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The Hesed Factor

How does the Old Testament principle of hesed—"covenant loyalty"— apply to Christians today? The love story of Ruth shows the way.

by Nathan Albright

One of the most popular books of the Bible is the book of Ruth. In this short and enchanting story, we learn how a young Moabite widow became the ancestor of David and later of Jesus Christ through marriage to the wealthy and generous Boaz. Beyond the surface of the story, though, there is a consistent theme of covenant loyalty.

The Hebrew word hesed has been translated into a variety of terms in English. These include favor, grace and loving-kindness. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary, "The entire history of [God's] covenantal relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of hesed." In other words, "covenant loyalty." Covenant loyalty, while it may seem an odd expression, refers to action done out of a loving heart. If we are acting in love toward others, we seek their best interests and not merely our own. Ruth shows that even when it appears as if we have nothing going for us, our own loving service may be repaid to us in ways that we cannot predict.

There are at least seven ways that covenant loyalty is shown in the four chapters of the book of Ruth. As we go through these examples, imagine what it would be like to be Ruth, Naomi or Boaz. By realizing the great love and work of God in the lives of these righteous individuals, we may see the ways in which God can bring us great glory, even through suffering and misfortune.

Seven examples

The first example of hesed occurs in Ruth 1:16-17. Naomi, an Israelite widow, decided to return to Israel after the death of her two sons in the land of Moab. Ruth, her widowed daughter-in-law, planned to go with her, even though Naomi warned her that there could be no expectation of marriage and children, but rather the bleak prospect of poverty. Still Ruth refused to leave Naomi.

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