Our Bible is a LOVE Story – not a romantic one, although it has elements of romance. God does draw us and allure us. The Bible is a story of God’s love first for the people of Israel and then also for the Gentiles. It shows us His covenant love and faithfulness over thousands of years. The Old Testament, which is also known as the Hebrew Bible contains the story of God’s love for Israel. The Hebrew Bible (OT) consists of three parts: the Torah (the first five books), the Prophets and the Writings. Together they show a picture of God’s love.
To begin to understand God’s kind of love, let’s look at some words that mean love. In English we have one word LOVE. We know there are different levels of love. While I love ice cream, that’s different from a deeply committed covenant type of love as exhibited in marriage for example.
In Hebrew and Greek the context in which a word is used is very important.
There are basically two Hebrew words used for love in the Old Testament (OT). They are ahav and hesed. The two words used in the New Testament (NT) in Greek to describe love are phileo and agape.
Ahav or aheb (to love) basically means to have affection for, love, like, to befriend. The Greek word phileo is similar in meaning. In describing God’s divine love, the Hebrew word hesed is used in the OT and agape in the NT. Hesed is difficult to translate into English because it has a range of meanings. Context is important!
Hesed can be translated into English as unfailing love, steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness, faithful love, lovingkindness, goodness, loyal, unchanging love, covenantal faithfulness
One definition of hesed is “completely undeserved kindness and generosity” (John Oswalt). Hesed is not just a feeling, but it is love put into action. Author Lois Tverberg states that hesed “intervenes on behalf of loved ones and comes to their rescue.”
The word hesed is used to describe God himself. When God revealed Himself to Moses, the Bible tells us that God proclaimed Himself as merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6 )
God has called us to be a holy people! .
In Deuteronomy 7: 6-9, the Torah says, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations….”
Just as God calls Israel to be a holy people, He also calls believing Gentiles to be holy and set apart unto Him (see 1 Peter 2:9-10). What is true in the book of Deuteronomy for Israel, is also true for us today as we are grafted into the rich olive tree that is Israel (see Romans 11:17-18). He loves us with a steadfast love.
In the Writings Psalms 136, which is the Great Hallel (praise) Psalm, hesed is used in every verse as the Psalmist recounts many of the mighty things God has done for His people. “His steadfast love(hesed) endures forever.” It is good to remember and reflect upon how God has shown us His steadfast love throughout our lives.
In Isaiah 54:10 (Prophets) God makes a beautiful promise to His people. “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love (hesed) shall not depart from you and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD who has compassion on you.” We can count on His steadfast love to bring us through even the most difficult of circumstances.
Basically, HESED is the expression of God’s covenant love for His people expressed throughout the Bible.
Remember the children’s song, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so?” The Bible does tell us so! There are times we don’t “FEEL IT.” That’s when we have to remind ourselves what the BIBLE says and believe it. Have faith!!!!
To be sure God’s covenant love also involves discipline and correction. God expects his people to keep (obey) His commandments, and He disciplined them when they didn’t. We see this pattern throughout the Bible. Israel possessed her inheritance when she obeyed God. When she stopped obeying and went down the path of sin, practicing idolatry and sexual immorality, she eventually was driven into exile. But, she was restored when she repented of her sin. God will restore when we sincerely repent; this requires not just words but action !!! See , we can honor God with our lips but our hearts can be far from him and so we worship Him in vain (Matthew 15: 8,9 ).
God highlighted the above verse to me once over 20 years ago. I remember where I was standing that day. I had been struggling with a sin, and God wanted to deal with me! It was time to stop talking and start doing!! It was time to repent (change my mind), acknowledge my sin, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit working through me to change my behavior. I felt very convicted, but I also knew I was greatly loved. God took the time to CORRECT ME!!
The question we need to ask is not so much does God love us, but have we learned to love as He loves?
God requires surrender and obedience from His people. Whenever I have felt a distance between God and me, it’s because I hadn’t surrendered or hadn’t obeyed. I know this can be painful to walk through, but it is absolutely necessary!!
Proverbs 3:3-4 says, “My son (my daughter), do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness forsake you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart so you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”
We are to have steadfast love towards God !!
Jesus was clear when he said, “Hear (in Hebrew “Shema” which means to listen and obey), O Israel, the Lord our God is One (Only). And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30 refers to Deuteronomy 6:4. This is the GREATEST commandment.
In John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep (obey) my commandments.” He repeats this principle in John 14:21. “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”
God spells love O-B-E-Y. Can we do this on our own? No, we can’t. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to do it, and we do it because we have learned to love God. God will still love us if we don’t obey, but we lose the blessing of intimate fellowship with God and the protection that obedience brings.
A friend shared something that happened in her life that illustrates the above principle.
MartyLee shared an experience she had years ago. She often struggled thinking that God did not love her when she sinned but that He loved her when she was “good.” She had two dogs that she loved very much. Fred was very obedient; Barkley was not. One day they were in the yard playing and a squirrel ran into the street. The dogs started to run after the squirrel. MartyLee yelled “STOP!” Fred stopped immediately, but Barkley ran into the street and was killed. She was heartbroken. She felt the Lord ask her, “Did you love Barkley less than Fred because he was disobedient?” Of course not! Fred’s obedience, however, saved his life. And so it is with God. He loves us no matter what. Obedience protects us. It’s really for our benefit.
Exercises to help you live out the Word!
- Write out Deuteronomy 7:9. Then list some ways in which God has shown you His steadfast love and faithfulness in concrete ways in the everyday circumstances of your life. It may be helpful to list each one, and then follow each one with the sentence “His steadfast love endures forever.” Use the format of Psalm 136 to guide you.
- Write out the “Greatest Commandment” from Mark 12:29-30 which Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Remember “Hear” is the Hebrew word “Shema” which means to listen and obey!
- Write out John 14:15 and John 14:21. List specific action steps you will take in obedience to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you and He surely will!
- Be accountable. Share this blog with a friend and invite her do the exercises too. Then set a time to call each other or meet to talk it over.
Betsy Roy is the Director of Women of the Word, an inter-generational ministry dedicated to helping women grow as disciples of Jesus by applying God’s Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. WOW holds conferences, retreats, Bible seminars and trips to Israel.