The Shema


We need to begin by looking at what the Jews call the ‘Shema’. It’s a passage of Scripture which every faithful Jew would recite twice a day. And in every Jewish household, attached to the right side of the doorpost, there would be what they call a ‘medusah’. This was a small container which contains a certain Bible text.

Even today if you go into a Jewish house, you will often see them touching the ‘medusah’, or kissing it. At the same time they would recite the words from Psalm 121:8 in Hebrew, ‘Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and forevermore.’

‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ Deuteronomy 6:4

We’re going to see if we can understand why this passage of the Scriptures is so important to the Jews. The name Deuteronomy is the Hebrew word, ‘Devarim’ which means ‘these are the words.’ In Greek, the name is made up of two separate words, Deutero which means second and Nomos, which means law.

In other words, the Book of Deuteronomy is the second giving of the law. It wasn’t a new law for Israel, but a repetition of the laws that were given at Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus. However, in the repetition of the law, Moses explains and amplifies various portions of the laws that were given about 40 years before.

Moses begins with a call to the Israelites saying, ‘Hear, O Israel!’ The word translated ‘hear’ is the word, ‘Shema’ in Hebrew. It describes both the mental activity of hearing as well as its effects. In other words, hearing is always followed by obeying what was said.

And what did the Lord require? The LORD requires an undivided love and loyalty from the Israelites because He alone is their God.

The name ‘LORD’, is from the Hebrew Yahweh, meaning ‘He is’ or ‘the becoming One’ and for the Jews, it was a sacred word for God. The word was considered so sacred that they wouldn’t pronounce it with their lips and so, they used the word ‘Adonai’, which is ‘my Lord’.

Where did they get this idea from?

‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ Exodus 20:7

The Jews were so concerned not to misuse the name of God that this tradition arose. The Jews wanted to be absolutely certain that they didn’t misuse the name of the Lord and so they read Adonai in place of YHWH.

In fact, they go as far as not even spelling the name of God in their writings, they simply write the letters G_D. Yes, the motives for this tradition were good, but it was never commanded by God Himself.

We may be forgiven for asking, what’s the big deal, it’s just a name. But a name, even your name, represents your reputation, your character and your authority.

God says, ‘when you misuse My name it’s a big deal because you’re defaming My reputation, My character and My authority and you are using it flippantly.’

And please know there are many ways people misuse God’s Name.

1. People use God’s Name to insult other people.

This is when we use profanity or swearing to express irritation. Why do people swear? They lack emotional control, but the main reason is they do it to impress others. It takes maturity to discipline our speech, especially when we’re angry and it takes discipline to refrain from swearing.

2. People use God’s Name to intimidate other people.

How many sermons have you heard where the preachers say, ‘I had a vision from God and He told me that you guys are to give me money to buy a car or a jet’?

These people are using God’s Name to intimidate money out of their followers. Parents do this all the time, when our kids misbehave, we get angry with them and some people go to the extreme by telling their children that God is going to get them if they don’t start behaving.

3. People use God’s Name impulsively.

This is where people use God’s Name as a convenient expression of fear or anger or joy or amazement or surprise. But loved ones, God says, ‘when you use My name, you take it seriously. Don’t use it flippantly.’

God Is One

Why emphasise the oneness of God? Remember the world in which the Israelites lived, it was full of idols. Their ancestors lived in Egypt and Egypt idols were everywhere.

In the Promised land, idol worship was everywhere. Though other nations served and worshipped other gods, the Israelites were to recognise the LORD alone as their God, Deuteronomy 4:35 / 1 Timothy 2:5. God is one, and there is only one God.

‘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.’ Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Notice the relation between Israel and God, notice the words, ‘our’ and ‘your’. The same God who had a relationship with Israel is also our God today. He is not only our God, He is your God, He’s our personal God. Thomas understood this after seeing Jesus, he says to Jesus that He was, ‘My Lord and my God!’ John 20:28.

‘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.’ Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Israel were to love Him with all their heart, soul and strength, which implies they were to love Him with everything they’ve got. Such a love for God includes an expression of obedience, Deuteronomy 10:12 / Deuteronomy 30:16. This love was to be the appropriate response to the LORD because He alone is God.

‘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.’ Deuteronomy 6:4-5

This love was to be completely directed to God alone and is further indicated by the repetition of the word ‘all’ along with the terms ‘heart,’ ‘soul,’ and ‘strength’ in the same verse. Sadly, when Israel forgot the Lord, things went from bad to worse, Jeremiah 2:32 / Jeremiah 23:27.

God needs to be the total focus of our attention every single day of our lives, John 12:42-43. Is God the focus of our attention?

1. Begin the day with God in prayer,

I know it sounds simple enough but if you or I are going to stay focused on God, we have got to include the things of God in our daily lives!

I know your mornings are rushed, but if you create the discipline to spend the first minutes of your day reading the Word of God and talking to Him about the day ahead, you will have a greater focus on Him throughout the day, 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Do you want to create and develop the habit of a prayerful life? This is a habit worth developing and isn’t as difficult as you might think. When you see or hear a news report that bothers you, pray for the people and the situation. When you come across someone that annoys you or tries your patience, silently pray for them.

When you hear of someone facing some problem, large or small, pray for them. God doesn’t need your eloquent, long-winded pious sounding discourses, He wants your heart, and often in prayer that sounds as simple as ‘God, help!’

2. Limit the distractions.

In the Book of Joshua, notice the people of Israel are commanded to keep a distance of 2,000 cubits between them and the ark of the covenant, Joshua 3:1-4.

That’s about half a mile and the purpose was so the people of Israel would always be able to see the ark in all types of terrain that they were travelling through.

In our spiritual lives, when we fill the spaces with all kinds of conveniences and distractions, it becomes very difficult and even impossible sometimes to see where the Lord is leading us.

3. Serve God.

We know that Matthew 6:24 sometimes uses the word ‘mammon’ in place of money at the end of it. Though ‘mammon’ was a word that primarily represented money and possessions, it was also used to refer to lusts of all types.

If you’re serving God with your resources of time, energy, talents, and with your money, then staying focused on God will naturally follow.

4. Remove sin from your life.

If there is something, someone, someplace or anything in your life that leads you away from God in any way, Hebrews 12:1-2. Something that keeps you out of prayer, away from fellowship with other believers or distracts you from reading your Bible, you have one option, remove that thing from your life.

Staying focused on God and growing in your spiritual, prayer, or Christian life in any way with any habitual sin in your life is next to impossible.

Ask any runner what is the worst thing they can do in a race and they will tell you, turning around to have a look. We must focus and fix our eyes on Jesus if we want to finish the race. We must kill the sin or it will kill us spiritually, physically, or both.

It’s not enough to simply listen to what God has to say, we must also obey what He says. He is our God, He is our LORD, and if we claim to love Him, we must obey what He says.

‘If you love me, keep my commands.’ John 14:15