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Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament The principal word used to express kindness in the Old Testament (chesed ) bears the connotation of a loyal love which manifests itself not in emotions but in actions. Originally, this loving kindness was considered an integral part of covenant relations. It was reciprocal and expected, a deed performed in return for a previous loyalty. Rahab expected kindness in return for her kindness to the spies (Joshua 2:12 ,Joshua 2:12,2:14 ). Joseph expected kindness from the cupbearer in return for the interpretation of a dream (Genesis 40:14 ). In this sense, kindness was distinct from mercy or compassion which was more of an emotion and from grace which was not as closely associated with covenant keeping. In time, however, the concepts of kindness, mercy, and grace intermingled.
Kindness was shown in social relationships as the bond between host and guest (Genesis 19:19 ), ruler and subject (2 Samuel 16:17 ), or friends (1 Samuel 20:8 ). It was the faithfulness expected of a good person (Proverbs 3:3 ). Primarily, kindness characterized the covenant relation between God and his people. God's faithful love accompanied the patriarchs and dwelt with those who kept His covenant (Genesis 24:27; Exodus 20:6 ). The Psalms developed this theme with thanksgiving for divine kindness and praise for its endurance (Psalm 86:5; Psalm 89:2 ,Psalms 89:2,89:28; Psalm 100:5; Psalm 103:8 ,Psalms 103:8,103:11 ,Psalms 103:11,103:17; Psalm 106:1; Psalm 107:1; etc.; see especially Psalm 136:1 ). Slow to anger and abounding in love became a characteristic description of Israel's Lord, distinguishing His kindness from His wrath (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13 ).
Human response to the covenant with God, however, was bewailed by the prophets as a youthful loyalty that vanished like the morning dew (Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 6:4 ). In this situation God's kindness always has an aspect of freedom (Exodus 33:19 ) and mingles with mercy and grace. It is an everlasting love which cannot be shaken (Isaiah 54:8 ,Isaiah 54:8,54:10 ).
New Testament Although both love of humankind (Acts 28:2 ) and brotherly love (2 Peter 1:7 ) are translated as kindness in the New Testament, the Greek word bearing the richest connotation is chrestotes ( kras to tas ). This word has a basic meaning of usefulness and is translated as goodness, gentleness, and kindness. Once again, actions are emphasized, especially God's gracious actions toward sinners (Titus 3:4; Romans 11:22 ). The kindness God has shown us through Christ is equivalent to his grace and embodies the fullness of salvation (Ephesians 2:7 ). When kindness is included in lists of human virtues, it can be understood as helpfulness to others prompted by an experience of God's redemptive love (2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12 ).
Barbara J. Bruce
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Kindness'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/k/kindness.html. 1991.