- The word that appears in the Hebrew of Isaiah is hesed. The word hesed is related to the covenant God established with Israel at Sinai. The word hesed refers to the commitment that binds two parties to a relationship.
In his book, The Word Hesed in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), Gordon Clark says that hesed is an “action performed, in the context of a deep and enduring commitment between two persons or parties” (p. 267). Since faithfulness to a relationship is a character of God, God also expects his people to be as committed to the relationship as he is.
When the word is applied to God, it refers to his faithfulness to the relationship. Thus, the word is best translated “faithfulness,” “unfailing love,” “loyalty.” When the word is applied to human beings, it refers to the loyalty and commitment that people should bring to that relationship. In this case, a good translation of hesed should be “commitment,” “loyalty.” A strong relationship is built on commitment. Israel should be as loyal and committed to the covenant as God was.
The New Revised Standard Bible has a much better translation of this verse: “A voice says, ‘Cry out!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6)
The Today’s New International Version also reflects the intent of the writer: “A voice says: ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All people are like grass, and all human faithfulness is like the flower of the field.’”
God promised to be faithful to the relationship and he was. The people of Israel promised to be faithful to the covenant, but they were not. Thus, what the prophet is trying to communicate is that the people’s commitment is like the flower of the field, which is here today and gone tomorrow. This is the same idea expressed by the prophet Hosea: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love (hesed) is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early” (Hosea 6:4).
In Isaiah 40:6 the prophet is saying that the commitment of Israel to the covenant was like the flower of the field: it did not last very long. He is also saying that God’s word, his promises to Israel, endure forever because he is faithful to his commitment to the relationship.
We must reread Isaiah 40:6 from a different perspective and learn anew that God does not want “goodliness.” God wants the commitment of his people.