Let’s Get Hebrew – Ezra 3:11 [Totally Hip Gratitude]

Ezra 3 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee

Today’s PassageEzra 3:10-11

Ezra is a book about getting back in touch with your roots. Its events take place around 460-450 BC, generations after Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. King Cyrus of Persia sends a sizeable party of diaspora Jews to return to Jerusalem, reunite with the survivors, and build a new temple to their God in their holy city. And it would seem Ezra, who chronicled this expedition, took a few cues from the book of Chronicles, because when he uses the word “thanks,” he too pairs it with the word “praise.” In the scene from today’s passage, after the foundation for the temple is complete, the priests lead the Hebrew people in praise and thanks. All in all, it’s an extremely Hebrew scene, so let’s get Hebrew.

How Hebrew, exactly, is this celebration? For starters, the priests are playing their worship music “according to the directions [literally, “the hands”] of King David of Israel” (10). David was perhaps the greatest and best-known king of the period when Israel actually had kings; the priests are performing this song in a style recalling Israel’s glory days. On top of that, the song brings part of what made those days so glorious–joyful music about God for God–into the present. Having finished the foundation for the temple, the people are having a great time celebrating God’s foundational involvement in this opportunity.

Additionally, they’re singing one of the most Hebrew refrains imaginable. You may recognize the line “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” from the psalms and elsewhere, particularly the “response” portion of Psalm 136’s call-and-response. However, for this rendition, the priests add “for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever” (11). As if they weren’t already permeating this musical event with Jewishness, they state it explicitly: we’re the children of Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and got a name for it. We’re a nation defined by God’s love for us.

And let’s talk about that love, because “lovingkindness” is a super-Jewish word. You don’t often hear it outside of theological contexts. It’s the Hebrew חֶסֶד, chesed, and you might also translate it “mercy” or “goodness.” There are other possible translations as well. Other people who actually know the Hebrew language have written extensively about it. Me? I’ve never done any substantial or focused study on it. Anything I know about it I know by accident.

But here’s what I do know: it’s good. It’s better than mere love. It’s better than mere kindness. It’s a Jewish word, but it’s not just for Jews. It’s something God does for us, and it’s something we can do for each other. It’s not just a good deed done for a stranger, no mere “random act of kindness;” it’s the kind of kind deed that occurs in a relationship. The person doing chesed for another is invested in that relationship. And when you get it, you want more of it. You want it to keep going, to last as long as possible. In the ideal scenario, it would last forever.

That’s God’s chesed: it endures forever. And that’s something to be thankful for.

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