This is one of my favorite Hebrew words. According to Strong’s Concordance, it is found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) 248 times. Its meaning is rooted in the very nature and character of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and it cannot be distilled into a one word translation.
Lovingkindness, kindness, steadfast love, mercy, goodness, grace, favor, charity, pity, faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, unfailing love, unconditional love
When translators put it into our English versions, because they must be concise, they have to choose which meaning to use in a particular verse. Our 21st century western brains desire precision, so we ask, “Well, which is it? What’s the literal meaning here?” But the beauty of Hebrew is that we don’t have to choose one and discard the other connotations. It still means all of those wonderful qualities.
Psalm 63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
In a way, every English translation is a commentary on the original language, because it’s up to the translators to prayerfully choose which words to use. It’s their best interpretation at the moment. This does not take away the fact that the scriptures are inspired, God-breathed holy writ.
It does demonstrate that the Living Word is not limited to any of our best efforts at putting it down as ink on paper. The miracle is that the God of all creation speaks to our hearts by the Holy Spirit and renews our minds in the reading and hearing of even our limited English translations.
I think it helps to understand the Hebrew a little better to add a fuller dimension to our Bible study and personal devotional time. I’m not a Hebrew scholar and not fluent to converse in it. I have been studying it for several years, and can only say, I’m making progress.
Hebrew words are full, packed, complex, and multi-layered. That’ll preach, won’t it?