A Word for Today - Shema

Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Precious Seed

(Shama’) agree, discern, hear

(Shema’) hear, obedience, report

(Shamar) guard, keep, keeper

One of the remarkable features of the Bible is the way in which God uses simple words to convey the most profound truth. This point is effectively demonstrated by the single Hebrew word shema’ (English = ‘hear’), which provides us with a central theological text in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4-9. 

The basic Hebrew words for ‘hearing’ from which shema’ is derived, have a wide range of semantical meanings. We ‘hear’ the voice of cattle, Jer. 9. 10, the noise of different human emotions, Ezra 3. 13, or the sound of musical instruments preceding worship, Dan. 3. 7. More importantly, this family of words is frequently used to reinforce an instruction so that individuals give careful attention to what is being proposed, e.g., heeding God’s word, Isa. 46. 3, or advice from parents, Prov. 1. 8. What is being stressed in these contexts is that hearing means obeying and doing, Ps. 18. 44. By extension, this principle is the single most important feature of the associated word shema’ that begins the great confessional statement of Israel found in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4-9, which starts with the call to ‘hear’ – ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord’. Thus the Hebrew word shema’ has become the common term – the capital letters single it out (SHEMA) – given to this text. It reflects the covenant obedience required of Israel, and its recitation is a binding legal act in which individuals pledge their commitment to God’s word. Such is the import of this pledge that parents teach it to their children before they go to sleep each night, cp. Prov. 6. 20-22. It is the last utterance that Jews hope to say before they die. 

It is possible to translate Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4 in at least two different ways: 

  • The Lord is our God, the Lord alone 
  •  The Lord our God – The Lord – is one 

The first emphasizes that God alone is Israel’s God; the second emphasizes the unity and uniqueness of the God that they serve. The first confirms the general teaching of Deuteronomy that Israel should not only be obedient to the covenant, but also show exclusive loyalty to the Lord, Deut. 13. Paradoxically, the assertion that the Lord was exclusively Israel’s God did not deny the existence of other gods. Unfortunately, Israel’s spiritual infidelity is well documented, reminding them of their covenant relationship with the one true God, and of the punishment for their failure to comply, see Isa. 3. 12-15. 

This interpretation of the word shema’ is also emphasized in the New Testament. When the Lord Jesus was once asked by a scribe to state which was the most important commandment, Mark 12. 28, He replied by citing the opening two lines from the SHEMA, Deut, 6. 4-5 (LXX). He added a second commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, Lev. 19. 18, and subsumed these texts into one great commandment. Craig Evans suggests that the Lord used one of Hillel the Elder’s seven rules for interpreting scripture – ‘general and particular, and particular and general’.1 So when the Lord replies that the greatest commandment (‘the general’) is to love the Lord with all one’s heart, Deut. 6. 4-5, and to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, Lev. 19. 18, He had summed up all of the ‘particular’ commandments. 

The second translation above suggests that the oneness of God is not only a fundamental Jewish confession, it is also the first commandment, Exod. 20. 3. The Hebrew word for ‘one’ (ehad) in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4, is the ordinary Hebrew numeral. The SHEMA therefore stresses that God is all on His own, not merely first among gods, but omnipotent, and thereby denying the existence of other gods. Monotheism forms part of the teaching of the New Testament, especially the apostle Paul, e.g., 1 Cor. 8. 4; Gal. 3. 20; 1 Tim. 2. 5. In 1 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 6, Paul expands on the scope of Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4, and sets in apposition the one God, the Father and the one Lord, Jesus Christ as being both uniquely God. Gordon Fee describes this as an extraordinary Christological moment, where Paul offers a deliberate Christian restatement of the SHEMA.2 The first aspect of the SHEMA is the command to hear, v. 4, but the second is the command ‘to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’, v. 5. The command to love is predicated on Israel’s commitment to God’s law, Deut. 5. 10. 

‘Love’ here is equivalent to obedience and loyalty, and matters to the extent that it is expressed through concrete action, not emotion or through mere sentiment, but something that is worked out in a practical way through keeping God’s commandments. As Israel had been loved by God, Deut. 7. 6-8, so this love was to be reciprocated. In Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 6-9, Moses provides a basic practical framework in which obedience and loyalty to God could be expressed in daily life, and ultimately transmitted to successive generations. 

Making this confession of faith was not enough, though. To love God meant obeying His commandments, and being loyal to Him. For us as believers today, it is not sufficient simply to hear God’s word; we must obey it and live by it, Jas. 1. 22-25. If this was the requirement under the old covenant, then how much greater should our response be when we hear His voice and seek to obey His word under a new covenant, John 14. 15; 15. 10, 12, ratified by the blood of Christ, Heb. 9. 24-28? 

For further reading/study 

Introductory: The Bible Knowledge Word Study Series.

Advanced: Deuteronomy in the New Testament, Ed by Steve Moyise.

References

  1. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, p.219.
  2. Pauline Christology, p.89.
 

AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.

There are 29 articles in
ISSUE (2011, Volume 66 Issue 1)

400 years on, and looking forward: the Authorised (King James) Version

A Plea for the Preaching of the Gospel

A Word for Today - Shema

Abijah

Accursed of God

As his custom was

Bible and Church Conference 2009 Peter Williams, Dirk Jongkind, Simon Gathercole

Bits and Bobs

Christian Devotedness Anthony Norris Groves

Community Outreach on the West Coast of Canada

Editorial

The Elder as a Servant

Facebook – A good thing or a bad thing

The Good Shepherd in Action

Gospel Work And Other Activities

He began to speak...

Metaphors of the Church

Online Missionary News

Open-Air Preaching

The Parable of the Pounds - Part 1

Philippians: The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel Part Five

Prayer Moves Mountains John Williams

Question TIme - Why do I find it hard to spend time in prayer?

R. B. Jones – Gospel Ministry in Turbulent Times N. Gibbard

The Rapture - it’s details

So, You want to be Contemporary?

These Forty Years (1969 – 2009)

Those who were a delight to Paul: LOIS and EUNICE (continued)

Views from the News

This article is not part of a series

There are 54 articles by this author

The Order of Melchisedec

The Epistle to Philemon

Paul’s View of the Law

Introducing the Feasts

The Passover

The Feasts of Unleavended Bread and Firstfruits

Feasts of Weeks and Trumpets

Day of Atonement

Feasts of Tabernacles

Paul’s view of the Person of Christ

The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

Paul’s view of the Person of Christ

The Letters of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

The Church at Pergamos

The Kingdom of God in the preaching of the Lord Jesus

John Calvin - A man predestined for greatness?

A Word for Today

A Word for Today

A Word for Today - Coming (gr. parousia)

A Word for Today

A Word for Today

A Word for Today - Shema

A Word for Today - Lytron

The Linguistic Heritage of the King James Bible

A Word for Today - Hálak

A Word for Today - Diaqhka

A Word for Today - Bikkûr

Martin Luther - Doctor of Theology - Part 1

A Word for Today - Koinonia

Martin Luther - Doctor of Theology - Full Article

MARTIN LUTHER – Doctor of Theology (2)

A Word for Today - Go’el

A Word for Today - Katallagé

A Word for Today - Magen

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles - Biblical Scholar

A word for today - Kalos

A Word for Today - Gephen

A word for today - hypokrisis

A Word for Today

A Word for Today - Pará-klhtoj-on

Edward Dennett

A Word for Today - Hokmah = wisdom, skill, aptitude

A Word for Today - Katharos

A Word for Today - Torah

A Word for Today - Zoe

A Word for Today - S(h)emesh (Sun)

A Word for Today - καινός

A Word for Today - ‘Or

A Word for Today - Grace

Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit-The

A WORD FOR TODAY. ‘Es (Tree, wood)

Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit-The Part 2

A Word For Today - Pistis

The Argument for Galatians - Part 1