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Hesed: How do you describe the indescribable?

How do you go about describing the indescribable? In 1529, Miles Cloverdale came across this very problem. He was working on the very first English translation of the Bible and was faced with a difficult problem. The Hebrew word, hesed, is originally three letters in the ancient Hebrew text as shown in the image below.

This Hebrew word describes the main attribute of God, Himself. Cloverdale and others who were his contemporaries, struggled to find one English word that would totally capture all that this little 3 letter Hebrew word meant about how God feels about His people.

Used some 246 times in the Old Testament, the context of how it is used and when it is used, and the words paired in proximity all attempt to describe what is very hard to put into words. How would you for example explain God's love towards someone in a way that captures fully that idea and concept with just one word. Well, the short answer to that question is you can't. So faced with this challenge that was impossible, Cloverdale decided to combine two English words to begin to describe what hesed was. He made up a word out of two words to describe it. The word "loving" and the word "kindness" were put together to be "lovingkindness". His bible was printed in 1535 some 76 years before the King James version of the bible features this new word that Cloverdale made to describe God's nature.

Over the years, many have adopted Cloverdale's word but still struggled with the seemingly bottomless depth of meaning found in the meaning of hesed. The King James translation uses 14 different words as it translated hesed. The New International Version of the bible used 12 different words. And the modern Message version of the scriptures uses 46 different words and phrases to express this idea of Hesed. Michael Card is his book entitled "Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God's Lovingkindness" gives us a working definition for the word. Hesed -- when the person from whom I have the right to expect nothing, gives me everything.

And just as it is hard to find the very bottom of the word, Psalm 103:11 - 12 indicates that it is hard to find the top of it also. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His hesed (love) for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression. The distance between the earth and the heavens, the east from the west, great is His hesed for you and for me! When we sit and contemplate this idea, we are overwhelmed by how great the Father's love is for us. How vast and beyond measure it is.

I didn't do anything to deserve this, there is nothing within me that had a right to expect this from Him and yet He gives me everything and more. Like David, I find myself saying "Surely goodness and hesed (mercy) shall follow me all the days of my life". Psalm 23:6.

"He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love hesed (mercy) and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8. Because of God's hesed to you and to me, He calls us to love hesed, and to share hesed with the world we see today. To show lovingkindness, mercy, grace, compassion, faithfulness, goodness, clemency, immense favor, devotion, beauty and unconditional love. And that is just a glimpse into what His hesed truly is for you and me.

You see it always begins and ends with God! As we understand more and more of His hesed for us, and it filters down into our hesed that we give to others. The hymn writer said it like this, "Because I have been given much, I too must give". Hesed is at the heart of all that we do and impacts our community and our world. God's lovingkindness needs to radiate from our lives today.

That's how you live a good day and live it well. May we be His hesed today!

Take Care,

Chaplain Tom

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