Hear, O Israel
Have you ever had one of those moments when you are reading something you’ve read a hundred times before and all of a sudden you notice something for the first time that’s been there all along? That happened for me this morning.
The First and Greatest Commandment
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV)
I am taking the first semester of Hebrew at Calvin Theological Seminary and we’ve been learning how to read and eventually memorize those verses, the Shema, in Hebrew. (It is named simply for the first Hebrew word in the sentence which means “Hear”). A person practicing the Jewish religion recites this daily. Jesus called it the first and greatest commandment. The benefit of reading in the original language is that it makes me slow down and read what it says, to think more intentionally about what it says.
Not only that, but I have always remembered the Shema in the New Testament rendition. Translation is a great thing. In the Gospels I can see why the three clauses (with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength), became four in Greek (heart, soul, mind, and strength). Undoubtedly, they were attempting to capture all that was being communicated. I might even add more clauses for today’s English audience. But there is something else that caught my attention this morning.
Details that Matter
In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the pronouns change in person and number and it is worth noting. I will highlight it out here:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your (singular) God with all your (singular) heart and with all your (singular) soul and with all your (singular) strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV)
I frequently like to point out the frequency of the plural “you” in the Bible. I do this because, in our individualistic culture, we tend to think only about what pertains to me, rather than what pertains to us. However, in this case I point out the opposite. Here it is “you” (individually) that is spoken about, and it has great relevance to each of us. In fact, both the “our” (plural) and the “you” (singular) are important.
The Lord says to His people, “Hear, O Israel” (don’t think of a modern political state, but the people of God), “the Lord our God” (He is our God; we are a people together) “the Lord is One.” He is not your personal God, He is the only God and He is One! You don’t get to have your own God!
But then, this One God, Who is not our own creation, now commands us personally and individually. “Love the Lord your God.” That is, the One that is “our God,” must become “your God” one that you personally, individually love. Don’t rely on the love of others for God. That may help you understand how it might apply, but you yourself must love Him.
Love Him how? “With all your heart.” You, individually, have to love Him with your heart—your inner being, your mind, your will. “With all your soul.” You, individually, have to love Him with your very life, your passions, your desires, your intellect. “With all your strength.” You, individually, have to love Him with all that you abound in. Your strength, your power, your abundance, your wealth. This One God must become very personal!
We must hear these truths, these commands, this call from God! To hear it means to heed it. To hear it includes obeying it. We must hear and obey by the power of Christ (who fully obeyed) in us!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,