HECED – An Important Biblical Concept

God’s Lovingkindness - I will betroth you to Me in…lovingkindness (Hosea 2:19c)

“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the sons of men take refuge under the shadow of Your wing.” –Psalm 37:6

When all the forces of hell seem to be raging about you — in your body, heart, or mind— when you can’t trust in your own ability to keep yourself securely tucked away under his wings, remember: no one and nothing is able to pry his hand open or keep his betrothed from his love. We persevere because of God’s invincible love.[1]

“Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” –Psalm 63:3

Hosea saw the relationship between God and Israel as that of a husband[2] with the attendant attributes of commitment, righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion, and faithfulness. Through this enacted prophecy Hosea learned that at the core of the covenant is God’s profound love for his people. God seeks a response of surrender that will lead to a deep and abiding intimacy with God.

Lovingkindness — HESED (Hebrew)

That God acts in hesed (or sometimes spelled checed) has been described as the “classic message of Hosea.”[3]

Hesed occurs 176 times in the Old Testament from Gen 19:19 – Jonah 4:2, 121 times in the Psalms (or 70%). The most significant feature of this term is that God gives hesed to us in absolute freedom. Whether it’s God or people acting in lovingkindness, hesed is given of the “helper’s” own free will. Additionally, hesed always argues for loyalty of love.[4]

Hesed can be difficult to translate into English because embedded in it’s meaning is the unbreakable covenant bond that God initiates with his people.

A good, working definition of hesed is: the covenant, consistent, relentless, pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, loyal, and one-way love of God.

The promises God makes are not conditional. God is NOT saying, “If you do this, then I will do that.” There are no “if’s” in these promises of God. There are no time limits, no cancellation clauses.

And so, while hesed has the feelings of love, kindness, mercy, and affection it is defined primarily by the unconditional steadfast, loyal, and trustworthiness of God’s covenant with his people.

In the Old Testament, God’s anger and wrath is expressed within the constraint of the unbreakable covenant bond, and is for the purpose of restoring the mutuality of that bond.  While God’s covenant bond is unbreakable and unconditional, it is not an “anything goes” relationship. It is a bond that has a purpose: so that we will be a blessing.  And the nature of this blessing is justice: right relationships with all – as well as harmony and well-being for all (SHALOM).

Pastor and author Rob Bell has an interesting take on God’s wrath.[5] He says the problem we face is not that God is angry with us, but that we think God is angry with us. Thus, Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to change God’s mind about us, but to change our mind about God: to notify us of God’s lack of anger[6] and to free us from the prison of our misconceptions so that we can truly live well. The place of church and religious ritual is to remind us of our standing with God and freedom to live lives of sacrifice and service.  What do YOU think?


[1] Elyse Fitzpatrick, A Steadfast Heart, P&R 2006: 77.

[2] Norman D. Snaith, Mercy and Sacrifice. A Study of the Book of Hosea, SCM Press, 1953: 40, 52.

[3] Van Gemeren, Willem, A. Interpreting the Prophetic Word, Acadamie 1990: 114.

[4] Harris, Archer, & Waltke, 1980.

[5] Rob Bell, “the god’s aren’t angry” Tour, 2007.

[6] Bell would say that God’s wrath is more about passion than anger.

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2 thoughts on “HECED – An Important Biblical Concept

  1. “He says the problem we face is not that God is angry with us, but that we think God is angry with us.”

    This is true only for the regenerated Christian, see John 3:36 for those who need to respond to the Gospel.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Mr. Silva. Piper says that God warns with his wrath and he woos with his kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. How do you envision people with this mingling of God’s wrath and mercy?

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