Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say: “His love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-4)
Several years ago, Ron moved into my apartment. I didn’t know Ron all that well. We were familiar with one another, had several mutual friends, but weren’t close.
I did, however, know Ron’s girlfriend, Jenna. Ron and Jenna had been dating for some time, through college and now a year or so removed from college. I thought the two of them were pretty tight, as relationships go. In fact, Ron moved from his home state in the upper midwest to be close to his girlfriend here in New England. It’s why Ron asked to move into my vacant spare room in the first place.
About a month after Ron moved in, however, things went terribly wrong. I don’t recall the impetus, but he and Jenna had an argument as Jenna was in her car preparing to leave for her home.
Now, Jenna had a tendency, when things got heated, to shut down. Her coping mechanism for a really intense argument was to simply disengage. On the other hand, Ron could tolerate just about anything, except when he felt ignored.
So in the midst of this verbal tussle, Jenna closed up. She rolled up her window and began to drive off to escape the heated argument. Ron blew up, went into a rage. He jumped into his own car and sped off after his girlfriend. They raced across town, and as they flew down the two lane country road that led to Jenna’s home, Ron pulled up along side her car in the wrong lane, screaming at her through the window. Finally the two reached Jenna’s house. She fled inside while Ron pulled his car onto the lawn.
And that was the end of that relationship.
Separately, both Jenna and Ron sought counseling. They began to do the hard work of exploring their broken pasts, digging into the root causes of their destructive tendencies, and working with the Lord to straighten things out for themselves.
Again, this is where God’s hesed comes in. God’s love, His enduring faithfulness, is relentless in routing out the ugly in our lives, when we give Him room. And so it was, slowly, with both Ron and Jenna individually. As they encountered deep seated lies they had believed about themselves, God countered those with His truth, and these two slowly grew healthy.
Then, sometime later, these two who had loved each other deeply, even in their brokenness, found each other again. They had not spoken since their final explosion, but now they reconnected, with each of them better than they had been before.
If there’s anything that the Lord loves, its anything on earth that resembles or reflects His own heart and character. To say it in words my sister might use: God loves love. He’ll vindicate true enduring and sacrificial love–hesed–every time.
And so the Lord’s hesed took another form, after Ron and Jenna spent the time in getting well. He reunited them in a stronger union than they had ever had. They continued to see a counselor, both individually and together. A few months later, they were married, proclaiming a victory for the hesed that God had shown them how to model.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
This is perhaps the most common refrain in Israelite worship, with some iteration found in Psalms 100, 106, 107, 118, 136; throughout 1 & 2 Chronicles and in Jeremiah 33:11.
This weekend I’ve spent a good deal of time pondering this chorus, particularly the final phrase: His love endures forever.
Pardon me for saying it, but our English word “love” is far too weak a word for what the Hebrew writers had in mind. The Hebrew word is hesed, and is variously translated in the NET Bible “loyal love, faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, love, mercy, and devotion.”
To best get the definition of hesed, and why it is the principle praiseworthy characteristic of Yahweh, let me tell a story.
Ahem, A Story
I met Brian a decade ago. From the very start, Brian was thoughtful, inquisitive, and kind. He has always been quick to laugh, and ever ready to make others laugh, usually with his bright wit, but he has never been to proud to use slapstick.
For most of the time I’ve known Brian, he has been on a quest to find his partner in life. To a large degree, this desire of his heart was noble. He came from a terrific family of his own, with one sister and two adoring and supportive parents. Brian longed to share and perhaps replicate the love he grew up with.
On the other hand, Brian’s pursuit of a wife could teeter on the edge of desperate, if it did not altogether fall off completely at times. He’d be out with one girl, then another, then two dates with a third, and constantly flit between excited anticipation at what could be and the despair that something was most certainly wrong, that it would never work, probably, he thought, because of him.
Three or four years ago, however, Brian began to change. He began to discover, or perhaps rediscover, God’s enduring goodness. He began to learn afresh that the Lord was indeed good, that He adored Brian as a son, and that he had been made toward great purpose. In short, Brian’s sense of worth and source of identity was shifting. Quietly, yet significantly, he was learning that his Creator was a solid place on which to stand, that a bride would not complete his core. His desire for a partner in life and a family to raise were being refined.
In the midst of this transformation, I stood with Brian one evening at a worship gathering as a trusted prophet began to pray for him. Among the many targeted prayers spoken over Brian in that encounter, one came to the effect that the Lord had already prepared the perfect partner for him. He didn’t need to search high and low, she would come along at the right time with all he needed.
This past weekend, Brian and Katie got married. From the time of their meeting a year ago, Brian has consistently said the same thing of his new bride: “I could not imagine anyone more perfect for me.”
Thus, I feel that I have had the blessing to witness God’s abundant hesed for my dear friend these last several years. It has been the Lord’s hesed, yes, to see through His promise to Brian, that a partner was out there for him, pre-selected.
More than that, however, it has been God’s hesed, His faithful commitment to Brian, to refine him in such a way that he would be prepared to handle the blessing that the Creator hoped to pour out. Hesed is a faithfulness to one’s word, certainly. But it is also a faithfulness to the one who receives the promise, that he or she will be molded to best obtain and retain the promise when it comes to fruition.
That’s what I’ve been thinking about this weekend. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!