My blogging schedule is very light this week. This is because, among other things, I have been invited to be in the pulpit at one of my former parishes this week. Summer means conferences and vacations for working pastors. There are plenty of people who are willing to do supply work. I usually avoid it. I am usually content with having reverted to being a layman. However, in this case I have a chance to reconnect with some people who are special to me. We went through a seriously tough time together about 8 years ago. I like to think bringing them through that time was one of the more valuable things I have done.
But back to Stephen Cook’s Reading Deuteronomy.
Central to Judaism and important for Christianity is Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
Hear , O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (KJV).
This is contains the Shema. This contains the great commandment.
Cook says that a literal translation of v. 4 would be “the Lord, our God, the Lord, one.” It is very compact, lacks a verb, and puts great stress on the concluding word: One. To say that God is one is to say that God’s dominion is over all reality and that he is present and integral to all life. This contrasts with the polytheism of other people. These religions identified different gods with different places. Israel must not divide divinity up according to different shrines and places. This oneness of God is why Deuteronomy insists on centralizing his worship to one shrine.
The oneness of God implied the unity of his people. Malachi used this thought from Deuteronomy to call for unity:
Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us? Why do we betray one another, in this way making light of the covenant of our ancestors? (Malachi 2:10).
Because he is one, God calls out undivided loyalty and pure devotion: love from the whole of one’s heart, soul, and strength.
The word love here has a lot to do with loyalty. Cook gives Hittite and Egyptian examples of the political use of love. A vassal must love his king and lord. Thus when, in one of the Amarna letters, the king of Byblos asks the pharaoh “who will love you if I die”, he is talking about the loyalty and devotion of a subject for his sovereign.
Cook does not discount the emotional content of love. Some have asked how God can command love. Is love not an emotion you either have or have not? You can’t tell people how they have to feel about you.
But Cook notes that there are two commands in the Shema: hear and love. If one truly hears the word about the oneness and integral nature of God, then love flows naturally and freely. The hearing evokes the love.
So these commands are not legalistic at all. They are not about doing things just because somebody tells you that you have to. They are about “a covenant of two lives knit together, God’s life and Israel’s life.”
The love command build in intensity. First, love is with the heart. In Hebrew thought this meant with the intentions. But then love is with the soul or nephesh, that is, with your life and breath even unto death. Finally, love is with your strength. This literally means with “your very muchness”. It is love with total abandon, with everything you can bring to bear.
Verses 6-9 then talk about instilling and internalizing the covenant from generation to generation. God’s words have to be on your hands, your foreheads, your doorposts, and your gates. In other words, they have to become an integral part of daily life.
That is all I have until next week.