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Word Study: Shema – “Listen”

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.”

 

 

 

 

Video Transcript

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