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חָ֫סֶד / Lovingkindness: A defining character quality of God in the Old Testament

Updated on December 16, 2016
David Winters profile image

David Winters has been a pastor 22 years. He has a BA in history from Taylor and an M-Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

What does חָ֫סֶד mean?

חָ֫סֶד transliterates from Hebrew to English as "checed." Saying this Hebrew word in English the "ch" is like pronouncing "k"as in "kick" with the middle "c" with an "s" sound. חָ֫סֶד is found 247 times in the Old Testament. חָ֫סֶד has a large yet similar range of meaning and may be defined as "favor, goodness, kindness, mercy, lovingkindness, and loyalty." The English Standard Version of the Bible translates it as 'steadfast love" while the New Living Translation says, "unfailing love." In other instances and other translations חָ֫סֶד comes out as kindness, mercy, love, or goodness. In this article when you see the Hebrew word חָ֫סֶד think lovingkindness.

*All Scriptures are from the New American Standard Version unless otherwise noted

Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens...Psalm 36:5


Lovingkindness characterizes who God truly is

"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever." (1 Chronicles 16:34, ESV) "For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations." (Psalm 100:5) God is good and His steadfast love never changes. His חָ֫סֶד love is not something that will fluctuate, diminish, shift, vary, change, or come to an end. His loyal חָ֫סֶד lovingkindness is permanent and fixed. God pours out His lovingkindness toward us because it's who He is. The English Standard Version often translates חָ֫סֶד as steadfast love to emphasize the power, strength, and durability of God's lovingkindness. His love is something solid to build your life on.

"Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness reaches to the skies." (Psalm 36:5) This verse means God's lovingkindness and faithfulness are not able to be humanly measured. God's lovingkindness and faithfulness are vast, limitless, greater than we can comprehend, and more than we can understand or grasp.

God's lovingkindness is often grouped with other divine attributes and qualities as in Psalm 86:5. "For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you." God's disposition is good, eager to forgive, and overflowing with steadfast love to any person who calls upon Him.

"...let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24) The Lord acts out of His inherent lovingkindness toward us. His merciful and kind nature are revealed in His actions toward us. More than that, God does not act out of obligation but He delights in pouring out lovingkindness toward us. God does not begrudgingly demonstrate lovingkindness towards people but rather God takes joy in pouring out lovingkindness on us.

His lovingkindness gives us confidence, peace, and hope

His lovingkindness means we can trust Him. We can appeal to His mercy and know He forgives. We can rest knowing He does not change but His love is sure and steadfast.

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most familiar passage in the Old Testament and part of the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 23:6 is based on the חָ֫סֶד of God. "Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life." One aspect of the Hebrew word חָ֫סֶד is loyalty. We can count on God's loyal faithful love to be with us all the as yet unknown days of our lives. We can have confidence and peace that as we walk into our future and think of the days ahead of us that God's lovingkindness is going to follow us all of our days, good or bad, His lovingkindness will follow you, be near you, and be over and under you. His lovingkindness may not seem to be evident in certain parts or seasons of our lives but in the summary big picture of our lives His lovingkindness has been upon us and saved us.

Psalm 52:8 says, "But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever." His lovingkindness means we can trust Him. We can rest in our hearts knowing His lovingkindness is sure, steadfast, and unchanging. An olive tree is incredibly strong and durable. There is an olive tree in Kastel Stafilic, Croatia over 1,500 years old. So as we trust in God's lovingkindness we are made strong and durable.

God's lovingkindness is a direct source of hope for us. Psalm 130:7 says, "O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption." We can put our hope in so many things. Psalm 130 challenges us to put our hope in God because...with the Lord is חָ֫סֶד, and because of that God is willing to bring great redemption in our lives. Because of His lovingkindness God is willing and able to redeem, save, restore, or make new broken relationships or desperate situations.

We are changed when we believe in God's lovingkindness. We have more hope, more peace, more joy, and more confidence as we trust in His lovingkindness whatever our circumstances. I would encourage you to say these verses out loud as a way to strengthen and actualize your faith in God. There's something powerful about verbalizing truth to ourselves. Repeat these verses to yourself to strengthen your faith in His lovingkindness. You might write them on a card and tape the card to your car dashboard or post it at your workplace.

I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever...Psalm 52:8


God's lovingkindness is a reason to love and worship Him

God's חָ֫סֶד gives us cause to praise, love, and worship Him. Psalm 13:5, "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation." God pours out His lovingkindness on us and we experience joy and life when we love and worship Him back. Psalm 31:7-8 declares, "I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because you have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a large place." The small stories and the big story of our lives can be about God's lovingkindness over us if we follow Him and call out to Him. God loves us, and that alone is a cause for us to rejoice and be glad whether in time of ease or adversity.

His lovingkindness does not save us FROM trials but saves us IN our trials

God's lovingkindness does not shield us from pain, sorrow, suffering, or calamity in this life. God allowed His own Son to pay the ultimate price out of His love for us. But God's lovingkindness pulls us and sustains us through those trials.

In Genesis 32 Jacob is faced with the imminent meeting up with his brother Esau who was seeking to kill him the last time they had been together. So Jacob prays, "I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother..." (vs. 10-11) Jacob acknowledges God's undeserved lovingkindness as He asks for help and deliverance.

Joseph was not saved from one trial after another, but God was with him in those trials, even in prison. "But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailor." (Genesis 39:21) God didn't save Joseph from the ordeal of unjust and painful imprisonment but the Lord showed lovingkindness to Joseph inside the prison itself.

Naomi suffered the death of her husband in a foreign land and then the passing of her two sons. She returned home in poverty to Israel with Ruth her Moabite daughter-in-law. But God had not forgotten her and when their relative Boaz appears as a deliverer Naomi declares in Ruth 2:20, "May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn His kindness to the living and the dead." Naomi recognized God's steadfast and unfailing love. She experienced great pain and trial yet she recognized that God's lovingkindness had not left her but was delivering her. His lovingkindness doesn't prevent us from experiencing pain but delivers us in our trials.

We may not always feel God's lovingkindness in the present moment but it's there. He is for us and not against us.

Call upon His lovingkindness when you pray

When you talk to God in prayer invoke His lovingkindness. The Lord does not respond to us out of obligation, He owes us nothing, but He responds out of grace, He responds because He is a God of lovingkindness. David prays in Psalm 25:6, "Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your loving kindnesses for they have been from of old..." David beseeches the Lord, reminding the Lord of His compassion and lovingkindness. The Lord doesn't need to be reminded of His own compassion and lovingkindness, but it strengthens us as we pray to verbalize the truth that we are speaking to a God of compassion and lovingkindness and that this God of lovingkindness is listening and will respond to us. Daniel does the same when he prays to the Lord for the people of Israel in Daniel chapter nine. "I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments..." (Daniel 9:4) In Psalm 33:22 David ends the Psalm with a general prayer for the lovingkindness of God to be "on" him and his life. "Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. We don't have to always pray with specific requests. A good prayer calls upon the grace of God and just asks for His lovingkindness to surround and cover us.

Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. Psalm 33:22


We can practice lovingkindness as our God does

There are some character qualities of God we humans cannot imitate or practice. We will never be Omnipresent as God is, or all-powerful. And though some us may think we know it all only God is truly All-knowing. In theological terms these are "incommunicable" attributes of God. But there are some attributes of God that are "communicable," meaning that we mortals can imitate and be like God in those attributes. חָ֫סֶד is a communicable attribute that we can and should imitate for our own joy as well as to give joy to God and the people we demonstrate it toward. Certainly we will never possess or demonstrate a lovingkindness equal to or as complete as God's lovingkindness but we can practice and demonstrate lovingkindness in our relationships.

As human beings, whatever our beliefs, we expect sympathy and lovingkindness from others during tough times. Job laments in Job 6:14, For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend..." And the new King David earnestly desires to find someone left alive of the devastated house of Saul to show lovingkindness toward, "Then David said, "is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, thatI may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" (2 Samuel 9:1)

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, exhorts us to make steadfast loyal lovingkindness a conscious goal we pursue and practice in our relationships. Proverbs 21:21, "He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness, and honor." If you pursue חָ֫סֶד we are rewarded with life, righteousness, and honor. Proverbs 3:3-4 takes it even further, "Do not let kindness and truth leave you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man."

A good prayer is for us to pray, "Lord, let my love for the people in my life be like your lovingkindness toward me. May my love be steadfast, loyal, unwavering, kind, and merciful toward the people in my life." It may be helpful to name specific people that you want God to give you greater lovingkindness toward. May we pour out lovingkindness toward others as God has poured out lovingkindness toward us.

I hope you have enjoyed this Old Testament look at the character of God, specifically His חָ֫סֶד. May His חָ֫סֶד be upon you today.

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    • Tamarajo profile image


      19 months ago

      I really enjoy word studies. So many times certain words start sounding generic without the deeper look especially with this particular word. Our light connections and associations with the very common English words used to translate checed can leave us lacking in truly understanding how it applies.

      This was a good well rounded study on the multifaceted richness of God's loyal, faithful, covenant love, as it is displayed in Scripture.

      God bless!


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