Archive for December 26th, 2011
But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. Psalm 86:15 NASB
Lovingkindness – On this day after Christmas, take a moment and ask yourself if you could provide God’s résumé in a single word. We could come very close with the Hebrew word hesed. Since we have looked at this word many times, perhaps all we need now is a summary of its characteristics and implications. Katherine Sakenfeld provides just what we need. From her study, she discovers that hesed:
1. denotes action, not a psychological state.
2. usually denotes unilateral help for the helpless without compensation or condition.
3. denotes essential assistance, not mere privilege.
4. is essentially distinct from judicial or legal action.
5. may or may not be confirmed by promissory oath or covenant.
6. possesses certain marvelous characteristics: all-pervading initiative, irresistible power, never-failing constancy.
7. is worthy of highest praise, and is to be rewarded not by reciprocal hesed but by love and obedience.
It’s worth reading that list a few times. Did you notice that hesed is not about how God feels about you? Did you recognize that hesed is an action word? Did you realize that it describes unmerited help? Did you see that it is independent of any legal obligation? Did you note that it is a miraculous act? Does this change your view of God?
Christians generally have a rather weak view of God. I don’t mean that they don’t see God as all-powerful and all-knowing. Those Greek ideas are well entrenched in Christian theology. What I mean is that the Christian view of God tends to be transcendental – a God who is in charge but not really immersed in the daily business of life. Yes, He showed up at the resurrection to forgive us, but in general we often act as if He is the heavenly overseer, not really in the ditches and mud where we struggle. Hesed destroys that false divinity. God acts with righteousness toward His enemies (us) without premeditated expectation of return. He shows Himself unwaveringly constant in His commitment to restore our relationship to Him. Hesed is God’s character!
Are you cheering? Are you singing praises? Offering thanksgiving? Yes, all those actions and more. But consider just a few implications. If hesed is the foundation of God’s action, then He doesn’t save those whom He foreknows will respond. Hesed is without compensation or condition. If hesed is true of YHWH, then grace is independent of legal consideration but presupposes future obedience. To be worthy of hesed is to respond to hesed after the fact. Finally, hesed is the basis of the resurrection event. The resurrection is action toward others without regard for conditions or consequence. The resurrection is the validation of a life of hesed.
This leaves us with just one pressing question. If we are His disciples, followers of YHWH, then do we exhibit hesed? Are those seven characteristics true of our lives?
On the day after Christmas, are we letting hesed govern our actions?
Topical Index: hesed, lovingkindness, Psalm 86:15, Sakenfeld
 Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry, p. 11.