LOVINGKINDNESS/ LOVING LOYALTY: khesed (Strong’s 2617)
Sounds like: khess’ed [kh is a guttural, back of the throat, sound like the “ch” in name of the composer, Bach]
Khesed has a complicated translation history. It has confounded a lot of scholars and English translators and because of that, it has a wide range of translations, such as: mercy, grace, favour, loyalty, covenant loyalty, believing loyalty, loving loyalty, strength, devotion, steadfast love, unfailing love, lovingkindness, kindness, compassion and faithfulness. Khesed encapsulates all of these ideas, but here is no single, distinct, discernible translation. It is a unique-to-Hebrew word.
It is worth pointing out that there is a homonym for the word khesed. While the word almost exclusively indicates the form of loyal love we have been discussing, in a few instances, such as Leviticus 20:17 and Proverbs 14:34, khesed means “disgrace”. It is a form of negative khesed. In the case of the Leviticus example it included incest, a twisted kind of loyalty. However, the majority of the time khesed shows up in the Hebrew Bible, it is the positive khesed.
Khesed in the Torah
The first time we read of khesed in the Torah is in the story of Lot and his family escaping Sodom. Lot recognized that it was YHWH’s khesed that had saved him:
[Lot:] Now behold, your servant has found favour in your sight, and you have magnified your compassion [khas’d’ka], which you have shown me by saving my life [soul]; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town [Zoar] is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) so that my life may be saved.”
And he [the angel] said to him, “Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”
Even though Lot verbally recognized YHWH’s loyalty towards him, he still wanted to make his own plans. He would go to Zoar with his daughters, and through incest he would become the patriarch of Israel’s enemies, the Moabites and the Ammonites. YHWH was loyal to Lot, but Lot was not loyal to YHWH.
Faring much better was Jacob, who was called by God to return to his homeland where he would meet his brother, whom he had earlier deceived:
Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, YHWH, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the loyal love [ha-kha’sadim] and of all the faithfulness, which You have shown to Your servant; for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will assuredly make you prosper and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be counted.’”
YHWH would save Jacob. The confrontation between Jacob and Esau would go smoothly and Jacob would go on to raise his family in relative prosperity in the homeland.
But by the end of Jacob’s life, he (who, by that time, was known as “Israel”) was no longer in the homeland; he was in Egypt. He asked his son Joseph to take him back home for burial:
When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Please, if I have found favour in your sight, place your hand under my thigh now and deal with me in kindness [khesed] and faithfulness: please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”
And he [Joseph] said, “I will do as you have said.”
And he [Israel] said, “Swear to me.”
So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.
Joseph kept his promise (see Genesis 50:4-14) and brought his father out of Egypt and back home for burial.
Joseph may have been extra sympathetic to his father’s request because he knew what it was like to ask for a kindness (loyalty) and not get it. When he had been taken into Egypt as a slave he found himself on a perilous journey. He eventually ended up prison, but YHWH was loyal to Joseph:
But YHWH was with Joseph and extended kindness [khased] to him, and gave him favour in the sight of the warden of the prison. And the warden of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The warden of the prison did not supervise anything under Joseph’s authority, because YHWH was with him; and, YHWH made whatever he did prosper.
Joseph had to fight his way up the Egyptian social ladder. Using his gift as a dream interpreter, he asked Pharaoh’s cupbearer for khesed:
Genesis 40:13-15, 23
[Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream:] “…within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand as in your former practice when you were his cupbearer. Only keep me in mind when it goes well for you, and please do me a kindness [khased] by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”
…Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Joseph showed loyalty to the cupbearer; the cupbearer did not show loyalty to Joseph.
Loyal Love: Bride & Groom
The positive form of khesed is the perfect word to tie into the marriage imagery because it is devotional love of longevity. It is a love far beyond lust and desire; it is a covenant connection of souls. Marriage metaphor permeates the entire Old Testament and New Testament, and there is a beautiful passage in the book of Hosea which highlighted God’s wedding vows to His people:
“I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in favour [u-v-khesed] and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know YHWH.”
Notice the word Hebrew word for LOVE (ahava) was not in God’s wedding vows, but khesed was. Love is an emotion, and emotions can wax and wane. Khesed reflected a boundless, loyal, everlasting, love in action, and this is the kind of love God has for His people. It’s a much, much, fuller, grander love.
True Love: Loyalty and Devotion
This kind of love is rooted in loyalty and devotion. And the only way to sincerely be loyal and devoted is if you believe in who you’re in allegiance with. When you believe in your spouse, it means you are supportive of who they are and you devote your allegiance to them and, hopefully, they to you.
When we express khesed to YHWH, it is because we believe in YHWH. This is not an infatuation, it is wholehearted belief and wholehearted devotion.
But YHWH recognized very quickly that His people were not very good at wholehearted belief and devotion:
[YHWH:] What shall I do with you, Ephraim? What shall I do with you, Judah?
For your loyalty [w-khas’d’kem] is like a morning cloud, and like the dew which goes away early.
Therefore I have cut them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that shines.
For I desire loyalty [khesed] rather than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
But like Adam they have violated the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously with Me.
What the hand does, doesn’t always match what the heart is believing. YHWH desires our loyalty [khesed], not heartless actions. He doesn’t want us to follow traditions blindly and merely go through the motions to please Him. When people follow traditions without love, they are on shaky ground.
This is what happened to the Hebrew people; they may have followed the “rules” but they had no devotion to their God, and because of that, they began to stray. They broke loyalty with YHWH and turned to the gods of other cultures.
Breaking Khesed (Loyalty)… worshipping other Gods
YHWH knew the fickle hearts of His people and in His “Ten Commandments”, YHWH spoke of khesed:
Exodus 20:4-6 (See also Deuteronomy 5:8-10)
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them nor serve them; for I, YHWH your God, am a jealous God, inflicting the punishment of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing favour [khesed] to thousands, to those who love Me [l-o’havai] and keep My commandments.
YHWH would be loyal to those who were loyal to Him.
When Gideon led the people to YHWH and strengthened their relationship, the Hebrew people were lifted up. But when Gideon died, the people broke their loyalty to Gideon and YHWH:
Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again committed infidelity with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. So the sons of Israel did not remember YHWH their God, who had saved them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness [khesed] to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accordance with all the good that he had done for Israel.
This was a problem repeated over and over, in the Bible. YHWH was always devoted to His people, but the people were not always devoted to Him.
Image by congerdesign (Pixabay.com)
Loyal Love: A Covenant Relationship
Covenants happened all the time in the Hebrew Bible, and they were not exclusively with YHWH. When the Hebrew spies travelled through Jericho, they found a Canaanite woman who had a deep respect for the Hebrew God:
[Rahab:] “I know that YHWH has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have despaired because of you. For we have heard how YHWH dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard these reports, our hearts melted and no courage remained in anyone any longer because of you; for YHWH your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below.”
Because she recognized and believed in the power of YHWH, Rahab hid and protected the Hebrew spies from her own people. Then she made a covenant with them:
“Now then, please swear to me by YHWH, since I have dealt kindly [khased] with you, that you also will deal kindly [khesed] with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother, and my brothers and my sisters, and all who belong to them, and save our lives from death.”
So the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when YHWH gives us the land that we will deal kindly [khesed] and faithfully with you.”
Rahab had shown them khesed, so she asked that they show her and her family khesed in return. The spies agreed. There was a loyalty agreement among them and when the Hebrew people claimed the land, they remembered Rahab and remained loyal to their promise. Rahab and her Canaanite family were protected and saved. They were of the earliest foreign loyal believers in YHWH.
The most profound covenants in the Bible, however, were between YHWH and His Creation. Humans broke their loyalty to their Creator all the time. To dissuade betrayal, YHWH made numerous covenants with His people:
- Covenant with Noah:YHWH would never again send a flood to destroy the earth (Genesis 9:11)
- Covenant with Abraham: Abraham would be the father of a great nation, through which a great blessing would come (**Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 13:16**)
- Covenant with Moses: The Hebrew people would be a Holy nation, a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6)
- Covenant with David: through the line of David would be established a forever Kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-17)
- The New Covenant: ** (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Apart from the Noahic covenant, all these covenants had a give and take. This is what YHWH would do, IF the people followed YHWH. I will give you all this if you show your loyal love to Me. It was a simple request.
“YHWH did not make you His beloved nor choose you because you were greater in number than any of the peoples, since you were the fewest of all peoples, but because YHWH loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, YHWH brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Know therefore that YHWH your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His faithfulness [w-ha-khesed] to a thousand generations for those who love Him and keep His commandments; but He repays those who hate Him to their faces, to eliminate them; He will not hesitate toward him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them.
Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that YHWH your God will keep His covenant with you and His faithfulness [ha-khesed] which He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you, bless you, and make you numerous; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain, your new wine, and your oil, the newborn of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you.”
But even though the people did not live up to their end of the bargain, YHWH’s mercy and compassion meant that He would keep up His end of the bargain regardless of the heart of the people:
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you.
In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting favour [u-v-khesed] I will have compassion on you,” says YHWH your Redeemer.
“For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor rebuke you.
For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My favour [w-khas’di] will not be removed from you, nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,” says YHWH who has compassion on you.”
YHWH, above all, was loyal to His children. His khesed was unquestionable!
Not surprisingly, khesed is a key descriptor word for YHWH’s character:
This is what YHWH says: “Let no wise man boast of his wisdom, nor let the mighty man boast of his might, nor a rich man boast of his riches; but let the one who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am YHWH who exercises mercy [khesed], justice, and righteousness on the earth; for I delight in these things,” declares YHWH.
The word khesed is pivotal to YHWH’s character. Psalm 136 outlines who YHWH was and what He had already done for the Hebrew people. In the Psalm, the phrase for His faithfulness is everlasting [ki l-olam khas’doh], or perhaps more accurately, His loving loyalty is forever, was repeated 26 times:
Give thanks to YHWH, for He is good, for His loving loyalty is forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods, for His loving loyalty is forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His loving loyalty is forever.
To Him who alone does great wonders, for His loving loyalty is forever;
To Him who made the heavens with skill, for His loving loyalty is forever
To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, for His loving loyalty is forever;
To Him who made the great lights, for His loving loyalty is forever:
The sun to rule by day, for His loving loyalty is forever, the moon and stars to rule by night, for His loving loyalty is forever.
To Him who struck the Egyptians, that is, their firstborn, for His loving loyalty is forever, and brought Israel out from their midst, for His loving loyalty is forever, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for His loving loyalty is forever.
To Him who divided the Red Sea in parts, for His loving loyalty is forever, and allowed Israel to pass through the midst of it, for His loving loyalty is forever; but He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for His loving loyalty is forever.
To Him who led His people through the wilderness, for His loving loyalty is forever; to Him who struck great kings, for His loving loyalty is forever, and brought death to mighty kings, for His loving loyalty is forever: Sihon, king of the Amorites, for His loving loyalty is forever, and Og, king of Bashan, for His loving loyalty is forever, and gave their land as an inheritance, for His loving loyalty is forever, an inheritance to His servant Israel, for His loving loyalty is forever.
Who remembered us in our lowliness, for His loving loyalty is forever, and has rescued us from our enemies, for His loving loyalty is forever;
Who gives food to all flesh, for His loving loyalty is forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His loving loyalty is forever.
From the moment of creation’s beginning, YHWH’s loving loyalty was evident. It was, and is, forever.
YHWH’s character included khesed, so it only makes sense that His image bearers should also reflect khesed:
Then the word of YHWH came to Zechariah, saying, “This is what YHWH of armies has said: ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness [w-khesed] and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’”
The prophet Micah outlined what was expected of us, as YHWH’s image bearers:
He has told you, mortal one, what is good.
And what does YHWH require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness [w-a’havat khesed], and to walk humbly with your God?
Yeshua and Khesed
YHWH’s covenant with David would usher in the hope for an Anointed One, but not just any anointed king, but THE Anointed One; in Hebrew the word anointed is mashiakh (messiah). YHWH’s covenant with David was all about Kingship:
2 Samuel 7:12-15
When your days are finished and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he does wrong, I will discipline him with a rod of men and with strokes of sons of mankind, but My favour [w-khas’di] shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’”
David’s son Solomon fits this bill: he was favoured by YHWH and He built the Temple for YHWH. But there is also a prophetic aspect to this Covenant. We know that Solomon’s own heir, Rehoboam, broke up the kingdom, and the “forever established throne” seemed like a broken promise. But YHWH does not break His promises. There would be a once and future King who would come from the line of David and yet would be a Son of YHWH.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews assigned this covenantal promise to Yeshua:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, to the extent that He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels did He ever say,
“You are my Son, today I have fathered You”?
“I will be a father to Him and He will be a Son to Me”?
And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says,
“And let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And regarding the angels He says,
“He makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.”
But regarding the Son He says,
“Your throne is forever and ever, and the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of His Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of joy above your companions.”
The Messiah, would be YHWH’s unique Son. He was a royal King and a royal Priest, and He would fulfill all the Covenants and usher in Jeremiah’s New Covenant:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares YHWH, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares YHWH. “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares YHWH: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each one his neighbour and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares YHWH, “for I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.”
This was a key promise of God. Because of His loyal love, there would come a day when YHWH would wipe clear the sins of the people:
Who is a God like You, who pardons wrongdoing and passes over a rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy [khesed].
He will again take pity on us; He will trample on our wrongdoings. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob and favour [khesed] to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old.
An expression of love-in-action would take place to clear the sins of the people and offer a clean slate.
1 Peter 3:18
…The Messiah suffered for sins once for all time, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
Yeshua’s life was offered as a redemption, a salvation provided by YHWH so that we could be in right relationship and see Him, face to face, in His Kingdom:
I will make mention of the mercies [khas’deh] of YHWH, and the praises of YHWH, according to all that YHWH has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His mercies [kha’sadaw].
For He said, “Certainly they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.”
So He became their Saviour. In all their distress He was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
Yeshua’s sacrifice crowned us to be royalty in the Garden Kingdom with YHWH. Humans were no longer slaves to death, we were free to truly live:
Bless YHWH, my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless YHWH, my soul, and do not forget any of His benefits; who pardons all your guilt, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with favour [khesed] and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Yeshua came and pardoned our guilt; He healed us, redeemed us from death, and crowned us with khesed!
In the meantime remember this: God is khesed. 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. Let us be the image bearers we were meant to be, and show loving loyalty to YHWH and all who surround us.
Next week’s word: Righteousness