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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Loving-Kindness

A. Noun.

Chêsêd (חֶסֶד, Strong's #2617), “loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion.” This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, and is especially frequent in the Psalter. The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.

The Septuagint nearly always renders chêsêd with eleos (“mercy”), and that usage is reflected in the New Testament. Modern translations, in contrast, generally prefer renditions close to the word “grace.” KJV usually has “mercy,” although “lovingkindness” (following Coverdale), “favor,” and other translations also occur. RSV generally prefers “steadfast love.” NIV often offers simply “love.”

In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: “strength,” “steadfastness,” and “love.” Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. “Love” by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet “strength” or “steadfastness” suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation.

The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But chêsêd is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Chêsêd implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law.

Marital love is often related to chêsêd Marriage certainly is a legal matter, and there are legal sanctions for infractions. Yet the relationship, if sound, far transcends mere legalities. The prophet Hosea applies the analogy to Yahweh’s chêsêd to Israel within the covenant (e.g., 2:21). Hence, “devotion” is sometimes the single English word best capable of capturing the nuance of the original. The RSV attempts to bring this out by its translation, “steadfast love.” Hebrew writers often underscored the element of steadfastness (or strength) by pairing chêsêd with ‘emet (“truth, reliability”) and ‘emunah (“faithfulness”).

Biblical usage frequently speaks of someone “doing,” “showing,” or “keeping” chêsêd. The concrete content of the word is especially evident when it is used in the plural. God’s “mercies,” “kindnesses,” or “faithfulnesses” are His specific, concrete acts of redemption in fulfillment of His promise. An example appears in Isa. 55:3: “… And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.”

Chêsêd has both God and man as its subject. When man is the subject of chêsêd the word usually describes the person’s kindness or loyalty to another; cf. 2 Sam. 9:7: “And David said … I will surely show thee [Mephibosheth] kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake.…” Only rarely is the term applied explicitly to man’s affection or fidelity toward God; the clearest example is probably Jer. 2:2: “Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness.…” Man exercises chêsêd toward various units within the community—toward family and relatives, but also to friends, guests, masters, and servants. Chêsêd toward the lowly and needy is often specified. The Bible prominently uses the term chêsêd to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within, and in response to, the covenant. Thus, Hos. 6:6 states that God desires “mercy [RSV, “steadfast love”] and not sacrifice” (i.e., faithful living in addition to worship). Similarly, Mic. 6:8 features chêsêd in the prophets’ summary of biblical ethics: “… and what doth the Lord require of thee, but … to love mercy..?”

Behind all these uses with man as subject, however, stand the repeated references to God’s chêsêd. It is one of His most central characteristics. God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles. A recurrent refrain describing God’s nature is “abounding/plenteous in chêsêd" (Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 103:8; Jonah 4:2). The entire history of Yahweh’s covenantal relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of chêsêd. It is the one permanent element in the flux of covenantal history. Even the Creation is the result of God’s chêsêd (Ps. 136:5-9). His love lasts for a “thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9; cf. Deut. 5:10 and Exod. 20:6), indeed “forever” (especially in the refrains of certain psalms, such as Ps. 136).

Words used in synonymous parallelism with chêsêd help to define and explain it. The word most commonly associated with chêsêd is ‘emet (“fidelity; reliability”): “… Let thy loving-kindness [chêsêd] and thy truth [‘emet] continually preserve me.” ‘Emunah with a similar meaning is also common: “He hath remembered his mercy [chêsêd] and his truth [‘emunah] toward the house of Israel.…” This emphasis is especially appropriate when God is the subject, because His chêsêd is stronger and more enduring than man’s. Etymological investigation suggests that chêsêd’s primitive significance may have been “strength” or “permanence.” If so, a puzzling use of chêsêd in Isa. 40:6 would be explained: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.”

The association of chêsêd with “covenant” keeps it from being misunderstood as mere providence or love for all creatures; it applies primarily to God’s particular love for His chosen and covenanted people. “Covenant” also stresses the reciprocity of the relationship; but since God’s chêsêd is ultimately beyond the covenant, it will not ultimately be abandoned, even when the human partner is unfaithful and must be disciplined (Isa. 54:8, 10). Since its final triumph and implementation is eschatological, chêsêd can imply the goal and end of all salvation-history (Ps. 85:7, 10; 130:7; Mic. 7:20).

The proper noun Hacdiah (1 Chron. 3:20) is related to chêsêd. The name of Zerubbabel’s son means “Yahweh is faithful/gracious,” a fitting summary of the prophet’s message.

B. Adjective.

Châsı̂yd (חָסִיד, Strong's #2623), “pious; devout; faithful; godly.” The adjective châsı̂yd, derived from chêsêd, is often used to describe the faithful Israelite. God’s chêsêd provides the pattern, model, and strength by which the life of the châsı̂yd is to be directed. One reference to the “godly” man appears in Ps. 12:1: “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” Usually a suffix or possessive pronoun referring to God is attached to the word, indicating His special attachment to those who pattern their lives after His: “O love the Lord, all ye his saints [literally, “His pious ones”; NASB, “His godly ones”]: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer” (Ps. 31:23).

Following the Greek hosios and Latin sancus, the KJV often renders the word “saint”— which must be understood in the sense of sanctification [dependent upon grace], not moralistically [of native goodness].

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Loving-Kindness'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/l/loving-kindness.html. 1940.

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