There is an interesting Hebrew word that connotes attraction and attachment. It is plainly used to describe a common experience – and not a particularly ethically pristine one, at that. Here are two verses where it is used to describe human relationships:
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. (Genesis 34:8)
and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, (Deuteronomy 21:11)
In these two verses the word chashaq is translated ‘longs for’ and ‘desire.’ The context is plain. The meaning is clear. Amazingly, this word is also used to describe the love of God to Israel, and the love of the psalmist to God.
Surprisingly, this word is used in one of the primary verses used to bolster the perspective of volitional love. The word chashaq is found in Deuteronomy 7:7:
“The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples”.
When the words ‘set His love on you’ are read, they are interpreted as pointing to God’s will-power. It seems to indicate that ‘His love’ was utilized through choice. Apparently God picked up His love and, through the use of volition, placed His love upon Israel. This view maintains that God chooses to love, and that this love is free from any loveliness found in the beloved. This outlook is often expressed by those who stress God’s sovereignty.
Notice, this verse is part of one sentence. It is not a complete thought. Many tend to use this part of the sentence to stress that there was nothing meritorious about Israel to warrant God’s choice. They reason that He loved the unlovely through choice and not attraction. However, the sentence continues, here’s the rest of it.
but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8)
The reason Yahweh delivered Israel is because He loved them (He was attracted to them, He found them to be lovely) and kept the oath He swore to the patriarchs. The Hebrew word translated “set his love” is chashaq. As we have seen, this doesn’t imply volition, it implies ‘attraction and attachment.’ Young’s Literal Translation interprets chashaq as ‘delighted in you.’ That is a far cry from ‘set His love on you’, but a lot closer to the verse’s intent.
Something which might attract another ‘deity’s’ attention, the number of worshipers, did not figure into God’s equation. Something else attracted God’s love and it is not mentioned in this verse. However an aspect of this attraction is hinted at in vs. 8 when the covenant vows made to the patriarchs are brought to mind. As a matter of fact, this very word describes the same type of love the LORD had for the patriarchs. In Deuteronomy 10:15, it is translated ‘set His affection.’
“Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 10:15)
The word is also used to describe a relationship from man to God in Psalm 91:14. It is translated “loved”: Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
Here are two other translations:
TNK Psalm 91:14 – Because he is devoted to Me …
YLT Psalm 91:14 – Because in Me he hath delighted …
Let’s summarize what we find when we study the ways chashaq is used in the Bible to describe relationships. Twice it is used to speak of the attraction of a man towards a woman he finds to be beautiful. Twice it is used to inform the reader of God’s attraction to people: once to Israel and once to the patriarchs. Once it is used to portray the love the psalmist had for God which provokes a response in God towards the lover.
Deuteronomy 7:7, the verse popularly used to promote the view that God’s love has nothing to do with attraction, is in fact infused with a vocabulary that teaches the opposite. God saw, God delighted in, God gives Himself to the objects of His love.
Covenant Between Friends
Not only did He love them, not only was He attracted to them and attached to them, but they were also loved because God loved their ancestors. The One who chose them said,
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. (Genesis 15:13-14)
The LORD appeared to (Isaac) the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendents, For the sake of My servant Abraham.” (Genesis 26:24)
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. (Genesis 28:13)
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24)
This understanding continues into the New Testament. Paul wrote this: …they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.(Romans 11:28b)
This is similar to Jonathan and David’s covenant. This covenant had its origin in love:
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:3)
The covenant was valid from generation to generation.
Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.'” (1 Samuel 20:42a)
Covenant love made David swear that he would care for Jonathan’s descendents.
The LORD loved Israel and also confirmed the oath that He had sworn to the patriarchs. They were the descendents of Abraham, the man who agaped God.
“Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? (2 Chronicles 20:7)
“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend (Isaiah 41:8)
In these two verses we find a key as to why God made an oath to Abraham. It was the patriarch’s love for God. Astonishingly, the emphasis in these verses is not on God’s love for Abraham, but Abraham’s love for God! He was the man who was God’s friend, the one who loved God enough to be His friend.
It brings to mind the verse we looked at from Psalm 91: “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will…” I wish it were not so, but love for God is a rare thing. Friendship towards God is precious to God. It moves God to faithful love which, according to Paul, can endure through the ages. The Lord has so constructed our relationship with Him so as to be mutual. Therefore it says, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a)
We looked at Deuteronomy 7:7,8 to examine one of the primary verses used to demonstrate the concept of volitional love. Does that verse demonstrate that concept? No, what we find is attraction and covenant loving loyalty that goes on from one generation to the next.