I tend to hold grudges against those who have said and done me ill. I have repeatedly asked the Lord to take this from my heart, but nothing seems to change. Because of this, I was recently thinking about the nature of biblical love and how far I was falling short of it. This is what I found.
All of the words for “love” in the Old Testament, except one, are variants of the Hebrew word אֹ֫הַב. It is natural human love. As examples, we see that Rebeka loved her son, Jacob. Isaac loved a certain food made from game. Jacob loved his son, Joseph. This definition sums it up:
“Basically this verb is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object.”1
The other word for love in the Old Testament is חֶסֶד or “hesed.” This is translated “steadfast love,” and it is different from the Hebrew word אֹ֫הַב. Here’s the definition:
“In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation.” 2
Hesed is most often used when the Lord is expressing how He loves His people.
To my surprise, I saw a definition of human love in Leviticus 19. It is not formally defined by the Lord, like in a dictionary, but we can see how God tells His people how they are to love others. This is a summary.
Leave the gleanings from harvest for the poor to gather. In fact, do not harvest the edges of your fields (vv. 9-10).
Do not steal (vs. 11).
Do not lie to each other (vs. 11).
You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him (vs.13).
You shall not withhold a worker’s wages (vs. 13).
Do not make things more difficult for people with physical challenges (vs. 14).
Do not treat anyone unfairly in court or be partial (vs. 15).
Do not slander people (vs. 16).
Do not hate your brother in your heart (vs. 17).
Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your brothers and neighbors (vs. 18).
Love your neighbor as yourself (vs. 18).
A lot of what it means to love people, according to the Lord, is not to do unloving actions against them. The Lord has helped me with this. In the early days after a seriously offensive action occurred, a couple of times I criticized the offenders to a friend in anger. The Holy Spirit convicted me and let me know, basically, to keep my mouth shut, and I obeyed from that point forward. So, in the Lord’s not-doing-unloving actions command, there was a measure of success, thanks to His grace and mercy. However, we are also told not to hate our brothers in our hearts or hold a grudge, and this is where I continue to fail. What is wonderful about that failure, if one can say such a thing, is that God’s love for me is hesed—steadfast. He has never stopped loving me and never will because I struggle with loving certain individuals in my heart. I will have to continue to deal with this on my knees before the Lord. This is a good thing, as well, because it’s humbling and causes me to seek Him.
The work of sanctification. Holiness. Discipleship. It is a long, hard trail we walk with Jesus. I am thankful for it. And I am thankful that on that long trail, He will never stop loving me.
1Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). In Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Vol. 1, p. 142). T. Nelson.
Gif courtesy Edge images.
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