Twin qualities – loving-kindness and loyalty

  1. Translation and Meaning

(a) ‘Loving-kindness’ (NIV), ‘steadfast love’ (ESV), and ‘mercy’ (LXX eleos) are variations on the Hebrew noun hesed (the ‘h’ pronounced as in Scottish loch). Taken together they express the richness of this desirable quality: it is warm (‘loving-kindness’), reliable (‘steadfast love’), and practical (‘mercy’). Among its attributes are empathy (= ‘an understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts and motives of one are readily comprehended by another’) and sympathy (‘to express compassion; to commiserate; to share another’s arrow or anguish; to take pity’).

(b) ‘Loyalty’, ‘faithfulness’ and ‘truth’ (= troth’, LXX alethea) are some renderings of the Hebrew noun emeth, implying trustworthiness and constancy.

These fine qualities are attributes of God, and of his people when truly expressing his image. The two words often occur individually in the Old Testament but when twinned they describe the wholesome breadth of godly living. 

  1. Their Message and Application

Perhaps it should not surprise us to discover that each item in Jesus’ pattern prayer outline in Luke 11:2-4 should be executed with ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’.

[] ‘Father, hallowed be your name’ = Praise.

‘I … 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 138:2).

[] ‘Your kingdom come’ = Priority (Matthew 6:33)

Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king [‘the son of David’, of course], and by steadfast love his throne is upheld’ (Proverbs 20:28).

[] ‘Give us each day our daily bread’ = Provision

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good [namely, rain], and our land will yield its increase (Psalm 85:10-12; Zechariah 10:1).

[] and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted      to us’ = Pardon.

‘By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for [literally, ‘covered’], and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil’ (Proverbs 16:6). The sacrifices, by which ‘iniquity is atoned for’, reveal God’s ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Exodus 34:6). The right response is ‘the fear of the Lord’, by which one ‘turns away from evil’ (Proverbs 3:7). And in the Lord’s Prayer we plead:’ we ourselves forgive’ others (see Proverbs 10:12, ‘love covers all offences’ – but does not ‘cover up’ our own: ‘Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy,’ Proverbs 28:13).

[] And lead us not into temptation’ = Prevention

In Matthew’s full version of the prayer outline (Matthew 6:16-18) Jesus adds a paragraph denouncing hypocritical piety – ‘fasting … to be seen by others’ by disfiguring one’s face (say with ashes) in public. Rather you should wear ‘steadfast love and faithfulness … round your neck’ because you have engraved ‘them on the tablet of your heart’ (Proverbs 3:3) – so, ‘anoint your head and wash your face’, as Jesus advocated, ‘when you fast.’

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