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Psalm 136:23 & 24 use the same Hebrew word that is sometimes translated as "grace". The ESV uses "steadfast love" in those verses:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

—Psalm 136:23-24 (ESV)

I find analysis for "grace":

Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon

word: חסד

Translitaration: checed kheh'-sed

Strongs code: 02617

etymology:

from 02616 ,Greek 964 βηθεσδα

word class: subst. (mask.)

number: 248

King James translation for word AV-mercy 149, kindness 40, lovingkindness 30, goodness 12, kindly 5, merciful 4, favour 3, good 1, goodliness 1, pity 1, reproach 1, wicked thing 1

meaning

1) goodness, kindness, faithfulness

2) a reproach, shame

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Hi alvoutila. I'm not sure I understand the question. Every verse in Psalm 136 uses the same refrain that includes חסד. So I don't understand why you are picking out verses 23 and 24. Can you help me understand the question? –  Jon Ericson May 23 '13 at 18:50
    
This says: > A primitive root; properly perhaps to bow (the neck only (compare H2603) in courtesy to an equal), that is, to be kind; also (by euphemism (compare H1288), but rarely) to reprove. But I don't know where the ideas for the "primitive" meanings come from. –  Colin Fine May 23 '13 at 18:52
    
I think "grace" is a red herring, but you're right that Strong's says there are both positive and negative meanings of chesed (kindness). I focused my answer on that (and will remove the stuff I wrote about grace if it's removed from the question). –  Gone Quiet May 23 '13 at 21:01
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2 Answers

Psalm 136 uses a repeating refrain, not just the noted two verses:

כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

The last word, chasdo (3pm possesive, from chesed), is generally translated as "kindness" or "loving kindness". The word "grace" is a different word, chein. See, for example, Psalm 145:8:

חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהוָה

The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion

"Gracious" here is the first Hebrew word (from chein) and "full of compassion" (sometimes "merciful") is the second.

Focusing on chesed, which seems to be the core of the question, the Strongs entry says (down at the end):

(2) in a bad sense, zeal, ardour against anyone, envy (hence reproach)

It gives gives two text references for this meaning, Lev 20:17 and Prov 14:34 (and "some would say Job 6:14").

Lev 20:17 is:

... וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יִקַּח אֶת-אֲחֹתוֹ בַּת-אָבִיו אוֹ בַת-אִמּוֹ וְרָאָה אֶת-עֶרְוָתָהּ וְהִיא-תִרְאֶה אֶת-עֶרְוָתוֹ, חֶסֶד הוּא

And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness: it is a shameful thing...

"Chesed" here is translated "shameful thing". The translation used on the Rashi site (from Judaica Press) uses "disgraceful act". Rashi, a medieval scholar and compiler, connects this act of marrying one's sister to an earlier one:

it is a disgraceful act: The Aramaic term for “disgrace” is חִסוּדָא. - [see Onkelos on Gen. 34:14] Its Midrashic interpretation, however, is: If you [object and] say, “But Cain married his sister!” [the answer is:] the Omnipresent [in permitting this marriage,] performed an act of kindness (חֶסֶד), to build His world through him, as it is said: “the world is built on kindness (חֶסֶד) ” (Ps. 89:3). - [Torath Kohanim 20:116]

Marrying one's sister is a shameful act but in the case of Cain it was necessary, so Rashi understands that to be a divine kindness. (Why this doesn't apply to Seth is not explained here.) In other words, he sees the text here, which would normally be understood as "kindness" but talks about marrying a sister, as indicating that marrying one's sister could be a kindness, but not here in Leviticus. (I am probably missing some additional connections here, but this is what I've got.)

Now, turning to Proverbs, the passage in question is:

צְדָקָה תְרוֹמֵם גּוֹי וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּאת:

Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people. (JPS)

Charity will elevate a nation, but the kindness of the kingdoms is sin. (Judaic Press)

The latter is closer to the dominant meaning of chesed. Why would JPS and others instead render "reproach"? Rashi offers this interpretation:

but the kindness of the kingdoms is sin: They are the heathens, who rob one to give another.

In other words, it appears to be a kindness, but it's a false kindness -- giving to another is kind, but robbing to get the money to give is certainly not. Rashi does not cite a source for this interpration.

As for Job 6:14, the passage is talking about withholding kindness, but I don't see why "some would say" that's relevant here.

Conclusion

"Kindness" is by far the dominant meaning for chesed. There are some special cases that are negative but can arguably be made to fit with the "kindness" theme nonetheless.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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The idea of "chesed" (חֶסֶד) in the Hebrew Bible not only includes the idea of lovingkindness, but also of discipline. Moses indicated that the Lord would discipline the Israelites "as a father to his son" in the following verses--

Deut 8:2-5 (NASB)
2 You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5 Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. (emphasis added)

The narrative of Psalm 136:10-26 is in DIRECT parallel to Deut 8:1-10, which is an overview of the Israelites coming out of Egypt into the Promised Land. That is, both passages talk about the exodus from Egypt, the setbacks (divine discipline) and the subsequent victories over their enemies as they emerged victorious into the Promised Land, the abundance of nourishment and foodstuffs, and finally the blessings bestowed upon the Lord for all of his marvelous provisions.

In other words, "chesed" includes the idea of a father's discipline as part of the lovingkindness of the Lord. (Both Psalm 136:10-26 and Deut 8:1-10 are in DIRECT parallel, and therefore we make this connection.) This key now helps us to unlock two particularly difficult verses in the Hebrew Bible where "chesed" appears.

The first verse is Proverbs 14:34, for which the popular translation is as follows--

Proverbs 14:34 (NASB)
34 Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a disgrace to any people.

If we use the key (that "chesed" has a secondary meaning of divine discipline), then we can translate the same verse as follows--

Proverbs 14:34 (Alternative Translation)
34 Righteousness exalts a nation,
And reproof is the cleansing (or purification) for the people.

Here chatta'ah (חַטָּאת) = cleansing (or purification), and chesed (חֶסֶד) = reproof.

The other difficult verse is Leviticus 20:17, for which the popular translation is as follows--

Leviticus 20:17 (NASB)
17 If there is a man who takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace; and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness; he bears his guilt.

The Hebrew word "chesed" is translated here as "disgrace." However, if we use the key (that "chesed" has a secondary meaning of divine discipline), then we can translate the same verse as follows--

Leviticus 20:17 (Alternative Translation)
17 If there is a man who takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, that is reproach (discipline); thus they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness; he bears his guilt.

In summary, by recognizing Psalm 136:10-26 in DIRECT parallel to Deut 8:1-10, are we able to see that "chesed" has not only the general idea of lovingkindness, but also of discipline (as a father for his son). This secondary meaning of "chesed" therefore helps us better to understand and appreciate the meaning of Proverbs 14:34 and Leviticus 20:17, where this word occurs.

Finally, when we read Psalm 136:23-24, which is the passage that precipitated the original question of this posting, we see that the Lord, "who remembered us in our low estate" (Ps 136:23), had tendered their setback while entering the Promised Land (as a disciplining father per Deut 8:5), and therefore the Lord's "chesed" was twofold (discipline + lovingkindness). Also, we see that the Lord, "who has rescued us from our adversaries" (Ps 136:24), had tendered their setback while entering the Promised Land (as a disciplining father per Deut 8:5), and therefore the Lord's "chesed" was twofold (discipline + lovingkindness). We infer this connection between discipline (reproof) and lovingkindness, because this context is in DIRECT parallel with Deut 8:1-10.

Last but not least important, the Christian New Testament later picks up on this nuance of lovingkindness, and relates the Lord as the "loving father" who disciplines his sons in Hebrews 12:5-7.

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Just to make sure I understand, you're saying that because there is a close thematic relationship between Deut 8 and Ps 136, we can apply concepts from one to the other, right? (The word chesed does not appear in the Deuteronomy passage.) That's an interesting approach; thanks for sharing it. –  Gone Quiet May 26 '13 at 3:46
    
@MonicaCellio - correct. In this parallel, chesed would correlate to divine discipline; that is, the chesed of a father toward a son through discipline. –  Joseph May 26 '13 at 17:18
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