God’s Steadfast Love

January 29, 2009

God’s Steadfast Love

One of the great words of the Old Testament concerning the nature and activity of Almighty God is chesed, the Hebrew word which is variously translated as ‘lovingkindness’ (NASB), ‘steadfast love’ (ESV), ‘mercy’ (KJV).  The KJV translation is really not right, for there is another Hebrew word for ‘mercy,’ and this word chesed relates more closely to the nature of love and kindness.  However, as we will see below, it is used in context to give us the concept of ‘faithful’ or ‘loyal’ as modifiers for this love.  The NIV translation (quite often ‘love’) is inadequate because there is another word ‘ahab which means love and this word has the wider, richer idea of ‘faithful-love’.     I personally favor either ‘lovingkindness’ or ‘steadfast love.’

This word is used some 245 times in the OT and the vast majority of these tell us of God’s attitude and activity towards His people Israel.  Below are some of the verses which use this word and often in combination or in parallel form with other key words that describe the character and activity of our Living Lord, Sovereign of the universe.

1. Many times this word is joined with another noun such as ‘righteousness,’ faithfulness,’ ‘truth.’

  Gen. 24:27, 49;   47:29;
  Ex. 34:6 (one of the key words in the revelation of His Name)
  Josh. 2:14;   2 Sam. 2:6;    15:20    Psalm 25:10;    40:11;    57:3;    61:7;    85:10;   
  86:15;    89:2, 14

2. Sometimes it is with the word ‘covenant.’

  Deut. 7:9;    1 Kings 8:23;    Neh. 1:5;    9:32;   Dan. 9:4

3. Sometimes with the nouns ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness.’

  Ps. 101:1;    Prov. 21:21 (notice the challenge:  pursue these!); Hos. 12:6;
  Jer. 9:24

4. It is often used in parallel (in Hebrew poetry) with other mainstream words.

  Ps. 36:10;   88:11;   89:1-2;   92:2;   117:2
  Isaiah 16:5;   55:3;   Hosea 4:1;   Micah 7:20;   6:8

5. Then it is expanded with the adjective ‘great’ and coupled with God’s patience

  Ex. 34:6;   Num. 14:18;   Neh. 9:17;   Ps. 86:15;   103:8;   145:8;   Isa. 54:8
  Joel 2:13;   Jonah 4:2

6. Also, consider His great chesed as related to the ideas of mercy and forgiveness

  Ex. 34:6;   Num. 14:19;   Neh. 13:22;   Ps. 5:7;   69:13;   86:5;   106:7, 45;  
  Lam. 3:22

This great word used as above, strongly suggests God’s persistent, determined, character and nature was the foundation for the maintaining of His covenant with Israel.  Someone has said that the word involves, in almost every case, a substratum of fixed, determined, almost stubborn steadfastness.  Norman Snaith in his Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament says,

“Wonderful as is His love for his covenant people, His steady persistence in it is more wonderful still.  The most important of all the distinctive ideas of the OT is God’s steady and extraordinary persistence in continuing to love wayward Israel in spite of Israel’s insistent rebellion” (p.102).

Or, consider the message of Hosea.  Through all the troubles which beat against and nearly broke the marriage covenant between Yahweh and Israel, there was one factor which never changed.  This was God’s sure love for Israel.  Because of this sure, unswerving love, the Covenant can never be finally and completely broken.  The Covenant, initiated by God, could only be broken by God.  Israel could sin, could rebel against God, but they were never to escape from that Covenant.  Rather, they would find themselves under the curse of that Covenant rather than enjoying the blessing.  Israel may have rejected God, but God had not, has not yet, and will not reject Israel because of His great faithful lovingkindness!  And so we read of God’s plaintive cry in Hosea 11:8-9 (although there the word chesed does not appear).

There is one further aspect of this study.  There is a cognate word chasid from the same root as chesed.  This word is translated in most English versions as ‘saint.’   One who lives under the chesed of God is described in the OT as a chasid.  He can be described as being

“One-living-within-the-circle-of-the-lovingkindness-of-God.”

Some of the verses where this word chasid is found include:

 1 Sam. 2:9;   2 Chron. 6:41;   Prov. 2:8;    Micah 7:2
 Psalms 30:4;   31:23;   37:28;   50:5;   52:9;   79:2;   85:8;   89:19;   97:10;   116:15;                  132:9, 16;   145:10;   148:14;   149:1, 5

Think about what the OT teaches us about the unsurpassable, immeasurable, awesome, wonderful love of God which knows no bounds of space or time!  And remember, these affirmations of love are in – of all places – the Old Testament! 
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho stretched from sky to sky.

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