“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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