Lovingkindness

When I first began reading the Bible, a word that captured my attention was “lovingkindness.” I felt very warm inside when I read passages like “I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy,”1 or “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you,”2 or “[God] redeems your life from destruction [and] crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,”3 or “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me.”4

In some modern English translations, expressions such as “steadfast love,” “mercy,” and just plain “love” are used in place of “lovingkindness,” but I miss that word. It seems to encapsulate in a single word what God means most to me. It is the translation of the Hebrew word hesed, and it was coined long ago by Miles Coverdale, one of the very first translators of the Bible into English. In the Latin and Greek translations that had preceded Coverdale’s English effort, hesed had been translated as eleos and misericordiam respectively, the equivalents of the English word “mercy.”

Mercy is a wonderful thing, and certainly we can all agree that God is merciful, but Coverdale sensed it had a deeper, more nuanced, meaning; that’s how we ended up with that wonderful word, “lovingkindness.” Obviously, later scholars agreed, as the term was carried over into the other early English translations such as Tyndale’s and the Authorized or King James Version.

At a time when love is in the air—or at least on our minds—due to Saint Valentine’s Day, I find it appropriate to recall this wonderful love that God has for us. John captured the very essence of God in that wonderful declaration, “God is love,”5 but clearly many of the Bible writers who had preceded him by hundreds and even thousands of years had also understood this. Those who knew Him deeply knew that He cared for them with lovingkindness.

Those who think of God primarily in the context of the Old Testament picture Him as judgmental, angry, the destroyer of those who dare cross Him. That is a very selective view and disregards the majority of God’s interaction with humanity. God has always loved us. It is in His nature to. Even if He wanted not to, He couldn’t help Himself. He can do anything, of course, except go against His own nature. And so He goes on showering us with lovingkindness, and I for one am glad for that!

  1. Hosea 2:19
  2. Jeremiah 31:3
  3. Psalm 103:4
  4. Psalm 42:8
  5. 1 John 4:8