Understanding “Love”: Racham

“Love” is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot in our culture.  Marriages crumble each and every day because one (or both) individuals in the marriage forget what it means to love another person.  To try to understand what love really is, we first wrote out definitions of “love” from our modern day dictionary as well as a look at an 1800’s Western Culture understanding (how far we’ve come in 200 years!).  Additionally, we looked back to the 1st Century A.D. Roman Empire Culture, by focusing on a few verses of 1 Corinthians 13.  Today, we rewind the clock back a little bit further and look at Ancient Israel and they’re understanding of “love”.

While “love” has a number of meanings in our current culture, the Hebrew Language from the Old Testament complicated things more.  Instead of having one word with multiple meanings, they simply used multiple words.  This is odd, as the Hebrew language has far less words (less than 80,000) compared to English (approximately 1,000,000).  Nevertheless, the Old Testament has 11 Hebrew words for “love”.  Eleven.  Some are used only a few times but others are used in pretty good abundance.

The specific Hebrew word we’d like to focus on today is:

racham  (rāḥam) [rah KHAM)

The term “racham” is used 47 times in the Old Testament, and seven of those come in book of Hosea.  If you’ve never read the book of Hosea, it’s about God commanding Hosea the prophet to marry a prostitute.  Throughout the book, Hosea is to continually show racham toward his wife, just as God shows it to the nation of Israel.

“Racham” is translated by various scholars as either “love” or “have compassion, or pity”.  Some Hebrew scholars indicate that this type of deep love is sometimes used for one who is superior over one who is inferior (an example would be Isaiah 49:15 when a nursing mother shows love toward her nursing infant) but is sometimes used as an expression of love for God (Psalm 18:1).

Still, the term is most often used of God’s love or compassion on others, most specifically, on those He chooses to show racham (Exodus 33:19).  Even more amazingly, it is used as an expression of love/compassion on those who do not deserve to receive it (2 Kings 13:23).  A careful reading of the Old Testament indicates that God shows this type of love over, and over, and over again to those who don’t deserve it.  Think about how amazing this is: God chooses to show racham to whomever He chooses, and the people He chooses to show racham toward don’t deserve it.

How exactly does this apply to marriage?  Well, within our marriage, Megan and I naturally show a lot of love and compassion to one another, especially during our good seasons.  But there are times when we each mess up.  Times when we hurt one another.  Times when we don’t want to show racham to the one who just hurt us. Times when we may think they don’t deserve it.

But this is exactly the point of racham, it is given in an undeserved manner.  Hosea’s wife didn’t deserve it, but God provided it anyway.  Israel didn’t deserve it, but God provided it anyway.  We don’t deserve it, but God still offers it.  And if God is willing to show this kind of love and compassion toward others who are undeserving, why wouldn’t we offer it as well?

The point of racham isn’t to accept one another’s flaws.  It’s not to accept the person and their sin.  It’s to see them, love them, and show compassion on them with the ultimate desire being for them to become the person God made them to be.  It’s to see the person they are in spite of their flaws.  It’s to see through their outbursts.  See through their frustration.  See through their prostitution.  See through all kinds of inappropriate behavior…and to have compassion on them, even though [you think] they don’t deserve it.

God’s use of racham shows that it is a choice.  It’s purposeful compassion.  This type of love has been graciously shown towards us, and we would all do well to reflect it within marriage.


Have you ever shown this type of love to your spouse…this undeserved love/compassion?  How did they respond knowing that they didn’t deserve it?  Have you ever undeservingly received it from your spouse?  Let us know in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Understanding “Love”: Racham

  1. Pingback: Understanding Love: Ahava « Do Not Disturb

  2. I just gave a 10-minute sermon on Psalms 18:1 and ‘racham’ to the congregation. I am happy to find your blog talking about ‘racham’. It added a new dimension to my understanding. Thanks.

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