Hesed, Agape and Love
Hesed, Agape and Love?
In the Old Testament there is a Hebrew word of tremendous spiritual importance. The word is rendered in English as “Hesed.” This word occurs approximately 250 times in the Old Testament. David used the word extensively in his Psalms. Moses and the other prophets used it extensively as well. The New Testament was mostly written in Greek and hardcore, spiritually serious and biblically studious Christians eventually find themselves in a bible study where the Greek word for divine love, “Agape” is discussed. Before there was Agape in the New Testament there was the Hebrew word, “Hesed” in the Old Testament which summarized in a single word, the divine character. In the New American Standard Bible’s translation of the Old Testament, Hesed is rendered as “lovingkindness.” When we become familiar with this word we can see its comprehensive superiority to both “Agape” in Greek and “Love” in English as labels or place holders for describing the central quality of God.
Consider the following quote from Jeremiah.
Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, (HESED) justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised– Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”
Paul did not originate the concept of the circumcised or uncircumcised heart. It is an Old Testament concept. Moses introduces the idea in Deuteronomy. Jeremiah mentions the uncircumcised heart as a metaphor describing those who do not grasp the character, the Love of God, aka the Hesed of God. It is a pivotally important spiritual idea, for our knowledge of God is what elevates us above life in the flesh and brings us into spiritual life. Go to http://www.biblegateway.com/ , enter “lovingkindness” as a search word and New American Standard Bible as a bible source and do a word study on this compound word that isn’t even a real word in the English language and realize that this word, “lovingkindness” wherever we find it in the Old Testament equates to Hesed, the Hebrew word intended to more fully represent divine love and the divine character. Microsoft Word 2003’ and 2010 dictionary does not know the world “lovingkindness,” a metaphor perhaps for our society which also does not perceive God’s Hesed.
God gave mankind language. God gave Adam and Eve their original language. Recall that he tasked Adam with naming the animals but the base original human language was created by God. God gave mankind a variety of languages at the Tower of Babel. Hesed is a word that derives more nearly from the God given languages than Greek which underwent an evolutionary development during the centuries of the Greek philosophical tradition. The point is this. Hesed, I in its substance represents the divine nature far better than Agape which represents divine love far better than Love in English and it points to the importance of studying the Old Testament to the Christian. All those Old Testament scriptures which use the word Hesed constitute a character sketch of the divine nature. We tend to try to grasp God in terms of Jesus and we tend to try to understand Jesus anthropomorphically in terms of our understanding of ourselves and of humanity inasmuch as Jesus was human, the son of man. It is more spiritually productive and appropriate to understand God and the divine nature first which can be learned from a spiritually informed grasp of the Old Testament. We then understand Jesus in terms of God and we then understand ourselves in terms of those divine who made us in their image. It is far more spiritually productive to understand man in terms of God than to try and understand God in terms of man. Hesed is the Hebrew summation of God’s character.