Month 6:08, Week 1:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5937:157 AM|
TESHUVAH Day #8
Gregorian Calendar: Friday 13 Seprember 2013
The Wonder of Chesed
& Knowing the True Heart of Elohim
"Who is an Elohim (God) like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in chesed (mercy). He will turn again, He will have compassion on us, and He will subdue our iniquities. Yes, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:18-19, NKJV).
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and may the grace of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) be upon us all. My prayer is that today's message will bring much refreshing to many souls.
Teshuvah and Preparing for Yom Kippur
We now enter the second week of the season of teshuvah or repentance as we ready ourselves for Yahweh's annual 'day of reackoning', Yom Kippur. Unlike the other six annual festivals, this is not one of celebration but of great soberness as we look within. Though we are given the opportunity to repent or make teshuvah every day, as well as on the 6th day of the week as a kind of Yom Kippur 'recapitulation' if we want to, nevertheless Yahweh calls us to assemble before Him annually to get used to the idea that one day we will stand before Him face-to-face to give account for the whole of our life. No one will be taking that day lightly. Our annual observance is to get us into the habit of right-thinking and right-action.
A Timely Reminder
A few days ago I came across a cartoon which would have been funny had it not been a timely reminder of the failure of modern liberal, secularised believers to properly renounce the egotism and selfishness of the flesh and to turn their lives around to face Yah'shua (Jesus) and to operate fully of the Ruach (Spirit):
Ministers Must Be Bold
I think many of you would agree that it well illustrates the attitudes of a large number of entertainment-seeking, feel-good-only, cross-hating Western Christians today. Churches and assemblies are held back from spiritually growing and maturing in large part because of the kinds of carnal attitudes expressed in this picture. Both those who love the things of the Ruach (Spirit) and often, I'm afraid, their ministers are afraid to speak the emet (truth) for fear of splitting their congregations or losing their jobs and pay cheques/checks. I thank Elohim (God) that I am not currently in such a congregation that has carnal 'expectations' that I would teach and preach in any other way than what the Scriptures teach and how the Ruach (Spirit) leads! As an unsalaried minister I don't have to worry about my livelihood being threatened by people who don't like hearing the emet (truth) so people can come and go until they are ready to properly commit themselves to Yah'shua (Jesus) in deed as well as in name.
No minister should be a prisoner either of his own carnality or the carnality of his congregation. He must preach the emet (truth) in firmness and ahavah (love), come what may, even if it means splitting his congregation, being unable to pay meeting hall bills, and losing his job as an employed pastor. We should never allow ourselves to be put in a compromising situation where our parishoners can blackmail us into condoning any kind of unbiblical behaviour or morality. Today I am free of that anxiety, for in this ministry we do not concern ourselves with the burdensome overheads of maintaining church buildings (we meet in homes wherever possible) and we make sure that the willfully and stubbornly carnal either accept disciplining or find somewhere else to worship more in tune with their spiritual laxity. If they refuse correction, we bless them on their way if they choose to leave and move on to have their flesh titillated elsewhere, entrusting them to Yahweh's care and disciplining
The Spiritual Functionality of the Festivals
The beauty of the annual festivals - and indeed all the moedeim (appointments) of Yahweh as a whole - is that they teach in minute detail what discipleship really is. The kinds of negative attitudes that flourish in antinomian (lawless) churches really don't have much of a chance to make any sort of headway in a congregation so long as the eldership stay resolutely on course in the divine Torah (Law, Teaching of Yahweh). We don't pussyfoot in that department - we state the emet (truth) bluntly but also with, I hope ... and this is the hardest part for many messianics ... in mercy or chesed in Hebrew. But what exactly does this Hebrew word for "mercy" actually mean? Let's start by re-reading today's passage:
Classical English 'Mercy'
"Who is an Elohim (God) like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in chesed (mercy). He will turn again, He will have compassion on us, and He will subdue our iniquities. Yes, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:18-19)
When I look up my English dictionary I find all the expected definitons of the word 'mercy' such as "compassionate treatment or an attitude towards an offender, adversary, etc. who is in one's power or care; clemency, pity" . But is 'mercy' an accurate translation of the Hebrew word chesed which appears 223 times in the Tanakh (Old Testament), of which nearly half (100) the references are in the Psalms, and about 60 times in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) ? Clearly a word used so often as a character-descriptive of El Elyon (the Most High) cannot be an unimportant one for us to understand properly. So let's do that.
Loving-Kindness, Mercy, Steadfast Love and Loyalty
Biblical scholars have often complained that the word chesed the Tanakh (Old Testament) is difficult to translate into English. The problem is that it really has no precise equivalent in our language, like a good many other Hebrew words. English versions usually try to represent it with such words as "loving-kindness," "mercy," "steadfast love," and sometimes even "loyalty," - and whilst all of these are valid aspects of the word chesed, they do not convey its full meaning, which is why I want to spend a little time today looking at it more closely. Since we all surely agree that it's important that we need to understand Yahweh's mind and lev (heart) better, we can only profit by digging more deeply to get a better etymological feel for this Hebrew concept.
For those of you who use those English versions where chesed is rendered as the beautiful idea of "loving-kindness", you should know that this was a translation first made by the famous pioneer Miles Coverdale  which has since been carried over into the English versions generally. It is one of the words he used in the Psalms (23 times, plus Hosea 2:19) to translate the Hebrew chesed when it refers to Yahweh's ahavah (love) for His people Israel. Otherwise he used the words 'mercy,' 'goodness,' and 'great kindness' in the Psalms for Yahweh's attitude to man; and, outside the Psalms, such words as 'mercy,' 'goodness' and 'favour' for Yahweh's attitude to man, and 'kindness' for man's attitude to man. It is important to notice that Coverdale takes pains to avoid using the word 'kindness' of Yahweh's attitude to man, though he is not followed in this respect by the Authorised King James Version (KJV) and the Revised Version (RV). There is one case in the Psalms (141:5) where the word chesed is used of man's attitude to man, and even here Coverdale avoids 'kindness' (so AV and RV), but has "friendly".
Some Peculiar Translations
"Let the righteous strike me; it shall be chesed ('a kindness' - also KJV, RSV, Berkley, NIV, GNB, LB, S&G, Moffatt, Newbury, ISRV, HRV; Coverdale, 'friendly'; OJB, 'loyal loving-kindness'). And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it" (Ps.141:5, NKJV).
The RSTNE gives a peculiar, almost masochistic, and certainly very dubious rendition of chesed as "a pleasure" and some versions just lose much of the original sense altogether: "I would rather be buffeted by the righteous and reproved by good men" (NEB - Anglican), and "A virtuous man may strike me in reproof, for my own good" (JB - Catholic) a danger with all dynamic-equivalent translations. But I think you'll agree "for my own good", whilst certainly true, loses a great deal of the essence of chesed.
New Covenant Charis
The nearest New Testament equivalent to the Hebrew chesed is the Greek charis (grace - from which we get the English word 'charity'), as Luther realised when he used the German Gnade for both words. And 'grace' is, as you know, a vitally important New Covenant concept, conveying the sense of 'loving-kindness' as undeserved, or 'favour' as unmerited. Yet chesed is still more than these!
Chesed as Covenant-Love
SO what is missing in all of these otherwise mostly very excellent translations? You may suppose that we cannot improve the English but we both can and must if we are not going to miss an essential emet (truth). You see, the word chesed is only used in cases where there is some recognised tie, bond or connection between the parties concerned. It isn't just Yahweh showing kindness in general, haphazard, kindly deeds - this is why Coverdale was careful to avoid using the word 'kindness' in respect of Yahweh's dealings with his people Israel. The theological importance of the word chesed is that it stands more than any other word for the attitude which both parties to a b'rit or covenant ought to maintain towards each other. I therefore like Sir George Adam Smith's suggestion that it be rendered 'real-love' or what we in this ministry and some others would call 'covenant love', that is, AHAVAH- or AGAPÉ-type love. The drive of this love is not feelings but a covenant or a promise - it is bound up in our davar or word. For as believers our davar (word) must always be our bond, immutable, unshakable, and unbreakable.
Love as Loyalty
The merit of this translation of chesed as 'real-love' or 'covenant-love' is that it combines the twin ideas of love and loyalty, both of which are essential, balancing components. On the other hand, it does not sufficiently convey the idea of the steadfastness and persistence of Yahweh's sure ahavah (love) for His covenant-people. Smith's other suggestion, 'troth, or pledge of fidelity/faithfulness (as in a marriage betrothal), is better in this respect, but the etymological core of the word is 'eagerness' or 'keenness,' and, whilst there is considerable development from this, the word never belies its origins. In Isaiah 40:6, for instance, the word chesed is used to describe man's steadfastness, or rather the lack of it . The English versions have 'goodliness,' following some of the ancient versions, but the Targum (an old Hebrew Aramaic paraphrase) was right when it said 'their strength.' The prophet is contrasting man's frailty with Yahweh's steadfast reliability. He says that all man's steadfastness is like the wild flowers, here today and gone tomorrow, whilst the Davar Elohim (Word of God) is steady and sure, firm and reliable.
Digging to Know the Heart of Elohim
Who would have thought that so much could be compressed into a single word chesed that we render simply as 'mercy'? That is why I like Bible translations like the Amplified Version which give many different shades of meaning, however clumsy the ext may become as literature. And much as I love beautiful literature, I would rather get across the precise meaning of Yahweh's Davar (Word) even if a single Hebrew word requires twenty English ones to convey the whole emet (truth). After all, what is our quest really about? Why do we concern ourselves with such detail? Because you and I, I hope, desperately want to know more about the lev (heart) of the One we worship and serve! I know I do! I want to know exactly what He means when He says He shows 'mercy' to me - I want to know, understand and bathe in His chesed.
|Undeserved Loving Kindness|
|Troth (Bethrothed) Love|
Yahweh's Persistent Fidelity to Israel
Can you see the problems that arise from inaccurate or careless translations? When most people see the word 'mercy' they usually associate it with pardon for wrong-doing without any kind of consequences. But when Yahweh shows chesed or 'mercy' is is specifically within the context of a covenant marriage relationship, and in particular, the betrothal covenant that belongs to those who live the festival of Shavu'ot (Weeks) which we recently celebrated and during which we took, or retook, our covenants of fidelity to Him. He shows His chesed (mercy) to us because - in spite of our mistakes, sins and breach of covenant - we, as Messianic Israel (Israel-in-Yah'shua/Jesus) have pledged our troth to Him as our allegorical Husband and as His allegorical betrothed wife. And the amazing thing is that Yahweh's chesed or loving-kindness is that sure covenant ahavah (love) which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel's persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel - us - be faithless, yet Yahweh remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of Yahweh to wash His hands of wayward Israel trusting in Yah'shua (Jesus) and sincerely trying to obey Torah is the essential meaning of the Hebrew word chesed which is translated 'mercy' or 'loving-kindness'.
Firstfruits Ahavah, Firstfruits Chesed
But there is more:
Do you understand now the basis of His protection and the giving of prosperity to His people? This is no casual, lawless relationship - it is based absolutely on the immutability and indispensibility of covenant.
"Thus says Yahweh: 'I remember you, the chesed (kindness) of your youth, the ahavah (love) of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was qodesh (holy, set-apart) to Yahweh, the bikkurim (firstfruits) of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them,' says Yahweh" (Jer.2:2-3, NKJV).
Israel's Early Faithfulness and Loyalty to the Covenant
There you have your witness of Yahweh's chesed or mercy being linked to the Betrothal Covenant of Shavu'ot which follows after Yom haBikkurim, the Day of Firstfruits. In Jeremiah 2:2 the word chesed is rendered 'kindness,' the reference being to "the kindness of your youth," and this phrase is paralleled by "the love of thine espousals" (KJV) or "the love of your betrothal(s)" (NKJV). The meaning is not that Israel was more tender in her attitude towards Yahweh or in her affections, but that in the first days after the rescue from Egypt she was faithful to the marriage-covenant with Elohim (God). The charge of the prophets is that Israel's loyalty to her covenant with Yahweh (Hosea 6:4, 'goodness' in the English versions) is "like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away" a regular feature of the climate of the Holy Land when once the spring rains are past. Mark this well, and mark it exceedingly well!
Chesed in Spite of Continual Waywardness
The widening of the meaning of the Hebrew chesed, used as the covenant word and especially of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, is due to the history of Elohim's (God's) dealings with his covenant-people. The continual waywardness of Israel has made it inevitable that, if Yahweh is never going to let Israel go, then His relation to his people must in the main be one of loving-kindness, mercy, and goodness, all of it entirely undeserved. For this reason the predominant use of the word comes to include mercy and forgiveness as a main constituent in Yahweh's determined faithfulness to His part of the bargain. Isn't this how husbands should be toward their wives? It is obvious, time and again, from the context that if Yahweh is to maintain the covenant He must exercise mercy to an unexampled degree. For this reason the Greek translators of the Tanakh (Old Testament - from the third century BC onwards) used the Greek eleos (mercy, pity) as their regular rendering, and Jerome (end of the fourth century AD and beginning of fifth) followed with the Latin misericordia.
Undeserved and Unmerited Chesed
The loving-kindness of Elohim (God) towards Israel is therefore wholly undeserved on Israel's part. Do you husbands only love your wives because they deserve it? If so, you have not truly loved. If Israel received the proper treatment for her stubborn refusal to walk in Yahweh's way, there would be no prospect for her of anything but destruction, since Yahweh's demand for right action never wavers one whit. Strict, however, as the demands for righteousness are, the nevi'im (prophets) were sure that Yahweh's yearnings for the people of His choice are stronger still. Here is the great dilemma of the nevi'im (prophets), and indeed the dilemma of us all to this day. Which comes first, mercy or justice?
What is Your Answer?
I want to suggest to you that your answer to this question will reveal whether you have truly understood the Besorah (Gospel) of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) or not. Sadly, far too many have not, and they betray their ignorance - along with their unregenerated state - when they come to this wrong conclusion and so make a wrong confession in all their deeds as is evidenced by their vehement, irascible, intemperate harshness - that glaringly shows to those who are saved - the unhealed deformity which is the dead condition of their heart. The content of their speech, the tone of their words, and their persistent lack of loving-kindness - their deficiency in grace - reveals their desperate need to repent and find deliverance from the Master they profess to worship.
Mercy Before Justice But Never Apart from It
Rashi, the eleventh-century AD Jewish commentator, said that Yahweh gave "precedence to the rule of mercy" and joined it "with the rule of justice." He was right. But this much is clear: when we try to estimate the depth and the persistence of Yahweh's loving-kindness and mercy - His chesed - we must first remember His passion for righteousness. His passion for righteousness is so strong that he could not be more insistent in His demand for it, and our adherence to His Torah, but Yahweh's persistent ahavah (love) for His people is more insistent still. The story of Yahweh's people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, Yahweh has had to show mercy more than anything else. It is important to realise that though the Hebrew chesed can be translated by 'loving-kindness' and 'mercy' without doing violence to the context, yet we must always beware lest we think that Yahweh is content with less than the righteousness that comes from emunah (faith) heading to Torah-obedience. There is no reference to any sentimental kindness, and no suggestion of mercy apart from teshuvah (repentance). Please understand this, and embrace this emet (truth) wholeheartedly, because it the difference between possessing chayim (life) and being dead inside. This is the core of the Hebrew word chesed. Yahweh's demand for righteousness - for Torah-obedience - is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity. The grace or undeserved loving-kindness of Elohim (God) means that His mercy is greater even than that. The word chesed stands for the wonder of his unfailing ahavah (love) for the people of His choice - those He has chosen to enter into a b'rit (covenant) with Him, those "predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29, NKJV) - and the solving of the problem of the relation between His righteousness and His loving-kindness passes beyond human comprehension.
Knowing the Real Yahweh
These are deep and heady thoughts, brethren and sisters, but they lie at the very core of our spirituality - our emunah (faith) - and they are bypassed at our spiritual peril. For if we miss this emet (truth), we miss it all, and we do not know the Creator. We are left with a cheap, unsatisfactory and unsatifying imitation, the kind loved by religious people who know only of the dead letter of emet (truth) but little or nothing of its real substance.
A Thought for Husbands and Wives
Brethren and sisters, it should be obvious, I hope, that this relationship of chesed in covenant ahavah (love) and loyalty is supposed to be the model for our marriage relationships too. As Yahweh shows mercy, unmerited favour and steadfast ahavah (love) to His Bride, so husbands must show mercy, unmerited favour and steadfast ahavah (love) to their wives; and as the Bride of Messiah is supposed to be true to the betrothal covenant of Shavu'ot (Weeks) and show proper obedience to Torah in all emunah (faith), so too is the wife to do the same to her husband:
"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, to obey it in its desires, neither present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to Elohim (God) as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to Elohim (God). For sin shall not rule over you, for you are not under [either the condemnation or penalty of] the Torah (Law) [or alternatively and additionally under the law of sin or the principle of sin-doing, the Adamic carnal nature ] but under chesed/charis (grace, favour, loving-kindness, steadfast loyalty, mercy, etc.)" (Rom.6:13-15, ISRV).
The things of which we have spoken today correspond to the almond bowls of emet (truth) which are in the Menorah or sacred candlestick of Yahweh's House. If this emet (truth) about chesed (mercy) was unknown to you before, and you now allow it to sink deeply into your lev (heart), you will set in motion the power of redemption which is of, and in, the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). If you were dead in your sins and you allow this emet (truth) to operate in your ruach (spirit), you will experience the stirrings of regeneration. But first you must believe it, and trust it, exercising emunah (faith). Thus will begin your journey into the inward Temple of El Elyon, the Most High, and learn to live in it in shalom (peace) and with simcha (joy). The Bridegroom seeks this in the Bride - it is what He yearns from her - the emet (truth) of his undeserved and unmerited chesed (loving-kindness, mercy), that endures forever, no matter how far we have fallen, provided we make teshuvah (repent) and return to Him in obedience. The Bridegroom is waiting for us to come home His way. Amen.
 The New Collins Concise English Dictionary (Guild Publishing, London: 1987), p.706
 Tanakh citations: Gen.19:19; 20:13; 21:23; 24:12,14,27,49; 32:10; 39:21; 40:14; 47:29; Exodus 15:13; 20:6; 34:6-7; Leviticus 20:17; Numbers 14:18,19; Deut.5:10; 7:9,12; Josh 2:12,14; Judges 1:24; 8:35; Ruth 1:8; 2:20; 3:10; 1 Samuel 15:6; 20:8,14-15; 2 Sam.2:5,6; 3:8; 7:15; 9:1,3,7; 10:2; 15:20; 16:17; 22:51; 1 Kings 2:7; 3:6; 8:23; 20:31; 1 Chronicles 16:34,41; 17:13; 19:2; 2 Chronicles 1:8; 5:13; 6:14,42; 7:3,6; 20:21; 24:22; 32:32; 35:26; Ezra 3:11; 7:28; 9:9; Nehemiah 1:5; 9:17,32; 13:14,22; Esther 2:9,17; Job 6:14; 10:12; 37:13; Psalms 5:7; 6:4; 13:5; 17:7; 18:50; 21:7; 23:6; 25:6,7,10; 26:3; 31:7,16,21; 32:10; 33:5,18,22; 36:5,7,10; 40:10,11; 42:8; 44:26; 48:9; 51:1; 52:1,8; 57:3,10; 59:10,16,17; 61:7; 62:12; 63:3; 66:20; 69:13,16; 77:8; 85:7,10; 86:5,13,15; 88:11; 89:1,2,14,24,28,33,49; 90:14; 92:2; 94:18; 98:3; 100:5; 101:1; 103:4,8,11,17; 106:1,7,45; 107:1,8,15,21,31,43; 108:4; 109:12,16,21,26; 115:1; 117:2; 118:1,2,3,4,29; 119:41,64,76,88,124,149,159; 130:7; 136:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26; 138:2,8; 141:5; 143:8,12; 144:2; 145:8; 147:11; Proverbs 3:3; 11:17; 14:22,34; 16:6; 19:22; 20:6,28; 21:21; 31:26; Isaiah 16:5; 40:6; 54:8,10; 55:3; 57:1; 63:7; Jer.2:2; 9:24; 16:5; 31:3; 32:18; 33:11; Lamentations 3:22,32; Daniel 1:9; 9:4; Hosea 2:19; 4:1; 6:4,6; 10:12; 12:6; Joel 2:13; Jonah 2:8; 4:2; Micah 6:8; 7:18,20; Zec.7:9
 The 16th century translator from Yorkshire, England, who was the first to translate the whole Bible into English and was exiled to Germany and Denmark several times for his trouble - see Wikipedia, Myles Coverdale
 Norman H. Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (London: 1944). Snaith maintains that in Isaiah 40:6 the word chesed should be translated "steadfastness," but others have concluded that here the word is used in the sense of "grace" or "beauty." Note that the RSV (Revised Standard Version) translators rendered the word "beauty" without giving a marginal alternative, and that in the English edition of the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Koehler and Baumgartner, Vol.1, ed. Leiden (Brill: 2001), p. 337, the meaning at Isaiah 40:6 is explained as "charm".
 See Romans 7:23,25; 8:2
 Norman H. Snaith, A Theological Word Book of the Bible, "The Hebrew Word Ch-sed", ed. Alan Richardson (MacMillan, New York: 1951), pp. 136-7