From deep within the underwater hotel of the fish’s belly, Jonah cried out to the LORD to save him after three days and three nights. Jonah (meaning “dove” in the original Hebrew) confessed that he was wrong to have not taken the message to the people of Nineveh as God had instructed and was now ready to make the journey to give God’s message to these brutal people. God was pleased and caused the giant fish to spit Jonah onto dry land and the message of urgency for repentance and turning from the evil practices they were engaging in to receive God’s forgiveness was in fact preached by Jonah—and received gladly and with gratitude by the Ninevites!
This story is familiar for a lot of us, but confusing for most of us. Why would God tell one of his prophets to go to a land where the people (of the Assyrian empire) were committing such wicked acts (e.g. chopping people’s head off and stacking them in pile, hanging people naked on poles, sodomizing pretty little boys and pretty little girls from conquered lands, etc.) when God stated that He was going to destroy them if they did not stop acting in such wicked ways and repent to God? The answer goes back to a Hebrew word; ḥesed. According to Dr. Ron Allen of Dallas Theological Seminary, “Next to the actual name of God in the Bible, ḥesed is the second most important word in all the Bible.”
Well, seeing as it is super important, allow us to define the term. Ḥesed as defined by Dr. Ron Allen is loyal love. The very things that God had revealed about Himself to Moses many years previous, were now the very things Jonah was struggling with as he had debated whether or not to deliver God’s message to the barbaric people of Nineveh. God described His own nature to Moses in Exodus 37:5-7 in three main ways:
God is compassionate beyond imagination
God is patient beyond expectation
God is filled with grace and truth
It is because of God’s ḥesed that anyone is able to be forgiven by God for all the wicked, crazy and shameful things that we do. It is because of God’s ḥesed that John 3:16 is at play for any and all who call upon His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It is because of God’s loyal love (ḥesed) that the people of Nineveh were told to turn from wickedness or God would destroy them; by stating destruction, God was displaying His ḥesed in the fact that He was delaying the punishment for sin by giving them the ability to repent to God and turn from their evil ways. It is because of the ḥesed of God that Jonah was shown mercy to be swallowed by a great fish, rather than simply drowning in the ocean after being thrown overboard by sailors for running away from God. The LOYAL LOVE (ḥesed) of God is all over the book of Jonah! And if we are honest, it is all over our own lives, too.
You see, the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all centered upon this beautiful fact: Jesus paid the price of death for you, for me and for any and all who would believe it through offering up His (literally) perfect and sinless life to die upon a Roman cross, to be buried in a tomb and to raise from the dead on the third day so that in exchange, we would receive what we do not deserve nor merit—the imputed righteousness of God (Romans 3:23). Now, does that mean that now I am perfect and I am so much better than everybody else? Nope. It means that I did not have a righteousness of my own (and am aware of my own deficiencies); only filthy rags of futile attempts to “be good enough” on my own is all I –or any human for that matter—can bring to the table when approaching God. What it does mean is that when God looks at me, He no longer sees my shame, my guilt and my rebellion—He sees the punishment that Jesus Christ took for me—paid with His own blood (Isaiah 53:5)—and I am seen as pure and clean before Almighty God (Psalm 51:7, Imputed righteousness means that I did not earn right standing before God, but by believing that I need someone to deal with my sin problem and that Jesus Christ did in fact die on a cross to pay from the rebellion of each person of every country and culture around the globe—including me—including you—(Romans 5:8, Romans 8:1-2, 1 John 4:9-10), each believing soul will in fact be saved (Romans 10:9-10).
“9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.11For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;13for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” -Romans 10:9-13 (NASB)
“ 8If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” -1 John 1:8-10 (NASB)
As we close our brief study on the gloriously eternal implications of the ḥesed of God in the Holy Bible, may we savor and truly rejoice in the reality of God’s LOYAL LOVE, through Jesus Christ, offered freely to any and all who would choose to place their eternal hope and security in His hands as we read Romans 8:33-39:
“ 31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:33-39 (NASB)