At Wednesday’s Lord’s Supper service, Ryan preached a sermon titled, “The Roots of God’s Love,” unfolding the riches of two Hebrew words found in Exodus 34:6. There, God gave Moses his long name, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
The pairing, translated, “steadfast love and faithfulness,” shows up all over the Bible. Below you’ll find a myriad of verses from the Psalms, the rest of the Old Testament, and the New Testament that pick up this pairing. For this reason, you might consider printing this post out and tucking it in your Bible for a few weeks.
But first, we should explore the meaning of “steadfast love” a little further. As Ryan said, in most cases English is adequate to convey of the meaning the original Old Testament Hebrew text. In this specific case, the word, hesed, translated, “steadfast love,” is more difficult. This is evident from the myriad of ways this word gets translated: lovingkindness, steadfast love, goodness, etc.
Ryan gathered a number of helpful lines from various writers to give us this definition of hesed:
Hesed is. . .God’s gracious character and exceptional commitment to his people, . . .an attitude of God which arises out of his relationship with his people. It means that he has bound Himself to his people. Hesed is outside the realm of duty, even though a promise to do hesed brings with it the idea of commitment. It is not merely an attitude or an emotion; it is an emotion that leads to an activity beneficial to the recipient. . .in the context of a deep and enduring commitment made by one who is able to render assistance to the other/needy party. That is to say, God’s hesed is the providential exercise of his power on behalf of the needy people with whom he has established a special relationship. It is a promise and assurance of future help and fellowship, that is characterized by permanence, constancy and reliability. It is primal, elemental, associated with God’s love, grace, and compassion. It is rooted in God himself. In short, it is simply who God is.*
The pairing of “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” appears twenty-four times throughout the Psalms, clearly drawing from Exodus 34:6. Here they are:
Psalm 25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Psalm 26:3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
Psalm 40:10-11 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!
Psalm 57:3 He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
Psalm 57:10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Psalm 61:7 May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
Psalm 69:13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
Psalm 85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 88:11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Psalm 89:2 For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Psalm 89:24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
Psalm 89:33 …but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness.
Psalm 92:2 …to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…
Psalm 98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Psalm 100:5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Psalm 108:4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Psalm 117:2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!
Psalm 138:2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
Psalm 145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” appear together from Genesis through the prophets:
Genesis 24:27 Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.
Nehemiah 9:17 But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
Isaiah 16:5 …then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.
Hosea 2:19–20 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.
Joel 2:13 For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Jonah 4:2 You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Micah 7:18–20 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.
Then, in the New Testament, this pairing shows up in some surprisingly familiar places. The authors of the New Testament wrote in Koine Greek and carried over the meaning of these Hebrew words into words we translate, “grace” and “truth.”
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Hebrews 1:1–3, 2:17 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. . .He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. . .he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
The appearance of this pairing in John 1:14 is especially fascinating against the backdrop of the context of Exodus 34:6. God gave Moses his full name, “The LORD. . .abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” after Moses asked in 33:18, “Please show me your glory.” God would not do it, at least not for Moses, and not then.
But he has done it for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. For Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, and it is in the gracious salvation of sinners through Christ that God’s glory is most brightly seen and praised (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
For a rich meditation on the meaning of God’s hesed, consider reading Puritan, Edward Griffin’s, “The Tender Mercies of God.”
*Ryan compiled material from the following sources for an extended definition of hesed above.
- Gordon Clark, The word hesed in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).
- Alphonso Groenewald, “Exodus, Psalms and Hebrews: A God Abounding in Steadfast Love (Ex 34:6)“ HTS 64 (2008) 1365-78.
- HJ Zobel, “hesed” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. 5: 44-64.