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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Hebrew word: חסד

Source: http://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/ht/ht-sa-d.html

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

חסד

There are two Biblical roots of the form חסד (hsd) but they appear to be almost each other's opposite.


חסד I

The root-verb חסד (hasad I) means to be good or kind. It occurs only in 2 Samuel 22:26 and its parallel text of Psalm 18:25 (and is also the root of the familiar word Hasid, of Hasidic Judaism).

There is quite a bit of discussion about the essential meaning of the important and ubiquitous noun חסד (hesed), and that's because it covers a difficult to explain but very common mode of human behavior: kindness, (human) decency (Joshua 2:12, Ruth 1:8-9).

But this Hebrew noun חסד (hesed) is extra difficult because of its appearance in legal contexts. When two parties make a covenant, the reason is often a natural kind of hesed but the result it obligatory hesed. Thus, the natural hesed of a political interest may become the hesed of a binding treaty (Genesis 21:23), and the natural hesed of a friendship may become the hesed of an official relationship (1 Samuel 20:8-15).

It's not clear why humans need to officialize their relationships, but it seems quite handy when these relationships need to be indicated or explained to others, or when folks tend to forget their proper loyalty to specific others. Probably in that same vein comes the wish of the Lord to make covenants with Abraham and Israel. His hesed towards us is even more difficult to explain, but He mentions it often (Exodus 20:6, 34-6-7). And because of the legal ring to this word, translators usually render it with words like lovingkindness, true faithfulness or faithful love. Here at Abarim Publications we choose 'allegiance' since that word covers both a natural inclination and a formal covenant.

As the celebration of God's covenant with Abraham turned into a religion, those people that became focused on the obligatory hesed of us to Him became known in translations, not as lovingkind people but as pious people (Jeremiah 2:2, Isaiah 57:1). This distinction, however, is entirely forced and not Biblical. Other derivatives of this same root are:

  • The adjective חסיד (hasid), originally meaning kind (2 Samuel 22:26), but mostly used in the sense of pious or godly (Psalm 4:3, 1 Samuel 2:9, Micah 7:2).
  • The feminine noun חסידה (hasida), meaning stork. Why the stork was known as a kind or pious creature isn't known. Various sources suggest it's because the stork is kind to its young, but kindness to offspring isn't a unique quality of the stork. The stork was pronounced unclean (Leviticus 11:19), its home was in the cypress (Psalm 104:17), and it knew its seasons (Jeremiah 8:7). Our word occurs one final time in the visions of Zechariah, in which two women with stork wings transport the ephah with Wickedness in it to its temple in Shinar (Zechariah 5:9).
חסד II

The root-verb חסד (hasad II) is an Aramaism. It means to be reproached or ashamed. In the Bible it occurs only in Proverbs 25:10.

This verb's obvious derivative is the masculine noun חסד (hesed), meaning shame or reproach. This noun occurs twice: in Leviticus 20:17 and Proverbs 14:34.


Associated Biblical names