Hesed: the lovingkindness of God in Hosea

hesed

In the purposes of God, Hosea’s life was a message to God’s people about the ways God would show love to His people. With Hosea’s life as a reference point, God tells the people He will relate to them like a faithful and loving husband relates to his wife. In particular, God will steadfastly love His people, even though they have become like a wife who strays in her heart and actions. This is how Hosea describes that love, speaking on behalf of God to His people:

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.” (Hosea 2:19-20)

The love of God is undeserved and extravagant. God’s love is beyond our understanding and enduring.

In the midst of those verses there is one little word that I want to give more attention to in this post. It is the word translated as “love” here in Hosea 2:19, and it becomes a theme throughout the prophecies of Hosea. That word is, in Hebrew, hesed. It is one of the most significant words in the Hebrew Bible. Hesed speaks both of the reality of God’s character and the ideal of His people’s character.

It is sometimes translated as ‘love’ or ‘steadfast love’ to convey the persevering love, tender affection, and ongoing care one person has for another.

It is sometimes translated as ‘mercy’ to convey an undeserved kindness or passing over of deserved judgment.

It is sometimes translated as ‘covenant faithfulness’ to convey the loyalty of one partner to another in promises made. Hesed speaks of fulfilling the promises fully in action and attitude.

Hesed is the sort of thing we see in the best of friendships, in the most-enduring marriages, in athletic teams that band together to achieve a goal, in soldiers who stick together through hell and high water, and partnerships in business or non-profits that attain their highest goals while upholding honorable relationships.

In Hosea 2, we’re told that God’s hesed is so great and strong that He will not ultimately forsake His people but will faithfully love them forever and loyally care for them based on the promises of His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Even though Israel is a faltering and weak partner in those promises, God will be faithful. In fact, God is saying that because of Israel’s inability to exhibit hesed, God will pick up the slack, so to speak, and bring it all to fruition because He is a hesed sort of God. He is merciful. He is faithful. He is loving.

God shows us what true love is like, what faithfulness is like, what mercy is like. It begins with Him and it changes Israel – and all of us who encounter God.

Perhaps you know what it is like to be loved with an enduring, tender, faithful love. Perhaps you have had a friend who has stuck with you in difficult times. Perhaps you have had a family member – a daughter or son, a father or mother, a brother or sister, an auntie or uncle – who has been there for you when no one else has. Perhaps you have experienced unwarranted mercy from a colleague at work, a teacher at school, a business partner, or neighbor. All of these experiences of love, mercy, and faithfulness change us. When you have that on your side, it helps you stand up again, get going, and feel supported in whatever may come.

So, too, when we encounter the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God, it changes us. The story of Hosea begins, as we even explored last weekend, with the powerful love of God.

God’s love – his hesed – is so strong for His people that He will do whatever it takes to recapture them with His love. And when we begin with that love, mercy, and faithfulness of God it should change who we are and how we live.

Hesed Prayer: inspired by the prophet Hosea

Almighty God,
You have loved us first
with an everlasting love,
showing us what love truly is.
You have shown us great mercy,
preeminently in the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lived among us, died on the Cross, rose again,
and now eternally intercedes on our behalf at Your right hand.
You have invited us into loving relationship with You,
both in our daily lives now
and unto eternity as Your bride.
Because of Your hesed
Your steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness –
make us people of hesed,
living in love and loving others,
receiving Your mercy and showing mercy,
held in Your faithfulness and living faithfully,
until the day we see You face to face.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

A Prayer for the Church from Hosea 1-3

Almighty God,
Our Creator and the Lover of our Souls,
You have called us to Yourself
by Your grace and truth
that we might know You, live for You,
and show You to the world.
We admit that we often fall into temptation and sin,
losing our way like an adulterous spouse,
straying in our hearts from You and Your love.
Thank You that, like a dedicated spouse and an ever-faithful lover,
You continue to pursue us.
Come now, Lord, and forgive us,
heal us,
transform us
and restore us through Your steadfast love.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Faithfulness in a Confusing World (discussion questions)

TTGITT Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Faithfulness in a Confusing World,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the fourth part of our series, “Turning to God in Troubling Times,” from the book of Habakkuk. This week we looked at Habakkuk 2:2-20.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you seen someone get what they deserved for doing something wrong? Did it make you feel good or bad? Why?
  2. This weekend in our series, “Turning to God in Troubling Times,” we look at Habakkuk 2:2-20, where God replies to Habakkuk’s second prayer. Take some time to pray, asking God to clearly speak to you, before reading the passage aloud.
  3. Habakkuk 2:2-20 has two major sections: 1) an announcement of a vision, or revelation, from God (2:2-5), and 2) five illustrations of that vision. In verse 2 what does God tell Habakkuk to do with the vision and in verse 3 what does God say about the timing of the vision? Why is this important given the troubles around Habakkuk and his people?
  4. In verses 4-5, we face a strong contrast between the way of living against God and for God. How would you summarize what God is saying through Habakkuk here about these two ways of life?
  5. What do you think it means for us to live out the phrase: “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (2:4b)?
  6. Background: Habakkuk 2:4 is one of the most important Old Testament verses quoted within the New Testament. The Apostle Paul references this verse as a central part of his teaching on justification by faith alone (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). The writer of Hebrews draws upon it to encourage pressured believers to persevere (Hebrews 10:36-39). Later, you may want read those passages as you reflect on how Habakkuk’s message shapes our understanding of faith as followers of Jesus.
  7. Beginning in verse 6, we encounter five illustrations of the pending judgment upon those who disobey God. Each of these illustrations is highlighted by a Hebrew word usually translated as ‘woe’. Take a moment to see where the word ‘woe’ occurs in verses 6-20 in order to get a sense of the structure of this passage.
  8. Based on what you just did, summarize each ‘woe’ found in verses 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, and 18-20. Answer questions like: what is the main issue being addressed by God?; what wrongs are part of this?; what is the end result?
  9. According to verse 20, how does Habakkuk seem to resolve his complaint-prayers before God?
  10. Psalm 73 echoes much of what is found in Habakkuk. Read Psalm 73 aloud, and then do one of two things: 1) consider how these words help you step into the message of Habakkuk personally, or 2) pray parts of Psalm 73 back to God as your own declaration of faith.
  11. How is God speaking to you about living with and for Him through Habakkuk 2:2-20? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

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Faithfulness in a Confusing World

What does it look like to live faithfully to God in a confusing world?

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church I explored that question as we continued our series “Turning to God in Troubling Times” from Habakkuk. In my message this weekend, “Faithfulness in a Confusing World,” we worked our way through Habakkuk 2:2-20. Here, God speaks to Habakkuk in response to the prophet’s second prayer of complaint in 1:12-2:1.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here.

Connect with us further at Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Ministry Faithfulness and Ministry Success

Awhile back, Scot McKnight referenced an article on his “Jesus Creed” blog that raised the issue of ministry faithfulness versus ministry success. I passed the article around to a few friends to get their perspective and wanted to share a few thoughts here.

There is no doubt that we need to be careful with our definitions of ‘success’ in the church. Success can be defined by the metrics often joked about as the “Three B’s” of church: building, budgets, and butts in seats. At other times, success can be defined as seeing converts, measuring spiritual growth or involvement, or more. We should think through the challenges we face in simply using the word ‘success’ about anything we do. That being said, I thought the author’s take in this article was simplistic.Read More »