Khesed: Rethinking LOYALTY/LOVINGKINDNESS
Although there is no direct English rendering of khesed, translators have “given it a go” with such words as: mercy, grace, graciousness, favour, loyalty, covenant loyalty, believing loyalty, loving loyalty, strength, devotion, steadfast love, unfailing love, lovingkindness, kindness, compassion and faithfulness. Truth be told, it’s none of those words specifically and all of those words generally. Khesed is an expression of love, but it goes beyond an “I love pizza” kind of love. Khesed is a deeply personal expression of love. It is a love entangled in relationship loyalty… a great loving devotion.
But as for me, I will sing of Your strength; yes, I will joyfully sing of Your loving loyalty [khas’deka] in the morning, for You have been my refuge and a place of refuge on the day of my distress.
My strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my refuge, the God who shows me favour.
The khesed (loving loyalty) that YHWH has for His creation is pivotal to the human story. Humans started off in a Garden, in the Presence of YHWH, but they made a bad decision and they couldn’t stay. They had become a poison to their own environment and were forced to leave. But it wasn’t what God wanted, so He made a plan to rescue them. He would find a way to bring them back.
Lovingkindness [khesed] and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth sprouts from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
Indeed, YHWH will give what is good, and our land will yield its produce.
Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way.
YHWH would provide a way! Khesed is both the why He brings us back home, and the how He brings us home.
Why? Because His loving loyalty draws Him to us.
How? By devoting a part of Himself as a sacrifice, paying the entrance fee and bringing us back to the Garden from where we were exiled.
It is YHWH’s khesed that is the driving force behind our redemption.
YHWH’s Character: Abounding in Khesed
There are many descriptions of YHWH’s character, but one of the most prevalent is that YHWH is overflowing with khesed:
“YHWH, YHWH God, compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love [w-rav khesed] and truth”
YHWH is slow to anger and abundant in mercy [w-rav khesed], forgiving wrongdoing and violation of His Law.
YHWH is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy [w-rav khesed].
Now return to YHWH your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in mercy [w-rav khesed] and relenting of catastrophe.
“But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy [w-rav khesed]; and You did not abandon them.
Even when they made for themselves a calf of cast metal and said, ‘This is your god who brought you up from Egypt,’ and committed great blasphemies, You, in Your great compassion, did not abandon them in the wilderness.”
Khesed was about loyal love and devotion. Offering your allegiance to carved idols was denying your love and loyalty to YHWH. If your loyalty was directed to pagan gods, then you were not showing khesed to God. It seems like a simple thing, and yet this has been a continual struggle for humanity throughout history. We still bow down to idols today (money, celebrities, brands, etc.). Although we are not all that loyal to Him, He is always loyal to us. He is always for us; we are often against Him.
YHWH’s khesed is a great gift to us. He is abundantly loyal to His Creation and the promises He made to us. Regardless of our behaviour, He will not abandon us in the wilderness. He will offer a way back home, for all who seek to find Him.
The only healthy way for khesed to work is through belief and trust. We have to believe in YHWH to be loyal to YHWH. As risky as it is, YHWH also puts His faith in us. He believes in our goodness and offers His loyalty freely.
This is where the prophet Jonah struggled. Jonah had a hard time understanding YHWH’s khesed.
YHWH asked Jonah to preach in the darkest of places: Nineveh, in the kingdom of Assyria. But out of fear, and a lack of belief, Jonah ran in the opposite direction. His loyalty to YHWH was shaky because he did not believe in God’s plan. He couldn’t get behind it… and so YHWH put a stumbling block in the wayward path of Jonah. He was swallowed by a great fish. Humbled, and facing death, Jonah cried out to God:
Then Jonah prayed to YHWH his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said,
“I called out of my distress to YHWH, and He answered me. I called for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.
For You threw me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current flowed around me. All Your breakers and waves passed over me.
So I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
Water encompassed me to the point of death. The deep flowed around me, seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I descended to the base of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, YHWH my God.
While I was fainting away, I remembered YHWH, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple.
Those who are followers of worthless idols abandon their loyalty [khas’dam], but I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from YHWH.”
Then YHWH commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
Jonah recognized that abandoning your loyalty to God was a fatal decision, and when he turned back to YHWH, YHWH was loyal to him and saved him.
Although Jonah was undoubtedly appreciative of God’s loyalty to him, he was not so appreciative when YHWH showed loyalty to his enemies.
When God showed khesed to the Assyrians, Jonah saw this as a betrayal and he was furious. Jonah no longer cried out for his own life to be saved, instead he cried out for his death:
But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. Then he prayed to YHWH and said, “Please YHWH, was this not what I said when I was still in my own country? Therefore in anticipation of this I fled to Tarshish, since I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving loyalty [khesed], and One who relents of disaster. So now, YHWH, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”
But YHWH said, “Do you have a good reason to be angry?”
Jonah offered a crappy reason be angry. Did he have a good reason? He thought he did. When the enemy wins usually that means you are defeated, but that’s not what it’s like with God.
Jonah didn’t get it. In the belly of the great fish, Jonah prayed for his life to be saved; but now that his enemies would be treated as his equal, he wanted to die.
Loyalty to YHWH meant believing in His goodness. YHWH’s decisions are the right decisions even when we don’t want them to be. Jonah couldn’t understand how YHWH could be loyal to his foes. How could God be on his side and on the side of his enemies?
Jonah did not understand khesed. YHWH is loyal to all His creation… not just a certain select few. He offers loyalty to every human who has ever graced the planet. We are one humanity loved by YHWH, and while we are all equally not perfect, we all equally worthy of redemption. That’s the beauty of YHWH’s loyalty to us! Regardless of our failings, He is on our side.
Khesed: Clearing the Way Home
YHWH is so much on our side that He took the greatest action to show His loving loyalty. The way would be made clear, to bring us home:
The voice of one calling out,
“Clear the way for YHWH in the wilderness; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the uneven ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of YHWH will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of YHWH has spoken.”
A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness [khesed] is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of YHWH blows upon it; the people are indeed grass!
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.
We are like grass and our loyalty is like the flower in the grass, both wither and fade, but YHWH’s loyalty, shown in His Word, lasts forever.
The beginning of this chapter in Isaiah we read, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. This verse is quoted by all four Gospel writers (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23), pointing to John the Baptizer as the one who started the highway-path back to YHWH. John was the forerunner of the Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah… he announced that YHWH was about to come into the wilderness, where we had been wandering, to save us. He would send a part of Himself, the Messiah, to pay the redemption price for us.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
[David:] God, You are my God; I shall be watching for You; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and exhausted land where there is no water.
So have I seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory. Because Your loving loyalty [khas’d’ka] is better than life, my lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
Khesed brings us out of the wilderness and back home to the Father. YHWH’s loving loyalty is what brings us back to Him. Without His loyalty we would be on a path to nowhere. Because of His loyalty He provided an escape plan for us.
“In Your loving devotion [v-khas’d’ka] You have led the people whom You have redeemed; in Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.”
We have a beautiful life here on earth, but we have a more beautiful life waiting for us in YHWH’s holy habitation, back in the Garden where we belong. YHWH is loyal to us; let us repay His loyalty with our devotion and He will welcome us home, just as he wants to, with open arms.
For more on this Hebrew word, click below:
Next week: Roaming to and fro