We love him, because he first loved us.1 John 4:19 (KJV)
Loved – When was it that God first loved us? Did He love us at our birth? Did He love us before we were born? Is it you and me that John is writing about here? So many questions, and yet we quote this verse as if we truly understand it.
The Hebrew word is ahav which is a verb meaning “to care for another.” I realize this verse was most likely written in Greek, and the Greek word is agape, but we know that these Hebrew authors thought in Hebrew and so I’d like to explore the word in that context. Reconnecting with the Hebrew word and its location in the Tanakh is paramount. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is from where these authors drew upon all their references.
So when, in the Tanakh, did God first love us? It’s an interesting search. The first four books have many examples of the word ahav or even ahavah, the noun, but each instance is used to define man’s love for something else, not God’s love.
It’s not until Deuteronomy that we see a reference to God’s love.
And because he loved [ahav] thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;Deuteronomy 4:37
Of course it can be argued that since God is love, and His creation is a product of who He is, that He must have loved His creation from the very beginning. I think this is fair. But the first reference for God’s love is still found in Deuteronomy, not Genesis chapter one.
In the second telling of the law to the people, God’s love is reaffirmed. After the experiences with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; after the promises; after the trials and failure of man has become evident, God expresses His love for us – His creation.
Because He loved thy fathers… but it continues.
But because the LORD loved [ahavah] you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.Deuteronomy 7:8
It all rests on an oath – a covenant. God is true to His word. His love is His covenant, at least manifested as that. God’s love is the fulfillment of promises, the salvation of nations, the covenants He establishes. His love is action.
So why do we love Him? Because He first loved us. He not only created us, but lived among us. He worked with us, He taught us, He blessed us, even in our failures. And even when there was no hope of a united kingdom, He sent His Son to die… for us. This is love.