In this week’s Bible study, we’re looking at the Hebrew word “shema,” which means to listen. But it’s more than that. Shema is an urgent call to not only hear Yahweh with our ears but to also respond to him with our whole lives. In the pages of the Bible, we see how Yahweh is the one who hears and responds to the cries of the oppressed.
As we take time to truly listen to him, we observe his empathy and justice towards the afflicted, changing how we think, feel, and act. In light of current events, what does it look like to let God’s response to the voice of the Israelites become our own?
One of the most famous and important prayers contained in the Bible is one we see the Hebrew people repeat over and over again throughout the Old Testament. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and as for you, you shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
It is a powerful prayer and one with a lot of meaning packed into just a few words. The Shema, which is the Hebrew word for “listen,” is the centerpiece of the last speech Moses gave to the Israelites before they went down into the promised land. After entering the promised land, the Shema became a prayer the Israelites prayed twice daily.
What stood out to you about what the word “listen” means in the Hebrew Bible?
How is this different from or similar to how you usually use the word?
“Ahavah.” is love in Hebrew, and at its most basic level, it means to have affection toward someone. But biblically speaking, love is more than sentiment—it is also action. In the Shema, Israel is supposed to respond to God’s love by showing love to him in return. And just like God’s love, human love is to show itself through action. We show our love for God by how we treat the people around us.
We are to love God and one another with our whole heart. “Lev” means heart in Hebrew, and it wasn’t a body part to the Israelites, they had a broader understanding of heart than our culture. They thought of the heart as the organ that gives physical life and the place where you think and make sense of the world, where you feel emotions and make choices. In the Shema, God’s people are called to devote their whole body, mind, and feelings and desires, as well as their future and failures, to God.
The Shema is one of the most important prayers in the Bible. The Shema became something that Jewish people prayed every morning and evening for thousands of years, and it is still relevant to us today. It gets at the heart of all the commands given to the people of Israel. The Shema is a call to listen and respond to the truth that Yahweh is the one true God, and the appropriate response is to love Yahweh with all of our being. Knowing and loving God is how we can experience, at least in part, the fullness of life. And when we align our hearts with God’s, we will naturally care about the things he cares about and fulfill our roles as his partners in bringing about His will on the earth.
How would you describe Yahweh’s character? What do you believe God cares about?
It’s easy to forget about who Yahweh is and what he cares about as we go about daily life. Read Deuteronomy 6:7-9 again. What are some ways you can remind yourself of who God is on a daily basis?
How do you think Yahweh feels about current events? Take some time to align your thoughts and emotions toward what God has to say about everything happening currently.
In English, a soul usually refers to the non-material essence of a human that survives after death, but that concept would be entirely foreign to the authors of the Old Testament. Biblically, people don’t have a soul; they are a soul, or in this case “Nephesh“—a living, breathing, physical being. In the Shema, to love the Lord with your soul is to offer your entire being, with all its capabilities and limitations, in an effort to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
“Me’od.” Interestingly, this is the only place in the Bible “Me’od” is translated as strength. Everywhere else, it means “very” or “much.” It’s an adverb that intensifies the meanings of other words. While it may sound funny, to love God with all your strength “Me’od” is to love him with all your “Muchness.” It means to love God with everything you have, devoting every possibility, opportunity, and capacity to honor God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
One of the most famous passages in the book of James is about being not just a hearer of the word but a doer. The author compares these “hearers” to those who see themselves in the mirror and then immediately forget what they look like. The point is that hearing and doing cannot be separated. We don’t truly see the mirror if we forget the image in it, and we don’t truly listen if the message doesn’t change us. We were made to reflect the image of God, but we forget who we were made to be when we do not let God’s character shape our thought patterns, attitudes, affections, and actions. We are not truly listening to God’s life-changing words if our lives are not changed.
What stood out to you as you read this passage?
According to this passage, what does a pure reflection of God’s character look like? What gets in the way of that pure reflection?
Where in your life have you heard what God said but forgot to put it into action? Ask him for help and commit to practice what you learn this week.