Post Title: The Will to Love
"I've something a bit different to share with you that is always timely, interesting, and challenging. For a deeper dive into this subject, I commend to you my audio seminar, In His Image: Biblical Insights Into Love, Marriage and the Family."
The Bible teaches and pictures a radically different view of love. In three separate instances, the Torah commands it.
Deuteronomy 6:5 – You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Leviticus 19:18 - You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:34 - You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Think about it. You cannot command passions or emotions. What you can command is the will. The exercise of the will leads to conduct. Right conduct fosters positive emotions.
Israel's sages studied the scriptures diligently to figure out what God meant when he said, "You shall love" your God, your neighbor, the stranger. They reasoned that God cannot command passions or emotions because they are capricious and erratic; they come and go. But your will is something within your power to control.
What does it mean to love God? So they point out that the very next verse in Deut 6:6 says, And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart followed by God giving them specific things to do. So, they reasoned, to love God means to study his Word in a way that leads to keeping his commandments, which leads to growing in greater intimacy and delighting in him.
What does it mean to love our neighbor? In Lev 19:18, a neighbor is better translated as one's fellow citizen. It refers to those within the community of faith. It means that you desire and act for the well-being of your brothers and sisters. You are to treat them the way you desire to be treated. Israel's sages provide many practical illustrations of what it means to love your neighbor, like visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and providing a bride and groom with the necessities for establishing their new home.
What does it mean to love a stranger? The key to this text is the Lord's constant reminder to his covenant people, You shall not oppress a stranger. You know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex 23:9). It means that you treat those outside the covenant community like you would like to have been treated when you were captive in Egypt. It means you desire the stranger's well-being, evidenced by doing good and being kind to them. You do not cause or add to their suffering or sorrow.
It shocks most Christians when I tell them the highest goal of Judaism—then and now—is love. We have such a distorted image of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish people. The highest ideal and ultimate purpose, even the greatest happiness according to the sages, comes only in love. And the highest form of love is to love God. Israel learned a secret in pursuit of being faithful to love God according to his Word. What they discovered is what I want to say to you today.
The means to the end (the end being love) is love. In other words, the performance of acts of love leads to the passion of love.
If you perform the deeds of love in concrete, specific actions, it will lead in time to the feelings and disposition of love toward the other—whether it be God, your family, your neighbor, or even the stranger. And this, they say, is why the Torah commands love. Because in doing acts of love man is taught how to love.
We can view the relationship between a husband and a wife through the same biblical lens. In the covenant of marriage, love involves both duties and delights. And love includes romantic love. The Bible explicitly praises the virtues of romance in stories like that of Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and in entire books like the Song of Songs. But it is equally honest about the realities of human relationships.
The sages pointed out that ecstasy is temporary and fleeting unless formed into everyday acts of love. Romance and affection are highly desirable as part of a larger cluster within the marriage relationship. Why? Because marriage, first and foremost, is a covenant of mutually interdependent—not codependent—partners. Therefore, manifestations of affection, tenderness, and sexual expression are an important and fulfilling part of marriage.
The Hebrew word for a husband and wife having intercourse is the same for knowing God (yadah).
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD" (Gen. 4:1). Yadah speaks of both the mind and heart that brings you into an intimacy with the other.
But there is a Hebrew word that is even more meaningful concerning romantic love. It is yichud. A version of this word occurs in Gen 2:24-25, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. One flesh is basar echad. Echad, which speaks of oneness, has the same root as yichud.
Yichud speaks of intimacy, a balanced and mutual relationship, and a simple but enduring kind of love. The term denotes the last portion of the Jewish wedding ceremony. After all the blessings are pronounced, the new husband and wife retreat from the crowd and go off to a special room, and the door is locked. Alone together, they can be one. This ceremony is called yichud.
They spend quality time there together before they come out and greet the well-wishers. They are holy, and marriage is holy. They are separated from the rest of the world and set apart for one another. In another beautiful picture, traditionally, yichud refers to a room or a house designed to be an environment where both the love of spouses and children can flourish. Again, dear friends, this is truly romantic and reflects the loving heart of our God and Father.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.