Deuteronomy 6:4 – "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.”
The Shema is an important prayer recited in the Jewish synagogues, and often the portion of Scripture that are first taught to the Jewish children. Jews would also recite the Shema in the morning and evening on a daily basis. All these practices reflect the significance that the Jews place upon the Shema. The Shema starts with “Shema Yisrael” which literally means “Hear O Israel”, requiring Israel to pay attention and listen up to what comes next. The Hebrew phrase for Deut 6:4 is “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad." Since a lot of blood has been spilled over the doctrinal meaning of “echad”, I would instead focus more on “Shema Yisrael” here.
Most believers would be familiar with the transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 17:1–9, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28–36). Briefly, Jesus was transfigured on some high mountain emitting radiance and white light in the full sight of Peter, James and John. Moses and Elijah also appeared and seemed to be talking with Jesus about His departure. When Peter suggested to build tabernacles for the three of them, a bright cloud overshadowed all of them and the Father spoke out of the cloud, testifying about His Son Jesus. The specific words of the Father were:
“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)
“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matt 17:5)
Based on the above verses, we could tell that (1) the Father views Jesus as His Son, (2) the Son is His beloved, (3), the Son is His Chosen One, (4), the Son is pleasing in His sight, and (5) the rest of us are commanded by the Father to hear and listen to the Son Jesus. Peter in 2 Peter 1:17-18 also collaborated that this incident was no hallucination and what the three scribes had documented in the Synoptic Gospels is correct. But what has the transfiguration incident got to do with the Shema?
If you recall the backdrop for Deuteronomy 6, the Israelites were just given the Ten Commandments from God through Moses, who went up the Holy Mountain to receive the commandments. Moses acted as an agent to relay the commandments to Israel as a nation. Similarly, when Jesus went up to a high mountain and became transfigured, one wouldn’t need much creative imagination to see the parallel between the experience of Moses and that of Jesus. Also remember the manna in the wilderness, and the two loaves and five fishes? And there was the heavenly command for all to pay attention and listen to Jesus.
I often wonder if there was a divine play of words here, such that God was asking the nation Israel to listen to Jesus who is the true Israel. Was it a coincident that Jesus gathered 12 disciples when the nation Israel had 12 tribes? In Isaiah, Israel was portrayed as God’s servant, a light unto nations, and salvation until the end of the earth (Isa 42:6, Isa 49:6, Isa 60:3). Messianic believers would readily confess that Jesus fits all the descriptions and had done what the nation Israel did not manage to accomplish. He is the Suffering Servant, Light of the world, and Salvation to Jews and Gentiles. Now, who is Israel?
Deuteronomy 6:5 – “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
The Shema continues to instruct us that we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It doesn’t take long to recall that Christ said exactly the same thing about the greatest commandment and the greater commandment in the New Testament (listed below).
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-40)
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Mark 12:29-31)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-28)
Before we get away thinking that Christ had invented and expanded the scope and definition of loving God to cover the neighbours, God had already commanded in Leviticus 19:18 that “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." There was no new element introduced by Christ. Loving God and people was in fact a good summary of the entire Law and Prophet, endorsed by Christ. This goes to show that while the Old Testament is about the Old Covenant, the Old Covenant is not entirely void of love and grace, something which stood out even more under the New Covenant in the New Testament.
Deuteronomy 6:6 – “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart."
And the Shema continues to paint the future picture of the indwelling Spirit, something that the prophet Jeremiah and Joel saw post-Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9). A brief survey of the Scripture is more than sufficient to show the fulfilment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer 31:33)
"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Joel 2:28)
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 3:3)
At the end of this reading, you would have to agree that even within the three short introductory verses of the Shema, there is an abundance of treasures buried within to be discovered. The rewards is Eternal Life (John 17:3). Apparently, Deut 6:4 was not the first instance where Israel was asked to pay attention and listen up. It just happened that this portion of the Scripture forms the Shema. But definitely, it is not the last for all of us.
Shema Yisrael, Shema Yeshua.