Chesed- An Action-packed Word without Translation

Chesed

Let’s take a look at the Hebrew concept of חֶ֥סֶד (chesed). Although there is no direct English rendering it is often translated as lovingkindness.  The Hebrew three letter root of this word is חֶ֥סֶד ch-s-d (chet-samekh-dalet).

Chesed is the perfect word to tie into the marriage imagery and metaphor that permeates the entire Old Testament and New Testament (See: https://blogs.corban.edu/ministry/index.php/2011/02/bible-as-romance/). There is a beautiful passage in the book of Hosea highlighting God’s wedding vows to His people.

Hosea 2:19-20

I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness (chesed) and in mercy. And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know YHWH.

Notice the word LOVE (ahava) is not in God’s wedding vows, but chesed (lovingkindness) is. Love is an emotion, and emotions can wax and wane. Chesed is a boundless, everlasting, love in action, and this is the kind of love God has for His people.

Chesed is one of my favourite Hebrew words. It’s fun to say. It takes some time to learn how to pronounce the letter chet. That guttural CH sound (like in the German name Bach) can be a challenge. It’s not as hard and phlegmy as you’d think. It’s more like a mild mouth-breathing snore at the back of a throat… with the softness of a cat’s purr.

Chesed is a word that has confounded a lot of scholars and English translators… there’s not a sure and fast translation. It has been defined as mercy, grace, favour, covenant loyalty, strength, devotion, steadfast love, unfailing love, and lovingkindness.

Most of these above definitions already have Hebrew words, like rechem for mercy (which we’ll look at in a few weeks time) and berit for covenant. Chesed is a unique-to-Hebrew word. I suggest that lovingkindness is the best translation, although it doesn’t necessarily capture the full meaning. Chesed indicates many things in a boundless form: favour, self-sacrifice, mercy, commitment, lovingkindness and compassion.

However, oddly there are a few Biblical examples of negative chesed, when showing an overabundance, such as boundless kindness, to one person is at the expense of another. That is considered a disgrace. (Leviticus 20:17). This rare (in the Bible) negative chesed is never associated with YHWH, the God of justice, and champion of equality!

Baruch's Bulla
The bulla (seal) of Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, son of Neriah. (Jer. 45:1), housed in Israel Museum, Jerusalem. http://ancientroadpublications.com/Studies/BiblicalStudies/SealofBaruch.html

Jeremiah 9:23-24

Thus says YHWH “Do not let the wise boast of his wisdom, neither let the mighty boast of his might, do not let the rich boast of his riches; but let they who boast boast that they understand and know Me, that I am YHWH who exercises lovingkindness (chesed), justice and righteousness on earth; for in these things I delight,” declares YHWH.  

I could give you over 240 examples where this word shows up in the Tanakh (OT). It is one of the most prevalent words in the Old Testament and more often than not it is used to describe God’s connection to his people. In the case of Micah 6:8, God lists His expectations of us:

He has told you, o mankind, what is good and what YHWH requires of you- to do justice and love lovingkindness (chesed), and humbly walk with your God.

Chesed is often lumped together with the words righteousness (tzadik) and justice (mishpat) for, as we have read, “in these things God delights” (Jer. 9:24). We’ll look at those two words over the next two weeks.

In the meantime remember this: God is chesed. He is everlasting love in action and that is how we should be with everyone around us. Saying I love you isn’t enough, living I love you is God’s commandment.

Next week’s word: Righteousness

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14 thoughts on “Chesed- An Action-packed Word without Translation”

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