What is kindness? Paying for the next person’s order in the drive-through? Refraining from negativity in the midst of cancel culture? Shopping for a shut-in?
Frankly, I think we’re not sure what kindness really means. But we’re starved for it.
Nice vs kind
Why? Because what passes for kindness in today’s world is usually just being nice. On the other hand, when we see kindness in the biblical sense, we consider it magnanimous.
Nice to magnanimous. That’s a pretty big leap. And there’s a reason for it.
We know in general God’s character embodies kindness because the Bible shows us His involvement in mankind’s affairs. But, when pressed to define kindness, we fumble for words.
Too big for one word
The Hebrew word for kindness (checed) appears in twenty-seven Old Testament books, in more than two-hundred-thirty verses. Checed is a BIG DEAL. Huge theologically. So much so that translators struggled to find an English equivalent that would do the Hebrew justice. It was such a big deal that sixteenth-century Bible translator Miles Coverdale created the word “lovingkindness” to more fully depict the original meaning. (BTW, Coverdale produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.)
A much-beloved Hebrew phrase that portrays checed (pronounced KHEH-sed) comes from Exodus 34:6. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments a second time, He descended in a cloud and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [checed] and truth” (Exodus 34:6 NASB). Then God renewed His covenant with the fledgling Israelite nation (vs 10).
Hang onto that word “covenant.” It’s key to the Hebrew definition of kindness.
What is checed?
Checed (lovingkindness) specifically
- Refers to God’s kindness to Israel
- Recognizes formal ties between the parties involved
- Reflects a covenant and the attitude both parties should maintain toward each other
Checed is love + loyalty, rolled into God’s steadfast, persistent, never-failing care for His covenant-people.
That is intentional.
Covenant is central to checed
Checed doesn’t describe man’s kindness to another human being. Hebrew has other words for that. Checed doesn’t mean general, haphazard, or random kind deeds. Checed is predicated on a covenant.
We see this when David asked, “Is there anyone left from the house of Saul to whom I can show [checed] for the sake of Jonathan?” (2 Samuel 9:1-4)
Some backstory: Three of Saul’s sons, including Jonathan, had died in battle. The fourth son was murdered in an ill-fated attempt to set up a rival kingdom. No legitimate heir to Saul’s throne was left—only his daughters and some sons Saul had via concubines. More than generic kindness prompted David’s inquiry. Years earlier, he and Jonathan had covenanted together (1 Samuel 18:1-5), and their love-bond continued as the two honored the covenant’s terms (1 Samuel 20:18–42).
In the ancient Near East, when a new king came to power, he would wipe out the preceding monarch’s family to get rid of anyone who might be a threat to his rule. David’s covenant promise to Jonathan assured his family would not be annihilated when David replaced Saul as king. In a broader sense, the covenant also reflected mercy as God had been merciful to David.
Souls yearning for checed
This year has been fraught with so much chaos and loss that I’ve often wished someone would take a minute to do something kind for me … even if it’s simply to open a door or call me to see if I’m still alive.
In my opinion, the true source of that yearning is my soul seeking for checed—God’s lovingkindness. I’m not alone in that. Through life’s hurts, fears, and disappointments, I believe everyone’s inmost being is crying out for checed. Our country is crying out for checed. Now more than ever.
We’ve always longed for it. We just weren’t sure what we were looking for or where to look. And we often looked in all the wrong places for it.
Through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, God’s checed extends to all mankind. Like the Israelites did time and again, let us confess how far we’ve drifted from God and ask Him to once again extend His checed. Our spirits will soar when we experience His intimate closeness and lovingkindness.
Only God can offer checed, but we can mirror it when we humble ourselves to accept it. Like David did.
TWEETABLEWhat passes for kindness in today’s world is usually just being nice. On the other hand, when we see kindness in the biblical sense, we consider it magnanimous. Click To Tweet Through life’s hurts, fears, and disappointments, everyone’s inmost being is crying out for checed—God’s lovingkindness. Click To Tweet