Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his loyal love endures!
Psalm 136 is such a wonderful Psalm! I love the way the writer continually repeats these words: for his loyal love endures.
But what is God’s “loyal love”? Is that a special kind of love? In English, we have one word for love. When I say I love to run, it is a different kind of love than what I feel for my friends and family. It is different from the way I love a good book or going on vacation. It is different from the way I love God, and different from the way I love seeing a beautiful sunset.
In Hebrew there are several words to describe different types of love. Here, in Psalm 136, the phrase translated as “loyal love” is the word hesed. Hesed is a complex word used throughout the Psalms and the Old Testament. But when we take a minute to understand what hesed meant to a Hebrew reader, we gain a richer understanding of the God who loves us.
The Psalms are a perfect place to start as we study God’s hesed because they show how God relates to His people through hesed. There are other examples of hesed throughout the Old Testament, such as between friends or in a marriage, but Psalms specifically talks about God’s hesed. Because the Psalms were written for God’s covenant people, they describe how God’s hesed is shown to His people and how it manifests itself in their relationship with Him.
These uses of hesed in the Psalms provide a wealth of information about what God’s hesed is and how it is poured out to His people.
- God’s hesed is abounding; it never runs short, it always exists in abundance (69:14; 103:8; 145:8).
- His hesed manifests itself in many different ways, sometimes ways the recipient expects and sometimes in unexpected ways (107:43).
- Because He is always overflowing with hesed, God turns and hears the cries of His people (119:49).
- Receiving God’s hesed is better than life; a life without His hesed is not worthwhile and is severely lacking (63:4).
- Hesed is the means by which God brings redemption to His people (44:27).
- Because of His hesed, God relents from sending distress on humankind (106:45).
- God saves us through His hesed, but He does so in order that we may know that He alone has done it (109:26).
- It is new in the morning, much like His mercy (143:8).
- He promises to give His hesed to his people, along with salvation (119:41).
- His hesed comforts us (119:76).
- It is constant, He never removes it from us, but sometimes it manifests in ways we cannot see or in ways that are different than we expect (52:3).
- He crowns us with hesed, pouring it on us in abundance so we can experience it (103:4).
- It is stronger than and outlasts even death (88:12).
- It destroys God’s enemies, and therefore, our enemies (143:12).
- God’s hesed disciplines us and teaches us wisdom (119:124).
- It endures forever (100:5; 118:1-4; 136; 138:8), and He does not take it away from us (66:20).
- His hesed fills the earth (119:64) and gives us life (119:88).
- Hesed gives us reason to hope (33:22).
- It comes to us when we are in need; He faithfully pursues us by His hesed (31:22; 23:6).
- God always pursues us and will not withdraw His hesed from us (89:29,34).
- God always moves out of His hesed; what He does and how He acts are manifestations of His hesed (89:15).
- His hesed guards the lives of His faithful ones (61:8).
- It is trustworthy (13:6; 52:10), full of goodness (25:7), wonderful (17:7), and awesome (107).
- It is not concealed (40:11), ever reliable (59:11), ever present (89:25), and strong (33:5).
- His hesed is higher than one can fathom (57:11; 108:5).
- And even more, it is worthy of study, worthy of hope, worthy of declaration, and worthy of praise (48:10; 59:17; 89:2; 92:3; 115:1; 147:11).
These verses in Psalms give us an amazing picture of hesed: it cannot be separated from the character of God. God’s character is displayed through His hesed. By understanding His hesed we can understand God’s character. The two cannot be separated because they are so closely tied to one another. By acting in His hesed God allows His people to see His character and know more of Him. He reveals himself to humankind by displaying His hesed. His hesed is an act of kindness and mercy and grace as it allows us to know more of Him.
The beauty of hesed is the mutuality of the relationship. Hesed implies a covental, committed relationship between the two parties. As God displays His hesed to us, His covenant people, we can give hesed back to Him through our worship.
God is not obligated to pour out His hesed on His people. He could faithfully fulfill His covenant without hesed. He could do the minimum to provide for His people and give them what they need.
But that is not the character of God.
God is wildly in love with His covenant people and goes above and beyond to care for them, provide for them, and bring them joy. His hesed is the manifestation of this. He goes above and beyond to display love and faithfulness to His people.
The only feasible response to God’s abundant hesed, His care and love that goes above and beyond anything we could ask or imagine, is to worship Him in the same manner. We can display hesed to God by worshiping Him and proclaiming His goodness, His power, His mercy, and His hesed.
Today, take time to praise God for His hesed. Pray Psalm 136 back to Him, praising Him for His enduring, everlasting loyal love.
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