Word Study – ‘Steadfast love’

201 word study dictionary

The Hebrew verb חֶ֫סֶד (Translit. Hesed/Chesed/Heced) is rendered ‘steadfast love’ in the ESV. Together with his faithfulness, God’s steadfast love is probably the most celebrated of God’s characteristics in the Old Testament.

First and foremost it represents God’s ongoing love and kindness to his covenant people.

The aim of this post is to walk you through the significant concepts associated with the term.

Covenant

The dominant theme associated with God’s steadfast love is the covenant he has with his people Israel (Dt 7.9,12; Gen 32.10*; 1 Ki 8.23; 2 Chr 6.14; Dan 9.4; Ezra 9.9*; Isa 54.10; 55.3; Neh 1.5; 9.17*,32; Ps 25.10; 89.28; 106.45; 136.10-21*)

(‘*’ Marks out passages where the associated concept is implied).

The covenant is the overarching motif which connects a whole series of concepts together. In Deuteronomy Moses says;

8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Dt 7:8–9)

God made a covenant with Abraham and his offspring. God’s steadfast love is bound up with his commitment meet his covenant obligations.

Promise, Remember

Covenant is closely connected to two other concepts – promise and remembering (2 Chr 1.8*; 6.42; Mic 7.20; Neh 13.22; Ps 25.6,7*; 77.8; 89.49; 106.7,45; 119.41,76; 136.10-21*).

God made promises in the covenant. In the scriptures, God’s promises are directly connected to his steadfast love. In a time of distress this psalmist draws the two together.

4 You hold my eyelids open;

I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

5 I consider the days of old,

the years long ago.

6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;

let me meditate in my heart.”

Then my spirit made a diligent search:

7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,

and never again be favorable?

8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?

Are his promises at an end for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?

Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,

to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (Ps 77:4–10)

After Israel was given the promised land, she rebelled. The LORD gave them over to foreign powers in judgment. They suffered and cried out to the LORD for help. God remembered his covenant and expressed his steadfast love.

44 Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,

when he heard their cry.

45 For their sake he remembered his covenant,

and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

46 He caused them to be pitied

by all those who held them captive. (Ps 106:44–46)

Mercy, Grace, Forgiving

After the golden calf incident in Exodus the LORD revealed himself to Moses and proclaimed his name.

5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Ex 34:5–7)

God’s steadfast love is very clearly associated with his grace and mercy (Ex 34.6; Hos 2.19; Joel 2.13; Jonah 4.2; Lam 3.22; Neh 9.17; Ps 25.6; 40.11; 69.16; 86.15; 103.4; 103.8; 145.8).

The passage I quoted above also refers to God’s forgiveness. His forgiveness is also associated with his steadfast love (Ex 34.7; Num 14.18,19; Mic 7.18; Neh 9.17; Prov 16.6; Ps 25.7*; 86.5).

David’s requested mercy from the LORD on the basis of his steadfast love saying;

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin! (Ps 51:1–2)

In Psalm 32 David praises the LORD for the covenant blessing of forgiveness.

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps 32:1–2)

Then relates it to his steadfast love.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,

but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. (Ps 32:10)

Peace

On a similar note, God’s steadfast love is also connected to peace. When the LORD conquers a people and makes a covenant with them he establishes peace (Isa 54.10; Ps 85.10).

10 For the mountains may depart

and the hills be removed,

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,

says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Is 54:10)

Law, Command, Keep, Righteous

God shows his steadfast love to those who keep his covenant (Ex 20.6; Dt 5.10; 7.9,12; 1 Ki 3.6; 1 Ki 8.23; 2 Chr 6.14; Dan 9.4; Hos 10.12; Neh 1.5; 13.22*; Ps 25.10; 33.18*; 62.12; 103.11,17*; 119.64,88,124,159; 147.11). The concept of keeping the law does not involve sinless perfection. Rather it includes the above concept of forgiveness in addition to regular practice of the law of Moses.

Consider how the psalmist draws together all these concepts together with God’s steadfast love.

6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,

for they have been from of old.

7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

according to your steadfast love remember me,

for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD;

therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

9 He leads the humble in what is right,

and teaches the humble his way.

10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,

for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Ps 25:6–10)

Refuge, Salvation

God saves the righteous because they take refuge in Him. There are many instances where God’s people take refuge in Him. They rely on his steadfast love because they know He saves his people (1 Sam 20.14-15; 2 Sam 22.51; Job 10.12; Ps 6.4; 13.5; 17.7; 18.50; 31.7*,16; 36.7; 40.10; 44.26; 59.16; 69.13; 85.7; 86.13; 98.3; 103.4*; 109.21,26; 119.41,88,159; 130.7; 136.10-21*; 144.2).

3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;

light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”

lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

6 I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Ps 13:3–6)

God’s Righteousness

God’s steadfast love connects the dominant theme of covenant with God’s righteousness. God is righteous when he honours his covenant obligations, fulfills his promises and saves his people (Hos 2.19; 10.12; Isa 16.5; Ps 33.5; 36.10; 85.10; 103.17).

7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;

righteousness and peace kiss each other.

11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,

and righteousness looks down from the sky.

12 Yes, the LORD will give what is good,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness will go before him

and make his footsteps a way. (Ps 85:7–13)

Dominant Themes of Kingdom and Covenant Connected

In addition to Covenant, another dominant motif in the Old Testament is the Kingdom of God. God’s steadfast love connects both dominant motifs together (Ps 89.14; 101.1; 119.149; Prov 20.28; Isa 16.5; Jer 9.24; Hos 2.19).

14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;

steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,

who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,

16 who exult in your name all the day

and in your righteousness are exalted.

17 For you are the glory of their strength;

by your favor our horn is exalted.

18 For our shield belongs to the LORD,

our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Ps 89:14–18)

Rejoice in the LORD’s steadfast love, for we know he is loving and kind to those who trust in Him and keep his commands.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.
  • For “chesed” the ESV uses “steadfast love” because the RSV uses “steadfast love.” The ESV is built on the RSV, probably the finest translation of the Bible since the KJV. But that word! My ear doesn’t love it, but I do like the NKJV and MEV rendering, “lovingkindness.” It’s one of the reasons I use the NKJV. “Steadfast love” has a strong cringing factor. “Lovingkindness” is warm and sweet-sounding.

    • I quite like it. How about ‘steadfast loving kindness’?