Hesed is a Hebrew word that has a full meaning. It can mean ‘mercy’. It can be translated as ‘kindness’. ‘Steadfast love’ is another possibility. Or simply ‘love’. while studying the book of Ruth, I’m learning that this word is one of the most full-orbed words in the OT. We sell it short if we think it just means loving another person.
Naomi showed ‘hesed’ to Ruth when she blessed her and tried to send her back home to her family, following the death of her (Naomi’s) husband and her two sons, one of whom was Ruth’s husband.
Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband! (Ruth, 1.8–9, ESV)
Naomi’s phrase, ‘deal kindly with you’ is the same as saying, ‘May the Lord show you “hesed”…’ She wanted something very special for her daughters-in-law; she wanted God’s best for them, so she asked for God’s blessing of hesed.
Ruth will have none of it, however, and ends up ‘out-hesed-ing’ Naomi:
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.
Ruth grasps what hesed is all about– it is love with no exit strategy. Love that embraces another’s pain and heartbreak, Kindness and mercy which follow through beyond what most humans would even think of. Ruth ‘gets it’!
Then Boaz shows up in chapter 2. Boaz knows the hesed of the Lord and he shows it to Ruth. Not because he loves her, romantically speaking…that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, we’re not really ever told that this is how Boaz loves Ruth in this short, four-chapter book of Scripture. We supply that, read it into the story, make it all about ‘wuv, twu wuv’ (Princess Bride quote for those of you not in the know). What Boaz does for Ruth is protect her, provide for her, show mercy & kindness to her. Along with this, he blesses her abundantly:
The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! (Ruth 2.12, ESV)
Boaz desires that God pour out hesed upon Ruth…and Naomi.
What we see here so far is the love that God shows to us, His people, being extended to others. And what this love actually means is having no exit strategy, no longing to bail out after things get hard or difficult. This type of love embraces all aspects of the person’s life, even the suffering. The Lord, then, uses this suffering as the crucible to burn off self: self-righteousness, self importance, self-preservation. Self cannot compete with hesed. Hesed will not allow self to remain unchanged; it cannot.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5–11, ESV)
Jesus had no exit strategy. He left behind all the prerogative of being God, a member of the Trinity. He actually took on human flesh and lived among us, embracing our life – all of its hardships, struggles, moments of pain and suffering. No way out, no plan to leave.
Satan tempted Him sorely right before He entered His ministry years: ‘Jesus, get out now; they’re not worth it and you are. You’re a big deal! Prove it and live it up now!’
When Jesus told His disciples He was going to give His life to show the hesed of God, Satan used Peter’s misunderstandings and false desires to try once again to let Jesus take an easier way out. Jesus rebuked Peter, but He was, in essence, rebuking Satan as well.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed like you and I have never prayed, even adding up all our times of prayer. He knew what was coming. He knew the immense suffering He must embrace. And while it seems as if He’s crying for an exit strategy, He’s not. ‘Not my will, but Yours be done’ (Luke 22.42, ESV).
Love with no exit strategy.
Part 2 tomorrow.