The ancient biblical prayer called “The Shema” is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6. For thousands of years Jewish people have daily prayed these words which summarize the Bible’s call for faithfulness and devotion to God.
Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5, WEB
Watch this video by The Bible Project to learn a surprising implication contained in the word “Shema.”
For thousands of years, every morning and evening
Jewish people have prayed these
well-known words as a way of expressing their devotion to God.
They’re called the “Shema”:
“Hear, o Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
And as for you, you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart,
with all of your soul and with all of your strength.
Now, the first word of the Shema is “hear” or “listen”,
which in Hebrew is pronounced “shay ma”.
That’s where the prayer gets its name.
Now, shema is a really common word in the Hebrew Bible
and it’s obvious why.
Hearing is a very universal activity.
It’s usually connected with the ear,
as in Proverbs chapter twenty:
“Ears that shema and eyes that see: the Lord has made them both.”
Now, that seems basic enough, but if you look at the other ways that
Hebrew authors can use the word shema,
they use it to mean more than just “let sound waves enter your ear.”
In Hebrew shema can also mean “pay attention to” or “focus on”.
So when Leah, who wasn’t loved by her husband Jacob,
she has a son and she names him Simon
or, in Hebrew, “shim-ohn” because, she says,
“The Lord has sham-ohd that I am unloved.”
So shema means to hear and to pay attention to and, even more.
It can also mean “responding to what you hear”.
This is why so many of the cries for help
in the Book of Psalms begin with a call that God “listen”.
Psalm 27:7 “Shema my voice when I call, oh Lord. Be merciful. Answer me.”
So asking God to shema is, at the same time asking God
to act; to do something.
It’s similar to when God asks people to listen.
Like when the people of Israel come to Mount Sinai
God says, “If you shema me fully and keep my covenant
then out of all the nations, you will be my treasured possession.
Now, there are a couple interesting things about this verse in Exodus.
In Hebrew, the word shema is repeated twice in this sentence to give it emphasis.
If you “Shama, Shama” meaning, “Listen closely”.
But also notice that from God’s point of view,
listening is basically the same as keeping the Covenant.
So when God asked the people to “Shema,” what he means
is that they listen and obey.
And that’s the last fascinating thing about shema.
In ancient Hebrew,, there is no separate word for “obey”
meaning, “to carry out the wishes of someone who knows better than you or is in authority over you.
So, in the Bible, if you want to say,
“I will listen and do what you say,” you use the single word, “shema”.
In Hebrew, listening and doing are two sides of the same coin.
This is why, later in Israel’s history, when the people were breaking their covenant promises to God,
the Hebrew prophets would say things like,
“They have ears, but they’re not listening.”
The Israelites of course could hear just fine.
But they weren’t actually listening or else they would act differently.
And so, in the end, listening in the Bible
is about giving respect to the one speaking to you
and doing what they said.
Real listening takes effort and action.
And that’s the Hebrew word, “Shema”.
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It’s part of a brand new series called, “Word Studies”
and we hope to make a whole bunch more.
We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus
and has profound wisdom for the modern world.
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