Deeds of Loving Kindness

by Lois Tverberg

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Jesus probably knew a beautiful saying that was attributed to a scholar who lived hundreds of years before him, and was written down in the Mishnah in about 200 AD (1):

For three things the world is sustained: For the study of scriptures (torah), for worshipping and serving God (avodah), and for deeds of loving kindness (gemilut hesed).

What this means is that for three great reasons God created humanity and allows the world even to keep existing: for us to discover God’s great love through his Word; to worship him and want to serve him because of it, and then to show God’s love to those around us.

This idea of showing God’s love to those around us was a beautiful concept called gemilut hesed (gem-i-LOOT HES-ed), “acts of loving kindness”. This was different than charity (tzedakah), giving money to the poor. Jesus and many other rabbis emphasized the great need to give to the poor, but as good as it was, gemilut hesed was considered even better.

Poor sharing foodAfter all, only the needy benefit from charity, but we can show kindness to anyone, rich or poor. And, it is easy to hand a $10 bill to somone for a meal, but to invite him into your home for a meal shows God’s love, and causes you to grow in love as well. Because of this, some Jews make a point to use some of their “giving dollars” to do gemilut hesed with their own hands. (2) For instance, instead of just giving money to charity, one woman invested her money in a library of books and then regularly found ways of loaning or even giving them to others. Certainly a Christian could do even more by buying and sharing good devotional books or Bible studies with others.

Considering as much money as we spend on entertainment from movies, cable TV, etc, wouldn’t a wonderful Christian alternative would be to “entertain” ourselves with gemilut hesed? To make a “hobby” out of a particular form of kindness to others? One Christian couple I know invested in a truck to use during snowstorms, to go up and down their country road pulling people out who had slid off the road. Another friend makes a habit of stopping to help or offer a cell phone to anyone stranded with road trouble. Yet another woman, who teaches classes on job hunting, enjoys helping friends find jobs if they need one or want one that suits them better.

What about even making a practice of being kind to waitresses and tipping them generously? Or inviting single or elderly people home for Sunday dinner after church? And, of course, to share your faith in Christ? All these kind acts will have the effect of showing God’s love to others in small and great ways. But they will have an even bigger impact on ourselves and our families, as we see God’s love transform our hearts too.

This article is based on an excerpt of a longer directors’ article, “Acts of Loving Kindness at Christmas,” from December 2004.

(1) Verse 1:2 of Pirke Avot, (Sayings of the Fathers), a collection of rabbinic sayings written about 200 AD in the Mishnah. Many of these saying were attributed to rabbis who lived in Jesus’ time and even before, and many relate to things Jesus said as well. This saying is attributed to Simon the Righteous, who was said to live at the time of Ezra.

(2) For many wonderful stories of the practice of Gemilut Hesed, see the outstanding book, The Book of Jewish Values, by Joseph Telushkin, (c) 2000, Bell Tower, New York, ISBN 0609603302.

Photo: Peter Isotalo

Our Great Redemption

by Lois Tverberg

Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God…who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Deuteronomy 8:11, 14

Sphinx and Great PyramidsIn the next weeks En-Gedi’s Water from the Rock series will focus on Exodus, specifically God’s redemption of the Israelites from Egypt. Christians generally don’t see this story as especially significant. But for thousands of years, Jewish readers have considered it a defining point their history, when God reached down into world events in an unprecedented way. The story of redemption is also central to the rest of the Scriptures, as the foundation of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. We can see the story’s critical importance just by noticing the many references that are made to it throughout the Bible. Here are just a few:

The people answered [Joshua] and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Josh. 24:16-17
When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, the LORD sent a prophet who said to them, “Thus says the LORD,… `It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery.'” Judg. 6:7-8

[David said,] “And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land, before Your people whom You have redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, from nations and their gods?” 2 Sam. 7:23

Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “I made a covenant with your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage…”Jer. 34:13

But I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me. Hos. 13:4

In almost every book of the Old Testament, a reference is made to this great act of deliverance in Israel’s history. Why? Because it showed the power of God and his love for his people. Moreover, it reminded them of their great debt to this God who had done so much for them. God was showing his people that they could trust him now and forever more.


At Peace in Prison

by Lois Tverberg

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
– Proverbs 16:7

After Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and was sent to prison, the scriptures report that “the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer (Gen 39:21).” As a result, Joseph was put in charge of the other prisoners and trusted entirely with the job. It is remarkable that in such terrible circumstances, Joseph could make such a positive impression on his captors. His jailor could have been his tormentor, but instead he treated him like a friend. Joseph must have had an extraordinary personality to have had this effect on people.

This story reminded me of another man with a similar experience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, was a man of powerful convictions
Peace in Prisonand part of the resistance to the Nazis in World War II. He was passionate that Christianity was not just an otherworldly faith, but that it demanded that he live each day according to the words of Jesus. After being arrested for his part in the resistance movement, he was sent to prison, where he spent his last two years before being executed.
Interestingly, Bonhoeffer had the same effect on the prison guards as Joseph had on his jailor. His warm, Christ-like spirit impressed his guards and greatly endeared him to them. As a result, they allowed him to visit the cells of other despairing prisoners to counsel them. He even ministered to the guards themselves! Because of their sympathy for him, the guards smuggled much of his writing out of prison, leaving a legacy for us today.

Why was it that Bonhoeffer had such a powerful effect on those around him? In Joseph’s case, the Bible says that “the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him.” It seems to be the case with Bonhoeffer as well — he had become intimately close to God, and the Lord was “with him” too. The powerful love of God love shone through him to others, and they responded in kind. In the cases of both of these men, God’s love radiating through them caused even their enemies to be at peace with them.


Hesed – Long Acting Love

by Lois Tverberg

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy (hesed). (Micah 7:18)

To Protestants, there is no more wonderful theological concept than “grace,” which we understand to mean undeserved forgiveness of sin. In older Bible versions, the word “grace” is often the translation of the Hebrew word hen in the Old Testament, which really means “favor” or “beauty.” According to David Bivin, this is actually an error on the part of translators.1

The Hebrew word that really comes much closer to our theological concept of “grace” is the word hesed (HEH-sed). It is a very rich and active word that is much deeper than just “mercy” or “lovingkindness,” as it is usually translated, and maybe even “grace” as we understand it. Hesed is to love as God loves. Based in a covenantal relationship, hesed is sometimes translated “unfailing love,” which endures to eternity:

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken. Isa 54:10a

Hesed isn’t just cheap forgiveness of sin or a disregard for God’s laws. It is the gracious forgiveness that comes from love that is so enduring that it persists beyond any sin, always seeking to forgive:

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love (hesed). Lam. 3:31-32

The word hesed has another aspect that also goes beyond “grace” as unmerited forgiveness of sin. Hesed also describes unmerited kindness that seeks to actively intervene to help a loved one. It is love in action, not just in our heads. Without a word for this, translators needed to invent the word “loving-kindness” or sometimes just “kindness.” An example is when the Lord helped Abraham’s find a wife for Isaac and he blessed God, “who has not abandoned his kindness (hesed) and faithfulness to my master” (Gen 24:27).

Together, both of these meanings of hesed describe the enduring nature of God’s love, and reflect the fact that God doesn’t just show his mercy by forgiving our sins, but in actively intervening in all of our lives. It is the merciful, faithful love that God extends to us, and what he wants us to extend to each other.

1See the article “Grace Compared” at


Further reading:

See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.

For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg,, 2014 (ebook).