So, far, as we’ve looked at Jesus great commandment to love God and love your neighbor, I’ve concluded that Jesus definitely could have found the “Love God” part as a focus of the Old Testament. (See my posts “The Great Commandment in the OT: Preview” and “The Great Commandment in the OT: Love God.”)
But, Jesus was clear in Matthew 22:37-40 that “all the Law and the Prophets” depends upon both the command to love God and the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
So, where did Jesus get the part about loving your neighbor? Is it as clear as the “love God” portion of the command?
To begin with, we do find that Jesus quoted the second half of a sentence from Leviticus:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 ESV)
In fact, the sentence above closes out a section of Leviticus that specifically deals with neighborly relations:
You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:13-18 ESV)
While this is a lengthy passage, we do not find the same prolific use of “love your neighbor” the way that we found the use of “love God.”
However, there are other indicators that loving your neighbor was an important aspect of the Old Testament.
For example, while teaching about the tithe, Moses says to take the tithe and throw a feast for those who have no inheritance:
At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 ESV)
This idea of caring for those in need or oppressed – especially “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” – is found throughout the OT. In fact, throughout the Prophets, caring for the needy and the oppressed is closely tied to ritual worship, so close, in fact, that ritual worship is worthless in God’s eye without care for the needy.
For example, Isaiah writes:
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:11-17 ESV)
Notice how closely the passage from Isaiah (above) parallels Mark’s version of the great commandment episode:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34 ESV)
So, while the command to love your neighbor as yourself is not as prolific in the OT as the command to love the Lord your God, the idea of loving others and caring for them – especially the needy and oppressed – is both expressly commanded in the Law and is given special place (even above ritual worship) in the Prophets.
From this, we can see that Jesus found both parts of his great commandment – both “love God” and “love neighbor” – in the OT.