What is Hesed?

Yesterday I listened to a teaching that touched me deeply. I have to share what I got out of it because it’s something we all need to think about. My friend and mentor, Dr. Wilder, is the teacher and the story is personal to him. I’d heard him share it long ago, but yesterday it moved me in a new way once gain. Here is my synopsis of the teaching and the story:

In the Old Testament there is a word that is very difficult to translate into English. We try, but we fall short of the depth of the meaning. This word is throughout the Psalms and is used 248 times in the Old Testament. Paul struggles to show its depth of meaning in the New Testament with the Greek word ‘agape.’  This word is “hesed.” It is most often translated as mercy or lovingkindness,but can also mean grace, kindness, and love. We New Testament Christians try to come up with meanings of the English words we use to translate it—with perhaps the closest being something about God’s Enduring Love. God is so full of this word that He “heseded” the world so much that He gave His only Son.” It is used in Hosea 6:6, 10:12, and Micah 6:8 to tell us how the world will know we are His if we walk in this hesed.

Paul’s attempt to describe the Hebrew word with a Greek one in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that hesed is more important than the gifts, prophecies, and miracles. C. S. Lewis tells us in Four Loves that it is the only love that can be commanded. But the command is to have love that endures, sticks it out, and never gives up. We will know in our lives when hesed has touched us, but probably notice less when it flows through us to others.

Here is an excellent story to illustrate the depths of hesed—God’s enduring, sticky, merciful, grace-filled Love.

“When I (Dr. Wilder) was about 19, I went to work in a camp that allowed seniors from the city to enjoy a week in the countryside with trees and flowers. One lady at the camp was very annoying. There was a special line at meals for those using walkers and that line was shorter. When the bell rang for people to begin going through the line, this lady rushed in and knocked over people, even those with walkers. She demanded her food and then pigged out. They tried having someone there to keep her at the back of the line, but it didn’t stop her. On top of that she stunk to high heaven. It was really bad. She refused to take a shower; she yelled at people and had a short temper. She was a very unpleasant person. Finally seven lady counselors dragged her screaming and kicking into the showers and gave her a shower. It was awful.

That afternoon I was talking to one of the men from the camp. He knew 19 languages; he was dressed nicely, a refined and educated gentlemen who he could talk about many subjects. The lady walked by who had been the bane of the camp. I said to the gentleman how glad we all were that they were able to get her cleaned up. The man then said to me, “That lady is my wife.” He then showed me the tattoo on his arm from one of the concentration camps. He said that his wife had been a concert pianist, a sophisticated educated woman. The Nazis had done brain experiments on her. He said, “’She has been this way ever since we were liberated. People say I should put her in a home. I just can’t do it.” At that point the husband had been watching her for over 30 years.

This is hesed. Then it dawned on me why she didn’t want to go to the showers.”

What an example of enduring, unconditional, merciful, patient love. The kind of love that can only come from Jesus.  Hesed, enduring love, is what the Psalms sing about. It is hard to describe with one word. Is it kind? Is it patient? Is it longsuffering? Is it merciful?  In light of this story, let’s look at our own lives and note what kinds of love we are showing others. Try reading some Psalms and substituting the word hesed where it says mercy. Check a concordance for all the places it is used. Think on these things.

“The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in hesed. . .” Numbers 14:18

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About Barbara Moon

I am an ordinary person who walks with an extraordinary God. I love to share what He has done in my life. I love to help parents with their kid questions. I love to teach little ones to swim. I love to study and learn new things and for the last ten years I have been focusing on how the brain works in connection with joyful relationships, how that affects development, maturity and trauma recovery. When not writing, my days are full of family, (especially grandchildren), mentoring, counseling, sewing, and reading.
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