Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Meaning of Kesed's Name

Some people are curious about the meaning of Kesed’s name, in Hebrew written dsx.

The name has special significance to us for a few reasons. First of all, it is arguably God’s favorite self designation in the Old Testament. It was the way God revealed himself to Moses when he said to God, “Show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18-34:7). This passage is referenced again and again throughout the OT as the grounds for hope and joy. God is faithful in love to His covenant people. Second, and more personally, it was God’s primary instrument in freeing me (Brad) from much internal angst of heart. For various reasons, I discovered that my heart was constantly feeling apprehension even when I thought of the love of God. Like people in the past who had failed me or shown half-hearted love, I displaced this onto our Lord. In short, I realized that I looked at God’s love for me as if it were forced, something God was compelled to do because of Christ, but otherwise something he did not want to give. In other words, my heart often felt that I was on thin ice with Him, as if he would be easily angered and were not really that interested in my joy. Oh how wrong I had been!

The Lord had me spend a lot of time in the Scriptures last spring, doing a word study on “kesed” (also often transliterated hesed). Micah 7:18 was radical to my previous manner of thinking. “He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love”. Here is was, the grounds for genuine unconditional love. I could be assured of His enduring love not because of my inherent worth (even Rom. 3:12 says that in our sin, we have become worthless apart from Christ), but because of His worth and the delight He has in loving. Love does not arise from the worth of the object but in the Lover. God is free to give and to take and he chooses to lavish love on His “rescued remnant”, his people.

This naturally led me to wonder, what kind of love is this? The greatest picture of steadfast in the OT is actually masked by translation tradition, for Psalm 23:6 often used the phrase “goodness and mercy” in the place of one Hebrew word, “kesed”, translated everywhere else as “steadfast love”. Therefore, a consistent translation would be “Surely steadfast love shall follow me all the days of my life”. Again the Hebrew is liberating in its illumination. The word “follow” here is everywhere else used and translated as a military term to convey pursuing, persecuting, hunted, or chased. (i.e. Lam 5:5; Ex 15:9). In other words, kesed-love is an aggressive, unyielding love that hunts us down for the sake of our joy in Him. God’s steadfast love “persecutes” (in an obviously good sense) His children. This completely undermines my and many people’s conceptions of love, wherein we seek merely to do our duties of kindness and not do anything terribly bad to others. Rather, to love like God is to chase after, hunt down, and aggressively pursue other’s joy! Unconditional love does not look to the excellence of others’ heart; rather it arises when we find out greatest delight in lavishing such radical love.

When I turned to Romans 8:28-39, I found the clearest, most beautiful expression of kesed-love in the New Testament. It says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore, I hope you will join with us in praying with the psalmist, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14)

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