And He said to him, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
Love – Does this commandment apply to you today? Of course it does! I don’t know anyone in the believing community who would argue that this commandment doesn’t matter any more because grace has set aside all the commandments. Yeshua cites a verse from Deuteronomy in answer to the question, “Which is the great commandment?” We all agree that Yeshua’s answer sets the standard for our behavior.
But maybe we need to be reminded about the cultural context of Yeshua’s answer. Maybe we need to fill in the gaps about what this commandment means in order to understand what it implies about how we act.
We know that the Greek word here is agapeseis, the imperative for demonstrating agape love. This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew ahavta. We think we know what this means. Agape and ahav are about “sacrificial love,” right? This is benevolence toward another at cost to myself. Right? Well, not quite. You see, while ahav and agape portray “unconditional” love, the expression of this love toward God (and toward men) occurs within the context of hesed. So, while God’s love toward us is agape-ahav, that unconditional element of love establishes a relationship, a relationship characterized by hesed. And as we know, hesed is characterized by a bond of loyalty, moral obligation and social relationship. Hesed is what God does and gives. It is the context of God’s unconditional love. It is the framework of our relationship with God. And it is what God expects of those who are in a relationship with Him (cf. Jeremiah 9:23). “To experience salvation is to move more deeply within the sphere of divine hesed.”
When we recall the hesed involves essential reciprocity, obligation and community commitment, we realize that our idea of love, even agape, is not adequate. We don’t think of “love” in terms of moral obligation and social imperative. We don’t think of “love” as essentially communal. Our idea of love has been influenced by Greek individualism. We think that loving God with all our heart, mind and soul is an individual issue, a matter to be accomplished between each one of us and God. But the context of hesed changes all that. Hesed reminds me that love is not a feeling or a sentiment. It is a way of life, lived in a community of mutual loyalty and moral obligation. Hesed is covenant language, and covenants always involve others. This is why Yeshua adds, “And the second is like it.” There is no agape-ahav outside of the context of loyalty and moral obligation to my neighbor. I cannot love God and withhold hesed from others. The prophet Hosea tells us that knowing God demands practicing hesed (Hosea 6:6). James says virtually the same thing. Faith without works isn’t faith at all.
Can you love God without community obligation? No, says the Tanakh. And since Yeshua repeats this commandment, we must conclude that He thought that same thing. The question before us is not “How shall I love God?” but rather “How do I show hesed toward others?” Expressing hesed is loving God. Where do I go to learn what it means to express hesed? Well, I could start in the text where the word occurs on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure you can guess where that is.
Topical Index: hesed, agape, ahav, love, Matthew 22:37, Hosea 6:6, Jeremiah 9:23
 Gerald Larue in Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, p. 17.