Friday, September 24, 2010

Deuteronomy 4, 5, 6 שָׁמַע Shema, O Israel!

In this 1768 parchment, Jekuthiel Sofer emulat...Image via Wikipedia
As I remember  my aunt who died this morning of complications from diabetes,  I think of a voice that is now stilled - never to be heard again. I miss my aunt and hold onto many happy childhood memories in which she played a part.  I grieve as the Israelites must have been grieving when
Moses had assembled them in these opening chapters of Deuteronomy.

  Most of the people Moses  addressed in Deuteronomy were mourning  someone's death.  Only thirty-eight years earlier, God had judged everyone in Israel who was twenty years old or more for rebelling at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 13 -14).  Can you imagine that in the space of thirty-eight years a few hundred thousand individuals died?  Only those who were under twenty at the time of the rebellion were to be allowed entrance into the Promised Land.  It's hard to move to a foreign country when your heart may be bound to someone buried in the land of your birth.  

While Israel knew that one day they would enter the Promised Land, maybe there were some who were getting attached to the land through which they roamed.  They knew where family and friends were buried.   Maybe it was becoming more difficult emotionally to embrace a new land.

Moses called the nation together and re-capped Israel's history.  As this somber, grieving nation began to consider God's promise for them, Moses  called them to listen to God's word.  Though the generation that perished already received the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, Moses formally presented it to a generation already familiar with the Law  in Deuteronomy 4, 5, 6. 

After reciting the entire Law, Moses concluded it with the compelling "( שָׁמַע ) Shema, O Israel!"  or "Hear, O Israel!"

Deuteronomy 6:4 -7.   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 strength.  These commandments that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk to them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

 Shema (Hebrew  שָׁמַע ), means to hear as in to give heed or to obey.  The entire Law that God gave Israel was to be imprinted upon their hearts so that they would live life through the lens of the Law.  What really struck me about the Law, which for the most part forms the foundation of civilized criminal law i.e. don't steal; don't murder; don't lie or perjure yourself., is the fifth commandment:

Deuteronomy 5: 16.  Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Since this Law was first given to Israel, the most obvious reading is that God  instructed the people of Israel to honor their parents so that they may have a long, good life in the land of Canaan.   Generally, to honor means to treat with respect or to revere.  In Hebrew, honor, כָּבַד (kabad), implies to consider someone as have great importance or weighty significance.  Israel was told to value their parents highly; to attribute enormous significance to them; to regard parents almost as they would God Himself.

Because  the second part of the "Shema, O Israel!" addresses the relationship of the parent to the child, there is an extra emphasis on the sanctity and holiness of the family unit.  Parents, at all times, were to find opportunities to talk to their children about God's Laws and about His love for them.  An expression of God's love for Israel was the Law He gave to them (Deuteronomy 4: 7- 8.  What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way we have the Lord our God is near to us whenever we pray to Him?  And what other nation is so great as to have such  righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?").

In His Sovereign wisdom, God created families as the social unit in which His Law was to be learned.   In the fifth commandment, God did not qualify which parents should receive honor.  Rather, honor is due simply because of the position parents hold in God's scheme.  As teachers of God's Law, parents were to be regarded as God's ambassadors or emissaries by their children.    Parents are accountable to God to teach their young, while the young are to reverently receive the instruction their parents give. By this injunction, the bar was raised for both the parents and their children.   Perhaps, when both parents and children are focused on learning and living in God's expressed will, or Law, they are seeing each other through God's eyes.  Maybe, when foibles and faults are seen in Heaven's perspective, families can get along much better.  So, in His Wisdom, God made the Law, the study of God's requirements,  the focal point of the Israelite family. Thus, in the fifth commandment  both the first four spiritual laws and the second five civil laws are bound.  

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for kabad (Strong's 3513)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 24 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H3513&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for shama` (Strong's 8085)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 24 Sep 2010. < http://
Strongs=H8085&t=KJV >

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