Psalm 136:1-3, 23-26 (English Standard Version)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever. … It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever; he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.
I heard someone say — I can’t remember who — that if you memorized the 31 chapters of the book of Proverbs, you would have the equivalent of degrees in business, psychology, and theology. That’s certainly overstating the case quite a bit, but there is no doubt that Proverbs is filled with wonderful, wise advice. Our lives would be vastly improved if we could live consistently with such counsel.
But there, of course, is the sticking point. Proverbs is a book to be acted upon, not just to be read. And we’re not always so great on putting good theory into real action. God knows this about us. God knows us.
One day some Pharisees — the snobby religious elite of Jesus’ time — saw Jesus sharing a meal with people they considered to be disreputable. They asked Jesus’ disciples to explain the bizarre behavior of a man who was supposed to be so holy. Jesus answered them directly: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
Jesus came for imperfect, flawed, messy people. He came for you and for me.
The Hebrew word in Psalm 136 translated above as “steadfast love” is ḥesed, and it appears over and over again in the Bible when talking about God. It’s one of my favorite Hebrew words. Ḥesed. It means kindness, mercy, steadfast love, loyalty, goodness, unfailing love. Each of the 26 verses of Psalm 136 end with the phrase: His steadfast love endures forever.
According to The New Interpreter’s Bible, “There can be no more profoundly good news than this — that God’s attitude toward the world and God’s motivation for action are summarized by steadfast love… Psalm 136 ultimately affirms that the origin, continuity, and destiny of the cosmos are dependent upon the grace of God” (vol. iv, page 1225).
We may never be able to perfectly live out the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. We will probably not make it through even this day without slipping up somehow, and doing or saying something that isn’t in line with God’s will for us. After all, we’re flawed human beings. But… we have hope in our God who is infinitely caring and faithfully loving. A God who knows us intimately, who never gives up on us, who helps us to grow and to mature, and whose steadfast love for us endures forever.
What do you think it would be like to consciously spend just one day looking at the people around you from the perspective of God’s compassionate, merciful, steadfast love? How might your conversations and interactions be different on that day?