“It’s the kind of love that someone demonstrates when they’re keeping a promise, and when the desire to be loyal to their promise motivates them to go above and beyond and be super generous, more than what you would expect—that’s khesed.”
This phrase is a translation of the Hebrew word khesed. Khesed is a challenging word to translate because it combines the ideas of love, generosity, and enduring commitment. Khesed has been translated into English a number of ways, including “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” “unfailing love,” and “steadfast love.” Ultimately, khesed describes an act of promise-keeping loyalty that is motivated by deep personal care, which is why the team most often refers to the translation “loyal love.”
Khesed is the kind of love demonstrated by someone determined to keep a promise and motivated to endure and maintain a covenant through self-giving generosity. It’s concrete, action-taking love. It’s the difference between saying the words “I love you” and acting in honor of your commitment to another person by serving them. Seventy-five percent of the occurrences of khesed in the Hebrew Bible refer to God’s loyal and generous commitment to his often undeserving people.
In part two (16:10–25:30), the team looks at some examples of God’s loyal love in the book of Psalms, where khesed appears 127 times––more than half of the 245 times khesed is used in the Hebrew Bible!
Psalm 36:5-6 (NIV)
Your khesed, Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, Your justice is like the great deep.
These lines of poetry span the three tiers of the cosmos in Genesis 1: the skies, the land, and the waters beneath the land. From the highest point to the lowest point, God’s loyal love upholds every tier of the cosmos, preserves creation’s ability to sustain life, and fulfills his promises. This is loyalty in action.
Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is his khesed for those who fear him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Here, God’s khesed is demonstrated in his willingness to forgive the sins of his people. The psalmist conjures an image of God’s love spanning impossible distances. It is higher and wider than we can fathom, even when we imagine the greatest heights and widths within creation. That’s the extent of his forgiveness for us—it’s unreachable.
In part three (25:30–41:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss what it looks like for humans to display khesed. Again and again, we find that human khesed is expressed by doing justice and humbly honoring God’s commands. When people are motivated by and reflect the character of God, only then do we actually live out what it means to be God’s image on earth.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
He has shown you, O human, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love khesed and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah sets up God’s character as a contrast to Israel’s leaders, who were demonstrating the opposite of loyalty to God and acting unjustly toward his people.
Genesis 47:28-30 (NIV)
Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me khesed and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.” “I will do as you say,” he said.
Carissa points out that Joseph demonstrates true khesed in this story because he intends to fulfill a promise to Jacob after he dies––there’s literally no way his father can repay him! Khesed is generated purely by the character of the person demonstrating it when they fulfill their commitments to another person in their family or kinship network.
Similarly, Ruth demonstrates khesed to her family (Naomi) without expecting anything in return. Technically, she has been released from her commitment to Naomi by the death of her husband, but Ruth is loyal to Naomi anyway.
And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord do khesed with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me…”
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
There’s a contrast set up here. Naomi urges Ruth and her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, to leave and trust God’s khesed to them. Instead, Ruth makes a bold statement. She will trust God’s khesed and go a step further by demonstrating khesed to Naomi.
Khesed crops up throughout David’s life too. After David kills Goliath, Saul launches his own personal campaign to kill David, but Jonathan (Saul’s son) considers David his best friend and forms a covenant with him.
1 Samuel 20:13-17
“May Yahweh be with you as he has been with my father. If I am still alive, will you not show me the khesed of Yahweh, that I may not die? You shall not cut off your khesed from my house forever, not even when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord require it at the hands of David’s enemies.” Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him because he loved him as he loved his own life.
Years later, Jonathan dies in battle with his father Saul, and David grieves Jonathan’s death. And when David is finally crowned king, he begins to look for Jonathan’s descendants, whom he might bless and thereby fulfill his covenant with Jonathan.
2 Samuel 9:1-7 (NIV)
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show khesed for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” “At your service,” he replied. The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show the khesed of God?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet…” So King David had him brought from Lo Debar…When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you khesed for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
David adopts the grandson of his enemy, the son of his deceased friend, and cares for this disabled boy for the rest of his life. In a hereditary-monarchy culture, Mephibosheth represents a potential rival to David, but David instead demonstrates generosity and loyalty.
Joseph, David, and Ruth demonstrate a key distinction between garden-variety loyalty and khesed. Anyone can act out of loyalty, even in the absence of goodwill toward another, but khesed is the kind of loyalty borne of sincere love and generosity, even when it’s totally unmerited by the recipient.
In part four (41:00–50:30), the team talks through some key Old Testament accounts of God acting in loyal love for his people.
In the book of Genesis, God shows khesed to Abraham by providing a marriage partner for Isaac, ensuring the future of Abraham’s family.
Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water. He said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show khesed to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’—may she be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that you have shown khesed to my master.”
What appears to be a chance meeting between Abraham’s servant and Isaac’s soon-to-be-wife, Rebekah, is actually God’s providence. God continually proves his loyalty to Abraham’s family, even as his descendants become less and less deserving (like Jacob, known for his deceptive behavior).
Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the khesed and of all the faithfulness which you have shown to your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, 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 surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”
Jacob recognizes his own unworthiness to receive God’s khesed. Although God allows Jacob to reap the consequences for his own deception and poor choices, God doesn’t leave Jacob alone, and he fulfills his promises to his family.
In part five (50:30–59:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa talk through a defining period of God’s khesed in the history of Israel and the biblical story: the Exodus from Egypt and the years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness.
God’s rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt sets up an important design theme for the entire Hebrew Bible. God’s acts of khesed toward humanity are almost entirely between him and his people who are marginalized and oppressed.
Despite God’s deliverance of the Israelites in Egypt, they refuse to enter the promised land, they turn against God and Moses in the wilderness, and they declare their desire to go back to Egypt.
The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn me? And how long will they not believe in me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will strike them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by your strength you brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for you, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while your cloud stands over them; and you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of your fame will say, ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which he promised them by oath, therefore he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as you have declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in khesed, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your khesed, just as you also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”
Moses reminds God of two of his own attributes. God doesn’t acquit the guilty, but he also doesn’t forsake his promises. Moses appeals to God and reminds God that if he doesn’t keep his promise to Israel, he won’t be demonstrating khesed and will be denying his own character. So even though God allows the generation who refused to enter the promised land to perish in the wilderness, he brings their children into the land, keeping his promise to the family of Abraham.
God’s khesed is never based on the worthiness of any given generation; rather, it’s based upon his faithfulness across generations to Abraham’s family. Because certain generations of the children of Israel were less faithful than others, God willingly put himself in positions where he had to be incredibly generous.
In part six (59:00–end), the team concludes the conversation with a look at God’s loyal love in the New Testament.
In the New Testament, khesed doesn’t appear (because it’s a Hebrew word, and the New Testament is written in Greek). In the Old Greek Septuagint, the Hebrew word khesed was most regularly translated by the Greek word for “mercy,” eleos.
After the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she will give birth to Jesus, she sings a song of praise to God, in which his eleos features prominently.
Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary’s use of the word “mercy” calls to mind the history of God’s khesed to her people. She sees herself as one recipient in a long line of generations who received God’s loyal love.
We find the same thing in Paul’s epistles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul riffs on this theme of God’s mercy, seeing it as a consistent part of God’s character throughout his historical relationship with his people, manifesting in unexpected ways.
Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…But because of his great love (agape) for us, God, who is rich in mercy (eleos), made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Across generations, God keeps his promises, and, more often than not, he does so in surprising ways. The most surprising of all God’s miraculous, unmerited demonstrations of khesed to his people was in redeeming humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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The Loyal Love of God
Series: Character of God E12
Podcast Date: November 2, 2020, 68.25
Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie, Carissa Quinn
Jon: Hey, this is Jon at BibleProject. Have you ever been in a situation where you're looking for a word to describe an idea, but you can't find the right word? In those situations, we oftentimes just go to another language. Like the feeling that this exact moment has happened before, French has a great word. Déjà vu. Or that pleasure that's derived from another person's misfortune, German has a great word for that. Schadenfreude. Languages are like this. Some languages have better ways of expressing very particular ideas. Now, there's a word in Hebrew, that is notoriously difficult to translate into English for this reason. It's an idea that combines being generous with being loyal, and it wraps it all up in the emotion of deep affection for another. This is the Hebrew word khesed.
Tim: There's no word in any language that quite does all the things that khesed is doing. (00:01:00) So it's a challenge to render khesed in any language. It's a covenant partner. You're motivated by love and affection; you do concrete acts. And as you do so, you are fulfilling a promise you made. Khesed.
Jon: Now, khesed is a big deal in the Bible because it's the fourth characteristic that God gives to Himself in Exodus 34. But if there's no word in English that translates khesed well, what do we do with it?
Tim: This word has been translated in a lot of different ways. The earliest English translation of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale uses the English word "mercy," whatever mercy meant to them. King James followed, in our own time by the New American Standard has gone with two words. Either mercy, sometimes it's translated mercy, or more often with a compound word lovingkindness.
Jon: NIV simply translates it as love. ESV goes well further and (00:02:00) they call it steadfast love.
Tim: When you notice these kinds of differences between translations that's usually a flag, like, hey, there's something interesting here. There's opportunity to learn. Because what these translation differences show is people are struggling to find the easy one for one correspondence between our language and concepts and the language and concepts of the Bible.
Jon: So coming up today on the show, what does it mean that God is full of khesed? Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
We're walking through five characteristics of God found in Exodus 34:6. This has been a long series. It's been really great. We just got out of a whole conversation on anger.
Carissa: Long conversation.
Jon: Long conversation. It was great. We're going to move into the fourth attribute that God assigns Himself, which is translated different ways (00:03:00) I suppose sometimes.
Tim: Yes. Yeah, we'll explore that, given many different English translations.
Jon: But I've heard you say loyal love over and over.
Jon: So what's loyal love? We're going to talk about loyal love. I have with me, you have with you as you're listening along, Tim. Hey, Tim.
Jon: Hello. And Carissa is here.
Jon: Let's get started.
Tim: So loyal love is the English translation I've come to favor, but strong arguments can be made for other translations. We'll look at how some smart people throughout history have translated this word. The Hebrew word is khesed. This is where you got to clear your throat.
Carissa: Khesed. Okay. Is it khesed or khesed?
Tim: Ah, khesed.
Jon: The emphasis is on the first syllable?
Tim: Correct. Yeah, that's right.
Jon: Then what's that Hebrew word there?
Tim: The letter is called letter (unintelligible - 00:03:57)
Jon: I’ve decided I'm going to learn the Hebrew. (00:04:00)
Tim: So often transliterated with the letter CH, like in the last name, Johann Sebastian Bach. But what I find is when you spell CH for most English speakers, they say “chuh”.
Tim: So I've come to transliterate it as kh.
Jon: Yeah, that makes sense.
Carissa: Yeah, I think that's good. So if you've been pronouncing this as chested for a long time, you cannot try and change to khesed.
Jon: Khesed. Clear the throat.
Tim: Khesed. This is a really interesting word. I have a lot of fun studying this word in Hebrew Bible. It occurs 245 times. Now the Hebrew Bible is a pretty big collection of texts. But that's a lot.
Tim: That's a lot.
Jon: I'm not to take your word for it.
Tim: Yeah. So here's just some interesting things about this word. (00:05:00) It appears most often in the Psalms. Hundred and seven times in the book of Psalms, and then 46 times in the big narrative stretching from Genesis to 2 Kings. Then it starts getting smaller. Twenty-six times in the Prophets, 13 times in the wisdom books.
Carissa: You know, as we've been going through these traits, it almost seems like they have occurred most often in the Psalms. the gracious and compassionate. I think faithful the same too. Faithful occurs a lot in the Psalms.
Tim: That's a good observation. The spirituality of the Psalms has been deeply shaped by Exodus 34:6. How the poets relate and talk about God is...yeah.
Carissa: And the characteristics they rely on about God. Though I don't know about slow to anger, if that was more prevalent in the Psalms.
Tim: Yeah, interesting. If I did search that, I don't remember off the top of my head. It is a very productive word. What's interesting is (00:06:00) that in 75% of those 245 uses of the word, 75% of them are about God. So God's khesed is a major, major feature of the Old Testament portrait of God. But then also, there is one out of four occurrences that talk about humans doing this and showing this. So it's a really great opportunity to see how humans are an image of God, that humans showing khesed gives us a window into how God chose khesed.
So this word has been translated a lot of different ways. The earliest English translations of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale use the English word "mercy", and whatever mercy meant to them.
Carissa: That's a surprising translation to me because I don't usually connect mercy and love in a one to one correlation. Like maybe a loving person is also merciful. (00:07:00) But it's an interesting translation
Tim: Where they were taking their inspiration from most likely is from the Greek translation of the Septuagint, which used the Greek word eleos, which is mercy or kindness. I think that's where they're coming from. But I...
Carissa: Is that because there's not a good Greek term for khesed?
Tim: Yes. Actually, there's no word in any language that quite does all of the things that khesed is doing. So it's a challenge to render khesed into any language. Actually, the translation of this word throughout the history of English Bibles is instructive. So the earliest English Bibles, Tyndale Wickliffe go with mercy. The King James, followed in our own time by the New American Standard has gone with two words. Either mercy, sometimes it translates mercy, or more often with a compound word lovingkindness.
Carissa: Lovingkindness. (00:08:00)
Tim: No space.
Jon: That is a very Bible word.
Carissa: It is.
Jon: I learned that word as a kid because of the Bible.
Tim: Because of the Bible. Let me count. 14 letters.
Jon: It's a good (inaudible - 00:08:14)
Jon: Just put two words together and call it good.
Tim: So many letters.
Carissa: Though it is descriptive of the type of love maybe.
Tim: Yes. Kindness. You can show acts of kindness, but not necessarily associated with the deep kind of pathos with love. So acts of kindness combined and motivated by love. Actually, this is not a bad translation. It's a pretty good one. But notice they had to merge two words to make it work.
Jon: Now, when you say sometimes they did mercy, wouldn't King James have just one translation?
Tim: No. For stylistic purposes, they might discern in a particular context.
Jon: Oh, I see. (00:09:00) Depending on the...
Tim: Depending on the context.
Jon: ...the context of that word.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah.
Jon: But in Exodus 34, they're going to have one.
Tim: Lovingkindness. Yeah, that's right.
Jon: But other times that it shows up, they sometimes say mercy.
Tim: Correct. 20th century, the New Revised English Standard versions, they use a phrase. Two words. Steadfast love.
Jon: They decided to keep those two words separate. "Let's not create new word."
Tim: Yeah, totally. So not all spelled is one word. So two words.
Carissa: But steadfast is also not that common.
Carissa: Or is it? Is that a really Christianese word too?
Jon: I've probably never used that word in any sort of normal situation.
Tim: Yeah. Steadfast love. So what that translation brings out is both as act of pathos. It leaves out the kindness or mercy that you get with those other translations. But it introduces a new concept which is (00:10:00) enduring, reliable through time, consistent. Steadfast. And that's good. That's a part of what's going on here. That is a part of khesed is enduring commitment. The New International Version sometimes just uses the English word love or sometimes translates it with the phrase unfailing love.
Carissa: Just kind of like steadfast.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Like steadfast love. This kind of a little axiom or a rule of thumb that we've learned to develop, when you...this is why it's helpful to read with multiple English translations of the Bible throughout time. When you notice these kinds of differences between translations, that's usually a flag like, "Hey, there's something interesting here. This is an opportunity to learn." Because what these translation differences show is people are struggling to find an easy one for one correspondence between our language and concepts than the language and concepts of the Bible. (00:11:00)
Carissa: Yeah, it's an interesting word because it is describing this quality of love that goes beyond maybe the way...or I guess I'm curious how this word khesed compares with how we usually understanding love in general, or maybe even how we understand other kinds of love in the Bible, like agape or how it compares to faithfulness or compassion. Those kinds of ideas.
Tim: Yeah. Actually, in the BibleProject video library, we have two word studies on love.
Carissa: Oh, yeah.
Tim: One on the Hebrew word and then one on the Greek word. Ahava in Hebrew and agape.
Carissa: So this will be the third.
Tim: So this will be the third word.
Carissa: Kind of.
Jon: Second Hebrew word.
Tim: Second Hebrew word. But it's loyal love.
Jon: What was the other Hebrew word?
Jon: Give me the quick...
Tim: Ahava is affection.
Tim: The emotional attachment and affection. Agape is about actions to seek another (00:12:00) person's wellbeing. They're motivated by desire and affection for them.
Jon: In the Septuagint, ahava usually translated as agape?
Tim: Hmm, I don't remember that off the top of my head.
Tim: So what sets khesed apart, the word khesed, if you study all of these occurrences—and we'll look at a whole bunch—it's the kind of love that someone demonstrates when they're keeping a promise and when a desire to be loyal to their promise motivates them to go above and beyond and be super generous more than what you would expect. That's khesed.
Carissa: Yeah. So it differs from those other words and that it's inside of this commitment or perceived as commitment, even if it's not an explicit commitment.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. It's almost always in the context of enduring relationship, either a family or covenant connection. It's one among a whole history of (00:13:00) acts to maintain a relationship through acts of generosity.
Carissa: And it's still an emotional or emotive word?
Tim: Well, it's focused more on behavior and action.
Tim: So it's combining generosity, commitment, and affection all in one.
Tim: The shorthand illustration that I came to use when this word would come up when I was in pastoral ministry and preaching is like an elderly man who's a husband and wife, they've been married 57 years. His wife gets really sick, and she can't care for herself anymore. So he dedicates himself to full time care, like wheelchair, feeding, bathing. Khesed. It's concrete. If you just sat on the couch and like, "I love you," but then doesn't help her, that's not khesed.
Jon: But if he was just a nurse getting paid to do it with no affection... (00:14:00)
Carissa: Just the obligated.
Jon: ...it will not be khesed
Tim: No. It's of covenant partner, you're motivated by love and affection, you do concrete acts. And as you do so, you are fulfilling a promise that you made. That's khesed.
Carissa: It's actually a really beautiful word.
Tim: It's so beautiful.
Jon: It is a beautiful word
Carissa: Because it describes that kind of love that's a commitment and a choice and a desire all in one.
Carissa: And it's active.
Tim: So all of these different English translations, I really sympathize. I'm just adding my opinion to the bunch now with the translation loyal love. But here's the thing is unfailing love of the NIV, I don't use the word unfailing. Steadfast...
Jon: You don't use the word steadfast.
Tim: But loyal, that's a normal English word.
Carissa: And it also kind of has the connotation of like a friendship or a partnership. Loyalty. I think we think in terms of human partnerships when we talk about loyalty.
Jon: A loyal love doesn't get across is...so we got the affection. (00:15:00) It doesn't get across as generosity.
Tim: I see. That's true.
Jon: It could feel a little contractual. Like give me loyal love. Versus there's a sense of khesed, the way you guys have been talking about it, which is this like outflowing of generosity. Sorry for coercing your translation.
Tim: No, that's all right.
Carissa: So lovingly, kind, loyal love.
Tim: Yeah. Loyal lovingkindness.
Jon: Loyal lovingkindness.
Carissa: One word.
Tim: That would be the New King James. So that's the basic idea. First, let's take in some famous Bible verses. Like some that might be on bumper stickers or cross stitch patterns on people's walls. And then you'll see it. You'll actually see it displayed. Then I thought we could look at a bunch of examples of people showing khesed to each other in famous Bible stories. Then we can conclude by looking at example of God showing khesed.
Section break (00:16:42)
Tim: Famous Old Testament Bible verses with khesed. Psalm 36:5-6. "Your khesed, O Lord, reaches to the heavens." [singing] “Your face O lord.”
Jon: Yeah, sing, Tim.
Tim: [singing] “heaven to the sky”. I don't remember what the verb is. That's the same song.
Jon: Is that a worship anthem?
Tim: Yeah. [singing] “Your righteousness it's like the mighty mountains.” I remember this from Bible College. We had chapel at the Bible College.
Jon: You know, it's funny is because there's only a small window of worship songs you're probably familiar with.
Tim: From the mid to late 90s.
Carissa: I think that one's stuck around for a while.
Jon: Yeah, that's a long while.
Tim: That one endured.
Carissa: But yeah, you can't read this verse without getting a tune in it.
Tim: Yeah, exactly. Yes. Yes. Are you looking it up?
Jon: Third Day.
Tim: Third Day. Shout out to Third Day.
Carissa: I forgot about that.
Tim: Third day. Well, there you go.
Jon: They're getting in on those design patterns. Third Day.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So you're khesed, O Lord, reaches to the skies. Listen, there's four poetic parallel lines here. (00:18:00) So notice the attributes of God that are paired. Your khesed reaches to the skies. Your faithfulness to the heavens, your righteousness like the mountains, your justice like the deep abyss below. Notice we just spanned the three-tiered cosmos of Genesis 1.
Jon: Yeah, with the mountains in the mix.
Tim: The skies. The mountains represent the land.
Jon: Oh, the land. Okay.
Tim: And then the deep is the waters under the land. God's character is what upholds every tear of the cosmos. Isn't that interesting?
Carissa: That's cool.
Jon: Yeah, God's character is saturated throughout the entire cosmos.
Tim: I wondered if the certain character traits are paired with certain parts of the cosmos? That might be able...
Jon: It's got to be in the rain. Right?
Tim: So God's loyal love and then the word that you're going to take us on a tour through next, Carissa, your faithfulness, that's associated with what's above.
Jon: Well, both of them are.
Tim: Yeah, exactly. God's khesed and His (00:19:00) faithfulness are associated with the sky.
Jon: Now, is that two different words in this poem here? Because heavens and skies are the same word in Hebrew, right?
Carissa: Seems like it should be two different ones.
Tim: Oh, yeah. The first word is shamayim the traditional word heavens or skies. The second word is actually the word for clouds.
Jon: Okay. Faithfulness in the clouds.
Tim: Shechakim. Yeah, your clouds.
Jon: That's fascinating that they translated clouds sky. Probably because they already translate sky "heavens".
Tim: Yeah, totally. That's right. Yeah, that is interesting. But ESV of Psalm 36:5 has clouds.
Carissa: It seems like it does the same thing either way. It starting up really high. Heaven, skies, mountains deep or skies, clouds, mountains deep.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So basically from top to bottom for the cosmos. God's character is what uphold it all. (00:20:00) And this is in the larger context of a whole paragraph in Psalm about meditating on the stability of creation.
Jon: Can I take us on a tangent?
Jon: There's two other attributes of God in these two verses. Righteousness and justice. Why aren't those in Psalm 36? Why did God leave those out?
Tim: Well, Exodus 36?
Jon: Yes. Sorry, Exodus 36. Those are two great attributes that you would think God would want Moses to think about that. Righteousness and justice.
Tim: So you're saying why are they absent?
Jon: Why are they absent?
Tim: Yeah. Oh, that's a great question.
Carissa: It almost seems like justice is described in those verses.
Jon: Anyways, it's a tangent.
Tim: No, it's a good one.
Jon: Just making an observation. They're missing out of...
Tim: Righteousness is about doing right by somebody, and justice is about fairness and equity. One could argue that God is (00:21:00) not very fair with Israel.
Tim: He gives them much, much more than what they deserve. In fact, that's what the next example of khesed is, is He doesn't give Israel what they deserve. But He is being just with them. You're not being unjust if you're being generous with somebody. I've never asked myself the question the way that you just did. So I need to take a long walk and think about that.
Jon: I mean, there's tons of attributes and blessing. So, but these are pretty core.
Carissa: Yeah. Yeah. And they're the verses that are repeated over and over. I think for me the question is whether this "yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished" is talking about His justice, or if the purpose there is actually to emphasize His graciousness. That His mercy extends to the thousand generations, and this punishment only goes to the third or the fourth. So maybe justice isn't being emphasized here. (00:22:00)
Tim: Yeah, it's interesting.
Carissa: Yeah, it is interesting to think about what core characteristics of God really were important to the biblical authors and which ones weren't as important.
Tim: Or just when they wanted to summarize the core of God's character, if you only get a list of five, the others...
Carissa: What are the top five?
Tim: What are the top five? Yeah.
Jon: I would have guessed righteousness would have made top five.
Tim: Yeah, that's a good point.
Jon: It's my intuition.
Tim: The apostle Paul shows righteousness. That's interesting. I need to think about that. You've stumbled upon a really profound question. I need to think about it. Psalm 103:11-12. "For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his khesed for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." The parallelism between those lines is really (00:23:00) illuminating, I think. Is that a worship song?
Carissa: Yes, it is, guys.
Tim: Is it really? I don't know.
Carissa: As far as the east is from the west, that's how far he has removed our transgression from us. No, maybe I was later than this.
Jon: I don't know that one. But I bet you there is a song or a hymn for most Psalms.
Tim: Yeah. For sure.
Carissa: We don't have to sing them all. It's okay.
Tim: In Psalm 36, the first example, if God's khesed is there associated with the stability of creation, that's a part of God fulfilling His promise and fulfilling His word. Here, God's loyal love is expressed by forgiving people. Forgiving them.
Jon: This is kind of like how much do you love me question. You play with your kids, and you're like, "I love you this much," and hands out by like six inches. And then they're like, "I love you this much." (00:24:00) And they get to like a foot, and you keep going. This is the psalmist thinking about God's khesed and like how grand is it?
Tim: How high and how far? Yeah.
Tim: It goes a vertical: High as the skies above land. And it goes horizontal: east from the west.
Jon: Which is an impossible...
Tim: Then what's pair is showing khesed is expressed through forgiving people when they wronged you. Specifically your covenant partners.
Carissa: So that brings out the generosity, peace, and kindness.
Jon: So forgiveness is core to khesed. Because you can't be in a loving, loyal, generous relationship with someone without constantly forgiving each other.
Carissa: Yeah, that's a good point.
Tim: Right. I guess unless you're in a covenant relationship with Jesus. But He's the one who is... (00:25:00)
Section break (00:25:43)
Tim: Micah 6:8. "He has shown you, O human, what is good and what the Lord requires of you..."
Jon: This is a song.
Tim: "...to do justice, to love khesed and to walk humbly with your God." Now there because of the King James Version, the songs of Micah 6:8 that have become popular have retained the word mercy. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
Jon: There's a song that I know.
Carissa: I don't know the song.
Jon: [singing] “He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you.”
Jon: “But to do justly. But to do justly. To love mercy. To love mercy.”
Carissa: Well, you didn't know when you tuned into this podcast.
Tim: You were going to get a solo verse.
Jon: Yeah, Mercy. It's mercy.
Tim: Okay. So NIV renders mercy here in Micah 6:8. ESV translates kindness. The New American Standard goes with kindness as well.
Carissa: So how do you think these three terms are relating here? To do justice, love khesed, and walk humbly?
Tim: Well, in Micah, he's railing against the leaders of Israel for not being loyal to the covenant with Yahweh. (00:27:00) And then that's demonstrated by not doing justice for the needy and the poor in their cities, and throwing raging drinking parties. He just lays into leaders drinking way too much. So you can kind of see that reflected here. "Like do justice for the poor, keep your covenant with Yahweh, and don't think of yourself too highly."
Carissa: Okay. So it's three significant things, not synonymous things or...
Tim: Oh, I see.
Carissa: ...mutually describing...
Jon: They don't build on each other in some systematic way.
Tim: Oh, interesting.
Jon: I like your explanation. That makes sense to me.
Tim: Yeah, it makes sense to me.
Jon: It's love khesed?
Tim: Yes. Yeah. Ahava khesed. Love of khesed. Make khesed.
Jon: Make loyal love the thing you love.
Tim: Yes, the thing that you have affection for. Love of khesed.
Jon: Love khesed.
Tim: Yeah, love khesed.
Carissa: Like desire khesed maybe?
Jon: Yeah, desire. Ahava is kind of a desire word.
Tim: Yeah, it is. (00:28:00) It's to desire.
Jon: Desire love.
Tim: Desire loyal love. Remember, loyal love is concrete acts of...It's not referring to a feeling. Khesed is not a feeling. Khesed is a visible action that shows your posture in relation.
Jon: One thing that kind of keeps this together I think is a large view. I don't know if that the best way to say it. A large vantage point. So to love khesed you kind of have to think about the future. You have to think about relationships are like a long term thing. It's easy to love the immediate, like gratifications in life. But the love khesed is kind of like saying, "I'm going to commit myself to things that are going to be not always easy, sometimes challenging, but because I love this thing that's much broader than just here now." I feel like justice is kind of the same a lot of times. Justice often is when (00:29:00) I feel wronged. But when you really love justice or you really are about justice, it's this big picture view of like I want society to be just. It feels like to love both those things you have to step outside your immediate context.
Tim: Yeah, it's a good observation. Okay. Those are famous Bible verses. Let's dive into some Bible stories where people are showing khesed to each other to kind of fill out the portrait. At the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob the patriarch is dying. He has all his 12 sons around him. In Genesis 4, at the end, we read that the time drew near for him to die. So he takes his son that he lost and regained again, the son that he thought was dead but was really alive, Joseph, and he says, "If I have found favor in your eyes..."
Tim: Chen, for the word "gracious". (00:30:00) "If I have found grace in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh, and swear an oath."
Jon: That's how they did it.
Tim: Yep, totally. "That you will show me khesed and faithfulness." Again, the two words are often paired. "Don't bury me here in Egypt. When I lay down with my father's carry me out of Egypt and go bury me where they're buried," which is hundreds of miles away. Remember, they didn't have cars. And Joseph said, "I will do it. I will do it." So a son showing a father khesed is carrying his corpse hundreds of miles to go be buried with his ancestors. That's an act of khesed.
Jon: Yeah. Because it's a lot to do. It takes an incredible amount of generosity to do something like that. He does it because he loves his father.
Carissa: It's also loyalty without repayment because his father is obviously dead. He's carrying his bones. (00:31:00) So it's not that he wants his father to reciprocate or...
Tim: Great. That's exactly right. Yeah, without expectation. When you show somebody khesed that's living, you hope they show you khesed back. But khesed is about the one doing it. It's purely generated out of the character of the one doing it. You're right. Because here there's no return on investment.
Jon: Maybe that's a reason why your other story was really great about the old man taking care of his wife because there's nothing you're getting back.
Tim: Correct. Actually, the next story is a famous biblical story that makes the same point in another way. The story of Ruth. Oh, man. We have to make some more videos on Ruth.
Carissa: It's amazing. Even in this video that you've just written the script for loyal love and the artists are in the process of making the video, it's already such a powerful scene—the scene with Ruth's khesed. (00:32:00)
Tim: Yes. Yeah, that's right. So the story in a nutshell is an Israelite family, in a time of famine, leaves the Land of Israel to go live among the land of their enemies. Moabites. Moab. Across the Jordan. Modern-day Jordan. All of the men die but the sons in the family had each married women. So you have an Israelite mom and her two Moabite daughters in law, Ruth, and Orpah.
Jon: And the two daughters.
Tim: The two daughters. So it's interesting. Naomi is going to move back home, and she says to each of her Moabite daughters, she says, "Go, return, each of you to your mother's house. May Yahweh do khesed with you as you've shown khesed to me. You've been good daughters in law. You've been loyal. So may the Lord do loyalty to you. You can go."
So Orpah goes back home but Ruth refuses. This is the famous scene. (00:33:00) You got to read Ruth's words. Ruth said, "Don't urge me to leave you or turn back from following you. Where you go, I go, where you live, I live, your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried. May Yahweh do to me and even worse, if anything, but death separates you and me." Oh, come on. That's like Shakespeare right there.
Carissa: Yeah, it's amazing especially because in that ancient context, Naomi has nothing to give her. And it really makes those words just when you read them, "Where you die, I will die," it's almost like, "Well, yeah, you're probably going to die." Like two women traveling from Moab to Jerusalem on your own, you have nothing. These are really amazing words.
Tim: Yeah, totally. (00:34:00) So when later on in the story, they go back and settle in Bethlehem. And when people hear about this promise that Ruth made, people like Boaz, an important person in the story, he calls this an act of khesed that Ruth did towards Naomi. So this fills out the portrait a little more. It is similar to the previous example, in that there's no expectation of return. It's a family bond or a covenant family bond, but she increases it. I mean, that she's almost swearing an oath. This sounds like vows.
Jon: You've used the word "covenant" a number of times around this word. It does feel like it's bound up in that oath-taking and commitment relationally.
Tim: Yeah, totally. This is what Ruth does, and this is her act of khesed. There's many (00:35:00) other examples. So after David kills Goliath but he's not yet the king of Israel, King Saul is still around. But Saul comes to hate David and tries to murder him. But problem: Saul's son, Jonathan becomes David's best friend. They're best friends and they make a covenant together. So I have that here.
In 1 Samuel 20, Jonathan says to David: "May Yahweh be with you just like he was with my father. And if I am still alive, will you please show me khesed so that I may not die? Because my dad wants to kill you and he knows we're best friends, he might want to kill me. Show me khesed." Jonathan continues. "Don't cut off your khesed from my house. Not even when Yahweh cuts off all the enemies of David from the face of the land." So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David. So this is (00:36:00) the ruling king's son says my dad's going to somehow be torn down from being king, and Yahweh's going to raise you up." It's actually a pretty smart move. They're best friends, but it's also a pretty savvy political move.
So they make this promise to each other. And you read on in the story. Jonathan dies in battle. Sad. David cries, sings a lament. But then it's not till years and years later when David becomes king there's the story in 2 Samuel 9, where he asks someone in his court one day, "Is there anyone left among the descendants of Saul that I can show khesed to? Because Jonathan and I made that covenant?" And he learns, well, yes, actually, there is one descendant, a grandson of Saul, your enemy who's alive. His name is Mephibosheth.
Carissa: Good name. Keep that one (00:37:00) for future children.
Tim: Yeah, totally. Totally. Good boy name. Mephibosheth. So what he does is he adopts this grandson of his enemy. The son of his dead friend. He adopts him into his home, into his family. He basically says, "You can eat at my table for the rest of your life." His legs are injured. He can't walk. He's crippled. So he adopts this young boy into his family and cares for him for the rest of his life. Khesed.
Jon: That's khesed.
Carissa: That is really amazing. That it's his enemy's grandson and it's the rival king or the previous king's grandson that...
Tim: Yes, that's right.
Carissa: ...somehow this previous king is still going to have a person that could potentially be David's rival in the future. Really amazing.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah, that's good. Thank you for bringing that out. (00:38:00) In a hereditary monarchy culture, this represents somebody who's rival. So there you go. There's many more stories. But you get the picture even just from these handful of examples. Loyalty, commitment, generosity, and love all kind of in one...
Jon: And there's a theme of sacrifice, too. It's like a joyous sacrifice of like, I want to make this sacrifice.
Tim: It's motivated by generous love. When you're doing something out of familial loyalty, there's a duty, there's an obligation. Like Joseph to his father, to bury him.
Tim: The fact that something is done out of loyalty doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing it out of goodwill. But khesed in these contexts is used to describe that abundance of goodwill (00:39:00) and affection in addition to the behavior.
Carissa: And it occurs often between friends and family or other kinds of committed relationships or making promises like with Rahab and spies.
Tim: There's a handful where it's people who recently met. But usually what's surprising is because they're asking...Like Joseph asked the cupbearer that he meets in prison, Pharaoh's wine server, and he says, "Hey, I interpreted your dream for you. When you go back to Pharaoh's court, show me khesed by remembering me, and getting me out of prison." So he calls it an act of khesed. Even though he just met the guy, he's asking him to treat him like family. "Treat me like you would somebody you are in a covenant partnership with or family member."
We just looked at a few. You get the idea. Remember that number. This word occurs almost 250 times. (00:40:00) Only one out of four does it describe people doing this. Three out of four times...
Tim: Of 250?
Tim: It's a lot.
Jon: It would be 70?
Carissa: Over 150?
Tim: It would be describing God's khesed. So what's cool is you can go through narratives and do the same thing, profile God's khesed with actual narratives about God doing it. I found this really enriching to kind of go through some stories. So, shall we?
Section break (00:41:15)
Tim: There's a story in Genesis 24 where Abraham is old and about to die. Actually, he tells his head servant to make a promise by putting your hand under my thigh, he says to him. So essentially what Abraham says is, "Hey, my son, Isaac, he's not married, and God made a promise about blessing the nations through my descendants. So let's find a partner, find a wife."
So he sends one of his head servants back to the family that Abraham left behind. The servant doesn't have a name. She's called the servant in this chapter. In the history of Jewish interpretation, they named this figure Eliezer because that's (00:42:00) the servant that Abraham names in Genesis 15. Eliezer. So the servant goes hundreds of miles back to where Abraham came from. And he prays. He goes to a well. He went to a well at the time when the young women came out to draw water.
Carissa: Good place to meet a wife.
Jon: It was like the singles club.
Carissa: Yeah, totally.
Tim: Apparently. We're told that he prays, and he says, "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me success today and show khesed to Abraham. Here I am standing by the spring, there's young women coming out to draw water, may it be..." He basically sets up this elaborate sign. "I'm going to say this to one of these women, and if she answers me this, I'll know that she's the one."
So he calls this God's khesed to Abraham. So that what appears to be a chance meeting (00:43:00) turns out to be an act of God's providence. And he calls this khesed. So it's khesed because why? The story doesn't tell you. It's the context of God made a promise to Abraham. And this wife, this young woman he's going to meet will be the fulfillment of that promise. And that's what makes it khesed.
Abraham's grandson is a treacherous liar. His name is snatcher. Heel snatcher—Jacob. And God repeats that promise that He made to Abraham to Jacob. Jacob actually makes the same journey that the servant did in Genesis 24. But not because to fulfill a promise, but because he cheated his family.
Jon: Escape plan.
Tim: Yeah, escape plan. He comes back into the land 20 years after being exiled because of a stupid decision. What he says to God as he (00:44:00) crosses the Jordan River is he says, "I'm unworthy of all the khesed and all the faithfulness." Again, notice. You know what I didn't do? I didn't count the number of times loyal love and faithfulness appear.
Carissa: Yeah, it does a lot though. Even in that previous story with Abraham, faithfulness is used in two of those verses, too.
Tim: That's right. A very close synonym.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. This example is interesting, because, you know, in the story of David and Jonathan, Jonathan was kind to David and helped him. So David shows khesed to his son. Here's an example of God showing khesed to somebody who clearly doesn't deserve it. This guy doesn't deserve...
Jon: A second chance.
Tim: ...loyal love. He didn't show loyal loved his family, his father, or his brother, but God has shown khesed to him. What is it that motivates genuine khesed?
Jon: My thought here is it's only acid when you desire, when there's some pathos behind it. But if someone doesn't deserve it, you're probably not energized (00:45:00) by pathos.
Tim: That's interesting. You're just doing it because it's the right thing to do.
Jon: But it’s still called khesed.
Carissa: So it's not purely obligation or duty. But it's...
Jon: What keeps it from being pure obligation or duty at this point for God? It is described as khesed.
Tim: If somebody doesn't deserve it but you show it anyway, it's called khesed here. You could say that Jacob presents a unique problem for God because Abraham was stupid but he ultimately passed the test. He showed himself faithful with Abraham and Isaac's story.
Carissa: And he had some promising qualities even in the beginning, following God's promise to the new land.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So Jacob has shown himself to be pretty unworthy of this whole promise deal. So it creates this unique dynamic or a conflict of interest, you could say. Should God be fair with Jacob, and give (00:46:00) him what he deserves? But then that would mean violating God's promise to this family. And God doesn't violate His promises, as you discover about this God. So God gives generously to a guy who doesn't deserve it. And that is a part of the profile. Khesed.
Jon: That begs a question, though, why didn't he say, "I'm unworthy of your generosity and faithfulness?" I imagine is a good word for that. Or khesed seems to have emotion involved of love, of pathos.
Tim: Yeah. But it refers primarily to the concrete expression. So what he says is, "I crossed the Jordan River with only a staff in my hand and now I've become two huge camps of people and animals and kids and stuff." He calls that khesed.
Tim: So he's not just primarily referring to you have warm fuzzies for me. What he's saying is, "I had nothing, (00:47:00) and now I have a lot. And the only thing I can attribute it to is that you made this promise to my grandfather and my father and you're giving it to me.
Jon: But what makes khesed here more than just generosity then?
Carissa: Commitment to the promise.
Jon: Commitment to the promise and generosity. Where does love fit in, then?
Tim: Well, that is love.
Jon: I guess what I'm saying is you can decide to be generous to someone because of an oath but despise the person.
Tim: Yeah, right. Totally. Yeah, that's right.
Jon: I don't think you would use the word khesed there. Right?
Carissa: Maybe within a commitment...I don't know. If you make a commitment to somebody and momentarily despise them for something, you can still choose to exercise love or I'm going to choose to love this person regardless.
Tim: We've probably all had moments where there's somebody that in a moment you find it difficult to find any affection for them, but you still do right (00:48:00) by them. And then maybe your actions kind of pave the way for that affection to follow. Sometimes a lot later. I don't know. Interesting. Again, what we're trying to do is take our experiences and map them on to what we think God's experience working with Jacob might be.
Carissa: Your question john has kind of about whether khesed always involves this desire or emotional...?
Tim: Yeah, affection.
Jon: Yeah. This Venn diagram was created in my mind, where it was like you need to have love, you need to have generosity, and you got to have loyalty. And then when you got those three things, you've got khesed. You take one of those out, it's no longer khesed.
Tim: I see
Jon: So you can love someone and be generous but just in a moment of passion, but you have no commitment. And that's not khesed. You could be committed to someone and love them... (00:49:00)
Tim: Never show generosity.
Jon: ...and never show generosity. Would you call that khesed?
Tim: I don't think so.
Jon: But here, what I think we're saying is there is situations where you're not feeling any pathos, any love, but you are being loyal, and you are being generous, and it still is khesed.
Tim: Yeah. I guess I should just say this is God. He says this is God. So I think as a Christian, what it means to believe about God's motivations here is that God loves Jacob. That he also loves him. Because I believe God loves me and I'm not sure I'm...
Jon: I see what you mean. Even if He's not pleased with his decisions in the past few decades, He still loves him.
Tim: No. In fact, everything Jacob did to his family, God providentially brings back on Jacob's head. He deceives his father and brother and so his uncle deceived him. So Jacob sits for 20 years in the mess of his choices and God allows that. But God (00:50:00) doesn't leave him in that. And when he comes back to his family and land with two camps of animals and people, he says, "You've shown me khesed even though I'm unworthy." That's the story.
Section break (00:51:11)
Tim: In the Exodus story, when God trump's on Pharaoh, destroying him in the waters, the song that Miriam and Moses sing, they call it an act of God's khesed to lead the people that you've redeemed out of Egypt. It's all called an act of khesed. It kind of make sense intuitively in that it's fulfilling God's promise to Abraham. But here the way that the khesed was demonstrated was on bringing a severe justice on the tyrant.
Jon: But it seems like the focus isn't on the justice as much as it's on the fact that God was loyal and did something incredibly big and generous for them. That seems to me like khesed.
Tim: Yeah. Although it took a couple of centuries. That exodus story begins by just fast-forwarding for generations and suffering. They cry out to God and wondering if God's ever going to do anything.
Carissa: I also remember seeing the ideas of compassion really strongly here in this narrative. That the people are crying out, and God is compelled by their cries to rescue them. So maybe there's also some overlap with khesed and compassion and deliverance. Because compassion was really connected to deliverance and forgiveness too.
Tim: Oh, I see. Correct. That's right. Like they bundle together. God showing compassion and forgiving and rescuing is about focusing on the emotion God feels when He sees people suffering and He wants to help them. Here, it's about the loyalty to His promise.
Carissa: Right. But there are still elements and khesed here of forgiveness and deliverance. Well, deliverance here. (00:53:00)
Tim: You're saying in the exodus story?
Carissa: Yeah, that it involves rescue.
Tim: And the bringing down of oppressive rulers. That's a fulfillment of God. Actually, this sets an important design pattern that the prophets will bring up a lot. When God brings down the mighty from their thrones, it's bad news for Babylon or Assyria or the leaders of Judah but it's good news for the poor and the oppressed. And they experience it as an act of God's khesed when citadels fall.
Carissa: So does God's has said have to do with or does it exist more often between God and the marginalized throughout Scripture or the oppressed?
Tim: Oh, yes, for sure. But that's true of the whole Hebrew Bible. Because the whole Hebrew Bible was written by a minority oppressed group.
Carissa: So God's promises, His faithfulness, His compassion, His khesed, they're all extended toward the oppressed and the marginalized?
Tim: That's a great way of articulating that. Let's look at one more. (00:54:00) So we've seen Abraham, Jacob, the Exodus, these are all about God's fulfilling His ongoing covenant promises. In the wilderness stories, the story of the spies, Moses and Joshua, they send the spies into Canaan. Ten come back and say, "The giants are going to kill us." So the people are like, "No way. Let's go back to Egypt." It's what they say. Actually, they threaten to kill Moses and appoint a new leader to take them back to Egypt. That's how bad it gets.
So Moses steps up, God's angry, and what He says in Numbers 14: How long will these people show contempt for me? How long will they not trust in me despite everything I've done? I'm going to strike them with plagues. The thing I did to Egypt I'm just going to do it to them. And Moses, I'm going to make you into a nation even greater than they are." And if you've been reading the Torah, you're like, "I've been here before."
Carissa: "It sounds familiar." (00:55:00)
Tim: The golden calf part two. We've actually talked about the story I think in this series.
Tim: So Moses speaks up, he uses the same tactics as he did with golden calf. "The Egyptians will hear about it; it won't reflect well on your reputation." Here's what's interesting. This is Numbers 14:17. Moses says, "Please, let the power of Yahweh be great. Listen, you declared, quote, 'Yahweh is slow to anger, great in khesed, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, but he will by no means declare innocent, the guilty visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children and the children.' So please pardon the iniquity of this people according to your great khesed just as you have already...You forgave them once, so keep doing it." The logic of this is so interesting. Forgive them because of your khesed. That's the logic.
Carissa: Yeah, it's almost he says, "Forgive them (00:56:00) because of your khesed. I know you said you won't clear the guilty. So would you forgive these people according to your khesed?"
Tim: Oh, that's good. Good job. Great. He's highlighting the fact that you have these two traits. You won't declare innocent the guilty, but you also never give up on your promises. Is that's what you're saying?
Tim: He's noting the tension.
Carissa: Because it's interesting he just brings up this line. You will visit the...
Jon: You think he'd skip that line.
Carissa: Yeah. Maybe support the argument a little better.
Tim: That's a really good point. He notes that there's a tension between Exodus 34:6-7.
Jon: Yeah, right.
Tim: He says, "I know this. But if you go back on your promise, you won't be showing khesed." And that's not the kind of God that you are. You show khesed." Now, as the story goes on, God will let this generation die in the wilderness and bring their children into the promised land. (00:57:00) God hasn't violated His khesed custody by doing that because he stays faithful to the family. But to just walk away from the family of Abraham is such that would be to violate khesed. So all we've looked at are stories in the Torah about God. It's truly instruction. Torah. It's God's character.
So notice, it's multi-generational. God's promise over the course of a whole history of a family, it's not based on the worthiness of any given generation. In fact, sometimes it seems excessive. It puts God in awkward situations where He asked to be more generous than people would deserve. But this long, enduring commitment to generosity and love and commitment is a core character trait of God. It goes right on through the stories of David.
You can see now why it appears 127 times in the book of Psalms. (00:58:00) Because I think to be a part of this family in the story, in some later generation with all...you know, the Hebrew Bible doesn't spare any punches in terms of showing the flaws of our ancestors.
Carissa: Representing humanity and what humans are like.
Tim: Yeah. So to show so many flawed ancestors, and yet God continues to be committed to us. God khesed is...you can see why it's such a prominent trait.
Section break (00:59:22)
Tim: We begin with some famous Old Testament Bible verses with khesed. Let's conclude with some famous New Testament Bible verses with this word. Now the New Testament is written in Greek.
Jon: So khesed doesn't show up.
Tim: Khesed doesn't show up. But the Septuagint translation made a couple of hundred years before Jesus of the Hebrew Bible into Greek use the Greek word eleos, which is a standard word for mercy. This is a good example of where they were using the Greek language...
Jon: Speaking in Hebrew.
Tim: They still clearly have the Hebrew concept. Here's a great example. The song that Mary sings when she finds out she's going to give birth to the Messiah, The Magnificat is its Latin name, look at how she uses the word mercy. I'm going to use the English word mercy and you're going to see it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Jon: Okay. Mercy being the English word of when you - what?
Tim: Mercy. It's usually when you extend or overextend yourself to show kindness or pity to someone in need. Am I right there?
Carissa: Yeah. Or you extend mercy instead of maybe...
Tim: Oh, show me mercy
Carissa: Instead of punishment or what somebody deserves. I mean, that's a common more modern understanding. I don't know if that's biblical understanding.
Jon: Merciless means perilous and cruel.
Tim: Dictionary.com says compassion or forgiveness to someone that it's within your power to punish.
Jon: You have the power to bring the pain and you don't. That's mercy.
Tim: Okay. All right.
Carissa: So not bringing the negative. (01:01:00)
Tim: You'll just see this doesn't quite fit. This is what Mary says, "My soul glorifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior." Down to verse 50. "His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation." He could punish us from generation to generation. "He has scattered those who are proud. He's brought down rulers from their thrones. He's lifted up the humble. He fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty. He's helped a servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever just like He promised." I guess you still could retain that standard meaning of merciful.
Carissa: Or it's one aspect of khesed but not the full aspect.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Because the two ways she uses the word here, she's emphasizing "from generation to generation to fulfill the promise (01:02:00) you made to our ancestors."
Jon: You can kind of see how khesed works really well in the place here.
Tim: It's exactly the meaning of khesed. Over the whole history of our family, you keep doing surprising things to fulfill your promises to us.
Carissa: So does that mean when we see mercy in the New Testament we should run through that question of whether this is the idea of khesed?
Tim: Here's an example. I actually tried to do just that. This would be a good way to conclude our conversation. Famous paragraph in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 2, he begins by saying, "You all were dead in your transgressions and sins and you used to live under the principalities and powers" and so on. Verse 4. "But because of his great love, His agape, God who is rich in mercy..." There's that Greek word eleos. Again, the Septuagint translates khesed. "...he made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead (01:03:00) in our transgressions. It is by grace that you have been saved." So he named three attributes of God.
Jon: Love, mercy, and grace.
Tim: Love, mercy, and grace. So because of His love, God felt affection for dying people. It's by grace that you've been saved. It goes on to say, "Not of works." So it's a gift. It's not something you earned. It's a gift given to you. Then in the middle of love and grace is mercy.
Jon: I think what's interesting is mercy works really well because mercy...it can be a form of khesed very easily. Right?
Tim: Yeah. To forgive someone.
Jon: Yeah, because it's forgiving. It's not bringing the consequence on to someone that they might deserve. And why would you do that? Well, a very good reason would be your khesed. But is the reason why mercy was used in the Septuagint, or eleos or whatever the word is here? Because there just isn't a good Greek word? (01:04:00)
Tim: Yeah, that's a good question. That's my hunch because that's been true in the English tradition as well. So what they did was use a word and then over time, somebody immersed in the Greek Bible...
Jon: They just realized that word really means khesed.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Because to forgive someone is one way to show khesed. But by burying your father is another way to show. Or taking care of your mother in law is another way.
Jon: Now the context here in Ephesians 2 is about how there's consequences to our disobedience. We're dead.
Carissa: So mercy really works.
Jon: So mercy could fit really.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: But then you could also see how with mercy is just one aspect of khesed. And it's rich. It's a rich mercy. And khesed is so much richer than just mercy.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, totally. (01:05:00) There you go. So loyal love. It's the best I can do right now. I think it's pretty good.
Carissa: It's good.
Tim: It gets you there.
Jon: I like it.
Tim: I like it too. This is core. This is a unique part of the biblical portrait of God. That across generations He remains faithful to His promises and keeps fulfilling them and surprising in generous ways. That's core to the biblical portrait of God. The word is also often paired with faithfulness. So let's look at that.