Hesed- A Word Study in Mercy
















September 12 , 2010




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This is a word study of the word hesed. It is also sometimes spelled chesed in the Old

Testament.  It is from the root word chacad, which is to be good or kind. In Stong’s concordance

it is identified as OT #2617.

As hesed it appears in the Old Testament not only as a noun or other part of speech but

also once as a proper name, as does chesed. Hesed is not a word commonly used today but is

familiar to some in the group description of  Hasidic Jews, those who strive to live in

hesed as a way of life.

This word study will look at three translations and compare and contrast the word in

each. These translations are King James, New American Standard and New International


It appears in the King James Version of the Bible a total of 248 times in 241 verses. Its

meanings are varied, but always close to the root word. There are twelve different translations

of the word with three of these translations the most common.

As mercy, it appears 149 times. As lovingkindness it appears 30 times.  And as

kindness, it also has 30 appearances.  It also appears as goodness, kindly, merciful, favour,

good, goodliness, pity, reproach and wicked thing. Described here will be the three most

common.  It is always some form of noun.

            Mercy is the dominant translation in the King James Bible. In different context, there are

three nuances of meaning found:

His mercy, as an attribute or descriptor of God, as seen in Genesis 19:19

Mercy that is given, as “shewed him mercy”, as seen in Geneses 39:21

A descriptor of the “mercy” seat, as seen in Genesis 25:17.

There are other example verses of these three meanings in addition to just those shown.

Lovingkindness as the translation of chesed is found 30 times in the King James Bible.

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It has two nuances, similar to the first two of mercy:

                        His lovingkindness, as an attribute or descriptor of God, as seen in Exodus 15:13

To show or give lovingkindness, as seen in Exodus 20:6

There are also other example verses of these two meanings in addition to those shown.

Kindness is the third most common translation in the King James Bible. It has one

dominant nuance, similar to one in the previous two translations:

To show or give kindness, as seen in Joshua 2:12.

This is the meaning in the 29 other King James Bible references also.

As described, chesed is not only a descriptor or attribute of God, but also something

given to his people. Sometimes it is both! As described in Micah 7:18, the last Old Testament

example, after pardoning our iniquities and forgetting his anger over our sin, he delights in

sharing with us his mercy as both a part of his being and as a gift to us, all at the same time!


Similar to the King James Bible, in the New American Standard Bible checed appears

253 times in 241 verses. It is most commonly translated as lovingkindness, but also as an

adverb kindly and again as noun kindness.

As in the King James Bible the word is used as an attribute of God or as something

given. Here are examples:

As an attribute of God, Psa 25:6, “Remember O LORD…your lovingkindness”

As something given, Psa 17:7, “Wondrously show your lovingkindness”

As the adverb kindly, Jos 2:12, “…you also will deal kindly”

As the noun kindness, Jdg 8:35, “nor did they show kindness to the household”

As an attribute of God, lovingkindness is something that can be given or something

desired.  Both are powerful pictures of God’s love for us all.

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As something given, Psa 36:5, “your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the        heavens”

As something asked for, Psa 119:159, “Revive me, O Lord, according to your lovingkindness.”

The contrast between the King James Bible’s dominant translations of chesed as mercy

and the New American Standard Bible’s dominant translation as lovingkindness is interesting in

that the two words touch on different emotions and needs.  Webster’s Dictionary defines them

like this:

Mercy is tenderness of heart.

Lovingkindness is tender, considerate affection.

KJ uses a word that goes to the inner feeling of the one with this attribute.  NASB uses a

word that implies action, the act of showing affection.  How beautiful these both are to the

believer, so desperately needing God’s tender heart of forgiveness as well as his expressions of

affection in blessing our lives.

The NASB also uses the translation of loyalty six times in the Old Testament.  This is

contrast to the other translations.  It is used to describe an attribute of Man.  This is the only

translation of chesed  I found that had no connection to God. Here are examples:

“Loyalty and truth preserve the King”, Pro 20:28

“For I delight in loyalty”, Hsa 6:6

Although this translation of the word in man-focused, it ties easily with the other themes

of mercy, lovingkindness and kindness as an attribute in that it is desirable in a righteous man.

The third Bible translation examined is the New International Version.  Since Strong’s

does not detail words in the NIV at the same level as the KJ or NASB, the findings are more

from comparison to the detail available from the other translations, than from information

available about this version of the Bible.

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The New International Version translates chesed as either faithful love, kindness or as

mercy.  There is no use of the word lovingkindness in the NIV Old Testament. These three

together appear 122 times, with mercy as the dominant translation.  Mercy appears 67 times

with kindness 49 times.

Similar to both the King James and the New American Standard, the New

International Version uses these words as nouns describing something given or desired or an

an attribute of God or man.

Here are examples of the use of mercy as an attribute:

As an attribute of God, “For I desire your mercy”, Hsa 6:6

As an attribute of man, “They have no mercy”, Isa 47:6

Here is an example of the use of kindness as something given or desired:

“May no one extend kindness to him.” Psa 109:12.


What a mighty word is this five letters that makes hesed.  It appears in less than one

percent of the 31,000 versus in the Old Testament, yet it expresses so much!  No one English

word can come close to describing its meaning.

To translate its meaning in English, we need  the words mercy, kindness,

lovingkindness, goodness, kindly, merciful, favour, good, goodliness, pity, reproach, wicked

thing.  One small word with such depth is worthy of study.

It is both an attribute of God and an attribute desired in men.  It is a gift to be received

from God, earned or most often unearned.  It is so abundant in God and so scarce in men.

It both to be desired and to be understood.  If we understand more of the hesed of God,

we understand more of his nature and will. “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they

will understand the lovingkindness (hesed) of the Lord.”  Psa 107:43.

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