Summary: The greatest commandment (according to Jesus) is found in the Shema (Shmah). So it would do us good to really listen to what God wants to say to us today. Revelation 2:11 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Learning to Listen
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 4 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. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 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. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Intro: (Play clip of Jewish call to prayer if available).
-The Bible is filled with calls and pleas to listen to God, to really hear what He says and to respond appropriately. Jews know this passage as the Shema, which is the Hebrew word for Hear. So we could call it “The Hear” or “The Big Listen.” The Shema evolved into 3 parts made up of our text as the first part, Dt. 11:13-21 as the 2nd part, and Numbers 15:37-41 as the 3rd part. Devout Jews recite the Shema each day in their morning and evening prayers. The greatest commandment (Acc. to Jesus) is found in the Shema. So it would do us good to really listen to what God wants to say to us today. Revelation 2:11 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
-What is it we are to listen to? In this context Israel was being called on to hear that the LORD, Israel’s Elohim, is one. What does that mean? Does it mean one in the sense of solitary singleness or aloneness? Does it mean that He is the only God there is? We certainly believe that He is the only real God, but I’m not sure that is what Moses or the Holy Spirit intended by using this word. A different Hebrew word yachid is used to mean one and only. This word, echad, is often used to refer to complex unity (such as between a husband and wife – 2 become 1 flesh, Gen. 2:24). I find myself still grasping for the implications of this unity. I’m tempted to interpret the meaning in light of the 3 members of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Tri-Unity), and perhaps there is some merit to this, although there is no evidence that Moses or any of the recipients of his words would have understood it this way. Is it possible that this idea of unity, using the same word for the oneness between a husband and wife is a reference to how God binds Himself to His people? God is complete in Himself, but He made a covenant with Israel to be their God, and they were to cling to Him, finding their identity, purpose, provision, and protection in Him! Yahweh and His people would be unified.
-This idea of God being united with Israel is very Biblical and fits this context well, since the very next verse of the Shema contains the language of wholehearted intimacy between Israel and the Lord. God would be one with His people through the exchange of love. He would love them, bless and provide for them, and they would love Him in return, carefully obeying the things He had told them to do.
-So, listen to who God is! The LORD our God is one in the sense that He is purely and sufficiently Himself, as opposed to all the other pagan gods out there that people had invented. Pagan gods took on different character traits depending on where they were located because people were making them up! But God said, “Don’t make Me up! Don’t carve idols or speak anything about Me that I have not revealed.” God is consistently Himself and will always be. He does not masquerade or pretend or change. He is not someone’s invention, but reveals Himself in flawless unity as the Almighty Creator of all that is. And this perfect, magnificent, awesome Ruler of the Universe actually takes notice of us and wants us to connect with Him in a relationship of love that involves every part of who we are. How amazing is that! And that leads us to the second thought. First, hear who God is. Second…
5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
-Jesus Himself quoted and identified this verse as the single most important commandment: Mark 12:28-34 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." 32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."