'Chesed’ new! every morning!
John McLaughlan looks at an often-misrepresented word and marvels at the LORD’s view of us, His people
Chesed, a Hebrew word used about 240 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, conveys aspects of the LORD’s nature that we human beings can perhaps grasp more easily than some of his other qualities.
We can struggle with theological vocabulary like ‘omnipotence’ or ‘omnipresence’ – after all, such words are not used in the Scriptures. These are not the concepts that exercise the minds of ordinary people, busy with the challenges, joys and sorrows of everyday living. In fact, such language can reduce the LORD to a somewhat cold and distant Person.
But in His relationship with His people the LORD’s cheseddraws us close to Him – it uniquely conveys the heart of the LORD towards His people. The LORD’s chesedis not merely some lofty theological concept for clever minds; it reveals how the LORD meets us with His faithfulness in the ordinary stuff of life.
“…better than life”
People have written books and articles about the word chesed and I am not trying to kid anyone that I am a Hebrew scholar or an insightful theologian; rather, I am one of those ordinary people busy living his life with its challenges, joys and sorrows. In the various English translations of the Scriptures, chesed is often translated as kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, steadfast love, love, kindness or unfailing love. When used of the LORD, His chesedcould be described as His strong, steadfast, covenant-love to his people. We see the word used in Psalm 23:6 where David, as a young man, says, “Surely goodness and mercy [chesed] shall follow me all the days of my life”. Jeremiah uses chesed as he contemplates his distress and suffering as a prophet to a rebellious people in Lam 3:22, “Through the LORD’s mercies [chesed] we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not”.The LORD’s chesed is something to be experienced, or as the Scots expression has it, ‘better felt than telt’. We can attempt to explain the LORD’s chesedand understand how it is used, but in the end the LORD’s chesed is to be known in our experience, both in the good times and in the bad times. This is how the saints of old tasted the LORD’s chesed!
Two particular uses of chesedin the Psalms have become precious to me. Firstly, in Psalm 90:14 Moses says, “Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy [chesed].”In this psalm Moses contrasts the greatness of the LORD and the frailty of man and in the light of man’s frailty and sinfulness Moses firstly pleads, “Have compassion on[lit. ‘comfort’] Your servants”(verse 13) and then he seeks for the LORD’s people the satisfaction that only the LORD’s chesed can bring. Moses would have the LORD come to His people, even in the light of their waywardness, and show them His strong, steadfast, covenant-love! Reminding the people of their waywardness will not sustain them for that tends only to crush and discourage them. Instead, Moses contrasts the LORD’s faithful heart toward His wilful people.
Comfort, comfort My people
This verse states“satisfy us early”, or as the JPS Tanakh version has it, “Satisfy us at daybreak with Your steadfast love”. Perhaps Moses, like many of us, found the early morning a challenging time. We wake up and all the failures of the previous day and all the challenges of the day ahead come flooding in and before we know it we are weighed down and we just want to pull the bedsheets over our head until the day just ‘goes away’! But at this very point Moses calls out to the LORD for himself and for the LORD’s people that they would all find their satisfaction in the LORD’s unchanging chesed.
Moses, the old man, knew that true satisfaction is not found in anything but the LORD Himself. Moses had witnessed the most amazing miracles. He had even heard the LORD’s voice when he spent many days alone on Sinai with the LORD. He had seen the LORD miraculously feed His people and had marvelled at the LORD’s awesome deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. We might imagine that it was such experiences that sustained Moses, but Moses saw behind all these events to the heart of the LORD and His great chesed towards him and the people, and he knew that what he needed more than anything else was the comfort of the LORD’s chesed for himself! Moses also saw the LORD revealed in His mighty acts of judgment and mercy and wrote that the LORD, “made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel”(Psalm 103:7). We who trust in Christ can look back on various past events in our lives that have shown us the LORD’s power and grace, but in the out-of-control events of daily life an experience we had ten years ago can be just a memory. It is in seeing the LORD and His chesed expressed in those past events that gives us the strength today to face the many challenges before us. His tender, constant heart towards us then is unchanged towards us today. The LORD may not perform another miracle for us as He did in times past, but the same heart of chesed that the LORD showed to us at those times is still towards us today – and the LORD wants us to taste it ‘new every morning’!
Looking to the LORD
In another precious Psalm David prays “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness [chesed] in the morning”(143:8). David is acutely aware of his righteousness deficit is persecuted by enemies; he is in deep distress. He remembers the good days of times past and longs for the LORD to answer his prayer. Again, David wants to hear of the LORD’s chesed– he has no other source of comfort and strength! Israel’s warrior king did not ask for the days of old to return but he looked to hear personally from the LORD Himself of His chesed towards him. Perhaps David, like many of us, dreaded the coming morning but, like Moses, he took strength from the Lord’s covenant love! David did not look to a friend but to the LORD Himself to reinforce His confidence in God’s chesed; God’s faithful heart towards his servant. In his distress David knew that the only source of strength and comfort he needed was the LORD in whom he trusted and in His great covenant love!
It is interesting that both Moses and David threw themselves upon the LORD Himself to find the LORD’s chesed. They did not make strong confessions of faith and resolve. They did not sing their favourite worship songs to the LORD or undertake anything to get the LORD’s attention. No, they both looked to the LORD alone. We human beings have little or no control over our waking frame of mind in the morning. Obviously, if we have indulged ungodly appetites the previous day then such behaviour will affect our mental state in the morning. We are often a puzzle to ourselves. One day, for some unknown reason, we wake up discouraged and burdened, and the next day we wake without a care in the world. Nothing we have been aware of accounts for the difference. Perhaps we are more complex than we realise and do not understand ourselves as well as we imagine. The only Person who truly knows and understands us is the LORD Himself and He wants to show the depth of His chesed towards us not only as we wake in the morning but also in the challenges and trials of everyday life. There are many genuine and legitimate reasons for concern in our lives – be they personal, national, or international – and we have little or no power to change or influence these situations, but one thing we can do is look to the LORD, as both Moses and David did, to know the LORD’s chesed in the midst of these unsettling concerns. Moses and David are two of the most important figures in the Bible. Often, we look to them as examples to be followed in our walk with Christ. Clearly, if they both needed a daily fresh experience of the LORD’s chesed towards them… so do we!