From the Psalms:

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 136:1-3 (NRSV) – April 25, 2014.)

ChesedPsalm 136 is twenty-six verses long. The second half of every single verse is the same: “For [God’s] steadfast love endures for ever.”

In The Book of Common Prayer version this refrain is translated, “For [God’s] mercy endures forever.”

“Mercy” is the pertinent term in the Authorized Version, as well, while in the New American Standard, the word is “lovingkindness.”

The New International Version renders it “love” and the Complete Jewish translation uses “grace.”

They’re all good words . . . and not one of them fully and completely captures the meaning of the original Hebrew word chesed.

It seems to me that what is lacking in all of the translations is recognition of the implicit qualities of unconditionality, loyalty, and devotedness, and the explicit quality of covenant.

Chesed, additionally, conveys a sense of priority. God’s chesed is prior to all human response and in no way depends upon any human response; nonetheless, God binds Godself in chesed in covenant with humankind offering a loyalty and devotion humankind is incapable of reciprocating.

Perhaps this is why our translations of chesed (and even the word chesed itself) are inadequate. Human language cannot encompass the unconditional and endless self-giving of God. And, perhaps, this is what Psalm 136 must repeat, over and over again, that God’s steadfast love, mercy, lovingkindness, grace, chesed is eternal.

We must constantly remind ourselves of that which is fundamentally beyond our comprehension. We cannot comprehend it; we cannot offer any adequate response. We can only accept it and be grateful. Repeatedly.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.