DAY 1 – Exodus 34:6–7
Today you are meditating on one of the most important statements in the Bible. This passage is so important that it is the most quoted verse in the Bible by other parts of the Bible. This verse is the first description of God by God in the Bible. It is a wonderful and fascinating description. Notice the tension between the mercy and justice of God. God is slow to anger, yet He will not declare innocent the guilty. He forgives iniquity, yet He also brings iniquity upon the guilty.
It is interesting to look at the context in which this statement is made; to Moses at Mount Sinai. This whole story (Israel at Mount Sinai) is one of the defining moments for the nation of Israel. It is pictured as a marriage covenant ceremony between God and the people of Israel, in which God binds Himself to them in order to bless all the other nations of the world. And they bind themselves to God to listen to His voice and keep His commands so that He can bless them and through them the rest of the world. While this ceremony is still taking place and Moses is on the mountain speaking with God, the people are at the base violating the first 2 commandments of the covenant (Have no other Gods before Me and make no idols). This is the famous golden calf story. It would be like having an affair while on your honeymoon!
God is, of course, hurt and angry. Will He call off the covenant (which He certainly would have the right to do) or will He renew it? It is during this incident that God makes this statement about Himself. And it sets up the tension that the rest of the Bible will explore. God's most forward characteristic is mercy. Yet, He will not just overlook sin as if it matters not. So, how does God work with and through a covenant people when they are consistently unfaithful?
Well, one of the first things we see in the story is the importance of the intercessor who knows God's true character and is willing to stand before God and pray on behalf of others. In the Mount Sinai story it is Moses. Every time Israel sins, Moses stands before God and appeals to His mercy and asks God to forgive them. And He does every time. And even when God does punish their iniquity, He does it with mercy. Almost every instance in the Bible where people intercede to God on behalf of sinful people, God responds with mercy. Interestingly, there is one time where God decides to let Israel be taken into exile, after 500 years of rebellion. In that incident, He tells the prophet Jeremiah not to intercede. It is almost like God knows that He is a pushover when people pray and so He has to protect Himself by not letting Jeremiah intercede.
The other thing we should see in the story is that the root of the problem is people's refusal to trust God. And often people do not trust God because they do not know His true nature. In the story of the golden calf, the people worship a god of their own making. This is common to the entire human story – we often try to domesticate God, creating Him in our own image so that we can worship Him on our own terms. But the path forward to being truly human in the divine image in loving partnership is to trust in the real God; to trust in the God who reveals Himself to us for who He truly is.
Both of these ideas (intercession and revelation leading to forgiveness and trust) are realized in Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews says, "Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Hebrews 7:25). And as all the New Testament writers explain, Jesus is the perfect revelation of God. If you want to know what God is really like, look at Jesus, listen to Him. For Jesus is God in visible, human form. The love and mercy of God are perfectly revealed in the cross of Christ as He suffered for our sin and extended forgiveness. And in the cross of Christ, the justice of God is given a surprising twist as God condemned sin in us while giving us His Spirit that we may live (Romans 8).
REFLECT / PRAY
- Reflect on Jesus the intercessor and the statement in Hebrews that He always lives to intercede for them. What does this mean for you? What does it mean for how you view others when they sin?
- Do you have an accurate view of God's character? Is there an area of your life where you struggle in trusting God? What might this say about your need to adjust how you understand who God is?
DAY 2 – Psalm 36 and Psalm 103
These poems of David are beautiful examples of biblical authors meditating on Exodus 6:6–7, focusing especially on God's khesed (loyal love). The central idea of psalm 36 is captured in v 5-6 in which David, drawing on creation imagery from Genesis, says that God's character, His love, upholds every aspect of creation (land, skies, seas). From top to bottom, God's love and faithfulness saturates every tier of the cosmos.
When Moses recounts the 10 commandments to the people of Israel at the end of his life, just as they are preparing to enter the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Moses repeats the description of God from Exodus 34:6-7. Except he adds an important clarification. He says that God visits iniquity upon those who persistently hate Him and He shows loyal love (khesed) to those who love Him. In Psalm 36, David appears to be meditating on this as well. The person who has no respect for God lacks wisdom. And as a result sin speaks in their hearts, flattering them on their rejection of God. However, the path they have chosen is not a good one and ends in failure.
In contrast is the one who finds the loyal love of God precious and who finds refuge in His faithfulness. Their wise choice is confirmed as they find delight in the Lord. David's poetic description of the joy of living in the experience of God's love is some of the best in all the Bible. Notice the reference to Eden (which means delight).
They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light
In Psalm 103, David is again meditating on God's loyal love with a particular emphasis on God's forgiveness. There are many ways in which we experience love toward us. I have found that one of the most powerful experiences of love is when someone loves us after we have really messed up. When you mess up and know it and feel terrible about yourself and someone you respect genuinely pours out their love in you anyways; it is a very profound and transformative experience. David was a deeply flawed man who sinned grievously. God confronted him and he humbled himself before God and received God's love and forgiveness.
Did you ever have a child ask you, "how much do you love me?" and you responded by saying "this much" while opening our arms as wide as you could? Well that is kind of the image that David has here, except God's arms are really long!! How much does God love you? God says "this much" and then stretches out His arms...as far as the heavens are above the earth and as far as the east is from the west.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Here are examples of modern worship songs based on Psalm 36 and Psalm 103. Soak in them as you take a few minutes to reflect on God's love for you and drink it in until your heart is full of delight.
- Bless the Lord for His all His benefits – for His love and generosity and forgiveness saturate the cosmos and will fill your heart to overflowing
DAY 3 – Micah 6
"What do you seek?" – Jesus
This is one of the fundamental questions for Christian discipleship. "What do you want?" Jesus did not ask, "what do you know?" or "what do you believe?" What do you want is a far more piercing question. In some sense, our longings and desires are an important part of our identity. This may be why wisdom counsels us, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23). Or as christian philosopher and author James Smith says, "you are what you love." He goes on to say that discipleship is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.
"Jesus's command to follow Him is a command to align our loves and longings with His – to want what God wants, to desire what
God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where He is all in all – a vision encapsulated by the shorthand "the
kingdom of God."
– You Are What You Love by James Smith
This is the essence of what Micah says to God's people. Micah was a prophet who accused the leaders and prophets of Israel of corruption and great injustice. Micah both warned that they were headed for national disaster and offered hope that God would rescue His people and shepherd them, and that He would establish His kingdom to both confront evil and to bless the nations. In verse 7:18, Micah says that God delights in khesed (loyal love). This is what God is looking for from them, that they too would love khesed (6:8), the very thing they were not doing. So too, God is looking for us to delight in khesed.
You may ask, "how do we cultivate our hearts so that we love khesed?" That is a good question. A large part of the answer is found in the two statements surrounding the command to love khesed: do justice and walk humbly before God. We are to establish habits and practices in our lives to help us regularly do the things that demonstrate khesed towards God and others. Remember, khesed is loyal love or covenant love or committed love. Relationships require a commitment to the long term. Loyal love (khesed) requires a commitment to doing things that are not always easy because we love something much bigger than immediate gratification. We often think we have to feel love before we act in love. But the Scriptures often encourages to act in love so that we develop the feelings of love.
And we are to live our lives in humility before God. Humility encompasses many actions and attitudes, including confession, prayer, and obedience. Be honest about the condition of your heart. Be honest about your longings and desires. Meditate on that which God takes delight in (Philippians 4:8). Start doing acts of love and justice to others as the Lord leads. Walk humbly before your God.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Where are you having difficultly demonstrating love? Where have your longings and desires gone astray?
- What might be one new habit of khesed you could incorporate into your life?
DAY 4 – Genesis 47:27-31, Genesis 50
Today we are going to look at two examples of khesed (loyal love). The first is a practical example of khesed which Joseph showed to his father. The second is an example of how God's khesed works in a broken world in which human sin creates a lot of mess.
Genesis 37–50 is the story of Jacob and his 12 sons, with a particular focus on his son Joseph. Jospeh was his father's favorite, which made him a bit of a brat and made his brothers jealous. His brothers sell him into slavery to the Egyptians. While in Egypt he is falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned. But because of his ability to interpret dreams and have divine wisdom, he eventually goes from prison to 2nd in command under Pharaoh. A great famine hits the world and God empowers Joseph to not only save Egypt, but to save Jacob's family by bringing them to Egypt under his protection. It's a great story and worth reading the whole thing.
At the end of chapter 47, Jacob is very old and will soon die. He calls for Joseph and asks for a favor. "Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness (khesed) and faithfulness." Jacob says to Joseph, please do me an act of khesed. What is the favor that Jacob wants? "Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place." Later, in chapter 50, after Jacob dies, Jospeh fulfills his oath to his father.
The reason we are looking at this story is that is shows an important aspect of khesed. Jospeh shows khesed (loyal love) to his father even though his father, who is dead, cannot repay him. Joseph does it without any expectation of receiving anything in return. Remember, this is actually a very difficult task that Joseph undertakes. He has to travel hundreds of miles on a very dangerous trip to bury his father with his ancestors in the future promised land. And Joseph does it with great generosity, bringing an great company of people with him to honor his father's request. Khesed is not about the one receiving love, it is about the one giving it. Khesed is generated purely out of the character of the one doing it.
After Jacob has died and been buried, the other 11 sons have a moment of panic. Maybe now Joseph will take his revenge on us for selling him into slaver those many years ago. And Joseph makes an astounding statement to them that summarizes the entire book of Genesis and the whole Bible. "Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).
God has good intentions for this world, but human sin often makes a mess of things. And there are times when we may suffer because of it. However, God's khesed is at work and He has the ability to take what we meant for bad and to turn it around for good. Joseph was unjustly sold into slavery and eventually falsely accused and jailed. This entire ordeal lasted around 13 years! God used Joseph's difficulty to create some humility in Joseph, and because Joseph honored God, God then exalts Joseph as a great leader within Egypt and uses him to save his entire family and the nation from famine.
Paul picks up on this same theme in Romans 8. Paul says that God, in Christ, has freed us from the slavery of fear and exalted us in the Spirit into the love of God. And that no matter what suffering we experience, we can know that in the end God will exalt us to a place of glory. It is in this context that Paul makes his now famous statement that, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." No doubt Paul has the story of Joseph in the back of his mind as he wrote these words.
REFLECT / PRAY
- How might the knowledge that God can turn evil into good change how you view difficult circumstances?
- Notice that Joseph honored God in his suffering and that Paul says it is those who love God and are committed to his purposes discover that God works bad things for good. Why is our attitude important for God to work in and through us during bad times?
DAY 5 – Ephesians 2:1–10
The dominant language when the NT was written was Greek. Greek does not have a word that is equivalent to the Hebrew khesed. This makes it impossible to translate khesed using only one word. The same is true of English. We do not have an English word equivalent to khesed. As a result, khesed can be translated with a variety of words depending on the context. Some of the examples are love, kindness, and grace. New Testament authors often chose the Greek word for mercy when talking about khesed.
We think of mercy as having compassion or showing kindness towards someone that it is within our power to justly punish. Mercy is not getting what we deserve or getting what we do not deserve. This is clearly an important aspect of khesed. However, khesed is also much more than mercy. Khesed is showing kindness, being generous, and gracious. And very importantly, khesed is being loyal and committed for the long term. Khesed is a commitment to keep your promises. It is easy to show kindness in the moment when you are moved by passion. But if you do not have an ongoing, consistent commitment to kindness and generosity and mercy when it is hard to do these things, then you do not have khesed. Khesed is not just an act of love, it is loyal love, or loyalty to love.
Take marriage vows for example. Marriage vows are not about the feelings of love you have on the day of your wedding, they are promises to love today and into the future; to be kind, faithful and loving in every circumstance no matter how difficult. It is called a marriage covenant. Covenant captures this idea of promise, commitment, loyalty. If you are not faithful to your promises then you are not showing khesed. This is why God's faithfulness to His promises is one of the central themes of the entire Bible.
Another biblical word related to love and mercy is forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of love (khesed) that chooses mercy over judgment and vengeance. The purpose of forgiveness is twofold. One, it keeps our heart from being corrupted when others wrong us. It is a disposition of the heart that prevents sin against us from creating sin within us. Two, forgiveness offers the transgressor redemption , an opportunity for a change in heart, an opportunity to move from doing bad to doing khesed.
The biblical testimony is that evil is ultimately self destructive. We cannot overcome it by doing evil to evil. Responding to evil with evil only accelerates the death spiral. We overcome evil with khesed, by remaining loyal to love and goodness. Love will outlast the self destruction of evil and is the only path of redemption for those caught up in it. Forgiveness is not an act of mercy that says, "in this moment I will not take vengeance, but that could change in the future." No, forgiveness is a long term commitment of mercy.
Many of these ideas are behind what Paul is writing in Ephesians. In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul talks about the mercy of God that saves us from death and makes us alive in Christ. Paul uses the word "mercy" because he is writing in Greek. But I think he clearly has khesed in mind. One clue is that Paul does not just say that God is merciful, but that God is rich in mercy. Paul uses the word rich not just to convey that God has a big quantity of mercy. Rich means an abundant of possessions. And not just an abundance of one kind of possession, but an abundance of many kinds of possessions. The mercy (or khesed) of God has an abundance of qualities. It is rich!
Notice how Paul speaks of God's mercy in terms of the ideas we just reviewed. He speaks of God's forgiveness, of redemption, of bringing us from death to life, and of God's commitment to the long term. Not only does God love and forgive and redeem us today, but He is committed to show us grace and kindness throughout the ages to come (verse 7). God is not just loving in the moment, He is loyal to love, committed to His promises for the long term no matter what. This is the biblical testimony of God's khesed.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Reflect on the way in which God is committed to His promises. In her song, Mary (Luke 1:47–55) says that God's mercy is from generation to generation (v.50) in accordance with what He spoke to Abraham (almost 2,000 years earlier!).
- Is there an area of your life where you find it difficult to be consistent in mercy and kindness? How might the idea of khesed as keeping your promises help you be more consistent?
DAY 6 – John 14:13–24; John 15:7–17
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:8
We love, because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
The Hebrew word khesed is a word full of meaning that combines the idea of unconditional love, generosity, kindness, mercy, grace and an enduring commitment. When God revealed His character to Moses, this was the central quality He emphasized. When Jesus spoke to His disciples the night before His crucifixion as recorded in John 14–17 I think He has this in mind and is instructing His disciples on the importance of having God's khesed (loyal love) within us. And we have God's love within us when we abide in His love.
These are profoundly important teachings from Jesus. God's great gift to us is life, and specifically, a life in which we experience His love, share in His love, and give this love to others. What does it mean to abide in God's love? This is THE BIG QUESTION that Jesus is giving His disciples instruction on in these chapters. Notice that when Jesus speaks of abiding in God's love He combines two ideas:
- Ask anything of Me and I will do it (John 14:13–14, 15:7, 15:16, 16:23–24)
- Keep My commands because you love Me (John 14:15, 14:21-24, 15:9, 16:27)
If you read Jesus's prayer in John 17 you will notice that this dynamic characterized His relationship with God. He could ask the Father anything and the Father would do it and the Father could ask of Jesus anything and Jesus would do it. In other words, their relationship was rooted in a very deep and profound trust, love and commitment in which they each performed acts of khesed towards one another. Furthermore, what they asked of each other was not self serving. What the Father asked of Jesus was for Jesus to love us. This was the way in which Jesus loved God. And what Jesus asked of the Father was for the Father to love us. This is how the Father loved Jesus.
When we ask God to love others in demonstrable ways and when we love others on God's behalf in demonstrable ways, we are abiding in God's love. Jesus did not tell us to ask anything of Him so that He could be our divine genie doing whatever self serving desire we have. He told us this so that we could experience and abide in the love of God. And His commands, instructions and teachings on how to live are not meant to limit our experience of life, rather just the opposite, they are given to us so that we may have the best kind of life; a life that abides in His love.
REFLECT / PRAY
- What does it mean for God's love to be within a person? And how might that impact our actions towards others?
- What small steps could you take to abide in God's love today? What big step could you take going forward to abide more in God's love?