Our modern, western culture has thoroughly corrupted and concealed the biblical concept of love. It is not a matter of feeling or emotion.
Consider where the Hebrew word for “love” first appears in Scripture. I trust you will be startled. It is the heart-wrenching account of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. Gen 22:2
Biblical love is an action-word! Love requires demonstration and proof by performance and deeds. Compare this with our modern understanding of love as an expression of feeling and emotion. What a contrast! What a disaster!
Take, for example, the biblical patriarchs. “Isaac took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her” (Gen 24:67). What were Isaac’s actions? He “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him.” In the ancient world, where the value of a woman was related to her offspring, this was an action of extreme importance.
As we learn about the love of Isaac and Rebekah, our understanding of biblical love begins to expand. There are consequences to our loving actions. “Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen 25:28). On the surface, this seems like misconstrued love that leads to tension and harm. Certainly we can’t deny that outcome, although God used this episode in a positive way to prepare Jacob for a major role in the biblical narrative. However, we also see love as an action word because Esau demonstrated love for his father. We hear Isaac tell his son, “Prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat.” Esau responded by demonstrating his love.
Then we hear Rebekah telling Jacob, “Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves.” Jacob demonstrated love for his mother by obeying her, even though he could see negative consequences. “Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing” (Gen 27:12). The curse to Rebekah was that she never saw her son again. The curse to Jacob was 20 years of exile in a foreign land. Yet, Jacob responded to his mother’s request with love.
We also learn that “Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel’” (Gen 29:18). What greater expression of love than seven years of servitude? Seven represent a complete act.
The story of Jacob continues with his son, Joseph. “Israel [Jacob’s new name that God had given him] loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic” (Gen 37:3). This was a gift of love. Unfortunately it had a negative consequence. “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms” (Gen 37:4).
What have we learned from the life of the patriarchs? First, biblical love is an action word, not a feeling word. We love another by performing deeds of love and compassion. Second, we must be careful of the actions we perform. They must serve a godly purpose, which takes prayer and thoughtful consideration before any action.
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