Read Psalm 18. For further reflection, read 1 John 4.
“I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes. Love is all around me and so the feeling grows”. Those are lyrics taken from the popular song “Love is All Around”. That song is a great example of how many of us conceive of what love is today – the sentimental, emotional, and universal nature of love. It is almost entirely based upon our own internal feelings for another and it may change at a whim. You may have heard of people “falling in love” and then “falling out of love” and thus ending the relationship.
It may or may not surprise you that love does not operate in that way in the Scriptures. In fact, it may even surprise you even more that the phrase “I love God/Yhwh” is never used in the Old Testament. The Israelites were indeed commanded to love Yhwh with all of their heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5), but we never read of anyone stating as a fact that they actually do so. While in our passage today and Psalm 116:1 are translated as “I love you, Yhwh”, in the Hebrew language, it is not worded as such. David actually created a special form of the word “compassion” in Hebrew and use it here in Psalm 18. What are we to make of this fact?
First is the recognition that in the Old Testament, the Israelites, especially someone like David, were keenly aware of their sinfulness and their unworthiness and the insurmountable barrier to Yhwh. However, they also know that this Yhwh has done such great things in their midst that he is worthy of not only their worship, but also affection. That is why David was almost able to bring himself to say that he loves Yhwh (v1). Note the context of the Psalm – he wrote it when Yhwh delivered him from his enemies and from Saul. Once delivered, he could not help it but burst out in praise and affection towards Yhwh (v2-3). He lists out all the times that he has been delivered when he was in trouble and the mighty miracles Yhwh did to deliver his people (v4-19).
He knows God protects and provides a place of refuge for his people (v20-29), and then turns to praise God for who he is (v30-36). He recounts what Yhwh has done for his own eventual kingship (v37-45) and bases his kingly rule upon the praises of God (v46-50). Despite all this, David still was not able to bring himself to say that he loves Yhwh. Deep down, there still is a recognition that he is unworthy before a holy God. It is only when we come to the New Testament that the barrier between us and God is finally broken – through the “atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
This is why love is so central in the New Testament, precisely because Jesus Christ has abolished the barrier that existed between us and God. Whereby once David was hesitant to even say that he loves Yhwh, we can confidently declare that we love God. This is not because of anything good within us, rather “we love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Unlike the love of the world, this love is a concrete expression of his character and affection towards us. It does not change because it is based upon God’s own unchanging nature. Thus, like David, we recognize and praise God for all the wonderful things that he has done for us. Unlike David, we also declare that we love him because “this is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
- Pray and recognize your own sinfulness and God’s majestic holiness.
- Pray and declare to God that you love him as your heavenly Father because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
 In the Hebrew, Psalm 116:1 is actually – “I love, for he heard my voice…” Yhwh is implied but never stated.