Untranslatable Love

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This is an excerpt from “Unveiling Mercy: 365 Daily Devotions Based on Insights from Old Testament Hebrew” written by Chad Bird (1517 Publishing, 2020). Used with permission.

Untranslatable Love חסד

But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” —Ruth 1:8

Multiple Hebrew words have simply migrated into English, such as amen, hallelujah, cherub, and hosanna. I wish the same had happened with chesed, for there is no simple equivalent in our language. It’s been translated as “unfailing love, steadfast love, mercy, loving-kindness, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness.” But attempting to squeeze a huge word like chesed into one tiny English word is like trying to catch a waterfall in a cup. Naomi uses it when speaking to her daughters-in-law (“may the LORD deal in chesed with you”), as she will later use it in thanks to God that his chesed has not forsaken the living or the dead (2:20).

Chesed is truly untranslatable love. No-holds-barred mercy. Covenant faithfulness even if it costs God the lifeblood of his beloved Son. Chesed is the beating heart of God in cruciform display. The kind of love that chases us to the ends of the earth, picks us up, places us atop divine shoulders, and dances all the way home. There really is only one word that encompasses the totality of what chesed is—Christ himself. He is the chesed of the Father made flesh.

“Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your chesed, for they have been from of old” (Ps. 25:6).

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