DEUTERONOMY 6: DO YOU HEAR WHAT GOD IS SAYING?
How good of a listener are you? Deuteronomy 6 reminds us of the essential nature of hearing.
It's a wake up call for men who hear only what we want to hear and have "selective hearing."
It's a wake up call for children and teenagers entranced by their "devices."
It's a wake up call for women who may speak a lot but not listen well.
It's a wake up call for all of us who get lost in the din or noise in our culture but rarely hone in on the voice of God and "hear."
In Deuteronomy 1-5, Moses re-tells the story of God's deliverance of Israel and giving of the law. Now in Deuteronomy 6, Moses calls Israel to hear what becomes the most important commandment in Israel. Even Jesus, who would have learned these words as a child, discusses this text with Jewish leaders (Mt 22:36-40).
There is no word in Hebrew that really means what we English speakers mean when we say "obey." The word most used in Deuteronomy that calls for Israel to pay attention and act is "Shema," transliterated from Hebrew as "lishmo’a," hear.
Maybe you've heard the word "Shema" before in reference to the words, "Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart-mind, soul, and strength." Jews and Christians call this saying delivered by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the "Shema."
But as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, Shema appears in Deuteronomy 92 times. That's a lot, because shema is in Leviticus only 6 times. Sacks goes on to say that these two facts (no word for obey and recurrence of "hear") about language tell us a lot about Judaism. Hearing is much more important in Judaism than seeing, and we have a lot to "hear" when it comes to how we understand the relationship between Israel and the Lord. Here's an example of how hearing is prioritized over seeing, which was more highly valued in cultures like Rome, which worshiped what they could see. Moses is re-telling the story to the next generation, he says, "Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice" (Deut. 4: 12).
So hearing is no simple notion in Israel. The ears, hearing, paying attention, listening for the voice of God is everything. So we need to "see" or shall we say "hear" the depth of what it means to hear in this text.
Even in English you can clearly see verbs in Deut. 4:4-9 that flow out of hearing.
Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone (v. 4)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (v. 5)
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart (v. 6)
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise (v. 7)
Bind them as a sign on your hand (v. 8)
Fix them as an emblem on your forehead (v. 8)
Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (v. 9)
Deuteronomy 6 is the foundation for what Israel is to "hear" and do presently and in the future. What is coming in following chapters are further words of covenant that expresses what will happen when Israel hears and what will happen when Israel does not hear.
"The word Shema itself means “listen,” and the recital of the Shema is a supreme act of faith-as-listening: to the voice that brought the universe into being, created us in love and guides us through our lives."
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Koren Sacks Siddur: A Hebrew/ English Prayerbook. (Jerusalem: Koren, 2009), 96, as cited in Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 31, as cited in Thompson, Deanna A.. Deuteronomy : A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible) (Kindle Locations 1517-1521). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
Maybe we need a hearing check up.
Do you put more value in what you say or in what you hear?
Do you often want to "see" things because you are a so-called "visual learner" and what does that even mean? Isn't that idea of being a visual learner in part a product of culture as much as personality?
Do you make excuses for not hearing, that you are male, can't seem to focus, have too much to do?
Do you take time to listen to the scriptures read by yourself, family, church, others?
Our prayer today is in form of song, one of my favorites about listening by Michael Card.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.