Memorizing Scripture

Verses for March 2007 - The Shema

By Jerry Truex

We begin our series on scripture memory verses for the month by focusing on the Shema:

Deut 6:4-5. 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (NRSV)

This passage is called the Shema, because the first word in Hebrew is Shema, meaning "hear" or "listen". The Shema is the center of Jewish prayer and confession. Jesus quotes the Shema along with Lev. 19:18 as the two greatest commandments (Mk 12:29-31).  Here are some comments:

1. Hear. In a world filled with noise, it is a sacred duty to listen. We need to listen.

2. Lord. The word "Lord" (lower case capital letters) represents the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh (YHWH). Many Jews will not pronounce the sacred Name, but say, "Lord" (Adonai) instead.  Similarly, English translations of the Hebrew Bible substitute Lord for the Name when it appears.

3. The Lord is our God. Literally, "Yahweh [is] our God." This is a pledge of allegiance to Yahweh alone. When we say the Shema, we are saying "no" to all false gods and "yes" to Yahweh.

4. The Lord alone. Literally, "Yahweh [is] one." God's unity (oneness) denies that God is two, a good god and a bad god. It denies there are many deities. It denies there are powers ultimately beyond God. It affirms one Source and one Sustainer, and implies one order, one moral law, that all truth is God's truth—whether from scripture, tradition, science, or experience.

5. You shall love. Love is more than an emotion, but a commitment to a relationship. In the Shema, loving God means faithfulness to God demonstrated by keeping God's commandments.

6. With all your heart… soul… might. Love must be total. We cannot love God with our heart, but not our soul. We cannot love God with charitable gifts, but not with our mind and mouth. Love for God cannot be compartmentalized, but must be unified and one, just as God is one.

Jerry Truex is the Pastor of the Mennonite Church of the Servant; instructor of Biblical Studies at AMBS-Great Plains.