“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9).*
These were some of Moses’ last words to Israel before he ascended Mount Nebo. The atmosphere must have been intense. Even while he spoke Moses knew God’s plans for him. He knew he was addressing these people for the last time, people to whom he had devoted the majority of his life. Hardly a sound likely was uttered by the thousands gathered there.
Let’s take a closer look at these notable verses in Deuteronomy:
Verse 4 says: “Hear, O Israel.” The Hebrew word translated as “hear” is Shema, which means “to understand or know,” “to identify with,” or “to comprehend fully.” So substituting Shema for the word “hear,” the sentence then reads: “Shema, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Moses then goes on to explain what it means to have only one God in our families: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (verse 5).
In the Old Testament the heart refers to the intellect rather than the physical organ. It refers to all functions of the mind: reasoning, understanding, knowledge, perception, conscience, memory, judgment, reflection, discernment, and so forth. The soul refers to our fountain of life, our vitality, our very existence. And strength refers to power.
Verse 6 then tells us that “these words . . . shall be in your heart.” How can we put these words into our hearts? Verse 7 explains: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Jewish culture interprets and applies this passage to families. Twice each day—morning and evening—parents repeat the Shema (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!”) to their children, beginning in infancy. As the children grow they learn to repeat these words themselves, and then continue to do so twice daily for the rest of their lives. Jews also repeat the Shema if they are in danger, and these are the last words they speak when they are taking their final breath on this earth. The Shema was not meant simply to be memorized, however, but reasoned, discussed, and understood.
Verse 8 then reads: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Many Jewish people take this instruction literally by making phylacteries—little boxes connected with straps to one’s upper left arm and/or forehead. Within each box is found a neatly rolled paper containing—carefully written—the words of the Shema.
And finally, verse 9 states: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Similar to phylacteries are mezuzahs, boxes that contain a neatly rolled paper on which are written the words of the Shema. A mezuzah is placed upon the doorframe, and as Jews enter or exit the door they touch it, sometimes after kissing their fingers. They do this as a reminder that they are in God’s presence and are to obey His commandments both inside and outside their homes.
Love in Action
This is not the only place in the Bible, though, where we find the words of the Shema. In Mark 12:28-34, in response to the scribe’s question—“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (NIV)†—Jesus Himself says: “‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (NIV).
The scribe responds, “Well said, teacher,” and says that to obey these commandments “is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (NIV).
Let’s look at the Deuteronomy passage again, remembering this message from Jesus.
Verse 9 says to write the Lord’s commands upon the doorposts of our home, which should be a place that serves as a bridge to God. We should ask ourselves the questions Is my home a bridge to God? Are the reading materials found there leading my children and me to God? What about entertainment, the toys in my home, the food I eat? Remember, it’s not about sacrifices; it’s about loving God and making your home a bridge to Him. Deuteronomy 6:8 tells us to bind this love for God on our hands and forehead. The hand represents our actions or works; the forehead represents our thoughts. Are our actions and thoughts showing that we love God? Are we looking to Jesus to transform us more into His likeness?
Ellen White writes that we should tell our children stories of the life of Jesus (see Counsels for the Church, p. 265). Deuteronomy 6:7 says we should teach God’s commands “diligently” to our children. Some translations say “repeat.” We should be repeating and teaching in such places and times as:
• “In your house.”—Are you having family worship and praise times? Do you discuss spiritual topics in your home (outside of church)? Is the family preparing for the Sabbath together?
• “When you walk by the way.”—Do you speak of God in the car? If not, try turning off the radio and the video games and, instead, talk, talk, talk. Take advantage of having a captive audience.
• “When you lie down.”—Bedtime ?is when younger children want to ?ask questions (a good sleep-aversion technique). Take a few moments and answer their questions. They may surprise you with how much of the gospel they are able to comprehend. Review their Sabbath school lesson with them. With older children you can discuss what they read in their lesson and their thoughts on it.
• “When you rise up.”—Do you pray with your children each morning and remind them that God loves them and that they are sons and daughters of God? Do you share a short devotional thought in the morning for your children to take with them throughout their day’s activities?
If your daily home life incorporates these things, then you are providing the Holy Spirit with opportunities to place God’s love in your heart, and your whole life will permeate with God’s love.
If we understand, as did the scribe in Jesus’ time, that our relationship with God is not about our burnt offerings and sacrifices but rather our love for Him, then we too are not far from the kingdom of God.
Will your home be perfect if you do all these things? No, of course not. But if you begin the task of making positive changes—with God’s help—He will provide the love and strength needed for you and your family to grow close to Jesus and the kingdom of God.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” He is number one. We cannot have any priorities outside of Him. We live for Him or we live for nothing. And all this begins in the home.
During the Holocaust many Jewish parents took their children to Catholic orphanages in order to save them. They left no family information. At the end of the war Jewish leaders went in search of these children. They decided that even if the children’s parents were now dead, they could at least bring them back to the bosom of their nation to be raised in their faith. While visiting the orphanages, however, one rabbi, Eliezer Silver, discovered that the priests operating the orphanages were often unable to identify which of the children were Jewish. Silver then had an idea. He stood before the children and called out, “Shema Yisrael, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!”
The children who were Jewish began softly crying, “Mommy, Mommy.” Silver then looked at the priest and said, “These children are mine.”‡
The children had remembered those simple words repeated in their ear every night before they went to sleep. They heard their mothers’ sweet voices reminding them that God is one, that God is their priority! Their mothers’ faithfulness to their duty was rewarded. It saved their children and brought them back to the loving bosom of their nation.
Do you recognize the voice of God? Have you listened to His call? Do your children know the voice of God? Will they remember that He is the priority in their lives? Will they someday respond with all their hearts to the call of God? Will they be saved in the loving bosom of the kingdom of God?
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and you will not be far from the kingdom of God.
*Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
†Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Debbie Rivera was continuing her graduate studies at Andrews University when she wrote this article. Her husband, Luis, is a pastor at Adventist Fellowship in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This article was published September 9, 2010.