In two recent posts, (Compassion, the Noun That Used to be a Verb and Mom’s Compassion is Like God … and So is Dad’s) we examined some of the Bible’s key vocabulary about compassion.
God himself is the author of compassion. If we are serious about compassion, we must understand His view of it as given in the Bible.
Here’s another pair of relevant words, mirrored in each testament. They speak of God’s loving kindness: the Hebrew cḥāsǎḏ and the Greek eleos.
Chāsǎḏ occurs three times in the Old Testament. The King James translates it “show thyself merciful” twice, and “put to shame once.” It means to be good, to be kind.
The main derivative of cḥāsǎḏ is the better known noun, cḥěsěḏ (usually pronounced hesed.) This term, which occurs 248 times, is difficult to translate into English. It means loyal love, unfailing kindness, devotion. The KJV translates it as mercy 149 times, kindness 40 times, loving kindness 30 times, and goodness 12 times.
Cḥěsěḏ is used of God and His actions towards man: [It] is the outgoing kindness of the heart of God. It is the basis of God’s whole relationship to man …[i] We see this in Psalm 63:3: Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
In Psalm 136 this word appears 26 times, once in each verse. (And 25 times in the psalm chesed is accompanied by emeth, i.e. “truth.” That is not merely intellectual truth, but in the sense of fidelity or steadfastness[G4] .) The outgoing love of God is not capricious thing, changing, as it were, with the mood of God; it is something on which men can absolutely depend because it is founded on the fidelity and steadfastness of God to Himself and to His promises.[ii]
In one of the most poetic lines of the Psalms we read, Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other (Psalm 85:10).
Cḥěsěḏ is to be manifested between people. In the book of Joshua, Rahab was kind to the spies in a potentially costly way:
Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death (Joshua 2:12-13).
Chesed is to be characteristic of man’s relationships with each other. He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
Again God’s character of loving kindness is to be the mark of the followers of God. Similarly, in the NT God’s character of mercy is to be the action of those who profess to follow him. The Greek equivalent of ḥāsǎḏ is the verb eleeō. Found 31 times in the N. T., eleeo means to show mercy to, show pity . We see the divine mercy breaking into the reality of human misery in Mark 10:47-48: When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Eleeō is derived from eleos. It occurs 28 times and means mercy, kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted. It carries the idea of wanting to help those in need. This word is often applied of mercy from man to man. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7). The whole narrative of the Good Samaritan revolves around the word eleos. In this parable Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to a Jewish lawyer who was trying to avoid responsibility for helping the poor. (See Luke 10:25-37). At the end of the story Jesus asked the lawyer, Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy (eleos) on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
In these two concepts–God’s mercy and God’s loving kindness—both mirrored in the Old and New Testament, God’s compassionate nature establishes compassion in the universe. And because it is his nature, those who claim the name of Jesus are to be compassionate. They are to manifest God’s compassion through their lives as they touch people whose lives are bleeding. This is no social justice that is distant and collective, this is social justice at its most basic, human being to human being.
– Darrow Miller with Gary Brumbelow
i. The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer for Everyman, (Harper & Row, 1963), page 61
ii. Ibid, p. 63.