By Archie England, NOBTS
Question: Judaism uses the term “Shema” to refer to their theological understanding that God is one (and not a Trinity). Where is this in the Old Testament, and what does it mean?
Archie England responds: “Shema” is a Hebrew word that means “hear!” and it’s the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4. What follows this imperative verb in verses 4-9 has become known as the “Shema.” The passage is used in their morning and evening prayer service, and it is explained by Judaism as expressing the monotheistic essence of God (as opposed to our Christian doctrine of Trinity).
Deuteronomy 6 immediately follows Moses’s second recounting of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). As such, its emphasis is the first commandment: “No other gods before me.” To accomplish such spiritual purity of relationship with the Lord God of Israel, God commanded Moses to teach (6:1) Israel His commandments, statutes, and judgments. Only by discipling Israel in such knowledge would Israel become capable of fearing (a kind of fear that results in worshipful reverence) the Lord God and living in obedience to Him (6:2). This fear and obedience was the centerpiece of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Moses explained via the Shema that Israel would only be blessed and prosper so long as they single-mindedly clung to their God, who is the One God! (6:5). To allow the worship of God to include any other expressions of deity was expressly forbidden (6:13-14).
The covenant God of Israel demanded three responses: fear (worshipful reverence), service, and allegiance (“swearing by His name”). Perhaps these three from verse 13 are intended as a parallel to the three love actions above in verse 5: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul (essence or being), and with all your might. God demanded nothing less than total commitment from those bene-fiting from His covenantal love. This is the mandate of the Shema: Love only God, and love Him totally!
The focus of the Shema, then, is not primarily on the essence of God, though Moses does address that in verse 15: “For in your midst, the Lord your God is a jealous God” (my own translation). Failing to recognize God’s supremacy was to risk being consumed by His wrath. Hence, the Shema emphasizes Israel’s mandate for having no other gods beside the Lord God. God will not share the reverence, service, or allegiance of His people.
Though Israel was to go forth into foreign lands, the customs and manners of these foreign lands were never to enter into Israel. God established His own words, commandments; and provided them with ordinances, rules, and revealed to them His standards of justice, judgments. What God valued, Israel was to value! Anything else was an affront to God.
Dear friend, the same is true today! “LISTEN!” Choose God! Choose Him ONLY!
Archie England Ph.D. is director of the Baptist College Parnership and Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, occupying the J. Wash Watts Chair of Old Testament and Hebrew at NOBTS.