Read: Deut 6:4
Think about it:
It’s called the “shema” and it means to listen—to hear. In other words, God has something to say to his people and he doesn’t want them to miss a word. So he calls special attention to the announcement he’s about to make. In fact, this announcement was so important to Israel that later generations always began their daily prayers with this declaration. “Hear, O Israel . . . “ By the way, I’m convinced that Jesus began every conversation with the Father with these words, simply because he had to have been trained to do this as he was growing up in and around the carpenter’s shop. That’s part of the mystery of the implications of the incarnation. But that’s part of another conversation for another time . . .
After this attention getter, God made a declaration, followed by a series of commandments (vss. 5-9). These were all based upon the truth and importance of his opening declaration. The declaration is the bedrock—the starting point, the very foundation stone of our faith. The Lord (Yahweh) is God—and he alone is God. Period.
The original language here could be, and has been, translated to read either “The Lord is one” or “The Lord alone.” We should understand this statement in its historical context. God has gathered his people, this relatively tiny collection of runaway slaves, in a wilderness encampment, surrounded by nations who at that moment were serving multitudes of gods. You want gods? We have gods! We have lots of different gods to choose from. If you don’t like one—no problem! Just pick another. We have gods to fit every taste, every region, every occasion, every lifestyle. Today, we would say these people were simply discovering their own truth. No sense in stressing one god over another—except as a matter of personal preference. Yes sir, around here we’re tolerant.
So God broke into all this with a very intolerant statement. Ok, people, listen carefully. If you want to be my people—if you want me to be your God—I must be the only God you serve. I will accept no rivals. That’s the starting place for our relationship. Is that clear?
It would be easy to simply smile and nod and read right past this opening line today. After all, we’re not polytheists. We’re not idolaters. He’s talking to them—not us . . . isn’t he? But Israel’s teachers continued to insist that those who called themselves the people of God should open their prayers with this reminder—long after idolatry ceased to be a problem for them. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord (alone) is God.”
The fact is—we all need to be reminded. Often. It’s simply too easily to slip into the service of some inferior god—before we even notice anything has changed within our soul.
One day, the Lord brought to my attention that I had been serving a degree program, and not him alone, for some time. I had to repent—and carefully rebuild the center of my life. At another time he informed me that I had begun to serve my church, and my vision for ministry. The very ministry he had given me! Do you see how subtly that works? The good news is that God understands this, and is faithful to send us reminders when we need it. I need it every day.
Whatever has captured my heart. Whatever excites my passion. The last thing I think about at night—and the first thing I think about in the morning. These are the rivals to the one true God that continue to hover within my consciousness. We may even broaden our thinking to include those things (or people) we fear most. Honestly—can we really afford to fear any other person or thing except the Lord God Almighty? If the Lord is truly our God—is it possible to fear any other?
But we should note that the Lord didn’t take time in this context to command his people to fear him. Instead, his next statement was a command to love him. And that will be the subject of our next discussion—over another cup of coffee.