Tuesday 03 January 2012

Bible Book:

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (vv. 4-5)

Deuteronomy 6:4-15 Tuesday 3 January 2012


The first part of today's reading is one of the most widely readpassages of Scripture. Verses 4-9 form the main part of a daily setof readings known in the Jewish tradition as the Shema. InDeuteronomy, the people of Israel are encamped on the Plains ofMoab waiting to cross the river Jordan into the Promised Land.Moses speaks words of prophecy and encouragement and, mostprominently, a firm reminder of the law, with the urgency andpressure of a powerful old preacher; the immanence of his foretolddeath hanging over his every word. Deuteronomy is therefore 'thesecond giving of the law'. The people must not forget what theirGod has commanded them, even though many in the camp were not bornwhen the law was originally given.

The Shema is a reminder and expansion of the first commandment: "Iam the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, outof the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me"(Exodus 20:2-3, which Moses recites in Deuteronomy 5:6-7). It concerns specifically theGod of Israel, known as Yahweh (or usually written as 'the LORD')over and above any other gods that might be around. The versesthemselves instruct that the words be retold and remembered fromgeneration to generation, and that's what the Jewish people havedone over thousands of years. Jesus cited verses 4-5 as being themost important commandment (Mark12:28-31).

The first commandment - and its concern with "other gods" - is notoften discussed in churches today. The assumption perhaps is thatwhile some worship gods by different names, they are either 'allthe same anyway' or are simply 'not real'. And yet this is notalways the assumption of the Old Testament, or the experience ofthe people of Israel, whether in Egypt or as they entered into thePromised Land. The other supernatural beings (gods) in the OldTestament should not be discounted as imaginary, and they certainlyshould not be seen as alternative ways of viewing the same God.There is much more to the divine realm than meets the eye. What'simportant, however, is that Yahweh, the creator God of theIsraelites who has revealed himself through the fathers of thefaith (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the Exodus rescue, and the law,is one on his own above anything else.

Moses next looks forward to the Promised Land, and the wealth andprosperity that will be theirs. While this is to encourage them intheir task of conquering, it serves the dual purpose of remindingthem that whatever comes their way will not have been theirs byright, but only what God has given them. In faith, they are to showgratitude for that which they have yet to receive!

The passage finishes with an angry tone. The reader should notethat this is still the rhetoric of Moses, describing God, and notactually God speaking, but at the same time be aware that Godchooses on a number of occasions to be described as jealous.Perhaps in the same way as a man who truly loves his wife would bejealous and angry if she slept with another. Would Yahweh be sojealous if the other gods in question were simply imaginary orirrelevant?

But the overall scope of the passage is a reminder to love God andput God first. The word "love", in this context, shouldn't belimited to a purely emotional response. As Jesus showed, the loveGod expects from us involves our whole self. Professor of OldTestament at the Fuller Theological Seminary John Goldingaysuggests verse 5 should be translated: 'You are to give yourself toYahweh your God with your whole mind, your whole person, your wholemight.' It's about loving God with all we've got.

To Ponder

What 'gods' do you think are prevalent in yourculture or society? How difficult is it to live for one God alone?How does your faith help?

How do you understand 'one God' in the light ofthe Christian belief in the Trinity of Father, Son and HolySpirit?

Read the other parts of the Shema, Deuteronomy 11:13-21and Numbers15:37-41. See what they have in common and notice the lengthsthe Jewish people would go not to forget.

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