God's Loyal Love
John Telgren

There is a Hebrew word that translators have had a struggle trying to translate adequately. "Hesed" has been translated, "love," "loyalty," "mercy," or "loving kindness." Recent linguistic studies have demonstrated that the idea of this word is more precisely something like "covenant love" or "covenant loyalty." God's explicit self-revelation when he passed by Moses in the cleft of the rock uses this word.

"Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations (Exo 34:6-7)."

Though God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the third and fourth generations, his "hesed" is to the thousandth generation (Deut 7:9). His "hesed" is everlasting (Psalm 118). It was on the basis of God's "hesed" that God forgave Israel (Num 14:18-19). God delights in "hesed" rather than a sacrifice (Hos 6:6). "Hesed" lived out in the lives of his people meant loyalty to him as God, and compassion to his people (Hos 6:1ff). Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 in an effort to teach about compassion for one another (Matt 12:6).

Hesed is likely the idea behind the New Testament use of "agape," which describes God's love, and the unconditional love we are to have for each other. It is compassionate, loyal, dedicated, sacrificial love (1 Cor 13:1-8).