The Jews start their prayers with shema and the command to love God and it is probably not to tell God about their love for Him but to remind themselves that God loves us irrespective of what we have become. We attempt to earn God’s love through various deeds but we must be so filled by His love, something that we never deserved, that it must overflow to others through our good works. Others will always hurt or put us down but God reaches out to uplift for it is not what others say we are but what God sees and wants us to be. He is Sovereign and knows what is best for us and in His power is able to bring it about, if only we let Him.
Prayer is basically an effort to self analyze with guidance of the Holy Spirit to regenerate and transform oneself into one who can then be blessed by God through giving what was prayed for. A Jew irrespective of the place of residence always recites Shema in Hebrew language only because it is only in this that the exactness of the command is reproduced. Hebrew word ‘ahava’ is translated as love and also to give for love is basically about giving and not about taking. Ahava has a vav to form a vav construct thus converting an imperfect action into a completed action in past, present and future implying that I have loved, I love Him and shall continue to love the LORD my God with all my heart, soul and mind. It is about unconditional love, in the same way that God loves us despite our being steeped in sin and not because God will first do something to help me initiate my action of loving Him.
Has God commanded to seek our love? – Love is an emotion, a feeling and nobody can force it on anyone and God in any case has given us free will to choose. The first part of the command provides the answer, for ‘shema’ translated as listen actually means more than that – to listen, understand and comprehend and then make a choice. The knowledge is thus transferred from the mind to the heart to affect our feelings and emotions thereby removing all blockages that hinder our love for God being manifested in our lives. God’s love then so fills us that it overflows in the form of our good deeds towards others. Hebrew word ‘kol’ means all of one’s being and not excluding something – all of heart, all of soul, all of mind and all of strength.
The command has the first part about involvement of the heart in loving God, since heart is the way to our choices, feelings, and decisions and about how we implement those decisions. It forms our attitude about everything else and how do we feel about doing something that we do. Heart is the central part of our whole being and a loving heart then tries to understand God’s perspective about what we face and attempts to apply that to our thoughts, words and deeds. God then becomes the focus of our feelings and our thought process gets transformed to adapt to God’s will as revealed in the Scripture. The three friends of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faced with a tough situation and the three decided to do what God would expect – by refusing to bow down to the golden image created by the king. They humbly informed the king about the power and ability of Yehowah God to save them from the burning furnace but decided to accept their fate if God decided not to, due to any reason (Daniel 3:16-18).
The second is about the soul or ‘nephesh’ and its actual meaning is ‘person’ or all that makes me who I am. While heart is about feelings, soul is about the hidden internal parts which define my relationships – with self, with others and with God. How I view God and everything that He has created forms part of my soul and is in reality like a verb – not complete but undergoing continuous transformation through regeneration. Heart and soul are not exclusive of each other but inclusive and when David cries out to God “Hide Your face from my sins, create in me a new heart”, he is seeking God’s creative action as in Genesis 1, by using the Hebrew word “bara”, meaning create. Only God can recreate a new heart – lev tahor – from the ashes of his sinful actions which can then allow him reentry into the very presence of God. Loving God involves His help being sought for changing our thoughts and feelings in contravention to our use of free will of sinful nature, to love God.
And finally, about all the strength to love God. But the word used here is ‘meod’ which means much more than might or strength and being an adjective it qualifies something else by adding its meaning of ‘much, exceeding, abundant’. Thus when God saw everything that He had created “It was meod (very) good” (Genesis 1:31); Abraham was meod rich in silver, gold and libvestock (Genesis 13:2) and meod fear of the LORD and Samuel fell upon the people (1 Samuel 12:18). Meod is about everything that one has – his wealth, relations and power that he wields to influence anything – it defines the ‘brand’ that I am, the way the companies calculate the brand power of their name. Thus man is to love God with all of himself and it is not about physical strength alone.
All Jews learn ‘shema’ from childhood and it forms part of every prayer in the morning, afternoon and evening, then why did they ask Lord Jesus about the ‘Greatest Commandment’? The Jewish leaders were making all attempts at every stage of their dialogue with the Lord and always failed to catch Him in some inappropriate answer. During this discourse also their aim was (Matthew 22:15-22). The next was about resurrection and the relationship of a wife with her husband after being resurrected (verses 23-33) and after the Pharisees and Sadducees had failed the one of the Scribes came forward to lay a snare in His interpretation of ‘meod’ in the command. Lord Jesus and the questioners spoke Aramaic and two words were used by the Lord to explain this single Hebrew word, whereas the New Testament uses the Greek ‘dianoia’ meaning mind, understanding or imagination. Aramaic uses ‘kayla’ for power and strength while using ‘reina’ for mind and will. Thus if Lord Jesus would use ‘kayla’ it would mean all the power – teeth clenched type with least emotions but as a duty and if it was only ‘reina’ then man’s other resources would stand excluded.
The Jews interpreted Scripture with ‘derech eretz’ or the way of the land by using the knowledge and social conditions prevailing then and this had caused major distortions in their understanding of God’s commands which Lord Jesus repeatedly pointed out. Their trap in this question also pertained to this type of understanding only. Thus Kayla would mean using own power to do good works as loving God and His creation to express love for God. ‘Reina’, on the other hand would mean a choice to love God irrespective of everything else. Lord Jesus used both words to mean “to love God with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30) thus saying to love God with “all the strength of your will”. The Pharisees used local traditions and cultural norms as similar to Scripture but not above that and Lord Jesus’ answer included both to show us the way to love God.
And then the second command “is like it” to be understood in the same manner to “love the neighbor” also in like manner without placing the second as superior to the first command (Matthew 22:39). In marriage vows one is asked to love the partner and it means to “love as yourself” for nobody stops loving self when old, in poverty, in sickness or in any other situation irrespective of the capability of the other to return that love. We are commanded to love God in like manner in every circumstance whether answers to prayers have come or not. We are confronted with various people every day who are unlovable and deserve hatred, especially during our visits to the prisons, yet we are commanded to love them for we are not to judge them and thus condemn them for the Lord did not and loves us despite all our faults.
Loving God is like the concentric circles of a shooting target with heart in the centre, soul as the next pouter circle and meod as the last one. Heart being the centre of our emotions and feeling and directs much of our actions forms the core of our love while soul or our actual personality forms the next, though not excluding the inner one but encompassing that. The heart and soul overlap and impact each other in everything and meod the whole of my being forms the outer circle thus including everything that we have that we use to influence the world in every way. God created the Garden of Eden and placed the “Tree of Life in the centre of it” and ‘also the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). However, when the serpent questioned Eve her answer placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the centre of the Garden for “God has commanded us not to touch or eat of the fruit of the tree in the centre, lest you die” (Genesis 3:3). Her focus was shifted from what was already in the centre to the other tree and in like manner when we replace God from the centre to soul or meod, in either case love for God then becomes empty and sin enters the relationship.
Loving God during extreme difficulties – Psalm 88 is the only Psalm in that book that has a long list problems faced by the writer but there is no positive end in sight except verse 13 “But to You I have cried out, O Lord, and in the morning my prayer comes before You”. It is written by Heman, the Ezrahite, and there are four persons with the name Heman in the Old Testament and one of them is supposed to be equal in wisdom to King Solomon but suffered from leprosy from a very young age. Separated from everyone, living outside the town limits with no friend this man still shared his wisdom with others and probably sang this hymn to God to share his anguish and the hope for an answer to finally exclaim “Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness” (verse 18). This is loving God under any and all situations even when no answers are forthcoming from Him. We don’t love God just like that but choose to do so out of our own will and itb takes all “the strength of your will” as our Lord commanded, when facing tough battles, sickness, debt, addictions, loss of a loved one etc. It is a meod command about meod love from and towards God.
Shema recitation – The Jews recite the command, shema, not only at the start of every prayer but also when going into battle or facing extremely difficult tasks. It is not a ‘mantra’ to solve the problems but it is believed that through this recitation of loving God, we are transported into the very centre of God’s own heart to experience His love for us. Immersed in that love then, we find God’s power and protection being made available to us to face the difficulty with least pain. The promise of God to give “His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” is then experienced in the physical realm (Psalm 91:11). Daniel and his three friends faced life threatening situation and received protection, Prophet Elisha knew of this and sought opening of his servant’s eyes to show him God’s protection.
The Jews believe that the Patriarchs experienced a separate state of being in God’s love by loving Him – Abraham loved God with all his heart and discovered God in his own heart. Isaac loved God with his soul ans became ready to be sacrificed on the altar, while Jacob loved God with his everything and promised to offer a tenth of all that God gave him (Genesis 28:22). They developed a close relationship with God to love Him in this manner and reaped rich dividends physically, socially and spiritually. Forgiveness of sins through faith in the sacrifice of Lord Jesus is not only about entering heaven but about sharing in His divine glory and be fully encompassed in it to feel it and live. Then the thoughts and feelings of the Lord become our thoughts, His words our words and His deeds our deeds and Lord Jesus gets revealed to others through the way we live our lives. The Messiah loved His Father in His fullness to say “Not My but You’re your will be done” (Luke 22:42) and Job could bless God even after losing all that he had and did not sin (Job 1:21 & 2:10).
Apostle Paul has defined love in its essence in Romans 12:9-16 about what love would do or not and the Psalmist cried out in ecstasy “Bless the LORD O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1). God searches our hearts and “whoever loves God is known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3) for out of that heart outflow good and wonderful works to bless many others. King Solomon expressed this from a parents viewpoint from God “My son give Me your heart and let your eyes delight in My ways” (Proverbs 23:26) and once the eyes are focused on God’s Word and His ways, the heart gets transformed from one of stone to flesh to live that love of God. Loving God becomes a part of life itself where the entire being searches for ways to love Him and express His love towards others – meod love in a meod way.
God uses the trials of life in various ways to refine our faith and transform us into the image of His Son to reveal His love in us and thus turn us towards Him in reciprocal love. His love so fills us with abundant delight to become the centre of our being, our thoughts, feelings, desires and deeds to give us unlimited courage and strength to do His will. It is then that oneness with God is experienced and the spiritual eyes are opened to see the invisible and tap into that to bring the same into the physical to multiply five loaves to feed thousands or be protected by horses and chariots of fire. This love is meod love where nothing can be withheld and readiness comes to place one’s neck under the knife to be offered on the altar. He is willing to be our Shepherd and bless us with all of Psalm 23 abundance and protection.
The gains as expected by a materialistic generation far outweigh the pain – are we ready to love Him the way He desires!!