Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Two Hebrew words for love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:56 pm on Thursday, August 30, 2007

While preparing for a bible study on Hosea 6-7 I found it difficult to interpret the word”mercy” in Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (NIV). The same word is translated “steadfast love” in ESV, “loyalty” in NASB, “goodness” in ASV, “faithfulness” (NET). So, which is it?

The Hebrew has two main words for love, “ahab” and “hesed”. Love in ahab sense is the closest to the English meaning and is usually refer to the love between people (husband and wide, parent and child, friends) or of people toward God. More rarely, it may also refer to the love of God toward people. Hesed is best translated as kindness but not in the modern English sense. It assumes a hierarchy, where the one at the higher position is giving the hesed. Hence, the word is very often used in the sense of God’s love or kindness toward people and people’s mercy or kindness toward others. It is never used to mean love of people toward God.

This last statement is very important for interpreting Hosea. For example, when looking at Hosea 4:1 “There is no faithfulness, no love (hesed), no acknowledgment of God in the land.”, a first impression one gets is that love here refers to people’s love for God. Yet this is impossible since the word “hesed” is used. Similarly, in Hosea 6:4, “Your love (hesed) is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” the mentioned love is not of people toward God but kindness and mercy of people toward each other.

I was delighted to see that Anchor Bible Dictionary, one of the best scholarly bible dictionaries in existence today, confirmed my observations (made purely on the basis of using a concordance). However, they provide a few additional insights by pointing out that Hosea might have intentionally played on the potential double meaning of hesed. To show love, mercy and kindness to others is one of the primary way we can show our love for God. It is as if God says to the Israelites in Hosea 4:1, You don’t love me because you do not show love and kindness toward other people.

24 Comments

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Comment by Hannah

September 6, 2007 @ 10:43 pm

Thank you for your words of insight! I did a google search on the word “hesed” since I stumbled across it in my Bible study and am fascinated by all it means for us as children of God. Would you mind if I shared your thoughts with others?

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Comment by Vitali

September 6, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

Please do!

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Comment by Leke

January 28, 2009 @ 1:56 am

Hi Vitali,

Any idea the hebrew equivalent of Christ’s word when he said ‘no greater love hath a man than this, than he should lay down his life for his friends’ and especially because he adds ‘love one another – by this shall men know ye are my disciples’?

Cheers

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Comment by Vitali

January 28, 2009 @ 2:03 am

Hi Leke,

To say these words, Jesus used Greek, not Hebrew. That is probably a topic of another post.

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Comment by Cipa

February 2, 2009 @ 8:19 am

Do you think that Christ was Hesed in a tangible form? It is hard to compare the two because like you said…two different languages, but i don’t think it’s a far stretch to say that what Christ was talking about was the ultimate display of God’s Hesed.

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Comment by Glen

March 30, 2009 @ 4:12 am

The Hebrew meaning of ahab is, “I give”. Love is giving. Giving a sacrifice was important in the old testament, but Christ chastised the Pharisees for observing the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit of the law, that is mercy and justice. Healing on the sabbath was more important than observing the letter of the law concerning the sabbath.

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Comment by Jon

February 1, 2010 @ 9:25 am

A friend of mine had this to say when I asked him about these words (he’s an Israeli)

“Chesed means ‘charity,’ not love. Chasid is a charitable person. In English it is written as ‘Hassidic’, and is used to describe ultra-religious Jews (the ones in black suits).

Ahava means ‘love.’ It’s exactly the same as the English usage, not a close approximation.”

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Comment by Justin

July 18, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

ahab is more likely an incorrect translation of ahava, since no true Hebrew words end in the consonant sound B, especially not basic verb roots.

Hassid is someone who is charitable in the eyes of the law, their display of kindness,the practice of piety.

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Comment by Majockus

April 20, 2012 @ 5:25 am

The comment about the Shabbat and the Pharisees is incorrect. If Yeshua, Jesus, had not kept the law perfectly, He could not have been “spotless.” He corrected the Pharisees on adding men’s doctrines to the teachings of YHWH. He perfectly kept ALL the teachings, Torah. You should learn what those teachings are before you are guilty of “adding to or taking from” them! Don’t trust in learning doctrine, learn scripture!

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Comment by subramani

June 25, 2012 @ 1:21 am

Thank you so much for providing such a good information. I am planing to write a thesis on “The Prophetic Paradigm of Mission in Hosea and its Relevance to the Bible Translation in India”. if you can help me in my writing that’ll be of great help. i want to prove that the word hesed means love and how that love transformed the lives of people in India through bible translation. or i want to prove that ‘Mission is love’ or ‘Love is Mission’ from the book of Hosea. I look forward for your help and support. Thank you very much, God bless You

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Comment by Noam HaLevi

August 27, 2012 @ 7:57 am

The word chesed does mean “kindness” but in the larger sense of doing what it takes for life to flourish. Abraham exemplified the trait of cheesed (kindness) in his rushing to greet the three visitors wandering the desert even though he knew nothing of these men – whether they meant to do well or do harm. Abraham treated the men to a royal meal. On the other hand, Abraham’s trait of cheesed meant also going to war so as to free his captured nephew, Lot. Both actions had life preservation at the root of their kindness.

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Comment by Debbie

January 18, 2013 @ 10:58 am

Another interesting thing about the word “love” in the O.T. is that the word “ahabah” (strg 160) which seems to be a more intense type of love (i.e. lovesick)is only found 40 times in the O.T. (Interesting number of uses), and each time it is used it expresses a love that is mighty, i.e. Jeremiah 31:3 “Yea, I have loved (ahab) thee with an everlasting love (ahabah).” (My favorite Scripture by the way.)

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Comment by Heseti Kolia

May 27, 2013 @ 12:41 am

Heheh im very proud of mahh name…nw dt i understnd where my name cumz frm bt my family call me Heseti in Samoan language…heheh proud to be Heseti “Hesed” in Hebrewz

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Comment by Marcus

August 5, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

chesed (or hesed) means hospitality in Hebrew.

Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek.

agape, Greek for “love” is a cognate of Hebrew ahava.

Ahava means “to care” an active, rather than emotional love.

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Comment by Wiseman fidelis

August 8, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

The funny thing is that the Europeans and the English men made their great success in destroying the New testament by supplying the greek language for Jesus’s gospel of the Kingdom even words He did not speak! Western Christians are very confused and they accept any corrupt version of the Bible the satanists presents to them without making any attemp to learn the original language of their master Jesus Christ in order to understand His message better. I encourage every Bible believer to read the Bible in Hebrew which is its original language. Or at least learn. may God help us through Christ.

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Comment by roland

October 6, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

please i am looking for some who can help me and give me the name “Godlove” in greek or hebrew, my email tifuhroland@yahoo.com

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Comment by Maggie

October 13, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

All I know for sure is this: Jesus is coming back so we better be ready. Like a thief in the night!

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Comment by Pat

October 22, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

As Disciples of Christ we find ourselves thinking love is only love we see in fairy tales or between two people (husband and wife, siblings, parents and children). I find God’s love to be a whole different type of love that is hard to explain. I believe He has a whole different level of love.

Gob Bless all

PS. You spell wife wrong you spelled it as “wide”

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Comment by John

March 24, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

חֶסֶד het-samek-resh Does not mean “love” it means “kindness,disgrace”
Hosea 6:4 remember that roots have little meaning before the entire word is constructed.

Love is Aleph-he-bet-waw אֱהָבוּ “Love”

Comment by Bongani

June 2, 2014 @ 9:43 am

Well first I like to thank God for you children and people of God…wow, I’m speechless. I don’t regret for peeping and taking time to go through this site…wow. But mostly I speak Numbers 6: 24-26 into yourlives… Thank you again. Shalom.

Comment by Angel

July 3, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

Wow. The Spirit of the Lord really is awesome. I thank God for bringing me into the midst of saints. Please, keep up the good work.
Uhm, i need help in getting other translations of “love”.
angeltony1896@gmail.com. Thank you.

Comment by amoraeternus

August 16, 2014 @ 9:16 am

Fully recognizing the value of Hebrew in sacred scripture, it must be said that Greek is an essential part of divine revelation of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Centuries before Christianity the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament) was the official sacred text for most of Judaism. Then, all of the New Testament (except in non-extant original of Matthew) was written, by divine inspiration, in the Greek language. Love of the Sacred Scriptures must, therefore, include love of the Greek. Cf. This was actually the theme of The Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI. Read it.

The Latin Vulgate should also be greatly revered, being another ancient and perhaps the best preserved (due to the invaluable work of the Church) and therefore authoritative rendition of the Sacred Scripture.

So, you lovers of Hebrew need to acquire an equal love for Latin and Greek, for love of God!

Comment by Bryte-Gad

August 17, 2014 @ 1:56 am

So does it mean John used the hebrew word hesed in John 3:16 instead of the greek?

Comment by nyombi

September 17, 2014 @ 7:39 am

Thank u, i would like to learn hebrew but i donn know how

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