienced His hesed when Josh collected letters from people who love me for my birthday. I received His hesed when my brother drove to DC to pick us up from the airport, and when we arrived at an empty parsonage gifted to us from a church to quarantine in. I saw His love in action when people delivered meals to us while we were in quarantine. And I sensed His hesed every morning when I sat on the deck as the sun warmed my face and I spent time with the Lord. 


Psalm 103 gives us a beautiful illustration of hesed: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me; bless His holy name (can I pause here and say that bringing our whole selves- not just the pretty bits- but the hurt, the worry, the delight, the wonder is what blesses the Lord but that is another topic for another day)! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed, He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy {hesed}. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy {hesed} toward those who fear Him… “ 


Now what? How will I live differently because of God’s hesed towards me this week??


“I will give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His hesed endures forever” –Psalm 136:1

            Make a list of His love notes, His hesed towards you- every day!


I will remember the times He showed hesed towards me, unlike the Israelites “they did not remember the multitude of Your hesed but rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.” –Psalm 106:7

Could you write a timeline of the ways God intervened in your life and saved you or rescued you or people you love? I can’t wait to get to heaven and find out all the things He rescued me from that I had no idea were about to happen!


I will call out to God in my distress “But You, O God the Lord, deal with me for Your name’s sake; because Your hesed is good, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded with me… Help me, O Lord my God! Oh, save me according to Your hesed, that they may know that this is Your hand- that You, Lord have done it!” –Psalm 109:21-22, 26

Our lives don’t just become rosy and easy when we walk with the Lord- His hesed isn’t a magic wand to wave over our lives. However- I have found that His hesed shines on our darkest days. Because it is a covenant term, He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, He has chosen us as His people, His reputation is on the line- we can call out to Him and appeal to His hesed and trust Him to come through for us.


I will share my story with someone. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His hesed endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…” –Psalm 107:1-2

Could you share your testimony with someone who needs to hear it this week? Or share how God has met a need in your life recently with someone feeling hopeless?


I will be glad. “Oh, satisfy us early with Your hesed, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. And establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the works of our hands.” –Psalm 90:14, 17

It’s easy to complain these days. This is not the story I would have written for 2020. But I can be glad- because He is my God. I can choose to start my day with Him- let Him fill and satisfy me and I won’t be looking for the world, or my circumstances or other people to satisfy me. He will satisfy my deepest needs as I meet with Him and I can be glad. And then I walk away from that time looking more like Him because Jesus Himself has filled me and is living His life in me- extending hesed love, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, compassion to those around me! When God’s people know they are loved- He is able to use them to love the world around them!


  1. Hi. You don't know me - my name is Frank Johnson. I was looking for missionary blogs online tonight and came across yours (through following the rss feed from I was happy to see this article about one of my favorite Hebrew words. Here is the definition of hesed that I've "compiled" over several years: "the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God!"

    And it's also the domain name I use for a missions-related website my closest friend and I started in September of last year. I'm guessing you might be interested -

    1. Thank you for commenting and that great definition! Blessings!


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