God's love for us can't be contained in one word
Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints, and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
But the Hebrew word Hesed attempts to encompass it
The word of God is alive and active.
It penetrates, dividing soul and spirit, it judges our hearts.
One word of God stands above all others in the Old Testament.
And it may not be the word you expect. It’s the word Hesed.
It is often called the most important word in the Hebrew bible.
The reason it is considered the most important because it expresses and essential element of God’s character. It has no English or Greek equivalent. The word is used 250 times in the Old Testament. Translators can’t describe it with a word or phrase.
The word is so all encompassing it is practically inexpressible. Attempts to do so fall short of its completeness by the constraints of language.
Hesed is used more than 100 times in the Psalms. In Psalm 136, the word is repeated 26 times – once in every verse. It is known as the Great Hallel – the praise God psalm. Following is a sampling of those 26 verses:
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
“O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.
“O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever …
“With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever …
“who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever …
“and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever …
It concludes with this verse:
“O give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
The word is used in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel and Second Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. In Exodus, 34: 6-7 it says after Moses received the 10 commandments “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” The word expressed is Hesed.
Michael Card, who wrote the book Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s loving kindness, says: “It is the key that can open a door in an entire world – the world of God’s own heart, the world of loving our neighbor and perhaps even our own enemies.”
We know it’s hard for us to love our enemies. Somebody who stabbed you in the back … undermined your career or character … had an affair with your spouse … or bankrupted your business.
I’m a Chicago Cubs’ fan. Ben Zobrist was the MVP the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. But that’s not what he and his wife are in the news for now. He’s charged his wife Julianna, a Christian music artist, with having an affair with their pastor … who was also their marriage counselor … who also embezzled money for Zobrist’s charitable foundation.
That’s a tough situation for being called to love your enemy.
But loving your enemy for any of us is always a tough situation.
But Hesed is more than capable of handling that. Hesed is a mindset and a lifestyle. Hesed is not a romantic, infatuation kind of love. It is faithful and reliable.
It is a love of a wife who prays for her husband for years to know God – and I know my wife did for me.
It is parents lovingly caring for their special-needs child.
It is adult child, caring for a parent as dementia strips away their vitality.
It involves not only feelings but action on the behalf of those in need.
The message of the gospel – God’s act of forgiveness and salvation – is rooted in Hesed.
Hesed describes the disposition of God’s heart not only to His people Israel but to all of humanity through Jesus Christ.
The love of God extends beyond duty of expectation.
My favorite Bible verse Micah 6:8 describes our duty before God as Hesed.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy (Hesed) and to walk humbly with your God.”
That’s HOW much we are to care because that’s HOW much God cares.
The Hebrew language tries to wrap up God’s love in one word, but it can’t contain it. It bursts outside the seams in every direction. But it’s good to keep it in the back of your mind when things are not going your way, when you feel lost and alone, and it’s as if you think you don’t matter, and no one cares … but God does … Hesed … Hesed … Hesed …
Brad Zimanek is the Pastor at Gulfview United Methodist Church in Panama City Beach, Florida. He worked in sports journalism for 32 years prior to answering the call to full-time ministry in 2019.