To LOVE: ahav. verb. (Strong’s 157).
Root: אהב (aleph-hey-bet).
LOVE is a beautiful word that is expressed in every language.
Unlike New Testament Greek which has various words expressing different aspects of “love”, (erotic, companionship, divine), Hebrew has only the word ahav/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). [Said by 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.”
But Delilah did get to the point when she said to Sampson, “you say ‘I love you,’… but… your heart is not with me”.
The Hebrew prayer, the Shema, found in Deuteronomy was a commandment telling the people how to actively love YHWH:
“Hear, Israel! YHWH is our God, YHWH is one! And you shall love [w-ahav’ta] YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
The Shema told the reader that they were to love YHWH wholeheartedly, or not at all.
The idea of true, pure, love had a different expression in the Hebrew scriptures. Lev shalem לֵ֣ב שָׁלֵם֙ meant the heart perfect, or the heart complete, or the heart whole (wholeheartedness). It was an expression of purity and devotion. Purity in love always involved the heart.
King David gave this fatherly advice to his son:
1 Chronicles 28:9
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart [b-lev shalem] and a willing mind; for YHWH 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.”
There were many Biblical texts that highlighted God seeking out the hearts of people, such as:
2 Chronicles 16:9a
“For the eyes of YHWH move to and fro throughout the earth that He may show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect [l-vavam shalem] towards Him.”
When King Hezekiah (729-687 BCE) became gravely ill he called out to God for healing. He did not mention the word love, because he knew what God truly sought:
2 Kings 20:3 (see also Isaiah 38:3)
“Remember now, O YHWH, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart [u-v’levav] and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.…
God quickly answered Hezekiah’s prayer:
2 Kings 20:5b
“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 YHWH.”
[For more on the Hebrew phrase, “the third day” go here.]
Love (ahav) worked best when it was reflected in action, expressing itself through word and deed. Sincere love was to be fully committed to something regardless of what might block the way. Simple word dropping, such as “I love cheese”, does not hold much weight; you wouldn’t die for cheese (at least I hope you wouldn’t). But you would seriously consider sacrificing yourself for someone you love. Yeshua put it this way:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends.”
That kind of love can only be found in sincere devotion and purity of heart. And Yeshua, in making this statement, was hinting to his friends the action He was about to take as the Lamb of God who would die for the sins of the world.
LOVE Your Neighbour
Just as Yeshua died for everyone, we were called to love everyone. Love wasn’t just for your family and friends… YHWH expected more from His creation. Your neighbour (everyone outside your friend/family group) were equally deserving of your love. You were to love your neighbour equally as much as you loved yourself:
“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may certainly rebuke your neighbour, but you are not to incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor hold any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love [w-ahav’ta] your neighbour as yourself; I am YHWH.”
Yeshua saw this as the second greatest commandment. The first greatest commandment came from the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) , which we read earlier:
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”
If you can’t love God and your neighbour as well, then you ought to question your heart and your integrity.
God’s LOVE for His people
In the Book of Jeremiah YHWH said: “I have loved you [a’hav’tik] with an everlasting love [w-a’havat olam]; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
God’s love was everlasting, implying that God’s heart was, and is, perfect, whole, and complete. God made a point of expressing that He drew us close to Him with חָֽסֶד (chesed)… which has been translated as lovingkindness, loyal love, 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. And as God’s imagers we were created to love like God loves:
1 John 4:16-19
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.
May you experience God’s generous wholehearted love, and may you reflect that same love outwards to every human you meet!
Next week: lovingkindness