“Deuteronomy” – Context of the Shema
One of my favorite passage in the Old Testament is known as The Shema. It is God’s instructions to a new generation of Israelites, those about to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. As with so many (virtually EVERY) passage of scripture, The Shema is a tremendous message in and of itself. But it takes on even great meaning when put in a bigger context.
In this blog, we’ll take a quick look at The Shema. Next, we’ll take a look at the historical context in which God gave these instructions to the Israelites. and finally, we’ll look at what The Shema means to us today.
4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. (Deut. 6: 4-9, KJV)
God was placing tremendous responsibility on that new generation of Israelites. They were being commanded to keep God first and foremost in their lives. He gave them specific instruction on how they were to do that. And, perhaps most importantly, they were to pass the commandments and their history along to future generations.
The word Shema literally means hear. In many cultures, historically and in modern-times, a leader or family patriarch will call attention to some important pronouncement using a term such as “Shema.” It is like the gavel at the beginning of a judicial proceeding. It means calm down, straighten up, shut up and pay attention.
The Context – Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy is derived from two Greek words, “deuteros,” which means “second,” and “nomos,” meaning “law.” So this book is the second time that God delivers the Law to His chosen people.”Second Law” doesn’t mean something different from the Law of Moses, but a second giving of that law. After the first generation of Israelites to flee Egypt died in the wilderness (Numbers 14:29), the law was repeated and expounded upon to the new generation before they entered the Promised Land.
Recall the many, many times that the newly freed Israelites had rejected God while in the wilderness. Whining Jews? You bet. They whined about food, water, moving, the heat, the bugs and anything else that they could find to whine about. They built an idol of gold because Moses was away for a bit longer than expected. What an ungrateful lot! Still, God provided, protected and guided them toward the promised land. As a result of their lack of faith, only two of the men (Joshua and Caleb) who had originally left Egypt were allowed by God to enter the promised land. Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan, God again delivered His commands to His chosen people.
Obeying The Shema Today
As He approached His death on the cross, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. We are commanded, as His disciples, to deliver the Good News to everyone. This is not restricted to those in far away countries, across the nation or to strangers. In fact, our most important obedience to the Great Commission is to those closest to us… our families. The most important inheritance we can leave is delivery of the Good News.
It is long tradition in tribes, clans and core family groups to share legends, folklore and important elements of history orally. As parents, grandparents, family elders, we have not only the opportunity, but the obligation to continue this practice. What better opportunity could we have to share the Good News than at family gatherings. In some form or manner, bring people together. Start with:
The Story Teller
Alive in The Word