When I introduced this series (“The Great Commandment in the OT: Preview“), I began with Matthew’s and Luke’s retelling of the great commandment.
According to Matthew, Jesus said the the great commandment is to love God. He then continued by saying that the second great commandment is like the first: love your neighbor. Jesus then says that all the Law and the Prophets (perhaps referring to the entire New Testament) depends on these two commands.
Where does Jesus get these great commandments? How is he able to say that the entire OT depends on the commands to love God and love your neighbors?
The first part of the great command (love God) is the easier of the two great commandments to find in the OT. Perhaps the most obvious starting place is in the Exodus. The children of Israel are standing on the banks of the Jordan River and Moses prepares them to cross into the Promised Land. They had been wandering in the wilderness for the last 40 years because they did not trust God and cross into the Promised Land earlier.
Now, they are once again ready to move across the river. As Moses tells them:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV)
The proper response to the “one God” is to love him. As we keep reading, we see that this love was to demonstrate itself as the children of Israel taught others (particular their own families) what God had done for them and that they should love God as well. This “love” was not to be primarily a ritualistic love, but a love that demonstrated itself in every aspect of life:
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:7-9 ESV)
Loving God becomes an important theme throughout Deuteronomy:
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations… (Deuteronomy 7:9 ESV)
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul… (Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV)
You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. (Deuteronomy 11:1 ESV)
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV)
Two important points are clear through Deuteronomy. 1) Obedience would be a result of the Israelites love of God. 2) The children of Israel would not be able to love God until God changed their heart.
Throughout the Old Testament, these points follow the story of the children of Israel. Their disobedience shows that they do not love God. When they turn to other gods, it shows that they do not love God. When they refuse to trust God (in spite of God’s faithful and steadfast love), it shows that they do not love God.
So, even a cursory look at the Old Testament demonstrates that loving God is the beginning of all of the commandments and the beginning of a life of trusting God.
But, what about loving your neighbors? I’ll look at that part of the great commandment in the next post.