Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Parshah (Torah portion) rocks! It encompasses Deuteronomy 3:23 through 7:11; a section which contains the 10 Commandments and what is known as the Shema (Deut. 6:4). This slice of the second giving of the Law begins with Moses reminding the Israelites of how he pleaded with God for the privilege of entering the Promised Land, but of course that request was refused. You may recall from Numbers 20 that Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Promise because twice he disobediently struck a rock that contained God’s provision of water for the Israelites. Venting his frustration with this post-exodus generation he was overseeing, Moses clobbers this hunk of stone instead of directly speaking to it as God had commanded. And so now in these early chapters of Deuteronomy, before he transfers his leadership of Israel to Joshua, Moses exhorts the people to keep God’s instruction and to live in obedience to God’s ways so that they will take possession of the Land the LORD promised them.
The portion of the portion I want to zero in on is actually just one verse, the aforementioned Shema. And in this one verse, again Deuteronomy 6:4, we find this central confession of faith: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” In the traditional Jewish world, this affirmation is often the first prayer spoken in the morning and the last prayer said in the evening. In fact, it is often the final prayer on the lips of a Jewish person on their deathbed. And, it’s been uttered countless times by Jewish martyrs just before the immaterial part of their being left the material part of their being.
The Shema answers the most basic and fundamental question of all questions: “Who is God?” Here Moses presents Yahweh as the one true God who requires complete devotion. And so what I want to do with this, is combine a little bit of exposition with a little bit of application by dividing Deuteronomy 6:4 into three parts; and in each of those three parts there are two Hebrew words.
Shema Yisrael –“Hear, O Israel.” In order to know the identity of God, we need to be able to hear Him. And God should be heard. And He wants to be heard. But more often than not, His voice is quiet not loud. And so if we allow too much task oriented noise into our lives, we won’t be able to hear Him. In other words, if we allow ourselves to become so incessantly busy where we’re always doing, doing, doing; instead of quietly and reflectively being, being, being; we won’t be able to hear God in a sustained meaningful way that produces genuine spiritual intimacy and significant life change. We need to slow down, put all forms of electronic diversion on hiatus, and take as long as it takes to thoroughly decompress from our information overload culture so we can truly stop and listen for Him and from Him.
Adonai Eloheynu – “The Lord our God.” The first thing we learn about God’s identity is His name. In Deuteronomy 6:4 the specific Hebrew consonants which form His name are yod, hey, vav, hey. And for centuries the rabbinic practice concerning these four letters has been to substitute the word Adonai for God’s name when yod, hey, vav, hey, appears in the Hebrew text. That’s because no one is 100% sure how yod, hay, vav, hey, should be pronounced. And in rabbinic thinking, to mispronounce yod, hey, vav, hey, is viewed as the equivalent of taking the Lord’s name in vain; which would be a violation of the third of the ten commandments (Ex. 20:7). Well, let me say this about that. Even though there’s no w sound in biblical Hebrew, I really don’t have a problem saying Yahweh when God’s name is represented by the letters yod, hey, vav, hey. Rightly relating to God is not about perfect vocal rendition, it’s about a reverent heart condition. Plus, why get uptight about something that again no one is totally certain about anyway? Life is too short. So let’s deal with what we do know.
What we’re talking about here is supreme character and power coupled with existence that conveys absolute unchallenged sovereignty. Plus, because God is eternal, He transcends the boundaries and limitations of time and space; which also means He’s beyond our ability to fully comprehend. So when He majestically says, “I Am that I Am,” our humble response should be, ‘He is what He is.”
Adonai Echad –“The Lord is One.” Here we see two additional characteristics that define God’s identity. 1) He is the only God that exists. He’s the sole deity in the entire universe. All other so-called gods are false. They come from human imagination not divine revelation. They’re unable to provide spiritual redemption. 2) God has a unique nature. Echad is a word that conveys composite unity, the idea of more than one part in the whole, and multiple elements united in one entity. This is the way God chose to identify Himself. Had He chosen to identify Himself as an absolute singular One, He would have impressed upon Moses to use the Hebrew word yachid to describe that type of non-nuanced oneness. So what we have here with echad, is an incipient but compelling testimony that within the unity of God there exists more than one person. And so when Jesus’ Messiah followers recited the Shema, they were affirming that there is no God but the LORD identified here in Deuteronomy 6:4.
Now according to the verses that immediately follow, how do we respond to this God once we know who He is? First, we respond by loving; loving Him with the totality of our entire being. There’s no room for any false and unbiblical head/heart dichotomy here. We give Him all that we are in light of all that He is.
Second, we respond by receiving. We place His Word on our hearts in the sense that it literally saturates our consciousness to the extent that it powerfully governs our actions.
And thirdly, we respond by teaching. The immediate context here is speaking of spiritual instruction that occurs within the everyday rhythm of doing life. The point is, when we teach about God, we do it naturally, and we do it regularly in our divinely ordained spheres of relational influence.
The bottom line with the Shema is simply this: We don’t hear just to listen, we hear to listen and to do!