Searching for “Love” in all the right places ideally starts with a Bible concordance or a word search on such websites as BibleGateway.com. With numerous English translations of the Bible from which to choose, searchers for “Love” find matches with the click of a finger. For instance, a “love” search shows that:
Love begins with Genesis.
The Bible contains hundreds of references to love.
Translations in current lingo often contain 700 or more references to love, ranging from feelings of emotion to close encounters of a sexual kind.
Most of the literal translations, such as the King James Version and Douay-Rheims, separate varying aspects of love into various words such as charity and yet still translate over 400 Bible verses as the highest form of love – that godly love that comes from choices and actions based on the closest but purest relationships.
New Testament readers often hear of this purest form of parental love by its original Greek name, Agape (pronounced ah-GAH-pay.) In the First Testament or Hebrew Bible, however, the word for love is ahava, which springs from its root-word hav – to give.
We may fall into love, but we cannot fall into give. We have to get there on purpose.
Giving our love sometimes means giving up what we want for a very good, very loving reason. So it’s not surprising that, during an era when ungodly gods demanded child sacrifices, the first Bible reference to godly parental love occurs in Genesis 22:1-3, where God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering.
Maybe that’s what Abraham expected and, therefore, heard. Or maybe God wanted Abraham to understand from the start of the Hebrew nation that the Almighty LORD loves His children far more than the very best parent possibly could, and, therefore, would never ever require child sacrifices like the unloving, ungodly gods demanded.
Regardless, God put Abraham’s faith to the test. Then Abraham put Isaac’s faith to the test! As Young’s Literal Translation says, God told Abraham, “Take, I pray thee, thy son, thine only one, whom thou hast loved, even Isaac, and go for thyself unto the land of Moriah, and cause him to ascend there for a burnt-offering on one of the mountains of which I speak unto thee.”
Besides noticing the very first use of the ahava word “love” in the Bible, notice how this literal translation of the verse “causes” Isaac to ascend or climb the mountain, which implies that the boy showed his love by giving his father and his Heavenly Father the benefit of the doubt in an undoubtedly scary situation. In addition, verse 6 tells us, Abraham carried the knife and the torch, but Isaac carried the wood while the two of them walked up the mountain together.
Again and again, this verse comes up in Bible studies and theological debates for many reasons, but here the point is that the first reference to love in the Bible is a sacrificial love – a love that gives, a love that asks us to offer up ourselves and all we hold dear out of our love for God and our faith in His goodness.
This sacrificial love of Abraham and Isaac finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Gospels where God sacrifices His only begotten son Jesus, who also carried the wood of the Cross.
That One-and-Only Child sacrifice has been fully paid by God the Father and God the Son for the very specific purpose of giving an eternally ongoing relationship with God to anyone and everyone who so chooses.
Such a sacrifice is not required by human beings, nor can our love begin to compare. Throughout the Bible, however, God urges us to give of ourselves – to offer up ourselves to the gift of love that lives, on and on, in and around us.
For further study about Abraham’s love offering of Isaac, the Bible Prayers blog gives additional background with a word search or in the article “God and Abraham pray for Ishmael and Isaac.”
©2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. Please do not copy without permission.