The Loyal Love of the Lord
by Dr Paul Wilkinson,
The Loyal Love of the Lord
“Chesed – The Loyal Love of the Lord,” Ariel Magazine, Spring 2018, p. 31.
In I Samuel 20, Saul’s son Jonathan makes the following impassioned plea to his covenanted friend, David:
If I am still alive, show me the loyal love of the LORD, that I may not die; and do not cut off your loyalty from my house forever. When the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth, let not the name of Jonathan be cut off from the house of David.(I Sam. 20:14-16, RSV)
The words “loyal love” and “loyalty” were finally decided upon by the RSV (Revised Standard Version) translation committee after they had laboured to render into English the beautifully rich, absorbing, and almost-impossible-to-translate Hebrew word chesed. In fact, such was the degree of difficulty they encountered, that after several months’ work the committee finally agreed on one thing: No single English noun could do it justice! Chesed proved to be the final word they voted on before completing their translation of the Tanakh, or Old Testament.
A comparison of other English Bible translations, from the earliest to the more modern, reveals just how multi-layered this extraordinary Hebrew word is. In our selected text, chesed is translated “mercy” (Coverdale, Geneva, Bishops’), “kindness” (KJV, NKJV, Darby, NIV), “lovingkindness” (ASV, NASB), “steadfast love” (ESV), and “loyalty” (NET). The RSV committee generally favoured “steadfast love” when translating chesed elsewhere in Scripture; but in this particular text, I believe they made an insightful decision.
Wherever Bible students “dig” or “excavate” in the Old Testament, sooner or later their exegetical trowel will strike the word chesed. Occurring 248 times in the Tanakh and 127 times in the book of Psalms alone, this theological gem sparkles to the glory of God, for its true meaning can only be found by digging deep into the rich seam of God’s covenant relationship with His people.
In our chosen text, it is important to note that Jonathan did not ask David for his loyalty to be shown him since the loyalty of man will always be limited and deficient; he asked for the loyalty of the LORD – and David did not disappoint. Following the death of Jonathan and Saul and David’s accession to the throne, the man after God’s own heart asked Ziba, a servant in Saul’s household, the following question:
Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?(II Sam. 9:3, RSV).
Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, was to be the recipient of God’s chesed through David, who restored Saul’s land to him and gave him a permanent place at the king’s table.
Before we proceed, it is important to highlight the other significant aspect of Jonathan’s appeal: his use of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH. Often pronounced “Yahweh” and usually translated “LORD” in our English Bibles, it is the Name by which God reveals Himself to those with whom He is in covenant relationship. With this in mind, let us consider the following definition of chesed by William O. E. Oesterley (1866-1950), a Church of England vicar, theologian, and professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at King’s College, London:
[Chesed is] an essential quality of soul, a spiritual endowment which goes deep down into the very nature of him who has it . . . No other word means so much to the Hebrew ear, and its cultivation in the human heart is the highest demand of the prophetic morality. In all its completeness it can be seen only in Yahweh.2
The Abundance of God’s Mercy
A study of the Tanakh reveals how often the loyal love of the LORD was shown to God’s covenanted people, and to those outside Israel who were being drawn into a relationship with Him. Genesis 24, for example, tells the beautiful story of the search for a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. Upon meeting Rebekah and her family in the Mesopotamian city of Nahor, Abraham’s servant gives thanks to God for showing chesed to his master:
Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master(Gen. 24:27,NASB
Later in Genesis, we read how this same love sustained Joseph throughout his imprisonment in Egypt:
But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prisonGen.39:21,RSV)
It was the chesed of Yahweh which David joyfully acknowledged after being delivered from the hand of Saul and from all his enemies:
He is the tower of salvation to His king, and shows mercy to His anointed, to David and his descendants forevermore(II Sam. 22:51)
In the book of Joshua, we read of the two men who were sent to spy out Jericho, and who promised Rahab that if she hid them from the king, then they would show her chesed in return:
Our life for yours! If you do not tell this business of ours, then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the LORD gives us the land(Jos. 2:14)
And it was the loyal, steadfast, merciful kindness of the LORD which was shown to Naomi and Elimelech through Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer. As Naomi joyfully declared to her daughter-in-law Ruth,
Blessed be he by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!(Ruth 2:20)
Wherever we turn, the chesed of God glistens in the glorious light of His Word. This should not surprise us, for it is integral both to the law of God and, more importantly, to His very Name and nature. Having prohibited the creation and worship of graven images, God jealously declared at Sinai that He would visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but would show lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:5-6, NASB). When Moses later ascended the mountain, carrying with him a second set of stone tablets, the LORD passed by and proclaimed His Name:
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty . . .(Ex. 34:6 -7. RSV)
The Election and Salvation of Israel
This revelation of God’s character is foundational to Israel’s “chosenness” as a nation, as the LORD reminded His people before they crossed into Canaan:
The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people . . . Know therefore that the LORD thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.(Deut. 7:7-9, KJV)
This same revelation of God’s chesed is absolutely essential to Israel’s future survival, for the nation’s lamentable history of covenant-breaking infidelity warrants only judgment, not mercy. In the midst of the glorious “I will” promises of Ezekiel 36, the LORD solemnly reminds His people that in the last days, when He finally restores them, they will remember their “evil ways” and “loathe” themselves for their “abominable deeds.” It is the integrity and honour of God’s Name, and not Israel’s, that is ultimately at stake. As the LORD concludes,
It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord God; let that be known to you(Ez. 36:31-32; cf. Isa. 48:11).
Nevertheless, when we look through the restoration promises of God, one word is conspicuous throughout chesed. In His judgment, God waits to be merciful! Here are just a few examples:
In an outburst of anger, I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness, I will have compassion on you.(Isa. 54:8, NASB)
Jehovah hath appeared from afar unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. I will build thee again, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel!(Jer. 31:3-4, Darby)
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.(Lam. 3:31-32, RSV)
I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy.(Hos. 2:19-20, NKJV)
You will be loyal to Jacob and extend your loyal love to Abraham, which you promised on oath to our ancestors in ancient times.(Mic. 7:20, NET)
It is important to note that God’s chesed is the only true basis of intercessory prayer for Israel and not an unhealthy emotional attachment to all things Jewish, which sadly characterizes part of the church. Whether we read Solomon’s prayer of dedication upon completion of the Temple (I Kgs. 8:23), Daniel’s prayer for the restoration of the exiles in Babylon (Dan. 9:4), Nehemiah’s prayer for the favour of Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:5), or Ezra’s prayer of shame on account of those who had intermarried (Ezr. 9:9), we discover that the common denominator is not Israel’s merit or even Israel’s plight; these servants of the LORD appeared to God’s character, as it had been revealed to Moses at Sinai. We must not forget, of course, that it was the chesed of God which roused Jonah’s anger in Nineveh (Jon. 4:1-4), and that of the prodigal son’s brother in Jesus’ parable (Lk. 15:11-32), a warning to us to guard our own hearts so that we can be heralds and instruments of God’s mercy.
A Glorious Bridge
Although the New Testament was written in Greek, chesed acts as a bridge between the Old and the New. The New Testament counterpart is eleos, which is the word that was generally favoured in the Septuagint (LXX), or Greek translation of the Tanakh. We hear this word in the Spirit-inspired songs of Mary and Zechariah, when they declare how God has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy (Lk. 1:54), remembering to perform the mercy promised to our fathers (Lk. 1:72). In this way, then, the good news of Jesus the Messiah, which was preached . . . beforehand to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:8), is inextricably bound to the loyal love of God. In His miraculous birth, sinless life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection and ascension, the Lord Jesus personified chesed, and will soon fill it up completely with meaning when He returns. As the Apostle Paul declared,
Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy [eleos].(Rom. 15:8-9)
In making this statement, Paul also pulled the theological rug out from under those in the church who have espoused replacement theology and do not glorify God for His mercy to Israel.
The Loyal Love of the Church?
As we turn the pages of the New Testament, the loving faithfulness of our Lord and Savior shines through. Our Lord promises that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), that He will be with us to the close of the age (Mt. 28:20), that no one will be able to snatch us from His hand (Jn. 10:28), that He has gone to prepare a place for us (Jn. 14:1-3), that He lives forever to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25), and that the work which He began in us will be completed at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). If that were not enough, the Apostle Paul declares that if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself (II Tim. 2:11-13). This does, however, beg the question: What if we are faithless? Will the Lord simply turn a blind eye because we are His bride? Scripture could not be more emphatic: The Lord takes a low view of disloyalty. Jesus expects that we will show Him, and one another, the same kind of loyal love that He has shown us.
Let us consider the following statements which the Lord made to the early church, either directly or through His apostles, and then ask ourselves whether the same kind of indictments could be laid at the door of many of our churches today:
Do not boast over the branches . . . For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.(Rom. 11:18-21)
What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?(I Cor. 1:12-13)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you . . .? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?(Gal. 3:1-2)
Many . . . live as enemies of the cross of Christ . . . with minds set on earthly things.Phil. 3:18-19)
The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.(I Tim. 4:1)
Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses . . . Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better.(Heb. 3:3; 8:6)
There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies . . . And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them, the way of truth will be reviled.(II Pet. 2:1-2)
But I have this against you, that you have forsaken the love you had at first.(Rev. 2:4)
You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam . . . you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.(Rev. 2:14-15)
You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. (Rev. 2:20) You have the name of being alive, and you are dead.(Rev. 3:1)
I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.(Rev. 3:16-17)
This list makes for uncomfortable reading, but the church needs to wake from its slumber and take careful note. A brother in Christ recently wrote to me in an email, “Even so, the time is now so short—the last couple of seconds of the last hour.” As the Apostle Peter declared in his first epistle,
For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God(I Pet. 4:17).
Thus, one of the crucial lessons of chesed/eleos, which we must learn from Israel’s history and that of the church, is that we dare not take God’s loyalty for granted.
Three times the risen Lord asked Simon Peter whether he loved Him, and each time the Lord made it clear what kind of love He expected from him. In the process, Peter was both restored and commissioned to lead, feed, tend, and protect Christ’s flock, with the same kind of dedication and loyalty that the Good Shepherd had shown throughout His earthly ministry (Jn. 21:15-17; cf. 17:12). For those of us holding positions of responsibility within the church, let us remember that this commission was not given to Peter alone. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, the Apostle Paul, knowing what was about to befall the church at Ephesus, warned them to
Be on guard, for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood . . . remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.(Ac. 20:28-31)
This passage of Scripture burned in the heart of my pastor Andrew Robinson (1951-2016), who faithfully shepherded the flock under his care and frequently expressed godly indignation towards those pastors in the wider church who were failing the Lord’s sheep. In his 1841 discourse On Discipline, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), the principal founder of the Plymouth Brethren and a herald of Israel’s restoration and Christ’s return, also recognized the urgent need in the church for true pastors who would shepherd God’s people. He wrote:
One thing I would pray for because I love the Lord’s sheep, is that there might be shepherds. I know nothing next to personal communion with the Lord, so blessed as the pastor feeding the Lord’s sheep, the Lord’s flock; but it is the Lord’s flock . . . I know nothing like it on earth – the core of a true-hearted pastor, one who can bear the whole burden of grief and care of any soul and deal with God about it.3
We conclude our survey of this remarkable word chesed with the timeless shepherd psalm of David. As a grateful recipient of God’s loyal love, David was forever singing the praises of the One who was ever mindful of him. As the shadows lengthen on this dark and decaying world, may we too be found declaring the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light (I Pet. 2:9), and whose incomparable faithfulness and unceasing loyalty took Him to Calvary, where He showed the world just how much He loved the Father (Jn. 14:31). May we determine in our hearts to be more devoted and loyal to the One who is called “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11), and in so doing draw comfort from the closing words of this psalm, saying confidently with David:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.Ps. 23:6 KJV
The Loyal Love of the Lord Dr Paul Wilkinson Ariel Ministries NZ
The Loyal Love of the Lord by Dr Paul Wilkinson was first published in our issue 26, an Ariel Magazine. Subscribe to to this magazine and more below.
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