In preparing for Bible Day Camp at my church we have been looking at the Shema (Deut. 6: 4-9), a sacred part of the Torah, which derives it's name from the first word 'hear' , which in Hebrew is 'Shema'. It is a truly bold assertion of God's singular nature as the one and only.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
Traditionally Jews would recite the first part of the Shema morning and night (observing v.7). It was likewise written on door posts (v.9) or in small box or bag tied to the door called the mezuzah (=door post).
It starts with a simple enough statement: the Lord (Yahweh: Covenant seeking God) is not only unique and without peer, but is also the only God worthy of praise. Like today, this runs contrary to the practices of those living around God's people.
In Israel's history, they were constantly surrounded with nations that each had their own god or gods. A nation's self image was often wrapped up in the perceived strengths and weaknesses of it's god. When victorious in war you not only brought home captives but you also brought home vestiges of that nation's religion as a trophy of war. If you were victorious, your nation was greater than their nation but in addition, your god was greater than their god.
When Israel was defeated by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4: 11) the ark was captured and taken as a trophy of war. The ark of the covenant was taken to the house of Dagon, the vegitation god of the Philistines. Implied by this action is the idea, in the Philistine's minds that their god Dagon is greater than the God of Israel.
In chapter 5 you can read a great story of how for two days in a row the Philistines came to their temple and found their god face down before the ark. On the second day they found it with it's head and hands smashed off: removal of hands, symbolic of Dagon being unable to do anything, and decapitation a symbolically shameful death.
In the weeks that followed the Philistines suffered greatly at the hand of God until finally the ark was returned (1 Sam. 6).
Today we again live in a pluralist society with many 'nations' touting the greatness of their 'gods'. Our culture worships 'tolerance' above all else and has no time for the "one true God of the universe". God is unique and He alone deserves our praise.
What is beautiful about the Shema is how it logically flows: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone and He therefore demands a total love commitment (v. 5). Jesus, in Mark 12: 30 quotes this as the greatest commandment in all the Torah. Jesus deepens the meaning of this verse by adding the phrase "with all your mind" . For the benefit of the Hebrew hearers he wants to them to understand that when we love "with all our heart" the intellect (the mind) is also part of this devotion to God.
This is a love response that takes place in the head, the heart, and the body; it is found in our thoughts, our desires, and our actions.
Verses 6-9 also follow logically. Since you are devoted to God and he is uniquely worthy of praise, devote yourself to the words of the law. You are to talk about them constantly, be surrounded by them, make them part of your everyday vocabulary.
My Grandpa Walker was a man devoted to the Word, in ways I did not know until later. Always a man with a quick wit, he had lots of pet phrases that became running jokes in my family. When he arrived at a restaurant only to find it full he would say, " Don't these people have homes?" and as a kid I recall all the adults laughing and I didn't get the joke. It wasn't until later that I read 1 Cor. 11: 22 and realized that he was playfully quoting scripture here. He was also known to speak of "fulfilling all righteousness" (Matt. 3: 15)when he talked about completing all the requirements of a task at hand.
He was so devoted to the Word that he couldn't help it slipping out in all the things he said and did. This is the image I get when I read the Shema. It is a beautiful encouragement to Israel but also followers of Jesus Christ today.
The Lord our God is the One and the Only and as a result we devote every part of our being as a sacrifice of praise (Rom. 12: 1) to His glory. May His name alone receive glory and honour, now and forever!