God’s relationship with the nation of Israel was based on the Hebrew characteristic of chânan (khaw-nanˊ) which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior…Chanan as a verb, means ‘to be gracious, considerate, to show favor’…Generally, this word implies the extending of ‘favor,’ often when it is neither expected nor deserved” (H2603). Two of God’s central characteristics are associated with chânan: grace and mercy. Grace or chen (khane) in Hebrew is “’favor.’ Whatever is ‘pleasant and agreeable’” (H2580). Mercy or cheçed (khehˊ-sed) in Hebrew, “as a noun, means ‘loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion.’ This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, and is especially frequent in the Psalter. The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term cheçed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within, and in response to, the covenant. Thus, Hosea 6:6 states that God desires ‘mercy and not sacrifice’ (i.e., faithful living in addition to worship). Similarly, Micah 6:8 features cheçed in the prophets’ summary of biblical ethics: ‘…and what doth the LORD require of thee, but…to love mercy…?’ Behind all these uses with man as subject, however, stand the repeated references to God’s cheçed. It is one of His most central characteristics. God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles” (H2617).
The Song of Moses, which the people of Israel sang to the LORD after crossing the Red Sea, acknowledged the steadfast love of God in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt. The song begins:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:1-2)
The people of Israel said of the LORD, “he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2). The Hebrew word yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-aw) means “something saved” (H3444). The Israelites equated the crossing of the Red Sea to being saved and may have thought of themselves as having received salvation through the person of Jesus Christ because they said “he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2). The name Jesus is a Greek form of the Hebrew word Yeshuwʾah. The Song of Moses goes on to state:
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them.”
“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” (Exodus 15:11-13)
The people of Israel connected God’s steadfast love with being redeemed and were aware that they had experienced redemption as a result of crossing the Red Sea. Hebrews 11:29 states that it was “by faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.” You might say that faith is the channel through which God’s steadfast love flows to us. Hebrews 11:1-2 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” To receive commendation “means to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration” (G3140). Biblical usage of the word cheçed in reference to God’s steadfast love “frequently speaks of someone ‘doing,’ ‘showing,’ or ‘keeping’ cheçed. The concrete content of the word is especially evident when it is used in the plural. God’s ‘mercies,’ ‘kindnesses,’ or ‘faithfulnesses’ are His specific, concrete acts of redemption in fulfillment of His promise” (H2617).
God’s steadfast love is mentioned in the Ten Commandments in connection with idolatry. God told the Israelites, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6). The Hebrew word that is translated showing in the phrase showing steadfast love, ʿasah (aw-sawˊ) means “to do or make.” When ʿasah is used in parallel with the word baraʾ it means “to create…In its primary sense this verb represents the production of various objects” (H6213). Moses explained the parameters of the steadfast love of God to the people of Israel in the context of them being his chosen people. Moses said:
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
“And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. (Deuteronomy 7:6-16)
Moses made it clear that the mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between God and the people of Israel involved them obeying the Ten Commandments. Moses said, “because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:12).
The Israelites knew that obeying the Ten Commandments meant more to God than just keeping a set of rules, but before Jesus came, they couldn’t quite grasp the significance of doing good deeds. Matthew recorded an incident in his gospel that involved Jesus and a rich young man who wanted eternal life. Matthew stated:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19) was not one of the Ten Commandments but a summary of the law regarding one’s moral obligation to others (note on Exodus 20:1-17). The young man said that he had kept all the commandment and yet, he realized that he still lacked something with regards to receiving eternal life. Jesus pointed out to the young man that eternal life had to do with being perfect, something that was impossible for man to achieve (Matthew 19:25-26).
Jesus began his discussion with the rich young man with the question, “Why do you ask me about what is good” and then stated, “There is only one who is good” (Matthew 19:17). The Greek word that is translated good in this verse is agathos (ag-ath-osˊ). “Agathos, as an adjective, describes that which, being ‘good’ in its character or constitution, is beneficial in its effect” (G18). Jesus’ answer indicated that God is the only person who is good as far as character or constitution is concerned. When God created the world, everything that he made was very good (Genesis 1:31), but Romans chapter five explains that death entered the world through Adam’s sin and the only way for us to be saved from death is to accept God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Once that has happened, Paul indicated that believers are dead to sin and alive to God. Paul said:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:5-11)
Being alive to God means that we are alive “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Eternal life is the result of us becoming one with Jesus Christ (John 17:22-23). Paul explained to the believers in Rome, “You however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:9-11).
Jesus took the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself one step further when he told his disciples to love their enemies and do good to those who hate them. Jesus said:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
Jesus used the example of a tree and its fruit to drive home his point that a person can only do what his heart allows him to. Jesus said:
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)
The conflict between David and King Saul illustrates the point that no good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. When Saul’s son Jonathon confronted him about his unjust treatment of David, Saul listened to the voice of Jonathon and swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death” (1 Samuel 19:6), but a short while later, an evil spirit came upon Saul, “And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with a spear” (1 Samuel 19:10).
David and Jonathan’s friendship resulted in a covenant between the two men that bound them together for eternity. It says in 1 Samuel 18:1 that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” The special relationship between David and Jonathan was unusual because of the fact that David was intended to be Saul’s successor as King of Israel instead of Jonathan, his son. David told Jonathan, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). In order to calm his suspicion, Jonathan told David that he would have a heart to heart talk with his father and would determine his intentions toward him (1 Samuel 20:12-13). When Saul found out that Jonathan had let David go home for a family sacrifice, 1 Samuel 20:30-33 tells us, “Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Therefore send and bring him to me for he shall surely die. Then Jonathan answered his father, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death.”
The covenant that David and Jonathan made with each other was based on the same principle as God’s covenant with the nation of Israel. David asked Jonathan to “deal kindly” with him in determining his father’s intentions toward him (1 Samuel 20:8). The Hebrew word that David used which is translated kindly in this verse is cheçed. In the same conversation, Jonathan said to David, “If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love (checed) of the LORD, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love (checed) from my house forever when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth” (20:14-15). David and Jonathan wept as they parted each other’s company. It says in 1 Samuel 20:41-42, “And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, “The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.”’ And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.”
After David left Jonathan, he was forced to rely on whatever resources God provided for him. When David asked Ahimelech the priest for some bread to eat, “the priest answered David, ‘I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread if the young men have kept themselves from women’” (1 Samuel 21:4). David’s encounter with Ahimelech was used by Jesus as an illustration of the Pharisees’ misinterpretation of the Mosaic Law. Mark 2:23-28 states:
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time ofAbiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus pointed out that David was in need and was hungry when he approached Ahimelech for help. “God put forth the showbread daily to demonstrate his purpose; He would provide daily bread” (G4286). It wouldn’t make sense for Ahimelech to turn David away hungry when the very thing that represented God’s daily provision of bread was available to him. And yet, when Jesus reinforced his point by healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, Mark tells us, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 3:1-6).
David’s encounter with Ahimelech was witnessed by a man named Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen. Doeg reported to Saul what he had seen and so Saul ordered him to “kill the priests of the LORD because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it…But one of the sons of Ahimilech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. And David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, there he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house. Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping” (1 Samuel 21:17-19). David and Abiathar were both being hunted by Saul’s army, and yet, David encouraged Abiathar to stay with him and assured him that he would be protected. Psalm 52, which is titled, “A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech’” identifies the source of David’s confidence. The psalm begins:
Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day. (Psalm 52:1)
David’s statement, “The steadfast love of God endures all the day” was intended as a rebuke to the forces of evil. The New King James Version of the Bible translates David’s statement as, “The goodness of God endures continually” (Psalm 52:1), suggesting that what David meant was that God’s goodness or steadfast love (checed) would outlast the evil that was intended against him. David concluded:
But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly. (Psalm 52:8-9)
Looking at David’s situation from an eternal perspective, it is clear that putting your trust in the steadfast love of God is the best way to deal with evil that is being planned and carried out against you. The Hebrew word that is translated trust, batach (baw-takhˊ) “expresses the safety and security that is felt when one can rely on someone or something else…In addition, this expression can also relate to the state of being confident, secure, without fear” (H982). Batach appears in Isaiah 12:2 in connection with the righteous reign of Israel’s Messiah. Isaiah prophesied, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the people—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover a remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea” (Isaiah 11:10-11) and then, went on to say:
You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.”
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:1-2)