Love Mercy: Understanding “Hesed” in Our Lives

Rev. Bradley Swire   -  

Last week, we started a three-part series answering the profound question the people of Judah posed to God through the prophet Micah: “What do you want from me, God?!” The first part of God’s answer was to seek justice, which means doing what you know is right. This principle applies to our everyday actions and how we treat others.

Today, we move to the second part of God’s response: embracing faithful love, otherwise known as “love mercy.” The Hebrew term for this is “hesed,” a word so rich in meaning that no single English word can capture its depth. It’s been translated as “kindness,” “mercy,” “covenant faithfulness,” “compassion,” “loyal love,” “loving devotion,” and “steadfast love.” “Hesed” describes God’s unwavering faithfulness throughout history on behalf of His people.

Consider some examples: God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, His intervention at the Red Sea to save the Israelites, and His covenant with David to establish a lasting dynasty. These are grand gestures of God’s faithful love. But let’s bring it closer to home—what has God done in your life? Where have you seen His faithful intervention in your times of need?

When I was in seminary in Colorado, finances were tight. Leaving our jobs and moving without any employment guarantees required a leap of faith. Yet, we always seemed to have enough to cover our bills and buy food. One month, we were $500 short. I remember praying and then heading to the mailbox. There, I found a letter from a Sunday School class in Leesville—a church I had never visited. Inside was an encouraging note and a $500 check. You can’t tell me that wasn’t God’s faithful intervention! I bet you have similar stories of God’s timely provision in your life. That is what it means to embrace faithful love.

But “hesed” isn’t just about recognizing God’s faithfulness; it’s also about reflecting that steadfast love in our lives. It’s about responding to God with loyalty and love and showing the same compassion and grace to others that God has shown to us.

Jesus illustrated this concept beautifully in a parable from Matthew 18:23-35. A man owed a king a substantial debt. When he couldn’t pay, he begged for mercy, and the king forgave him completely. However, this same man then demanded payment from someone who owed him a smaller amount. When that person couldn’t pay, he had him thrown in jail. The man received mercy but didn’t extend it to others. This parable challenges us to embody “hesed” by showing mercy and love to others as God has shown to us.

“Hesed” is a relationship term. It signifies commitment and steadfast dependability that arises from mutual relationships. To love “hesed” means being committed to God and living in a community marked by mutual respect, helpfulness, and loving concern.

God loved us even before we knew it. What God wants from us is a response to that love—a recognition of His intervention in our lives and an extension of that love to others. This reminds me of the movie “Pay It Forward,” where a boy suggests repaying good deeds not with payback but with new good deeds to three new people. This concept beautifully captures the essence of “hesed.” Instead of focusing on paying back, we should focus on paying it forward.

How would our lives and our church be different if our attitude was not to pay back, but to pay forward? Embracing faithful love means committing to a life of “hesed,” showing steadfast love and mercy to others, just as God has shown to us. Let’s strive to live out this profound love in our daily interactions and relationships, making a lasting impact on our community and the world.

So, what are we doing in our lives that seeks justice and embraces faithful love? How are we acting in these situations? Are we applying “hesed” in our daily interactions? How can we change our lives so that we are truly reflecting God’s steadfast love? Let’s commit to paying it forward, embodying the faithful love God has shown us, and transforming our world with His grace.