To begin, I have collected some of the lexicon and comments from others on the meaning of the word, hesed:
KJV (248) – favour, 3; good, 1; goodliness, 1; goodness, 12; kindly, 5; kindness, 40; lovingkindness, 30; merciful, 4; mercy, 149; pity, 1; reproach, 1; wicked thing, 1;
NAS (248) – deeds of devotion, 2; devotion, 1; devout, 1; disgrace, 2; faithfulness, 1; favor, 2; good, 1; kindly, 7; kindness, 32; kindnesses, 1; loveliness, 1; lovingkindness, 176; lovingkindnesses, 7; loyal deeds, 1; loyalty, 6; mercies, 1; merciful, 2; mercy, 1; righteousness, 1; unchanging love, 2;
Ken Brown, “Voice of One Crying“:
“Mercy” is checed, meaning kindness or benevolence (coming to the aid of those in need). Checed always emphasizes the idea of covenant relationship. And when checed and natsar are used together it is always to illustrate the principle of covenant responsibility! This is God’s own description of His attitude towards His people – He has obligated Himself to be merciful (see Micah 7:18 which says that God “delights” in being merciful). He continues: “forgiving iniquity (avown – immorality) and transgression (pesha – rebellion) and sin” (chattah – habitual sin, committed over and over again).
Then comes the all-important phrase “and that will by no means clear the guilty”. Notice “the guilty” is in italics in the King James Version, indicating that these words are not found in the original text (and indeed should not be). The translators added these supposedly to clarify the meaning. The word “clear” in this sentence is naqah, and means, “to be clear of an obligation or responsibility”. By removing “the guilty” from the text, the meaning becomes evident: “God will by no means ever clear or release Himself from His covenant responsibility to maintain His mercy by continuing to forgive immorality, rebellion and habitual sins that are repeated over and over again!”
Micah 6:8, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” The word for mercy, here, is the Hebrew [c]hesed
“The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But checed 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. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law.”
“Man exercises checed toward various units within the community– toward family and relatives, but also to friends, guests, masters, and servants. Checed toward the lowly and needy is often specified. ”
…”The association of checed 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 checed 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, checed can imply the goal and end of all salvation-history ”
–Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
In reading over Ken Brown‘s comments I was reminded of the words of Jesus to Peter: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but [to forgive] up to seventy times seven”. I believe this was referencing hesed, and giving example of how it works in our relationships. We have such a constricted view of how to relate to one another, and this is something to consider in repenting and in reflection of how to better mirror God.
The points on relationship give form and order to us, so we are not overwhelmed by the immensity of mankind’s need. I like that. I need that. Like a child I want to have the security of knowing that God, in relating to me, is not encumbered by my needs, but desires to fulfill every portion of loving relationship. The way He does it is in a way that is best for me and others around me, which gives it context when I must suffer through waiting for something that I feel is very important to me. Hesed contains a view of the interdependency and organic fulfilling of things within their time and season.
I have felt this hesed concept is very important to how men and women relate to each other, especially those married to one another, or those within the structure of the Church. There is a mercy that is powerful enough to set its demands forth, it is not begging and worrying that it will go wanting; instead there is a sense of duty to care for each other and help each other flourish in life. This is how God acts, towards us, and within us towards one another… to practice hesed is to be godly.
….more thoughts continued in another post….