Reader: “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly”
Response: “to these words of mine.”
Scripture: Deuteronomy 11:18-21
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
If you are familiar with the book of Deuteronomy, you will recognize this passage as a restating of the Shema first given in chapter six. Shema is the Hebrew word for “hear,” the beginning of the creedal statement, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” The earlier statement goes on to include “you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. You’ll recall that those were the words Jesus uttered when asked what was the greatest commandment, though he changed the word “strength” to loving God with all your “mind.” Let’s take a closer look at these powerful words from Moses to his people.
These words are a challenge to you and me as well. They begin with “commit yourself wholeheartedly” to embracing these actions. The Shema is not a ten-week study for spiritual growth nor is it a program to make you a better Christian. Put as simply as possible, it is the way to live your life until you die. It is nothing less than wholeheartedly loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. That’s the starting point. Moses goes on to explain how this commitment plays out.
Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead. What is the “them?” In the chapter prior to the first giving of the Shema, Moses had given the people what we call the Ten Commandments. Orthodox Jews took this literally by placing a copy of the law in a little box which they wore on their forehead to remind them to love God with all their mind. The left arm was wrapped with a leather strap forming three Hebrew letters for the name of God, Shaddai. In that practice the person is reminded what they do with their hands, they do in the strength of God.
You are to teach your children about God’s law when you go to bed and when you get up in the morning. In fact, the first passage in Deuteronomy says repeat them again and again to your children. The actual Hebrew word connotes repeating them again and again and again and again . . .! They are to be a part of your conversation when you are at home and when you are away from home. Your life is to be saturated with God’s law, God’s heart, God’s mind, God’s soul, and the relentless character of God’s strength. You put them on the doorpost of your house so you see them everytime you go in or out. Jewish homes take this instruction literally and affix a mezuzah on the doorpost. It is a little box containing two scriptural passages Deut. 6:4-9 and Deut.11:13-21. The mezuzah is a reminder that inside the home or outside our lives are to be wholeheartedly committed to loving God and living according to his commands. Devout Jews will touch the mezuzah going in or out of the doorway. By putting them on your gates you are reminded to conduct your affairs in ways that bring honor to your God. You do this so that you may flourish and bring honor to God.
As you think through the above directives from Moses, you realize there is never a time when God’s call on your life is not in effect. Simply put, it’s from the time you wholeheartedly commit to the Lord until you die. The Lord asks everything from you and me all the time. The result is eternal blessing.
The Israelites were facing great obstacles as they entered the Promised Land. The culture was hostile and wicked. They needed encouragement and a reminder of where their strength lay. Their way to prepare and combat what lay ahead was to live the Shema. Not bad advice for us as well. Thank you, Moses.
Music: “Shema Israel” Azi Schwartz cantor
O great and lofty God, Thou Father in the highest, who hast promised to dwell with them that are of a lowly spirit and fear Thy word; create now in us such lowly hearts, and give us a reverential awe of Thy commandments. O come, Thou Holy Spirit, and kindle our hearts with holy love; come, Thou Spirit of Strength, and arouse our souls to hunger and thirst after Thee, their true Guide, that they may be sustained by Thy all-powerful influence. Arise, O Spirit of Life, that through Thee we may begin to live; descend upon us and transform us into such human beings as the heart of God longs to see us, renewed into the image of Christ, and going on from glory to glory. O God, Thou Supreme Good, make Thyself known to us, and glorify Thyself in our inner being. Amen. ―Gerhard Tersteegen, 1731, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.148