Hesed. Steadfast love. Psalm 103

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Note from Christine on Brahms and Psalm 103

Meditation on Psalm 103

Artistic interpretations

From Christine Gaudreau

The most famous version of Psalm 103 is found in Johannes Brahms' A German Requiem. Interesting about this requiem is that it was the first requiem ever composed that does not use the traditional Latin Text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass (Mass for the Dead), but instead uses biblical excerpts in the composer's native language from the German Luther bible. Brahms wrote the Requiem after the death of his mother and the texts used are much more comforting and uplifting than those in the traditional Latin Requiem Mass. It is the second movement that uses excerpts of Psalm 103, verses 15-18. 15 As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

The movement is very long - over 12 minutes - so I thought that was too much. I happened to find this excerpt which is much shorter and a really beautiful recording.

Click here to read Psalm 103 in its entirety.


We again look at one of the more familiar psalms, Psalm 103, a psalm of thanksgiving, a hymn. Verse 1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,..” and you may already have a tune in your head.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (vs 8). This familiar verse is the second of four times the words steadfast love (Hebrew: hesed) are used in Psalm 103. This proclamation of the Lord’s steadfast love, so much greater and more lasting than the Lord’s anger at our sin – as far as the east is from the west (vs 12), grounds us in hope. Steadfast love and compassion prevail over anger. God does not treat us as we might expect. We have a generous God that is marked by steadfast love.

Hesed is difficult to comprehend. There is a not an English word that so fully encompasses the grace, mercy and compassion of God. Hesed is something we humans are not capable of. Psalm 23 reads, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”; God’s love is not passive. It actively seeks us. It pursues us. It is not possible to get away from God’s hesed. We might best understand the fullness of the Lord’s hesed through the cross. We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).

Know that God’s steadfast love goes before you, seeks you, and follows you all the days of your life.

Who in your life needs your love, mercy, and compassion?

Can you spend time today sitting in the knowledge of God’s hesed?

Closing prayer: We thank You God for your many blessings, for the forgiveness of our sins and for your steadfast love and compassion, and your eternal presence. May I sing your praises all day long. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Artistic Interpretations

Dandelions & flowers image: "Psalm 103: So Great is His Love" by Melanie Pyke. www.melpyke.com

People image: "Psalm 103" by Lee Hood. https://pixels.com/featured/psalm-103-lee-hood.html

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