Reflections on hesed in Ruth

There is, in the Old Testament, a Hebrew word which has a nearly indefinable beauty to it.  That word is hesed. Sometimes English translations render it as “kindness.”  Other times it is “loyalty.”  Sometimes using “love” seems like the appropriate translation and at other times “faithfulness” is a better representation.  In reality, hesed means all these things.  Hesed is a full on faithfully committed act of love.

One book which offers a fantastic display of what hesed looks like is Ruth.  The word appears three times in Ruth; 1:8, 2:20, 3:10.  (It would be helpful at this point if you read Ruth before continuing.)

In Ruth 3:10, Boaz says to Ruth, “May you be blessed by the LORD my daughter; this last instance of your hesed is better than the first…”   Boaz is impressed.  He’s witnessed Ruth’s commitment to a distant relative of his, Naomi.  He’s heard that Ruth had forsaken her family and gods to follow Naomi to a foreign land all because Ruth believed Naomi would die without her.

In Ruth 3, Ruth went to Boaz for only one reason; to earn provision for Naomi and herself.  Everything she did was selfless.  She was bent on doing all she could to ensure Naomi’s survival.  The loyalty or hesed she did in 3:10 was done for Naomi, not Boaz.  Ruth’s love for Naomi caused her to enact an unconventional proposal and desperate plan on the threshing floor.  She was committed to Naomi and so she faithfully and blindly acted on Naomi’s behalf, just as she did earlier for Naomi and Naomi’s dead husband and sons in chapter one.

It was Ruth’s responsibility as a fellow human being to do the hesed she did for Naomi, but no one would have blamed her for going her own way.  Ruth’s hesed was heroic because it is sadly out of character for one human to do such loving acts to another human, (though we oddly refer to her acts as humane.)

Ruth’s hesed in chapters one and three run parallel to God’s act of hesed illustrated in chapter two.  Her story is metaphoric of God’s hesed. In 2:20, Naomi extols upon God’s hesed saying, “[The LORD’s] hesed has not forsaken the living or the dead!”  Ruth’s hesed exemplifies God’s, but the difference between God’s hesed and Ruth’s is that God’s is done despite Naomi’s bitterness against God.

There is nothing that warrants God’s hesed. When God showed and continues to show his hesed he did and does it out of his abundant mercy and grace.  Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s hesed is the cross of Christ.

May you live with the knowledge that God is utterly and fully committed to you as exemplified through the Cross and allegorically through Ruth.   And may you, like Ruth, be filled with the Holy Spirit as God seeks to show his hesed to a desperate and lost world through you.

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