January 8, 2014

Deuteronomy 6:4 - The Oneness Of God

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

Deuteronomy 6:4

How cool is this! There is a verse of scripture that has a name! Deuteronomy 6:4 is the verse. It's name is the Shema (pronounced sha-mah) and is named for the first word in the Hebrew sentence. Shema means "hear", but with the context of taking notice and being obedient to what is heard.

(Note: Some call it Shema Yisrael, naming it from both the first and second words.)

Observant Jews consider this verse to be the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism. It is the centerpiece of their morning and evening prayer. Saying the Shema twice daily is considered a mitzvah (religious commandment).

Jesus even quoted the Shema when he was asked by one of the scribes which was the first commandment of all.

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

Mark 12:29-30

Not only do observant Jews pray it twice a day, every day, but they also wear it for morning prayer and also on special occasions. Little leather boxes containing four classic scriptures (including the Shema) are worn on the forehead and the arm. These boxes are known as tefillin or phylacteries.

And in case you were wondering how seriously the Jews take the Shema, it is traditional for them to say the Shema as their last words before death. And they teach their children to recite it before they go to sleep.

That this verse is important within Judaism seems clear. But it is interesting to consider why it is so important. This verse clearly and succinctly describes the absolute oneness of God and that Israel is to be very aware of this fact.

Israel has always been surrounded by other nations. And this has been by design, so that these other nations, all totally pagan, can see the glory and provision of the Lord. These pagan nations were supposed to see Israel faithfully worshiping the Lord and turn from their false Gods. Many of these nations worshiped multiple deities. Part of the Shema is guiding Israel to understand that the Lord is singular and unique.

It was not uncommon then for pagan religions to worship multi-faceted gods. A number of them even claimed that their gods were made of multiple beings. The Shema was intended to prevent Israel from confusing these other gods with the one and only Jehovah, the Lord over Israel.

As we saw earlier, when questioned by the scribes one day about which was the first (the principle or most important) commandment of all, Jesus started by quoting the Shema.

If we are to serve God, we must know who he is and what he is. We must know that he is singular and that there are no other gods like him or beside him. Until we know this, we cannot have a meaningful relationship with him. And understanding that the Lord's whole reason for creating mankind was to enjoy fellowship with him, no wonder Jesus taught that knowing who God is and that he is one, was the most important commandment.

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