This text contains one of the most quoted portions of the Old Testament and some of the most important words in both Judaism and Christianity. Moses continues the theme of the last few verses of Chapter 5 and instructs the people on the importance of keeping the Law and the benefits of the covenant. But in so doing he also tells them they must love God – the one true God – and that love will form the basis of their obedience and the basis for passing on the faith to their children. His command to love God is what will become the daily prayer of Jewish people for the rest of time. He gives the Israelites – in verses 4-9 – a summation of their identity as a nation.
In these verses Moses restates the Deuteronomic Principle – the fundamental tenet of the covenant – and adds a generational element to it. He tells the people to obey the Law and the statutes and then lists a series of contingent promises that seem to build on each other:
- that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it,
- so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life,
- and that your days may be prolonged.
- …that it may be well with you
- and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
If they fear God for generations they will possess the land, their days will be prolonged, it will be well with them and they will multiply greatly. They will be blessed in a land flowing with milk and honey – the land itself will be blessed as a result of their obedience.
This is the covenant. If the people obey the Law God will bless them in the land and enable them to live in it for a long time – for generations. Moses does not state the negative side of the covenant, but it is implied. If the people do not obey they will not live long in the land and they will not prosper. If obedience is not handed down to the sons and grandsons then those generations will not enjoy the benefits of the covenant.
Note that he again states the people must fear the Lord – the point he made explicitly when he recounted the story of Sinai to them in Chapter 5. Their obedience to the stipulations of the covenant – summarized in the Ten Commandments – is predicated on their fear of God and – not stated in these verses but in the next six – their love for Him.
Moses sounds like God in verse 3. He says, “O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it.” He longs for them to obey just as God does (5:29). He knows more than anyone that the odds of them obeying are long – he has faced their stubbornness and ungratefulness for the last 40 years – but he still loves them and genuinely wants what is best for them. If only they would obey and enjoy the fruits of the covenant! How can anyone look at what God promises and choose another way?
Moses speaks as anyone with wisdom would speak at any point in world history – but especially in the era of the New Covenant. How can anyone who knows what God promises turn it down for something else? How can a believer become enamored with the world if he understands the sweetness of a life with God? How can a thinking person choose the lusts and rewards of this life over Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think or over the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:14-21)?
These verses form the initial portion of what is called the Shema (shə-MA). The Shema is the morning and evening prayer of Jews and consists of this passage along with Deut 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. The word ‘Shema’ is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word for ‘hear’ and refers to the first word of verse 4. “Shema Israel” – which this is sometimes called – is another way of saying, “Hear O Israel!” The Shema is typically the first passage of scripture taught to Jewish children and is intended to be the last words any Jewish person utters before his death.
These verses are important because they communicate the essence of the whole of Jewish faith. Everything in the covenant can be summarized as loving God with all your heart, soul, and might. The one who loves God in this way will keep the first two commandments and the one who keeps the first two commandments will keep the rest.
The love Moses refers to is comprehensive. All the heart, all the soul, all the might – nothing is left out. Every facet of every part of life and thought is centered on the love of God. And love this all-encompassing carries with it complete devotion – there is no one and nothing else that can share in this love.
This single-minded devotion is what he refers to when he says, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” He is one God and is the only One worthy of their worship and love. They are about to enter a land filled with false gods but they are to worship only the Lord. They do not have many gods – they have one God and He is the eternal covenant-keeping Yahweh and He is their God. The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! [This verse does not argue against the Trinity. Its focus seems to be much more that there is only one true God and He alone is worthy of worship. It is meant to restate Israel’s core beliefs as it prepares to enter pantheistic Canaan.]
Jesus will later refer to verse 5 as the great and foremost commandment (Matt 22:37-38). Thus the initial verses of the Shema not only summarize the essence of Judaism, they form the basis of Christian living as well. To truly love God in this way presupposes redemption and the power of the Spirit. We love Him because He first loved us (I Jn 4:7-21). The believer who loves God with all of his heart, soul and might will obey God’s commands (he loves because of justification, not to earn it) and will love his neighbor as himself. The believer who fulfills the Shema will also find the temptations of the world much easier to resist.
Moses goes on in verses 6-9 to stress the importance of communicating the words of the Law to future generations and to the world at large. He says the Israelites are to teach them diligently to your sons and bind them as a sign on your hand and as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. The Law and the love of God are to be passed down to sons and grandsons (verse 2) and to be such a part of the people’s lives that everyone around them knows what they believe.
Jews in later times will take Moses’ words about the hand and forehead and doorposts literally. They will wear ‘phylacteries’ (Matt 23:5) – small leather boxes containing slips of paper with scripture written on them – on their arms and foreheads. They will also place a ‘mezuzah’ – a container that holds a scroll with the Shema written on it – on their doorposts. It is not clear that this is Moses’ intention, but what is clear is that he wants the people to be so characterized by the Law that it is as if they have it written on their foreheads and displayed on their doorposts.
Verse 6 gives the secret to fulfilling the commands of verses 7-9. If the people are to diligently teach the faith to their sons and proclaim their beliefs to those around them they must first make sure these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. The Israelites must be saturated with the Law in order to pass it on. If the words of the Law are not on their heart they will not talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. They will not talk about or teach what is not naturally on their mind.
Notice that Moses commands a two-pronged strategy for passing on the faith. The people must teach it diligently and discuss it continually. Both are required. This means that lifestyle and discussion alone may not be enough – we need times of formal teaching so the next generations truly learn. But the teaching will have limited effect if it is not accompanied by ongoing discussions – talking while we sit in our house and walk by the way. Trying to teach the scripture when it is not part of us is not without value – but it is significantly less effective than teaching while overflowing with the word and talking about it as a natural part of life.
This is perhaps what believers miss when they struggle with teaching their kids about the faith or witnessing to those around them. It is hard to pass along what is not growing in our souls. To effectively teach or witness we must first have the scripture overflowing in our lives. It is easy to discuss what oozes out of every pore. The believer who is effective in communicating the gospel – whether to family or simply to those around him – is one who has it always at the front of his mind. The one who is full of the gospel does not typically struggle to find ways to discuss it – it is so much a part of him that it naturally comes out.
This means we must live on the scriptures. We must meditate on them and pray through them continually. We must memorize them – make them a part of us. Experts say a foreign language is not learned until the one learning it begins to think thoughts in it. The same goes for God’s words and the gospel. Until it is so infused in our minds that it dominates our thoughts we will not effectively communicate it. We must incorporate the words of God such that they characterize us. For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart (Matt 12:34b).
Everything comes back to love. When we love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our might we obey Him. Jesus said the one who loves Him will obey His commandments (Jn 14:21). And when we obey God’s commands we enjoy His fruits. This does not mean – as it did for the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant – long life or prosperity in this world. What it DOES mean is a rich life experiencing God Himself.
And when we experience God in this way – when we walk with Him and become more like Him and enjoy Him more and more – we naturally expose Him in all we do. As discussed above, it is not hard to teach others about something that dominates our thoughts. It is not hard to sing the praises of One we love with all our being. And what is fantastic is that this love builds on itself. Loving God makes us want to know more about Him – know Him through His word and through prayer. And as we know Him more we love Him more for He is eternally wonderful. And this growing love, in turn, makes us want to know him even more. So we study His words and we pray and we are soon overflowing with HIM – and He comes out as we interact with others.
For us to fulfill what Moses commands – that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord – we must love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our might.
4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
13 “And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, 14 that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. 15 “And He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
16 “Beware, lest your hearts be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. 17 “Or the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you. 18 “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 19 “And you shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. 20 “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.
37 The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39 “And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 in order that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. 41 “I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the LORD your God.”