“I Desired Ḥesed”

A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog post about the Hebrew word ḥesed (חֵסֵד), which appears 250 times in the Old Testament and which has no exact equivalent in English. In that post, I relied heavily on President Russell M. Nelson’s discussion of the term in his article “The Everlasting Covenant” (Liahona, October 2022). President Nelson wrote, “Hesed is a special kind of love and mercy that God feels for and extends to those who have made a covenant with Him. And we reciprocate with hesed for Him.”

Hosea used the word ḥesed as he tried to explain to his people where they had gone wrong. Speaking on behalf of the Lord, he said:

I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6

The Hebrew word translated “mercy” in that passage is ḥesed. I think Hosea is telling us God doesn’t want us to try to impress Him with our good works and our religious observances. He wants us to learn to love Him and to love other people the way He loves us. The true measure of our faith is how well we are internalizing those godlike attributes, not how devout we might appear to be.

When Jesus and His disciples sat and ate with “publicans and sinners,” the Pharisees were scandalized. “Why is he eating with them,” they asked His disciples. In response, Jesus invited them to look more closely at the words of Hosea: “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).

Sometime later, the Pharisees were horrified again to see Jesus and His disciples plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus responded with the same scripture: “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:1-7). They were so focused on the legalistic aspects of their faith that they were judgmental in superficial things and completely oblivious to the most important things.

After the destruction which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ, a group of people on the American continent heard Him say these words:

Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

3 Nephi 9:19-20

Once again, He was clearing away the distractions and helping them focus on the heart of the gospel.

Today, I will strive to align my life more fully with God’s priorities. I will remember that religious activities are intended to help me show love toward God and toward other people.

2 thoughts on ““I Desired Ḥesed”

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    1. Precisely! I think it really boils down to our motivation. Two people can do the same things, one motivated by love, and the other motivated by a desire to look good. God wants us to be motivated by love. Thanks for the comment!

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