The most often-used Hebrew word for love in the OT is ’āhaḇ (H157), which speaks generally of desire, affection, or inclination, “a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object.” ’āhaḇ has an extremely wide range of meanings, so wide, in fact, that its some 250 occurrences cover just about everything from “God’s infinite affection for his people to the carnal appetites of a lazy glutton.”
Unlike the Greek words philos (G5384, “esteem, tender affection”) and agapē (G26, “selfless, sacrificial love”), which differentiate kinds of love, Hebrew does not do this quite as clearly. While other words do show somewhat differing ideas—dôḏ (H1730), for example, speaks strongly of sexual affection (Pro_7:18; Son_1:2; Son_1:4; Son_7:12)—for the most part Hebrew words for love are general.
Like the word faith, therefore, the real crux of love (’āhaḇ) lies in its object. A man can love “pleasure” and “wine,” for example, but these will bring him to poverty (Pro_21:17). Likewise, it can refer to sexual lust, as Absalom had for his sister Tamar (2Sa_13:1). The prophets spoke of the wrong object of love when God’s people committed spiritual adultery with pagan gods (Jer_22:20; Jer_22:22; Eze_16:36; Eze_23:5; Hos_2:5-13).
On the positive side, examples of good love and affection include: a father for his son, such as Abraham had for Isaac (Gen_22:2); a husband for his wife, such as Elkanah’s love for Hannah (1Sa_1:5); and one friend for another, as was true of David and Jonathan (1Sa_20:17). Certainly one of the greatest objects of love in our lives should be wisdom: “Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee” (Pro_4:6). Another is truth coupled with peace (Zec_8:19).
Still another, and most notably, is God’s Word. ’Āhaḇ appears no less than twelve times in Psalms 119 to demonstrate the psalmist’s love for the Word (Psa_119:140). It was his “meditation all the day” (Psa_119:97) because he loved its commandments (Psa_119:47-48; Psa_119:127), law (Psa_119:97; Psa_119:113; Psa_119:163; Psa_119:165), testimonies (Psa_119:119; Psa_119:167), and precepts (Psa_119:159). We should also interject that He loved God’s name (Psa_119:132).
This should encourage us to be conscious of the objects of our love.
Scriptures for Study: What are the objects of love (positive or negative) in the following verses: Psa_4:2; Psa_11:5; Psa_26:8; Psa_40:16; Pro_22:11?