Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness by Michael Card. IVP Books. 176 pages. 2018
Respected musician, Bible teacher and author Michael Card has been working on this book about hesed for ten years. It is a word that many will not be familiar with, but which he writes that it is tempting to say is the most important word in the Hebrew Scriptures. Though a book that he thought would take one year to write took much longer, he tells us that understanding hesed is actually a lifelong journey, and that none of us will ever get to the end of it in this life.
He first encountered the word hesed while working through the laments of the Old Testament. He describes hesed as being an untranslatable, three-letter, two-syllable word. Early in the book he gives us what he describes as an initial, ever-incomplete working definition of hesed:
When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.
In this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, he looks at the word hesed in its immediate context in a number of passages and tries to understand what the meaning was for the author at that particular point in time. He states that a good case can be made for the claim that hesed has the largest range of meaning of any word in the Hebrew language, and perhaps in any language. It occurs nearly 250 times in the Hebrew Bible throughout all of the three major divisions—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, with the majority of occurrences (127) in the Psalms. He tells us that the vast range of hesed is also made evident by the staggering number of English words translators employ in their effort to render it (which he details in an appendix). For example, the King James Version of the Bible uses fourteen different words for hesed. He tells us that a single word is rarely enough in a given context to express all that hesed means, so Bible translators are forced to pile on adjectives.
The author tells us that the purpose of this journey is not to become preoccupied with a single word. Instead, he wants us to hesed as a key that can open a door into an entire world—the world of God’s own heart, the world of loving our neighbor and perhaps even our enemies.
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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of
~ The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson
~ With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace by Nikki Haley
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BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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The author takes us to several passages in the Bible, using Exodus 34 and Moses’ encounter with God, which he describes as the defining moment of hesed in the Hebrew Bible. He writes that Moses has asked to see God’s glory. The Lord has responded by revealing the true nature of that glory: compassion, mercy, truth, kindness, hesed.
As I read this book, I found myself moving from a basic understanding of the word hesed, to worshipping the God of hesed. The author’s final challenge for the reader is to take the understanding we have in our heads of hesed and allow the Spirit to move it into our hearts. He tells us that we must enter into the world of the word hesed and then take that world into our world, back to our families, to our churches and towns—to our enemies.
The book concludes with four helpful appendices – occurrences of hesed in scripture, a comparison of Bible translations showing the English words that are used to translate hesed, a vocabulary of associated words and for further study.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this book. Below are 25 of the best quotes from the book I wanted to share with you.
- God himself hopes that our response to his hesed will be an infinitely smaller, yet still indescribable, expression of our own hesed.
- It’s almost as if our imaginations cannot embrace a God who is perfectly loving and perfectly just at the same time.
- We need to establish in our own minds, for our own sakes, what the implications are of being in relationship with the God who is slow to anger but rich in hesed.
- He is both perfectly just and merciful. His children can always expect from him more forgiveness and mercy than they deserve.
- He is the God who delights in being kind, in loving his creation, and in offering forgiveness and salvation to those who have no right to expect anything from him.
- One of the fundamental facets of hesed is reciprocity. Once a relationship or covenant of hesed is established there is an unspoken mutuality. The one who was initially shown hesed naturally demonstrates hesed in return.
- Reciprocity is an indication that you have internalized the truth of hesed. If it is not returned freely in gratitude, you have not understood the nature of the hesed that was shown to you in the first place. You have, in a sense, violated hesed if you fail to show hesed in response.
- We extend mercy and offer forgiveness as followers of Jesus, not to manipulate some sort of system whereby we expect to receive something in return but because we have been the recipients of his mercy and respond from a sense of gratitude to him.
- Hesed is something you sing about! To sing about hesed from a resonating heart is usually better than merely talking about it.
- We see hesed incarnated through the One who says that he himself is hesed.
- Clearly, when the translators of the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible thought of hesed, the word that came to mind most often was mercy.
- As we seek to understand the intersection of the world of hesed with the life of Jesus, we will see that it provides a significant piece of the puzzle that is his life. Hesed occupies a significant part of his teaching.
- Though we have no right to expect anything from Jesus, he will nonetheless give us everything precisely because, like his Father, he is full of grace and truth.
- Because of the hesed of God incarnate in Jesus, sinners are blessed, while those who hate hesed place themselves outside of God’s lovingkindness.
- The way you respond to the God of Exodus 34, the God of hesed, is to boldly ask him for what you do not deserve and then to stand by and confidently wait for him to be amazed.
- The person who understands the lovingkindness of God is always ready to persistently seek, ask, and knock on the door that opens up to a world they have done nothing to deserve.
- In eight of the thirty parables, hesed is the central theme.
- In Jesus’ parables, expressions of hesed tend to have this over-the-top character. The father of the prodigal son sprints out with a ring and robe and shoes. He puts on an extravagant feast with orchestrated music. That is the nature of hesed.
- Hesed is almost always an extravagant expression of kindness, forgiveness, and love. It is something you do.
- If you truly love hesed as Micah 6:8 says, you should love having it shown to you as much as showing it to others.
- God commands his people to do justly and to love hesed. We struggle with both.
- Bryan Stevenson has articulated this elegant unity between justice and mercy in his book Just Mercy. It is the finest synthesis of these two concepts I have ever read.
- In Jesus of Nazareth, the embodiment of hesed, God was perfectly just and perfectly merciful.
- It would be remiss of me not to mention the profound cost associated with doing hesed. It is a costly enterprise, perhaps the most costly enterprise. It cost God everything.
- Hesed can shape our prayer life, our experience of worship, and most especially the posture we take as we engage with the world around us.
The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson. Reformation Trust Publishing. 2015. 184 pages.
I’ve read most of the books in the Long Line of Godly Men Profiles series, edited by Steven Lawson. Like his other books in the series, the author gives us an efficient and fast-moving account of the life and ministry of his subject.
In this book, the author profiles William Tyndale, known as the father of the Modern English language for his work in translating the New Testament from the Greek and much of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Tyndale was also widely regarded as the father of the English Reformation.
The author begins by giving us an overview of Tyndale’s life and ministry, and then in succeeding chapters tells us in detail how Tyndale went about his translation work, before he was arrested and martyred.
In England, it was a capital crime to translate the Bible into English. Those found guilty would be condemned as heretics and burned at the stake. A spiritual night had fallen over England. If the Reformation were to come to England, there must be the translation of the Bible into the English language for the people to read.
Tyndale studied at Oxford for ten years. While there, he was ordained into the priesthood, though he never entered a monastic order. In 1519, he went to study at Cambridge. Cambridge was becoming the training ground for future reformers and martyrs. Tyndale came to the realization that England would never be evangelized using Latin Bibles. He was a remarkable scholar, proficient in eight languages. The mission before Tyndale was clear. An English Bible was not optional, but mandatory. However, opposed by both the English church and crown, Tyndale realized he must leave the country and undertake his epic work elsewhere, never to return. He would live underground as a condemned heretic and hunted fugitive for the last twelve years of his life.
In the spring of 1524, at age 30, Tyndale sailed to the European continent to launch his translation and publishing endeavor. He would do so without the king of England’s consent, a clear breach of the established law. As a result, every biblical text he translated, he translated illegally. Tyndale began the work of translating the New Testament from Greek into English in Wittenberg, completing it in Cologne in 1525. Tyndale would ship his Bibles, hidden in bales of cotton, along the international trade routes to England. Church officials immediately declared the purchase, sale, distribution, or possession of this Bible a serious crime that would result in severe punishment.
Tyndale, after growing in his knowledge of Hebrew, began to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into English in Marburg, all the while a manhunt for him was underway. He published the five books of Moses in January 1530 in Antwerp. The translation of the English Bible by Tyndale was a demanding work that did not occur all at once. It came in successive stages over an entire decade.
Both the translation and printing were done under the shroud of absolute secrecy.
In England, a man named Henry Phillips was offered a large sum of money to travel to Europe and locate Tyndale. Phillips established a fake friendship with Tyndale, only to betray him. After translating Joshua through 2 Chronicles, Tyndale was arrested through the deception of Phillips and was executed on October 6, 1536. Tyndale’s final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” That dying prayer was answered two years after Tyndale’s death, when King Henry VIII ordered that the Bible of Miles Coverdale was to be used in every parish in the land. The Coverdale Bible was largely based on Tyndale’s work.
As we read our Bibles, I doubt that many of us realize the sacrifice that was made to provide us a Bible in English. Here are some of the facts I found interesting about Tyndale and his work:
- Tyndale’s translation, and those based on it, formed the basis of the King James Version in 1611, and through it, nearly every English translation since.
- A complete analysis of the King James shows that Tyndale’s words account for eighty-four percent of the New Testament and more than seventy-five percent of the Old Testament.
- Tyndale’s New Testament was the first English translation from the Greek text. His Pentateuch was the first portion of the Old Testament to be translated into English.
- Tyndale wrote with the aim of bringing the truth of Scripture to the masses of common people. Tyndale wrote in everyday language for the average person. Herein lies the broad appeal of his translation work.
- Tyndale’s revised 1534 New Testament proved to be the greatest of his works.
- As a skilled linguistic scholar, Tyndale introduced many words into the English language.
With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace by Nikki Haley. St. Martin’s Press. 272 pages. 2019
Nikki R. Haley served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2019. She had previously served as Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, and in the South Carolina South Carolina House of Representatives from 2004 – 2010. With All Due Respect covers highlights from primarily her most recent positions, and includes a number of leadership and life lessons.
Haley, the proud daughter of Indian immigrants, was raised in the religion of Sikh, and converted to Christianity in her 20’s. Her strong faith comes through in this book. She writes that her family felt the sting of ethnic and racial discrimination, but that they have also seen the South change in this regard. She describes South Carolina, her home state as a place of faith, values, and patriotism.
The book includes a number of very interesting subjects. She writes of her relationship with President Trump. She states that their communication was straightforward. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but he always took her calls, listened to her and they usually agreed. He trusted her. He also knew she would be honest with him when she disagreed, and he appreciated that.
She writes about an avowed racist opening fire in a Charleston, South Carolina church while she was the governor. Nine African American worshippers were murdered. She writes of how it shattered her world, and how she responded, including leading the effort to take the confederate flag down from the South Carolina capitol building. She writes that it was by God’s grace that she made it through that time, and that her faith deepened because of it.
Though she had a good relationship with President Trump, she writes of her interactions with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, moving in the opposite direction. The issue was that Tillerson and the president didn’t agree on much when it came to policy. Haley writes that when the president made a decision, she would follow it. On the other hand, Tillerson struggled with the president’s decisions. Tillerson and Chief of Staff John Kelly told her that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were just trying to save the country. It was their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America, because the president didn’t know what he was doing. They told her that they were doing the best they could do to save the country. But she counters that by writing that what they were doing was disloyal to the president. More important, it was disloyal to the American people who elected him. She goes on to write that in every meeting of the president’s cabinet and national security advisors, there was a faction that seemed to think they, not the president, should make the final decision when it came to policy.
She writes of her role as being the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. She credits the open and honest communication she had with President Trump as a large part of the successes they achieved at the UN. The United States was not going to get pushed around anymore, at least not on her watch. She was determined that the United States would lead once again at the United Nations.
She writes that in the end, the U.S. was only partially successful in changing the culture at the UN, but what they did succeed in doing was leading again. By showing what American leadership looks like, they opened up new possibilities for progress. She writes that being U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was the honor and the challenge of a lifetime. She left the position in January, 2019, and returned to being a private citizen for the first time in fourteen years.
A few of the items she writes about during her time at the UN were:
- Working with North Korea’s Kim regime to give up its nuclear program.
- The anti-Israel bias at the UN.
- Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
- How many, if not most, of the countries that receive generous U.S. assistance, return the favor with hostile rhetoric and even more hostile actions toward the United States.
- The Iran Nuclear Deal.
- The conflict in South Sudan.
- Free elections for the people of Congo.
- The devastating effects of socialism in Venezuela.
- The UN’s Human Rights Council, which she writes was not a place of conscience, but a place of hypocrisy and corruption. The US announced on June 18, 2018 that they were withdrawing from the Human Rights Council. She writes that the US could not continue to give credibility to an organization that made a mockery of human rights.
Haley is a strong leader of character, courage and principle. My guess is that she will continue to be an influential leader for many years to come.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- I know what it feels like to be different, humiliated, and ostracized for being who you are. The pain of being an outsider—of being judged unfairly—never really leaves you.
- Respecting human rights was something I fought for my entire time at the UN.
- How a country votes at the UN shouldn’t be the only factor in our foreign aid decisions, but it should certainly be one factor, and the disparity we found was shocking.
- I’ve always thought being a woman made me special. I am proud of being a woman, but it doesn’t define me.
- Labeling people based on race, gender, and other characteristics has gotten way out of hand in America today. It’s destructive and, ironically, it’s limiting. We are all much more than the sum of our labels.
- Girls and women can do anything if we let them and if we teach them. And they can be anything if they are respected. And if they are heard.
- The UN Organization (Human Rights Council) officially responsible for monitoring and enforcing human rights is, sadly, the United Nations’ greatest failure.
- There are two opposing models of government vying for dominance in the Western Hemisphere. One is a hemisphere of freedom, and the other is a model of socialism, dictatorship, corruption, and human rights violations.
- The United Nations can be a difficult place for moral clarity.
- I’ve seen how socialism destroys freedom. We all have an obligation to educate young Americans about where socialism leads. It leads not just to poverty, but to oppression. America’s collective amnesia on this point is becoming a real threat. And it’s a threat that comes at us not from abroad, but from within.
- Our immigration system is badly broken. Our country will continue to be at odds over this issue until we fix it.
- In some ways we are all victims, but if we dwell on victimhood, we become a nation of grievances, and that undercuts the greatness of America and robs us of a better future.
- It’s the simple things that make life worth living. So be kind. Don’t judge. Push through the fear. And laugh every chance you get, because you will be challenged.
- Christianaudio Free Audiobook Download for January. The free audiobook download for January from Christianaudio is Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age by Tony Reinke.
- Russell Moore Interviews Michael Card. In this episode of the Signposts podcast, Russell Moore interviews Michael Card about his latest book Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness.
- The Collected Best Christian Books of 2019. Looking for a good book to read? Tim Challies has helpfully accumulated a number of “Best Books of 2019” lists here.
- What Christian Book (Other Than the Bible) Would You Give to a Skeptic? Watch this one-minute video in which Julius Kim shares the book he would give to a skeptic or a non-believer regarding Christianity.
- What’s Best Next Study Guide. I’ve read Matt Perman’s excellent book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done twice, including one time in a book club with friends from work. I’m glad that there is now a Study Guide for the book.
- Always Looking for that Bridge: A Conversation with Andrew Peterson About the Christian Imagination. In this episode of his Thinking in Public podcast, Albert Mohler visits with singer/songwriter and author Andrew Peterson.
- How to Prioritize Reading. Tony Reinke writes “We will often neglect what we don’t prioritize. And book reading is often neglected because it fails to be a priority; and it fails to be a priority because we have not defined our reading goals clearly. Once we define the purpose of our reading, it becomes much easier to see the practical value of books in our lives.”
- 15 Books on the Holy Spirit. Our friend Kevin Halloran shares this helpful list of recommended books on the Holy Spirit.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
This week we look at Chapter 4: He Demands True Worship. Below are a few of my takeaways from the chapter:
- As the master evangelist seeks to win her, He expertly directs the conversation, taking her from a simple comment about drinking water to a revelation that He is the Messiah.
- The offer of living water is not just to religious people like Nicodemus — everyone who thirsts is invited to drink deeply of the living water — even an adulterous woman whose life is fraught with sin.
- True worship occurs not on a mountain or in a temple, but in the inner person.
- She evidenced all the characteristics of genuine conversion. She had sensed her need, she had confessed her guilt, she recognized Jesus as Messiah, and now she was showing the fruit of her transformed life by bringing other people to Him.
- Some of the most zealous witnesses for Christ are brand-new believers.
- Jesus had given her a drink of the Water of Life, and she had begun to worship God in spirit and truth. She didn’t need to conceal her guilt anymore; she was forgiven.
- What was repugnant to the scribes and Pharisees was good news to these Samaritans, because they were willing to admit they were sinners.
- Those who refused to acknowledge their sin found Him to be a Judge, not a Savior. He never gave such people any encouragement, any comfort, or any reason to hope.
- The Water of Life He held forth was given only to those who acknowledged the hopelessness of their sinful state.
- God seeks people who will submit themselves to worship Him in spirit and in truth.