Written by Juan Dugan, D.Min.
There is a true wisdom in the way the Old Testament understood love, particularly when it comes to the topic of marriage. This wisdom and depth stands in stark contrast to our modern culture, which uses one word to convey a variety of meanings such as “I love my wife” and “I love tacos.” In English, we would use the same word to say both ideas, and you would have to understand the author’s meaning from context. In the Old Testament, authors used several different Hebrew words to express and define what they considered to be true love. Each word they chose focused on a specific aspect of emotion and/or action. In the Song of Solomon, the author uses three different terms to explain the love between two courting lovers: Raya, Dod, and Ahava.
The first term he uses is Raya (Rye-ah). This is best explained as that deep emotional connection that comes with the best of friendships. It’s a connection between two people who cherish each other’s company and enjoy experiencing life together. The second term for love is Dod. This is what we English speakers would call romantic love. It is a combination of passion, trust, and physicality that one finds in a spouse. In the modern world, we understand these two ideas and include them in our definitions of love. However, the author includes an additional aspect of love that our culture so often overlooks. In Song of Solomon 8:7 it says:
“Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it.”
Here the author uses Ahava for love, which means a profound and unbreakable commitment to another person. It is the choice one makes in their heart when pledging oneself to another. In our culture, we often see love as something beyond our control, but the Hebrew mind understood that part of love is a choice one makes to always be connected to another no matter what happens or how one feels.
When talking about romantic love it is easy to focus on the topics of intimate friendship or passion, but in our culture we so often forget about Ahava. Scripture shows us that all three aspects of love come together to make up a healthy marriage. In any relationship there will be times when Raya and Dod are hard to find – times when passion and friendship become strained. These are the emotional aspects of love and emotions can be fickle. That is why Ahava is so important! It is not about the emotions of the moment; it is about commitment regardless of the circumstances. Ahava exists independent of the other person’s actions; it is solely found in the determination of one’s own heart. It is a resolute declaration of will that endures in the face of emotional conflict.
Marriage and love are pivotal themes throughout scripture. By studying how love is depicted in the Song of Solomon, we gain a fuller understanding of what God intends for a marriage to look like. There must be friendship and passion because these are the emotional aspects of love that bring us pleasure and intimate connection. But there must also be Ahava, the choice to be committed to your spouse regardless of all other considerations. Ahava is what brings the feelings of security and safety into marriage and allow the emotional aspects of love to flourish, or if necessary, be restored.
This is the foundation of true love: intimacy; passion; and selfless, unwavering, commitment. This is how we as Christians should love our spouses, and it is also how Christ loves each of us. No matter what we do in our lives, or the sins and failures we have, God has a perfect Ahava love for us. He is committed to loving us, and he cannot break that commitment. He chose to love us, and he will not change his mind. It is through his word and his example that we can better understand what love in marriage can and should really look like.
For those who are married, take the time to choose to love your spouse. Remind them that the commitment you made on the day you were married will always be there. For those who are not married, remember that Ahava is not limited to spousal relationships. Choose to love those in your life regardless of the emotional return. Love because you have decided in your heart they are worth your dedication, just as Christ loves you.