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!