Sunday, May 8, 2022

Hebrew Word Study: Racham, Love is complete when Returned

“During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ's commands. Then they came together.

Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, "What did you do then?" "We were just one," he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.

When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ.” -Our Daily Bread, October 4, 1992.

You might say that the expression of their love for one another in community, took love from being on the page, to love being something real and complete.

Many of us know about the classic “four loves” as four different words for the word “love” from the Greek language as translated into English in the new testament. These are phileo, storgi, eros, and agape; Agape being the idea of sacrificial love, God’s perfect love for His people.

There are also several different words in the Hebrew for love, such as ‘ahav which means love, racham which means tender mercies, dodi which means beloved in regard to spousal love, and ra’ah which means brotherly love or friendship.

But it’s difficult to translate between Hebrew and Greek. It’s not like you can match these words with the Greek words and make it work somehow. It’s more complicated than that.

Most scholars believe that during the time of Jesus, the Jews did not speak Hebrew or Greek, in fact most scholars believe their spoken language was Aramaic. In fact, part of the old testament, Daniel and Ezra, was originally written in Aramaic. And it’s possible that the source texts for parts of the new testament, like the gospels was originally in Aramaic.

We’re looking at two scriptures today, which are John 3:16 and John 21:20. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

And John 21:20 says, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them.” -John 21:20

In John 3:16 the word for love is translated in Greek as agape. But how would love in john 3:16 be translated into Hebrew? Well, in the LXX, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “agape” love is translated as ‘ahav which is the generic term for love in Hebrew.

Are you with me so far? Agape love in Greek is translated in the LXX as ‘ahav.

So in John 3:16, we see the Hebrew word best fitted to this form of love is ‘ahav.

Now, in John 21:20 the word for love is translated in Greek again as agape. However, in the Aramaic translation of the Bible, which is called the Peshitta, it’s translated as the Aramaic word “racham” which is identical to the Hebrew word “racham.”

All this to say, that the love expressed in John 3:16, is different from the love expressed in John 21:20.

Are you with me? For God so loved the world he gave is Son, is different from the love expressed in “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Now the big question is why? Well, if you look in the original Greek and Aramaic of John 21:20, it’s actually better rendered as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who followed Him.”

Isn’t that interesting?

So when you look at the different between ‘ahav love and ‘racham’ love, the difference is that in John 3:16, this is God’s love for the world, and it expresses a love that it not necessarily mutual. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus. And this is a one way love. A love that was not necessarily retuned to God. ‘Ahav is expressed in this context as love from one source, not returned.

But in John 21:20, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who followed Him, is a completed love, a full love, Racham love, which is love in it’s complete form, because it is love that passes from one source, to the receiver, and the receiver returns that love to the source. And apparently, that process of love given and love returned, is actually what makes love real, complete, and what it ought to be.

That is extremely fascinating to me. Love can’t really be love unless it’s given by one to another, and then given back one to another. One way love is still love, but you might say, it’s incomplete.

As the author of Hebrew Word study says so well: “Love can exist if it is not returned, but it cannot sing until it is shared.”

Chav turns into racham. Think of when you had a crush on someone. That was one way love. And it’s kind of lonely isn’t it? Now, think about someone who you had a crush on and they also liked you. It became something very special then.

And I think perfect love is expressed, in a married couple who last the test of time:

“You can see them alongside the shuffleboard courts in Florida or on the porches of the old folks' homes up north: an old man with snow-white hair, a little hard of hearing, reading the newspaper through a magnifying glass; an old woman in a shapeless dress, her knuckles gnarled by arthritis, wearing sandals to ease her aching arches. They are holding hands, and in a little while they will totter off to take a nap, and then she will cook supper, not a very good supper and they will watch television, each knowing exactly what the other is thinking, until it is time for bed. They may even have a good, soul-stirring argument, just to prove that they still really care. And through the night they will snore unabashedly, each resting content because the other is there. They are in love, they have always been in love, although sometimes they would have denied it. And because they have been in love they have survived everything that life could throw at them, even their own failures.” -Ernest Havemann, Bits & Pieces, June 24, 1993, pp. 7-9.

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God so loved the world but the world did not love him in return. In fact when the messiah came most rejected Him. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. One way love.

God’s love is really made complete, when we respond to God’s declaration of “I love you” by replying to God: “I love you too.”

To understand the very depths of God’s own heart is to understand this eternal truth: God is love, and His deepest desire for us is that we would choose to love Him in return.

Have you told God today that you love Him? You have the power to give joy to the heart of the God who made the universe, simply responding to His love by saying: I love you too.

My reply to God’s love is this: I love you God!