For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. Psalm 103:11 (Hebrew World)
So great – If you want the revamped lyrics to this psalm, turn to Romans 8:38-39. Death, life, angels, principalities, present, future, powers, height, depth or anything in the created universe covers a lot. God’s hesed is more (translated “lovingkindness” in NASB). Hesed is one of those mega-words in Hebrew that no single (or even multiple) English word can capture. Hesed requires considerable study on its own. Today we just look at the verb that precedes hasdo (His hesed).
That verb is gavar (Gimel-Beth-Resh). The actual construction of this Hebrew line of poetry doesn’t really include the adverbs “so great.” That’s English. What the Hebrew says is “is mighty His hesed.” Why does this matter? Doesn’t “so great” communicate the same idea? Well, yes and no. Yes, it communicates the idea that God’s lovingkindness is very great, high above anything we can imagine. But, no, it misses the fact that this isn’t a description of God’s lovingkindness. It’s an action – a verb. An adverb expresses addition. That means an adverb assumes some state of condition and adds some thought to that state of condition, like “great” to “effort.” A verb expresses action. In this case, the action is hesed. God’s lovingkindness is not simply an attribute of His character like being a male is an attribute of who I am. God’s hesed is His active benevolence toward us, His deliberate concern for us, His engagement in our rescue. It’s not just that God is so great. It’s that He is so great in doing good toward His creation. In Hebrew, the active aspect of God can never be set aside from who He is. In fact, “mighty to act” and “God” are identical thoughts.
The pictograph of gavar is “to lift up the head of the household.” To be strong, to prevail or to have success in Hebrew thought is the same as lifting up the head of the household. We should notice that the very idea of strength is communal. Strength concerns the whole house, represented by the head of the house. Strength isn’t about the individual alone. Once again we are confronted with the Hebraic concept of family. God’s being mighty is a family affair.
Who are in this family? That answer requires only a single word, yereav, God-fearers. Notice that yereav is not ethnic. In fact, this is the same term used throughout the New Testament to describe Gentiles who came to believe and practice the Way. To be a God-fearer is to accept God’s hesed, to apply His active benevolence in your life and become obedient to Him. There are many examples of God-fearers in Scripture, from Rahab and Ruth to the Ethiopian eunuch. Most of us are God-fearers, not physical descendants of Abraham. God has plenty of room for yereav. A thousand years before the birth of Yeshua, David knew that God’s hesed extended far beyond the borders of ethnic Israel. God’s success plan always included anyone who came to worship Him. That’s why today this verse is our verse. We belong. We come under gavar. Blessed be He.
Topical Index: gavar, strong, mighty, strength, hesed, God-fearer, yereav, Psalm 103:11