22 Sep 2022

He Loves Forever: Things They Didn’t Tell Me in Sunday School

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Discipleship, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Love, Worship
Psalm 136 is called “The Great Hallel.” Hesed is praised 26x.

He Loves Forever
Love and Grace
(Things they do not tell me in Sunday School)

Grace is awesome. Hesed is greater (Steadfast love). We are not knocking grace at all.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!
That save a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
was blind but now I see

What I never understood as a younger disciple/preacher was that grace is a function of God’s love/hesed. Grace is granted because love is already there. Years ago, I imagined the “Old Testament” was deficient because it did not talk about “grace” as much as Paul did (I single him out on purpose because Jesus did not use the word ‘grace.’ Yet I assume all will grant that Jesus is indeed the Lord of Grace even if he never uses the word.).

But I did not understand. I had not spent time reflecting. I had not done as Jesus said, “go learn what this means” and “if you had known what this means” (Mt 9.13 & 12.7) where Jesus points his critics to the Prophet Hosea who said, “I [Yahweh] desire mercy rather than sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6).

It is difficult to find a more profound picture of unconditional love than that in the story of Hosea. God’s love is depicted (figuratively) as “Hell will freeze over, I may go thru Hades because of you, but I will never give you up!” That is love. This pure “grace.” The welcome back (=grace) is there because love was there all along.

People think Paul is the apostle of grace but he is really an apostle of love … as is John. Love is the greatest of all says Paul (he got that from his Hebrew Bible). Yahweh is love. Grace is a function of infinite love.

There is no shortage of “love” in the Hebrew Bible, it shocks many to learn that Moses speaks of “love” more than any biblical writer save John. Deuteronomy speaks of “love” 21x while Romans only 14. Only the Gospel of John in the New Testament beats out Deuteronomy with 27. But it is Psalms that is King of Hesed with a whopping 150+ times.

The Exodus is, perhaps, the best example of “grace alone” in history (the Bible). The Hebrews were unbelieving pagans at best. They did not believe. Israel confessed her lack of faith for centuries in worship.

for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance …
In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders,
they did not believe
” (Psalm 78.22, 32; the entire Psalm is worthy of serious rumination)

Our spiritual ancestors grumbled and cursed Moses at every turn. After the mighty displays of Yahweh over Pharoah and the gods of Egypt, they still were afraid and wanted to go back. Yahweh told Moses to tell them to shut up and watch their God! (Read Exodus 14 till we get it).

The crossing of the Red Sea was the result. Israel did not “contribute” to her salvation anything but unfaith. It is a shame that so many disciples fail to recognize the “Exodus Pattern” through the rest of Scripture … including the work of Jesus himself. (See my article: Exodus: The Biblical Context of the New Testament).

Israel’s relationship with God was based upon “love [Hesed] alone” (love is greater than grace! Or we say better, grace is the expression of love). God loved Israel so God rescued Israel from the land of slavery, the land of death. “It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery … keeping his covenant of love …” (Deuteronomy 7.8, 9).

From one end of the Hebrew Bible to the other this is true. Ezekiel used the graphic, and offensive, image of an exposed/abandoned baby girl for Israel (it was common in ancient cultures to throw away baby girls because they were viewed as “less than.” That is precisely Ezekiel’s point, Israel was “less than 0” in the eyes of others) in Ezekiel 16. Yahweh found her abandoned. Yahweh loved her. Yahweh “commands” that she “live.” Moses says they were the “least/fewest of all people” that they had nothing about them to draw anyone, that they had no righteousness nor even integrity, but it was precisely because Yahweh “loved them” and the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he entered his “covenant of love” … (Deut 7.9, 12; cf. 1 Kgs 8.29; 2 Chron 6.14; Neh 1.5; 9.32; Dan 9.4).

Contrary to so much bad theology based upon the faulty King James Version and the mountains of anti-Semitic preaching flowing from it, John says that the Jesus is the Incarnation of the Heart of the Hebrew Bible. “For law came through Moses BUT grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1.17, KJV). This mistranslation alone has done incalculable harm. Even though almost all modern translations have not followed this incorrect reading it is deeply embedded in our religious psychology. We read the text in modern translations as if it still says what the KJV reads. But there is no “But.” There is none in Greek.

John does not create a contrast. There is no antithesis in the text. Instead, John actually quotes the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 34.6, and applies it to Jesus. Grace and Truth … Hesed and ‘emeth … the central revelation of the steadfast love (grace!) in Yahweh is enfleshed in King Jesus. (See my article: Grace and Truth: Moses Heard it, We Saw it!).

Hesed reigns supreme in the Hebrew Bible. Hesed is the God of Israel’s “name tag.” That God creates in Hesed, redeems in Hesed, covenants in Hesed, walks in Exile in Hesed, raises Israel from the dead out of sheol in Hesed. The old song we (sometimes) sing, “grace, grace God’s grace, grace that will pardon, and cleanse within” could justly be sung about God’s Hesed.

Marvelous Hesed of our loving Lord,
Hesed that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt
Hesed, hesed, God’s hesed,
Hesed that will pardon and cleanse within
Hesed, hesed, God’s hesed,
Hesed that is greater than all our sin

The Hebrew Bible does in fact rhapsodize on Hesed. Just for fun, go read Psalm 103, Psalm 107, Psalm 136. And if you are adventurous read them out loud.

In fact, if someone wanted to summarize the entire Hebrew Bible to a single sentence it can be done faithfully and accurately:

He Loves (Hesed) Forever!

The Hebrew Bible is oozing Hesed, God’s love, God’s amazing grace. I was not taught this in Sunday School.

Recommended Reading

Thomas H. Olbricht’s classic, He Loves Forever: The Enduring Message of the Old Testament

Hermann Spieckermann, “God’s Steadfast Love: Towards a New Conception of Old Testament Theology,” Biblica 81 (2000): 305-327

4 Responses to “He Loves Forever: Things They Didn’t Tell Me in Sunday School”

  1. Randall Says:

    If God’s hesed is sp great, and I believe it is, how could I ever be lost?

    • Sharon Leighton Says:

      Hi – This is a difficult question, and situations differ widely, so that blanket answers can be difficult. I think the closest we can come to an answer is in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This parable teaches that the Father not only loves his son, he respects him, he gives him agency, he allows him to make his own mistakes and run his own life. But he’s still there, loving him, for all that.

  2. Randall Says:

    If God’s hesed is so great, and I believe it is, how could I ever be lost?

  3. JT Says:

    The old hermeneutic, “OT/God” = “wrath”, “law”, etc., and the “NT/Jesus” = “love”, “grace”, etc., has always puzzled me, even long before I fully consciously recognized that it did bother me or why it bothered me. I finally realized not only that it is bad doctrine. I also determined that it took me way too long only because I waited too long to study it out myself instead of being satisfied with “brotherhood” mistakes about it. Without “Grace” we are doomed; without “Truth” there is chaos. Neither grace nor truth can be separated by “Testaments” or by some artifiicial separation in our minds between the Father and the Son.


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