“Chesed”-Love

Today’s devotional won’t feel very Christmassy until the very end. Promise me you will keep reading until you get there!

In Joshua chapter 2, we encounter Rahab, the pagan prostitute from Jericho, whose heroic actions save two Israelite spies from capture by her own king. The king confronts her, and she flat out lies:

Joshua 2 (Common English Bible)

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. Then she said, “Of course the men came to me. But I didn’t know where they were from. The men left when it was time to close the gate at dark, but I don’t know where the men went. Hurry! Chase after them! You might catch up with them.” But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the flax stalks that she had laid out on the roof. The men from Jericho chased after them in the direction of the Jordan up to the fords. As soon as those chasing them went out, the gate was shut behind them.

Rahab sets terms

Before the spies bedded down, Rahab went up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land. Terror over you has overwhelmed us. The entire population of the land has melted down in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Reed Sea in front of you when you left Egypt. We have also heard what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. You utterly wiped them out. 11 We heard this and our hearts turned to water. Because of you, people can no longer work up their courage. This is because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. 

 Rahab saved the day for the nation of Israel, but not in a typical hero fashion. She had no special powers and was not by any definition a “mighty warrior,” yet she used what she had to defeat the enemy. And what did she have? Words. Rahab accomplished her heroine’s mission by simply employing words to their full advantage. She shaded truths, boldly negotiated, and offered a deal to the spies that they simply could not refuse … and in doing so, she saved her entire family from the destruction of Jericho that wiped out the king, her creditors, and the rest of the population.
     Let’s take a look at one particular word which Rahab used like a weapon. In the twelfth verse, she says,

 “Now, I have been loyal to you. So pledge to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal loyally with my family. Give me a sign of good faith.”

When we dig into the Hebrew word for loyal in this sentence, we find Rahab’s secret power: she used the word chesed. Chesed is a type of loyal, loving-kindness that is part of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. It is a word that cannot be sentimentalized, but speaks to the strength and steadfastness that stem from that covenant relationship.[1] It is a reminder to the spies of their God, whose love for Israel was so great that God would never let them go, despite their actions. By choosing the word chesed, Rahab establishes her own covenant relationship with these men, relying on their understanding of what that truly meant. And in the end, her household was saved not only from death, but from the debt that had forced her into prostitution. Clever girl!

The connection to Christmas is obvious. There can be no greater expression of God’s chesed love for us than to send his only son to be born in a manger, walk among us, and die on a cross for our sins. Our ability to participate in Jesus’ resurrection is the finest example of loyal, loving-kindness we could ever hope for.

On Christmas morning, God filled the humble manger with an offering of covenant renewal that was given to both Jews and Gentiles alike. This gift of chesed is the world’s saving grace. And all we have to do is open it. Are you ready?

Christmas Holly by Kathy Schumacher




[1] A Theological Word Book of the Bible, by Norman H. Snaith (New York: MacMillan, 1951), pp.136-137.

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