שׁמע ישׂראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד
Shema Yisrael YHWH eloheinu YHWH Echad!
“Hear, O Yisrael, יהוה our Elohim, יהוה is one!” (Dt 6:4)
This little verse, often referred to by its first word in Hebrew: Shema, is called the watch word of Israel. It is the first verse that Jews teach their children. It is uttered from the lips of the faithful every morning and every evening, and will be their last words on the day of their death. The Messiah even used this verse as a preamble to the greatest commandment.
And יהושע answered him, “The first of all the commands is, ‘Hear, O Yisrael, יהוה our Elohim, יהוה is one. ‘And you shall love יהוה your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first command. “And the second, like it, is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other command greater than these.” (Mar 12:29-31)
The magnitude of wisdom within these few words is usually over looked by a Christian. Though they agree that this verse is scripture, they nonetheless brush it aside with the rest of antiquity in favor of what seems to them a more profound verse. That verse is usually John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16 is probably the most well known verse in all of Christianity. However, its treatment by the faithful can’t be compared to the Jew’s reverence for the Shema. While Christians may teach their small children this verse, I doubt few recite it every morning and every evening, much less on their death bed. John 3:16 is more of an evangelism tool to teach sinners the reality that there is hope for their souls and redemption for their sins. In light of this truth, the Shema and John 3:16 are poor comparisons…. Or are they?
What wisdom can be found in the Shema? Why is it considered such a vital verse to the Jews? Why does the Shema comfort the dying?
The first word, Shema, is usually translated as “Hear!” But, “hear” in English doesn’t actually capture the true meaning of “Shema” in Hebrew. Although it does imply that we are to listen or hear with our ears, it also implies obedience. We are told to listen with the intent of obeying. This makes the Shema a command to hear/listen to the Word and also obey it.
The next word is Yisrael, or Israel. It is a call to the people of the one true God. Before you assume that the “church” is a separate entity or people of God, or think that God replaced natural Israel for some sort of fuzzy spiritual Gentile group called the “church”, please consider the words of Paul. Speaking to Gentiles in the selection below, He says:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Yeshua/Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ… Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; (Eph 2:11-13,19)
According to Paul, if you are a Gentile in the flesh and you come to faith in the Messiah Yeshua, then you are no longer considered a foreigner or alien. You are now a fellow-citizen of the people of God. Therefore, you haven’t replaced Israel, nor are you separate from Israel; instead, you have been “in-placed” or “grafted” into God’s household. I believe that Paul further describes this with the analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11 and with the analogy of adoption in Romans 8:15, 23, 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians1:5.
Moreover, it would behoove the reader to research the word “church” in the Greek. It is the word ekklesia. Many believe this is a new term given in the New Testament. But if you take the time to look at the Septuagint, which is an ancient version of the Old Testament in Greek, you will discover that the word ekklesia is used throughout to refer to Israel. It basically means a congregation, an assembly, a gathering of “called-out” ones. Stephen even uses this word, ekklesia, in reference to Israel in Acts 7:38.
Paul expresses this revelation as a mystery in Ephesians 3. Many speculate about what the “mystery of the gospel” is, and most over look what is written in plain sight. Paul uses the word mystery more in his letter to the Ephesians than any other.
How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: (Eph 3:3-6)
According to Paul, the mystery of the gospel is that Gentiles (those from the nations) are fellow heirs with Israel! Salvation is/was based on faith, not on bloodlines. This wasn’t a “new” teaching or plan; it was a restoration of God’s/Yah’s original plan. It was man’s traditions and doctrines that had perverted God’s/Yah’s simple plan of salvation. Israel always had those that were from the nations that willingly joined her ranks. He speaks of this mystery further in Romans 11, and Colossians 1: 26-27, 4:3. Paul also tells us the very reason he was sent to prison was on account of this mystery in Ephesians 6!
And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:19, 20)
Now that it just might be possible that you have joined the house of Israel, I hope you can see that the Shema is speaking to you also, and not some “other” people of God. Every word in the bible is for you and I personally, and Israel as a community of believers. Not one word of the Bible is out-dated or to be regulated to antiquity. Let’s carry on with our study on the Shema.
Then the next word, YHWH (often pronounced Yahweh), is usually replaced by translators with the generic title LORD. YHWH is the personal name of God/Elohim! He has a name and it is used almost 7000 times in the Tanakh (O.T.). Unfortunately, most Christians are not aware of the Creator’s name, and many think that His name is the common noun/title: LORD. If YHWH included His name over 6000 times in scripture, it is safe to assume that He wanted His people to know His name.
After YHWH in the Shema, is the word eloheinu. This word comes from the Hebrew word elohim and means “our elohim/deity/god”. YHWH is identifying who He is and who He is not. He is our source, our strength, our master, and our head as the Hebrew word elohim implies.
His name is then repeated and the last word is “echad”. This word means one. Many trying to balance the “trinity” with the fact that YHWH explicitly calls Himself one, will describe echad as a compound unity. They often give references such as “Adam and Eve became one (echad) flesh”. While this is true, we must study scripture in context and not seek to “make” the text say what we want it to say. The Hebrew word echad and the English word one actually function in identical ways. Just as we can have one cluster of grapes in English, we can have echad cluster of grapes in Hebrew.
Therefore, there is no need to try to force a plurality from the number one or echad. For, there is only one true God. He may manifest Himself as Father, Son, Holy Spirit, burning bush, pillar of fire, cloud, smoking furnace, etc. But, scripture is clear that He is One. If we seek to prove He is more than one, then we risk polytheism. It is much safer to just let scripture speak for itself. We shouldn’t have a need for man’s inventions or dogma to understand the simple truths in the bible.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1Ti 3:16)
So, based on the simple meanings of the Hebrew words of the Shema, what can we glean?
The very fact that YHWH declares His oneness tells us clearly that there is not a pantheon of other gods. Therefore, there is no other power in the universe that can add or take away from Him. This means that He is more powerful than any other force… He is all-powerful… He is omnipotent!
Moreover, the fact that He is One and that He changes not (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8), proves that there is not another force capable of causing YHWH to mature or learn. This would require the accumulation of new information in the “mind” of YHWH. Therefore, He must also be all-knowing… He is omniscient.
This same principle also proves that He is omnipresent or everywhere. If He cannot change, then He can’t be here and not there, for that would imply a change at least in space. So, He must be everywhere all the time. This also speaks to His oneness. He is the one thing that completely fills the universe.
The Shema teaches us about the Elohim/god that we serve. He has a people, Israel. He has a name, YHWH. He is One. He is unchanging. He is all-powerful. He is all-knowing, and He is everywhere. This is the elohim/god of the Bible. It is He that we trust for He is more than capable to meet our every need, including providing us a way of salvation. We are to call upon Him!
It may be wise to state that Yeshua (Jesus) is a Hebrew word that means: YHWH saves. The very name of the Messiah bears His Father’s name, YHWH. Therefore if God is One, when call upon the name of Yeshua, we are still calling upon the One true God and placing our faith, hope, and trust in Him.
The Shema teaches us that YHWH is perfect. If He is perfect, then so is His love, His mercy, His faithfulness, His goodness, His grace, and His justice! He is not like man with a mixture of good and evil. Therefore, He is also completely holy. To be holy is to be set apart. He is certainly set apart from the mixtures and sinfulness of man. He is completely pure.
We have no need to worry about Him being fickle. We have no need to worry that He or His Word will become outdated. If YHWH doesn’t change, then neither does His Word, His likes or dislikes, or His commandments. He has no need to adjust Himself for man. We have no power over Him. He doesn’t need a plan B, C, or D. Plan A has worked from the beginning. It is man that changes, not YHWH.
We are the ones that get filled with pride and think that we know better than He. We are the ones that come up with interpretations and traditions that are contrary to Him and His Word and then force our contradictions, preferences, and lusts on Him.
He tells us how to live, how to walk, what to eat, how and when to worship, and what to do and not do in His Word. And since He is perfect, He’s not going to tell us one thing one day and a different thing another day————- it goes against His very nature. Yet, instead of simply listening and obeying (Shema), we tell Him how we are going to live, walk, worship, what we will eat, and when we will do it. We even say things like, “He doesn’t care how or what or when, etc”, but is this Elohim/god of scripture? How stiff-necked and prideful can we be?
The Shema calls us into accountability before our perfect and holy Elohim/god. HE is the source of our very life. We should listen to Him and eagerly desire to obey every Word that comes from His lips. He is our only hope. Why test Him?
Our Jewish brothers understand this very well. This is why they diligently teach their children the Shema. If we don’t listen and obey His Word, then we cannot know Him, for He is His Word. If we don’t understand the essence of who YHWH is and is not, we will come away with a perverted form of truth.
Reciting the Shema every morning and evening, opens and closes the day with a reminder of the elohim/god that we serve. The Shema brings a dying person comfort because it is a declaration of trust in the all-powerful, unchanging, all-knowing, ever present Holy One.
It is interesting to note that on a Hebrew scroll in Deut 6:4, the Shema has 2 obviously enlarged letters in the first word (Shema) and the last word (echad). These two letters, ayin and dalet, spell the word witness in Hebrew. Truly, the Shema is a witness of our great Elohim YHWH!
In light of the Shema, John 3:16 becomes another witness and facet of the perfect love of the One true and perfect YHWH revealed to us in the Tanakh(O.T.) and manifested to us in the Messiah Yeshua. He knew our plight before the first sin, so the lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)