Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 25.
The Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” followed by a prayer, is an affirmation of Yahweh’s singularity, and its daily recitation during the morning and evening prayers is regarded by traditionally observant Jews as a biblical commandment (Deut 6:4-9). The straightforward instruction initiated by Yahweh for the fledgeling Jewish nation was glaringly clear: Know the God Whom you serve and obey Him (c.f., Matt 18:3-6). The ancient Israelites were surrounded by those who worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses, and Yahweh was propounding a completely different spirituality: there is only one effective God in all of creation, and He is the “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:13-15), and His uncompromising holiness forbade anyone from fashioning an image of Him to be worshipped (Deut 5:8). At this point in time, having escaped the Egyptian enslavement and wandering around the Sinai desert, God’s Presence to the Israelites was as palpable as His symbolic manifestation in the ten plagues, the crossing over the Red Sea on dry ground, the provisions in the wilderness, and His visitation with Moses on Mount Sinai. It appears that even if they could not sense Him, they certainly saw His handiwork all around them. If the Israelites cannot believe this God, it is likely they would not obey Him! Our obedience, therefore, hinges on who we believe Yahweh is. How can we know this God, rather than merely knowing about Him and His exploits?
The Shema further stated, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart” (Deut 6:5-15). Unpacking what God pragmatically described how we ought to love Him is sobering but realistic, as it emphatically requires an uncompromising life-changing attitude and perspective that would facilitate how we live life in Christ. Loving God demands our fidelity and the singlemindedness of our whole heart, mind and soul. And in its discharge throughout our life in this world, its inclusiveness is never partial in all spheres of our lives – be they private or public. In short, our love for God will permeate every area of our existence, even to the point of impacting our social conscience for the less privileged in society, as it is a shared love; a love that is community-based and reaches beyond it (c.f., Deut 10:12-22; Eph 3:16-19).
To obey God is to trust Him implicitly and unconditionally (Deut 6:16-17). Often, the crossroad crunch in our conviction comes when things are unravelling, and we are unable to fathom reasons for it, or a situation is spiralling out of our control, trusting the Infinite Creator that He is aware of our predicament and knows precisely what He is doing is testing (Ex 17:1-7; Deut 9; c.f., Deut 8:2; Job 38:12- 41:34). And when our children seek for a reason to believe and trust in our God, we are to inform them: We obey God because God is God and we are commanded to obey Him (Deut 6:20-25), and orienting them to the gospel story that had impelled us. The inauguration of the symbolic Passover, the day before the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, presaged the eternal salvation through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, centuries later. How compelling that gospel story turns out in our lives would depend on whether we have assimilated it and become living sacrifices before our Lord (Rom 12:1-2; c.f., Heb 12:1-3). Otherwise, the high calling of trusting God unconditionally would indeed be a tough call for us.