Hesed for Dummies

-Written by Stan-

IMG_0258Recently I had the privilege of attending a lecture by an Old Testament professor (Dr. John Oswalt) on the subject of hesed.You say you don’t know what that word means? Well, neither did most of us in the lecture hall that evening.

Hesed is a Hebrew term used over 240 times in the Old Testament. Interestingly, the word has no known cognates in other Semitic languages. No single English word is able to encompass the richness of its meaning so it has been translated by a wide number of different terms in our Bibles: kindness, gentleness, goodness, steadfast love, mercy, pity, lovingkindness, compassion, etc. Basically, hesed describes the covenant faithfulness, passionate devotion, undying loyalty, and absolute dependability of God. Though the word is related to “love,” it is much stronger and deeper. “Hesed,” Dr. Oswalt explained, “is not something you feel; it is something you do.”

God treated Israel with hesed even when she was unfaithful and committed spiritual adultery with other lovers. As he neared the end of his lecture, Dr. Oswalt explained that because redemption intends to restore the image of God in us, the Gospel promises that we too can be filled with hesed; our characters can be defined by covenant faithfulness and passionate devotion even as God’s is.

As I listened to Dr. Oswalt, I was intellectually stimulated by the thrill of learning that I often experience when I’m sitting in a good Bible study. But when he began to apply the concept of hesed to the marriage covenant between a husband and wife, I began to realize that this academic lecture had suddenly gotten up close and personal.

The place where hesed is best learned is in marriage, Oswalt explained. Though most of our culture believes that love (warm feelings, infatuation) is the foundation of marriage, this only underscores how far we have drifted from God’s original design. For marriage (and the family that comes from it) to be what God intends, the foundation must be hesed: covenant faithfulness. Warm fuzzy feelings may come and go, but loyal devotion provides a foundation for a healthy home that will last forever. Oswalt reminded us how the traditional marriage ceremony gives a beautiful description of hesed.

Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife; to live together in the covenant of
marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health;
and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

I ______ take you _____ to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day
forward; for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and
to cherish, till death do us part. And thereto I pledge you my faithfulness.

For those of you familiar with this blog, you may be wondering what all this talk about hesed has to do with Katy and her stroke?


Thirty-nine years ago Katy and I stood at an altar and said vows. We didn’t fully understand it at the time, but we were pledging hesed to one another. The last seven months have given us both many occasions to learn in deeper ways than we ever imagined what those vows really mean. For me, it feels I’ve been enrolled in a class in Hesed 101. The learning curve has been steep but the blessings are glorious! Keeping hesed sometimes requires hard work and tenacity. At times it borders on unfeeling obedience. But that is not a bad thing… no, not at all.

We practice hesed with one another because God practiced hesed with us first! Frankly, it just doesn’t get better than this!

Because your hesed is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:3-4).

The best part of hesed is this: when we reach the end of our ability, God stands ready to fill us with streams of living hesed that flow directly from his heart into ours.


23 thoughts on “Hesed for Dummies

  1. Thanks for your thoughts Pastor Stan. Hesed – yes and powerfully shown by Anna’s devotion to you and Katy and the deep love of your entire family for you. Love, Terry Pilon


  2. What a good word. Thank you for sharing those thoughts about hesed. I miss hearing Dr. Oswalt and others like him. Praying for y’all daily. Much love and respect. Joey


  3. That is so beautiful, Stan! As I think of how short my dear husband Ronnie’s life was after he was diagnosed more than 3 1/2 years ago.. I pray that I was all that to him! I know he was always hesed to me…I admire you and Katy so much… I continue to pray for her healing and strength for u both!
    In God’s Love,
    Rena Doran


  4. Thank you for these words and how they can be applied to marriage. I will spend time today and reflect on my own marriage. Yes, it is so much more than an emotion but devotion to the one God blessed us with. Please send my love and prayers to you and Katy.
    Love you both.


  5. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Thank you also for applying these truths to your lives. Such a God-honouring challenge to live out!


  6. Amen and Amen!!!! How much we have to learn about His great hesed, and yet He allows us to learn in our marriages.


  7. I always need just what you share….well actually, what God shares through you and your journey. May we all grow in hesed. Lifting you all up continually. Please hesed-hug Katy for me today.


  8. I needed this today. Thank you for speaking truth into my heart. Pray for you guys often as the Lord lays you on my heart –know that you are making a difference in many lives as you live out the love of Christ in yours.


  9. Another great blog! Looking forward to seeing you in November at Global Missions Health Conference! We continue to lift you both up in prayer.


    Sent from my iPhone



  10. What if every couple understood hesed before they began their marriage journey? What a difference it would make in our world. Thank you so much. Our love and prayers are ever with you.

    Larry and Bonnie Jo


  11. It sounds like you would agree with that old chorus, “Sweeter as the years go by. Sweeter as the years go by. Richer, fuller, deeper..Jesus’ love is sweeter. Sweeter as the years go by” or another one I sing more now is, “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter HE grows. The more that I love Him, more love He bestows. Each day is like heaven, my heart overflows. The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.” Your love for each other is a witness to His love overflowing in you. It is sweet too and hopefully “sweeter as the years go by”. I love the pic of you holding hands.


  12. Wow what a word, and it is no wonder that no English word equals it. When the beautiful bride and handsome groom look into each other’s eyes and say those vows they really have no idea what they are saying(to paraphrase Pastor Stanley!) but then life arrives on our doorstep and we begin to see what this declaration really meant. It is only by God’s grace that we obey Him and keep walking on, as you said, sometimes in simple obedience: but oh to feel God’s pleasure in that obedience, and to know our spouse would do the same for us. Now that, in the end, is love.


  13. thank you, Stan, for writing this beautiful praise to our faithful God, and to your beautiful bride who has walked this journey of hesed with you for 39 years, proclaiming to a lost and broken world what unconditional love through Jesus Christ actually looks like – it’s radiant! We love you all and continue to pray for you and Katy and your faith-filled family…


  14. Wow… Thanks Stan for sharing that deep truth. How one word can cover so much territory. What a challenge to consider! I am grateful for all the sharing from the heart that you, Katy and family have passed on to us.
    I keep praying…


  15. That’s so beautifully written, Pastor Stan! Praying for Katy’s miracle and recovery in His time! May God grant you His strengths, endurance and love as never before.


  16. I loved John’s studies when I took them too. Fred and I realized that marriage is often one giving 100% because the other has nothing…especially in a serious illness. We always seemed to balance each other out. I’ve also discovered the faithfulness of the Lord as He has sent many to fill in that gap now that Fred is with the Father.
    I continue to cover you both in prayer and appreciate your love story as I loved mine. You are both such a blessing.
    I am headed to Prague in August and return Sept 6th. I will be in to see you when I return.
    God Bless you!


  17. Thank you, pastor Stan and Katy for your wisdom and beautiful thoughts! You are preaching with your life and a genuine example. God bless you and keep you!

    With gratitude,


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