3 Characteristics of “Hesed Love” in the Book of Ruth

wheat_close_crop2Our culture often focuses on love as something you get rather than something you give, and it fixates on how love makes you feel.

It’s of course not wrong to receive love from others. But if you take a look at Scripture, the focus tends to be the opposite—demonstrating love for others through self-sacrificial acts.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often used to describe this sacrificial love is “hesed love” (often translated as kindness or loyal-love).

When it is used to describe God, hesed love is often used as a covenant term showing the relationship between God and his people. It depicts God’s loving, merciful, gracious, kind, good, and benevolent ways (we really don’t have any English glosses that do this one word justice).

In the book of Ruth, the word “hesed” shows up 3 times describing the loving-kindness of people toward each other or the petitioning of God to show love toward another person (cf. 1:8, 2:20, 3:10).

Here are three things to notice about this type of love in the book of Ruth[1]:

  1. Hesed love is shown through actions—Hesed love is expressed primarily through actions rather than words or emotions. For example, Ruth 1:8 reads,“Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.’”
  2. Hesed love expresses genuine concern for others—Hesed love cares about the needs of other people. Interestingly, throughout the book of Ruth no one petitions God to meet his or her own needs. As commentator David Block puts it, “No one in the book demands that God meet their needs or asks for some divine intervention on his/her own behalf. True covenant faith is expressed by concern for the Welfare of others.”[2]
  3. Hesed love demonstrates strong devotion—Hesed love is demonstrated through devotion that goes above and beyond what is expected. For example, Ruth broke from her family, country, and faith to follow Naomi. She in essence devoted herself to a life of service to her mother-in-law rather than seek a better life for herself through a second marriage.

[1] Adapted from observations by David I. Block in the New American Commentary on Judges/Ruth.

[2] David I. Block, New American Commentary on Judges/Ruth.