The Hebrew word חֶסֶד (checed) occurs 248 times in 241 verses, and in 28 of the 39 OT books. Clearly, it is an important theme.

The word first appears in Genesis 19:19

Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness (checed), which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die.

חַסְדְּךָ֗ (ḥas·də·ḵā)
Noun - masculine singular construct | second person masculine singular
Strong's Hebrew 2617: Kindness, piety, reproof, beauty

But in Leviticus 20:17, the meaning seems to be opposite:

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 (checed); and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people.

is a disgrace.
חֶ֣סֶד (ḥe·seḏ)
Noun - masculine singular
Strong's Hebrew 2617: Kindness, piety, reproof, beauty

Is chesed an auto-antonym?

Consider the Hebrew word "elohim".

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God [elohim] created the heavens and the earth.

Exodus 12:12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods [elohim] of Egypt. I am the LORD.

The meanings behind these two usages of "elohim" are quite opposite to each other.

  • 2
    See chesed.
    – Lucian
    Jun 10, 2020 at 7:18
  • 2
    +1 for referencing auto antonym. I had no idea such a term existed, but it is clearly a fact of grammar.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 10, 2020 at 12:49
  • 2
    See also Proverbs 14:34 for the less common meaning of chesed.
    – Susan
    Aug 2, 2020 at 20:48
  • Please change the חָסֶד (verse final form) in the question title to חֶסֶד (normal form).
    – user17080
    Aug 8, 2020 at 19:02
  • @Susan I saw your name on the site recently and was wishing you were still around. I hope you're back! You were missed.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 8, 2020 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


In Hebrew Tanakh - [Bereishit (Genesis) 19:19] states : "Your-Kindness" ( cHased-kha ,חַסְדְּךָ֗), not cHesed (חֶ֣סֶד). * cHesed (חֶ֣סֶד) is "Disgraceful" in [Vayikra (Leviticus) 20:17].

Chased (חַסְד) and Chesed (חֶ֣סֶד) do have the same root, but they are different words in terms of their niqqud and gematria which could categorize (חסד) as an "auto-antonym".

When using Hebrew Gematria to include niqqud :

  • By itself, Chsd (חסד) = 72.
  • After the addition of vowels, Chased (חַסְד) = 108 becoming a kind word carrying a "kamatz" (קָמַץ) and a "Sheva" (שְׁוָא) adding only 16 + 20 to its weight and illustrating kindness as a light burden of the Father , instead of Chesed (חֶסֶד) = 142 becoming a disgraceful word replaces the lighter burden of Chased with a heavier "Segol" (סֶגּוֹל) along with another "Segol" (סֶגּוֹל) creating a larger burden of 30 + 30. ->> This Gematria expression helps illustrate the weight of our words. Inflections and Tones can alter their meaning.
  • "Khasdekha" your-kindness.. It is from the same word as khesed, just "declined" to show 2 person possessiveness. These are all the same words. Aug 6, 2020 at 1:03
  • Why pronounce the Chet (ח) in Chesed (חֶסֶד) as khesed with a Khaf (כ)? The verse in [Vayikra 20:17] has (חֶסֶד) with a Chet - correct? Aug 6, 2020 at 1:53
  • Are you saying that חַסְדְּךָ֗ and חֶ֣סֶד have different roots?
    – user35953
    Aug 10, 2020 at 15:39
  • @Tony Chan // The response has been updated to illustrate חסד as an "auto-antonym" when applying Hebrew niqqud. Aug 10, 2020 at 16:53

The multitude of differing contexts in the MT in which חסד is interpreted as "grace" as opposed to two verses in which חסד is commonly interpreted in a negative sense is to say the least problematic. Here is an interpretation of both of these exceptional cases that removes the problem and leaves חסד with a purely positive interpretation.

Leviticus 20:17, the context is a sequence of twelve verses, 20:10-21 that all deal with cases of forbidden intimacy. For the first seven of these case, the punishment is death, by human court of law. For the last five cases the punishment is clearly not death by human court. Verse 17 then, is the first of the verses without the death penalty. What makes the case in verse 17 similar to and different from the previous verses?

The incest in verse 17 is similar to that of verses 11-16, so prima facie the punishment should be the same, the death penalty. However, the case of verse 17, a brother and sister, differs from the previous cases in that these people are are in any event living in close proximity and are likely to be alone together in many instances. Therefore, the punishment for their incest חסד הוא, is a grace, to be judged by God and not death by human court. Here חסד הוא refers to the punishment.

In Proverbs 14:34, the common translation of חטאת as "sin" impugns חסד and lead to awkward translations like (The Jerusalem Bible English translation):

Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach (חסד) to any people

The translator is apparently assuming that this verse must be a dichotomy like the previous verses from verse 28, but the cost is a speculative interpretation of חסד. A smother interpretation of this verse would be to assume that it is a parallelism rather than a dichotomy, and to leave חסד in it's majority sense:

Righteousness exalts a nation and grace (חסד) is an atonement for any people

In this interpretation חטאת is understood in the sense of a sin offering which brings atonement.

  • +1 interesting. Do you know of any version concurs with your interpretations on these 2 verses?
    – user35953
    Aug 8, 2020 at 19:17
  • @TonyChan No. I don't generally look at English translations unless unless the question is about a specific translation. For this question it might be better to look into scholarly articles or monographs on the specific verses rather than general purpose translations. No negative usage of חסד found its way into later Hebrew, and this fact combined with the overwhelming consensus of usage in the OT make it hard for me to believe that the popular translations are correct for these verses especially when there is an easy interpretation of both verse that fits the syntax and common usage.
    – user17080
    Aug 8, 2020 at 19:36

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