Are you prepared to love someone with hesed love?
According to Paul Miller in his book A Loving Life, hesed love is “translated as ‘steadfast love.’ It combines commitment with sacrifice. Hesed is one-way love. Love without an exit strategy.”
Naomi, in the book of Ruth, really needed this type of love. First, she suffers through famine in Bethlehem. Then her family journeys to Moab, where her husband and sons die, leaving Naomi without any males to provide for her. Her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, didn’t even have any children that could grow up to provide for her. Naomi is left bereft.
After her husband and sons die, Naomi blesses her daughters-in-law, saying, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.” Miller points out that “deal kindly” actually means hesed. Then she wishes them rest, a shalom type of rest.
She tells them to return to their people so they can have the hope of marrying new husbands. She knows that if they go back to Bethlehem with her, then surely no Jewish man would marry them.
“Naomi gives Ruth and Orpah freedom, marriage, and children, and takes on her already broken life, loneliness, and poverty. By giving up what little hope she has left, she gives them a hope and a future. By deepening her own death, she offers them a reason for living. That kind of exchange anticipates Jesus’s death, where he takes our sin and gives us his gift of acceptance, righteousness, and purity … That’s why, subconsciously, we are allergic to love. We rightly sense that death is at the center of love.”
In her grief, Naomi feels she has no choice but to order Ruth and Orpah away. And then, in one of the most famous moments of the Old Testament, Ruth shows Naomi hesed love:
“For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
Yet even after this powerful statement of love, Naomi returns to her village in Bethlehem and says, “The Lord has brought me back empty.” Ruth was standing right there, the beautiful words spoken to her mother-in-law were already forgotten.
Naomi was bitter, and Ruth loved her anyway.
Naomi is the ultimate example of someone who needed hesed love. “When you love with hesed love,” Paul Miller writes, “you bind yourself to the object of your love, no matter what the response is. So if the object of your love snaps at you, you still love that person … Hesed is a stubborn love.”
Paul Miller talks about what it means to live a loving life.
Are we prepared to love people with a hesed type of love? Most likely not. That’s why I’m thankful for Miller’s book, which explains the type of love that Christ asks us to have for our spouses, children, and all that we encounter.
And I’m grateful for Christ Himself, who loved me with a hesed type of love when I wanted nothing to do with Him. And for the Holy Spirit, the machine behind any hesed type of action that I ever do.
As we lose everything to love others, there, in our death and sacrifice, we actually find the biggest prize of all: a rich relationship with God.
Lindsey M. Roberts spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything from cleaning the kitchen three times a day to delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and son in Virginia.