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Biblical vocabulary: אהבה (love)

God’s love… is love in action

In the Hebrew language the verb ahabh” (pronunciation: ahav) occurs which can be translated as to love but also includes the meaning of: longing for, being connected to/with, hanging on to, sticking to. This indicates that this concept of ahabh”/to love also includes desire and connection. Therefore, the word ahabha” (pronunciation: ahava), derived from the verb ahabh”/to love, has the meaning of: love, affection, devotion, connection.

These multiple meanings are evident in the way ahav”/to love and ahava”/love are used in the Hebrew Bible. In it we discover that ahava”/love is not just a feeling that you experience, or an emotion that you can express, but that ahav”/to love actually sets in motion. Ahava”/love drives longingly to the loved one and motivates to hold on faithfully to and stay persistently with those they love. That means that ahav”/to love is not passive, but manifests itself in an active way. That is ahava”/love, as God intends and as He gives Himself as the Source of all love.

God’s ahava”/love for His own people

God’s love is never passive. We see that in His acting with Israel. Out of love He delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:37). He made them His covenant people because “… the LORD ahav/loves you …” (Deuteronomy 7:8). We also hear this from the prophets: I have loved you with an everlasting ahava/love …” (Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:1,4; 14:4). In ahava”/love and pity God will redeem and carry Israel… (Isaiah 63:9). So, He will do it with all His own people.

What God’s love requires

God’s love requires an active response and that is why He asks for complete love with an undivided heart “You shall ahav”/love the LORD your God with all your heart …” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is how God’s voice of love sounds on the eve of the entry into the promised land in Deuteronomy. After 40 years in the desert, the Lord God made Moses and the people of Israel look back into that past, to point out again what He did for them in all those years. Hereby they are also presented with what He requires of them “… what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to ahav/love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart…” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

Actively responding to God’s love involves faithfully adhering to His Word and commandments and serving Him: “You shall therefore ahav/love the Lord your God and keep His charge, His statutes, His rules, and His commandments …”, “ahav/love your God and serve Him…” (Deuteronomy 11:1, 13, 22). This active response to His love offers much joy and blessing, but it can also mean a sacrifice. But ahava”/love is also devotion and persistently holding on! The Psalmist knew this “Oh how I ahav/love Your law! It is my meditation all the day…” (Psalm 119:97, 113, 119, 127).

Gods giving ahava”/love

The Bible teaches that out of love for man, God gave His Son to die in place of the lost sinner: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16). Celebrating Christmas is remembering this fact of salvation with a heart that responds to His giving love. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

God’s ahava”/love that remains silent

The prophet Zephaniah, who so emphatically announced the coming day of the Lord” with the urgent call to repentance to Him, ends his booklet with this prophecy: “The Lord your God is in your midst a mighty One, He will save …, He will remain silent in His ahava/love; He will exult over you … ” (Zephaniah 3:17). That is Divine love in action: it calls for repentance and conversion and invites man to come to Him, the Savior.

Whoever flees to Him with all sins finds eternal salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. God receives man who calls on Him in faith with His Divine “ahava”/love. That is love that remains silent…. Silent about what? About the sins that He as Savior covered with His atoning blood out of love. He did that out of eternal love. “See what a love …” (1 John 3:1). We can gratefully respond to that love:

I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice …” (Psalm 116:1).

How does this Bible teaching speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read: What does it mean that God is love?

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Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk

© Copyright dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk
Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk studied Semitic languages and Cultures in Leiden and Judaism and archaeology in Jerusalem. Her specialism is Hebrew and the Old Testament. She worked for many years as a teacher in various theological colleges and co-authored the (Dutch) Study Bible of the CvB
and the HSV bible translation. She works as a teacher, author and speaker.

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