Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.
The people of God were given a call early on in their journey as God’s people; it was a call to hear. Now it is important to note that the term ‘hear’ in Hebrew carries with it the meaning ‘to obey.’ So for Israel to hear carried with it the implication to obey. This is implicit in the shema, Israel’s call to hear: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One; you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, strength and soul.” To hear is to respond by loving God with all they’ve got.
Another important piece in this call is understanding what sort of God they are called to love. You may know the story of Moses, and his desire to know God - to have God show him his ways. In Exodus 33 we read Moses’ request to God: “If I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you.” In the very next chapter, we have God passing before Moses with this proclamation: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). This is the character of God, as revealed to Moses, which the people are to respond to in obedience. God is a God of love. My mind goes to the words of John: “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
To hear is not to obey blindly a God who is unknown and altogether beyond us. Rather it is to respond to a loving God who draws near - through his Word, through the tabernacle, in the person of Jesus Christ, and by his Spirit. And by obeying a loving God who draws near, we draw near to him and in so doing come to know his love and presence even more profoundly.
On one occasion while Jesus walked this earth, a lawyer asked the following question of Jesus (Luke 10:25-28): “‘What must I do to have eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law?’ What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’” It is perhaps quite relevant to recognize how Jesus defined eternal life: to know God, the one true God (John 17:3). To know God, to “hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One,” is to love him; yes, eternal life is to love the lover of our souls. This is the call of the shema.
A.W. Tozer once stated: “A generation that knows only what God said will be followed by a generation that doesn’t believe what God said.” What is needed is knowledge of the holy - knowledge of the Lord God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” While this does not call us away from studying the scriptures to know what God did say, it does call us to a study of scripture which draws us beyond the words to the Word. There is a bit more to Jesus’ definition of eternal life; Jesus said: “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Hear, people of God, the Lord your God is One, manifest in Jesus Christ and present in the Holy Spirit. Know him as the lover of your soul; then love him with all of your heart, mind, strength and soul - and live.