Digging Deeper: Lovingkindness
Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education
Estimated reading time: 7 min.
Did you know that when Myles Coverdale produced his Coverdale Bible in 1535, he coined a word to describe the special relationship that exists between God and His people?
This relationship is so extraordinary, it took a newly created word to explain its meaning in English. This Digging Deeper uncovers the deeper meaning of the magnificent biblical word lovingkindness to better understand the special relationships of God and His saints.
The Coverdale Bible was the first complete modern English translation of the Bible and the first complete printed Bible translation into English. Coverdale realized there was no one English word to fully translate the original Hebrew word, so he brought together two English words: loving and kindness. English translations following Coverdale’s continued to employ this word. Hastings Dictionary of the Bible explains this word’s meaning: “Two ideas are blended in this expressive word; it denotes kindness which springs from the loyalty of love” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Marital love is comparable to this relationship – e.g.: “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (Hosea 2:19).
Our focus verse is the first time this English word appears in our Bible: “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them” (Psalm 17:7 King James Version throughout). David was in danger of his life at this time, as Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible explains: “David was now exposed to imminent danger; common interpositions of Providence could not save him; if God did not work miracles for him, he must fall by the hand of Saul. Yet he lays no claim to such miraculous interpositions; he expects all from God’s lovingkindness” (e-Sword 13.0.0).
A marvelous and ordinary blessing
The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable explains why David could rely on his relationship with the Everlasting God: “The psalmist based his request on God’s loyal love for him as seen in His deliverance of those who take refuge in Him. He called on God to deliver him immediately” (e-Sword 13.0.0). There are times in life when God’s people need immediate deliverance. For David, this was such a time. John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible describes what God’s people may expect from God’s lovingkindness: “Such is the lovingkindness of God to his people in Christ; which is sovereign, free, special, distinguishing, everlasting, and unchangeable; it is better than life, and passes knowledge; and which is set upon men and not angels, some and not all…” (Ibid.).
Be sure to notice in Psalm 17:7 that David prayed for marvelous lovingkindness. C.H. Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David explains the addition of this descriptor: “Marvellous in its antiquity, its distinguishing character, its faithfulness, its immutability, and above all, marvellous in the wonders which it works. That marvellous grace which has redeemed us with the precious blood of God’s only begotten, is here invoked to come to the rescue” (e-Sword 13.0.0). For Christians, this marvelous lovingkindness is the essence of Christ’s sacrificial love for them.
David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary tells us why David added this descriptive adjective: “Yet David spoke of more than lovingkindness here; he spoke of marvelous lovingkindness, and that by Your right hand. ‘The wonder of extraordinary love is that God should make it such an ordinary thing, that he should give to us “marvellous lovingkindness,” and yet should give it so often that it becomes a daily blessing, and yet remains marvellous still (Spurgeon)'” (e-Sword 13.0.0). How gracious is our God that such lovingkindness is an uninterrupted gift!
Ger de Koning’s Commentary on the Whole Bible challenges Christians to be mindful of God’s generosity: “This is a beautiful expression. Every display of God’s lovingkindness to us is a wonder. Do we also have an eye for that and bow down in worship to Him for it? The first wonder of God’s lovingkindness is that He has saved us (Titus 3:4-6). After that, He has shown us countless more wonders of His lovingkindness. Has He not often helped us in His lovingkindness in all kinds of situations, for which we ourselves saw no solution and for which we then resorted to Him?” (Bible Analyzer 184.108.40.206).
The meaning of hesed
Longsuffering is invariably the translation of the Hebrew word hesed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia offers an etymology: “‘Lovingkindness’ in the King James Version always represents this word (30 times), but of ḥeṣedh there are many other renderings, e.g. ‘mercy’ (frequently), ‘kindness’ (38), ‘goodness’ (12). The word is derived from ḥāṣadh, meaning, perhaps, ‘to bend or bow oneself,’ ‘to incline oneself’; hence, ‘to be gracious or merciful’” (e-Sword 13.0.0).
The BiblicalTraining Library provides another explanation of the meaning of the Hebrew word: “Ḥesed in the OT signifies an attitude of either God or man born out of mutual relationship. Hesed is the attitude that each expects of the other, e.g., master/subject, host/guest, friend/relative. Primarily ḥesed is not a disposition but a helpful action; it corresponds to a relationship of trust. Hesed in a sovereign protects his dominion; ḥesed gives men security in their mutual dealings…However, the principal connotation of ḥesed is ‘loyal love’—a love which is associated with the covenant (Deuteronomy 7:12; 1 Samuel 20:8). Men could always rely upon the divine ḥesed.”
An example of the saints’ trust in God is: “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings” (Psalm 36:7 KJV). David proclaimed his trust in the Almighty: “Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee” (Psalm 143:8).
Expecting and giving hesed
The BiblicalTraining Library continues: “When ḥesed refers to God it indicates in general the divine love flowing out to sinners in unmerited kindness. On the divine side ḥesed comes to designate particularly grace. In a religious sense the ḥesed of God always signifies His merciful and faithful aid…God has promised ḥesed; one may expect it but dare never claim it.”
Notice how David requested this grace: “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). After his shameful conduct with Bathsheba, David needed lovingkindness!
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains that hesed is also expected from God’s people: “Being such an essential and distinctive quality of God, the prophets taught that it should also characterize His people. It is part of the Divine requirement in Micah 6:8, ‘to love kindness’ (compare Zechariah 7:9, ‘Show kindness and compassion every man to his brother’)” (e-Sword 13.0.0). David set an example of sharing and proclaiming God’s lovingkindess to others: “I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation” (Psalm 40:10 KJV). This is an essential part of the message Christians are to proclaim through the gospel today!
The word lovingkindness does not appear in our New Testament. Rather, equivalent words there are “mercy” “goodness,” “kindness,” “brotherly love.” Cheyne, in the Encyclopedia Biblica notes that chesed [hesed] is answered by the Greek word philadelphia (ISBE, e-Sword 13.0.0). Philadelphian Christians should generously and consistently shower fellow believers with lovingkindness. God’s people not only receive such marvelous lovingkindness from God, but they are also expected to exhibit the same to others (John 13:35). In this way, God’s lovingkindness is paid forward. Lovingkindness is not just something we get – it is also something we give.
Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.