Word of the Week

Shema

Hebrew

Today’s Hebrew contains one of the most sacred words in the language:

שָׁמַע

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is thy God, the Lord alone.” Deuteronomy 6:4

In the ancient book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to understand this concept. He commands them to listen, but not listen alone.

Shama means listen, take heed, and obey. It is the imperative form of the verb listen, and could be rendered in English thus: HEAR! LISTEN AND OBEY! See all the exclamation marks? It is an emphatic verb that goes much deeper than simply listening or hearing.

“In other words, in Hebrew, “hearing” and “doing” are basically the same thing, but what is Israel to do in response to hearing that the Lord alone is their God?” – The Bible Project

Moses goes on to tell the Israelites exactly how they are to obey the commandment to hear. The very next verse explains what they should do.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and with all your soul and with all your strength [your entire being].” – Deuteronomy 6:5

Translating Deuteronomy 6:4 is a bit difficult, because Hebrew has no word for “is” in the present tense. Due to the grammatical usage of putting nouns next to each other to express the present tense of “to be,” It could be translated one of 4 different ways.

  1. The Lord our God is one Lord.
  2. The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
  3. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  4. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

So in whatever translation we use, the verse proclaims that God is God alone, and there is no other. (We’ll talk about the Trinity in the prayer in another post.)

Though Deuteronomy 6:4 may be a bit ambiguous, Deuteronomy 6:5 is as clear as day. God is to receive our love in all our capacity to love. We are to love Him with all of our being, holding nothing aside, and preferring Him above all else. Our total devotion and obedience is to God and God alone. (I’ve highlighted the word is in the previous sentences so that you can see how common it is in English.)

Jesus answered, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. 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. This is the first commandment. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31

The threat of polytheism

As Moses prepared to die and turn leadership over to Joshua, he was probably very concerned that once the people crossed the Jordan, they would be surrounded by many “gods.” In fact, they were already surrounded by pagan deities. He also knew that he had had a difficult time keeping the people on the right path and was worried that they would quickly abandon God’s commandments after he was gone. So he taught them a prayer that would remind them that they were the chosen people and as such had loyalty to and devotion for one God, the true and only God.

“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be [written] on your heart and mind. You shall teach them diligently to your children [impressing God’s precepts on their minds and penetrating their hearts with His truths] and shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand (forearm), and they shall be used as bands (frontals, frontlets) on your forehead.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-8

Followers of God were to be marked by obedience and love. All paganism was to be strictly avoided because it would cause His people to be separated from Him. In the New Covenant, followers would see God face to face and will know as they are known. This is only possible when one’s whole being is focused on our God, and on Him alone.

“There will no longer exist anything that is cursed [because sin and illness and death are gone]; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve and worship Him [with great awe and joy and loving devotion]; they will [be privileged to] see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” – Revelation 22:3-4 (AMP)

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