Let’s take a look at the Hebrew concept of LOVE.
The Hebrew word for love is אהבה AHAVA. (awe-h’VA).
The root of this word is: אָהַ֤ב (aleph-hey-bet).
Unlike New Testament Greek which has various words expressing different aspects of “love”, (erotic, companionship, divine), Hebrew has only the word ahava, which has been translated into English as “love”.
Because of this, the Hebrew word for love is used in many different ways, and anyone can say it, whether there is integrity behind it or not. Some examples:
Love of food: Isaac-“Make me savoury foods, such as I love” (Genesis 27:4)
Misguided love: “You love evil more than good” (Psalm 52:3)
Parental love: “Take now, Isaac, your only son, whom you love…” (Genesis 22:2)
Companionship love: “Enjoy the life with the wife whom you love all the days of your meaningless life.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) [Ah, the grumpiness of King Solomon in his old age who, if you recall, had 700 wives who turned away his heart! (1 Kings 11:3)]
“Love” used for guilt: Delilah says to Sampson- “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have deceived me these three times and have not told me where your great strength is.” [I always imagine her saying this with a flirtatious pout].
But Delilah does get to the point when she says to Sampson, “you say ‘I love you,’… but… your heart is not with me”.
The idea of true, pure, love has a different expression in the Hebrew scriptures. Lev shalem לֵ֣ב שָׁלֵם֙ means the heart perfect, or the heart complete, or the heart whole (wholeheartedness). It is an expression of purity and devotion. Purity in love always involves the heart.
King David gives this fatherly advice to his son:
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” (1 Chronicles 28:9)
There are many Biblical texts that highlight God seeking out the hearts of people, such as:
“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9a)
When King Hezekiah (729-687 BCE) becomes gravely ill he calls out to God for healing. He does not mention the word love, because he knows what God truly seeks:
“Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.… (2 Kings 20:3). [This prayer can also be read in Isaiah 38:3].
God quickly answers Hezekiah’s prayer:
“I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD.” (2 Kings 20:5b)
An extra tidbit: We won’t go into the depth of what “on the third day” means, but it is interesting to note that King Hezekiah is in Matthew’s (Matthew 1:1-17) genealogy of Yeshua (Jesus), who rose on the third day to the heavens (Luke 24: 1-8). [Discuss amongst yourselves!]
God’s LOVE for His people
In the Book of Jeremiah the LORD says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3) [“Drawn” as pulled out and brought close, like a net out of water… not sketching us freehand! LOL!].
It is stated that God’s love is everlasting and it is implied that God’s heart is perfect, whole, and complete. God instead makes a point of saying that He draws us and brings us close with חָֽסֶד (chesed)… which is often translated as lovingkindness, mercy or covenant loyalty. It is a beautiful word, ripe with meaning, which we will look at next week!
In the meantime remember: Scripture says that a true, wholehearted, perfect love is a God-gift that we have access to. The letter known to us as 1 John, written by a Jewish follower of Yeshua (Jesus), expresses it best:
And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)
May you experience wholehearted love!
Next week: lovingkindness