“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”
Occasionally at a big event, take a football match for example, you’ll see someone in the crowd holding up a placard emblazoned with something along the lines of “God loves you: John 3:16”. If you’re going to hold up a Bible verse at a sporting event, it’s a good one to choose: someone prompted by your sign to look up the reference would read of God’s gracious love, Jesus’ sacrifice, and our reconciliation with our creator. Only a few words, but it says so much!
If ancient Israelites had held up placards at sporting events, there’s every chance they would have read “Deuteronomy 6:4-5”.1 Known as the Shema (the Hebrew word for ‘hear’, v. 4), this call of Moses to love the true and living God became a central prayer in Judaism. Like John 3:16, it neatly captures in only a few words the deep relationship with the Lord that Israel enjoyed, and the transformed life that was to flow from it.
These verses are part of a long sermon to the Israelites as they are about to cross the Jordan to enter the promised land. Moses reminds them of what God has done for them: his decision to make them his people; the way he rescued them from Egypt; his provision for them in the desert; the covenant between God and Israel made at Sinai, and the law that he subsequently gave them; his judgement on the rebellion of the previous generation; the goodness of what they are about to receive when they enter the promised land.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Moses tells them again about their God. He proclaims Yahweh’s uniqueness—their covenant God is the only one of any gods you might care to name who is truly God. He’s one, he’s indivisible. He is unlike any other.
As a consequence, the Israelites are to love God and God alone. There can be no aspect of their lives that is not brought under God. Their love of God is to be all-encompassing and all-consuming. There can be no conflict between the inward life of God’s people and the outward signs of that life. This isn’t simple rule-keeping; it’s all of life in response to the Lord, their God of the covenant, their saviour, redeemer, and provider.
Jesus refers to these verses when asked what the most important command was (Matt 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31). It’s not too surprising that he points people here, as it would have been so incredibly familiar to anyone listening to him at the time. But he goes on, and adds another similar command: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. If you love God with your whole being, your soul, mind, and strength, then it seems that you can’t help but start to see others as God sees them. Love for others reflects the love shown by God to his people.
Like Israel, Christians need to listen up! As we reflect on God’s grace in salvation and promise, just like Israel, we need to remember that God is one: unique, one God, without peer. Like Israel, we have been brought into relationship with our saviour and redeemer, and our only response should be one of devotion with our whole lives. To take and extend Deuteronomy 6:6-9: Teach these things to your children. Talk about it when you’re out and about, or at home. Make your first and last thoughts of the day be about God and your life in service to him. Be consumed by Jesus, give your life away to him. And in your lives with others, urge them to do the same.
1 Yes, I recognize the anachronisms and other problems that lie behind this mental image. Just run with it for a bit.