God said: … “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Jehovah” (Leviticus 19:18, ASV).
The call to love thy neighbor as thyself is repeated by Jesus, Paul and James. Among the covenant principles of both the Old and New Covenant is “love thy Neighbor.”
Let’s face it; some folk are easier to love than others. Some folk, we meet and everything clicks; within minutes we have a warm feeling of affection for them. With others… not so much. With some, warm feelings of affection are harder to develop.
Sometimes when I speak of “love thy neighbor” I can almost read the minds of some who think, “Oh? Well, you don’t know what my neighbor did to me…”
Yet, who is that neighbor, really? For an Israelite, if folk followed their linage back, they found a common father in Jacob, and through Jacob, Abraham. In fact, they wore the new name given Jacob on that pivotal night when he wrestled with the Angel, the name “Israel.” For the Israelite, that neighbor was a brother/sister; they were more than just neighbors, they were family. And not just family but Covenant partners with God and each other.
There was a covenant commitment made with and between them and this was the setting for their love for each other as neighbors. There was a shared relationship between them, both of blood and covenant, and they were to honor their relationship. Perhaps not always with warm affection, but certainly with heartfelt commitment to God and covenant living. We see their corporate status as Israel in Exodus 4:22-23:
“… Thus saith Jehovah, Israel is my son, my first-born: and I have said unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me…”
Each Israelite was related to his neighbor by blood, covenant and corporate status. They might not feel much in the way of warm affection for some of their covenant brethren, but the recognition and covenant faithfulness (hesed) was to be there, “hesed” indicating a relational loyalty between folk under the same covenant.
Now, before we get to thinking that those outside the covenant are not included, God said:
“For Jehovah your God, he is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the terrible, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward. He doth execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the sojourner, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the sojourner; for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17–19, meditate also on Numbers 9:14, 15:15).
In the Gospels when asked “who is my neighbor?,” Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, from which we infer that non-Israelites were included as neighbors.
In the New Covenant we, likewise, are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Like Israel, all who are in Christ have a common Father, God, who calls to us saying: “[I] will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18).
We are God’s children, we are brothers and sisters, we have a common covenant, and are called to treat each other and non-believers with love.
The history of the Old Testament indicates people back then were no different than folk are now. Just as folk in the Old Testament could be hard to love (And yet God loved them) so some folk are a challenge to love today. If we’re committed to covenant living (whether under the Sinai Covenant then or New Covenant of Christ today) we’ll find a way.