Lois Tverberg on the Shema being a call to (or oath of) allegiance rather than a creed to be recited

Echad—The One and Only

The other key word in the first line of the Shema is echad (ech-HAHD). Its most common meaning is simply “one,” but it can also encompass related ideas, like being single, alone, unique, or unified. The multiple shades of meaning of echad and the difficult wording of the rest of the line have made the Shema a topic of debate for millennia.

Part of the problem is that Deuteronomy 6:4 doesn’t even have verbs. It literally reads: “YHWH … our God … YHWH … one.” The verse can be read either as saying “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone,” or “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Of these two readings, the more common reading is the second, that “the LORD is one” in the sense that God is unique. There is only one God, the God of Israel. So this line is usually understood as a statement of belief in monotheism.

The word echad has been a sticking point between Jews and Christians. Often Jews point to the fact that it means “one” as a reason that they cannot believe in the Trinity or in the deity of Christ. And Christians respond that echad can refer to a compound unity, as when God created morning and evening, and together they made yom echad (“one day) (cf. Genesis 1:5). Or when Adam and Eve, through marriage, became basar echad (“one flesh”) (Genesis 2:24).

This whole debate hinges on interpreting the Shema as a creed; that is, “the LORD is one” is a statement about what kind of being God is. But, interestingly, one of the most widely-read Jewish Bible translations now renders Deuteronomy 6:4 as “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” rather than “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” It does so because in recent decades, scholars have come to believe that the original, ancient sense of echad in this verse was more likely to be “alone” than “one.” In Zechariah 14:9, for instance, echad has this sense: “The LORD will be king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be echad and his name echad” (pers. trans.). This is a vision of the messianic age, when all humanity will cease to worship idols and revere only God and call on his name alone.

Jewish scholar Jeffrey Tigray asserts that even though the Scriptures clearly preach monotheism, the Shema itself is not a statement of belief. It’s an oath of loyalty. He calls the first line of the Shema “a description of the proper relationship between YHVH and Israel: He alone is Israel’s God. This is not a declaration of monotheism, meaning that there is only one God…. Though other peoples worship various beings and things they consider divine, Israel is to recognize YHVH alone.”

Why is this important? Because it changes the sense of what the Shema communicates. Rather than merely being a command to a particular belief about God, it is actually a call for a person’s absolute allegiance to God. God alone is the one we should worship; him only shall we serve. As often as the Shema is called a creed or a prayer, it is better understood as an oath of allegiance, a twice-daily recommitment to the covenant with the God of Israel.

As Western Christians we are used to reciting creeds and statements of belief in order to define our faith. We expect to find one here too. So we easily could easily misunderstand that Jesus was saying that it is extremely critical that we believe in God’s “oneness.” But when properly understood, this line shows that the greatest commandment is actually a call to commit ourselves to the one true God.

Reading the line this way solves another mystery about what Jesus was saying. If he was asked what the greatest commandment was, why does he begin by quoting a line about God being “one”? Because if you read this line as about committing  oneself to God as one’s Lord, it flows directly into the next line in the Shema, explaining why we should love God with every fiber of our being. If the Lord alone is our God, and we worship no other gods, we can love him with all of our heart and soul and strength. The two sentences together become one commandment, the greatest in fact—to love the Lord our God.

Once again, in the light of their Hebrew context, we find that Jesus’ words call us beyond what is going on in our brains. We are not just to “hear” but to take heed, to respond, to obey. And we are not just called to believe in the oneness of God, but to place him at the center of our lives.

To do that, we are to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind. Each of these words, in their Hebrew context, can expand our understanding of our calling and the very essence of the Scriptures, as Jesus understood it.

Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, 38-40.

God-intoxicated

There are some who either want to deny the existence of God or who doubt God’s existence. Others see God as not only existing, but the basis in source and purpose for all existence. Even as important for us spiritually as the air we breathe physically. Existence for them is certainly material, but along with that, and not opposed to it at all in terms of creation, spiritual. With all reverence to God we might call these people the God-intoxicated ones. Everything is not only with reference to God in their heads, but for all of life. No matter what they do nothing excepted, they want to do all to the glory and praise of God in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

We humans we’re made for this existence. Not only life in this world and the new creation of it to come, but in the communion of the love of the Trinity, the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

But even the God-intoxicated ones can sometimes feel the absence of God. Which for them is troubling. But because of this orientation to God they press on, even in the darkness. And into the light.

This is about living in God, not about ourselves. God is like the air we breathe, the song we sing, the life we live in and through Jesus.

prayer as worshipful fellowship/communion with God

Concerning Prayer
149. What is prayer?
Prayer is turning my heart toward God, to converse with him in worship. (Psalm 122, 123)
150. What should you seek in prayer?
In prayer I should seek the joy of fellowship with God, who made me for fellowship with him. (1 Chronicles 16:28-30; Psalm 96; John 17; Revelation 22:17)
151. What is fellowship with God?
Fellowship with God in prayer is relating to him as his children, as we approach the light and glory of his throne. (Revelation 7:9-17)
152. How can you have fellowship with God? Through the death of Jesus as both High Priest and sacrifice, and in his Holy Spirit, I have fellowship with God in Word, Sacrament, and prayer. (Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 1:1-4)
153. Why should you pray?
I should pray, first, because God calls me so to do; second, because I desire to know God and be known by him; third, because I need the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit; and fourth, because God responds to the prayers of his people. (Luke 11:13)
154. What should you pray?
In addition to my own prayers, I should pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and the collected prayers of the Church.
155. When should you pray?
I should pray morning, noon, and night, and whenever I am aware of my need for God’s special grace. And I should learn “to pray without ceasing” as I grow in knowledge of God’s nearness. (Psalm 55:17; Daniel 6:10-13; Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Hebrews 4:16)

TO BE A CHRISTIAN: An Anglican Catechism, 39

drawing near to God

“Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me— for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the Lord.”

“Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst; I will bring him near, and he shall approach me, for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord.”

The first translation of Jeremiah 30 : 21 from the NIV is more literal (see older translations), but the second, the NRSV rendering followed by English translations I checked probably brings out the sense better as an NET footnote suggests. The idea from scripture is that God makes a way in this case for a ruler over his people to approach him, even to draw near into his presence. In and through Jesus we know that God has opened the way into the Most Holy by no less than the blood of Christ (book of Hebrews).

This is in large part what good liturgy reflecting scripture helps worshippers do. God in scripture is holy, *other* than humans, so that he is unapproachable. That may be in terms of our own inability, not to mention unwillingness to do so. There is also no doubt in scripture that God himself is a God of judgment who even displays wrath against sin and wickedness. But who also in love makes a way to come near to him, sinners though we are, through the blood of Christ, through Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross for sin.

I probably would prefer something more like the NRSV rendering here, but perhaps bringing out something of both renderings. This is to be what we in Jesus are practicing in our worship gatherings and from day to day. A priority of life for us in and through Jesus.

(Admittedly confined, but for now, completely from a relatively small mobile tablet. )

no need for praise

Whatever God calls us to do we simply need to do and keep doing it regardless of what the effect seems to be. And certainly including whether or not any one expresses appreciation for what we have done.

There is the need for those in the church to both recognize and affirm the gifting one does have, no doubt. And it is an encouragement to know if someone is helped by what we do, or more accurately what God does through us. So there is that balance.

But the last thing we should be looking for or expecting is praise from people. In fact when God is at work the most there may be the least possibility of that. God’s working does not always bring comfort with it. Oftentimes quite the opposite to be sure.

In the end we want to be praised by the Lord as those who were good and faithful servants, doing his will, using what gifts he had given us. We realize that anything short of that is high and dry, indeed empty.

It is freedom to let go of the desire to receive any praise from anyone, in my case for teaching or preaching well, or whatever. We want to do well and be a blessing in the Lord to others. But the focus should never be on the servant but on the one that is served. Any good is all from God who alone deserves all praise.

May the Lord continue to free us from being moved either by praise or criticism from people, as long as we are faithful in Jesus by the Spirit to God’s calling to us.

Jack Levison on inspiration and life in the midst of despair and death

The poet and a pathetic Job know that inspiration survives among the cliffs of despair. It may be, in fact, that truth means the most in the heart of darkness rather than in spiritual spurts of mountaintop enthusiasm. It may be that praise means the most in the valley of the shadow of death, where grief stomps on our chest and makes it barely possible to breathe—and yet we breathe nonetheless.

Jack Levison, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life, 25.

wanting to hide (the Psalms)

I like the Psalms for a good number of reasons, one of the primary reasons being that they well express the gamut of human experience. And in the form of worship as well as sharing one’s heart before God. There are those times when I especially know I don’t have it all together. When I especially feel my brokenness and perhaps want to do little more than hide.

The Psalms teach us that we can and therefore should come to God with our brokenness, with all that we are. We express our true thoughts and feelings to God, not holding back, and in that context we become acclimated to a life lived in the context of both God’s presence and will as those who are his people.

Not everything in the Psalms is G-rated, in fact the Psalms as a whole definitely are not. Even PG, and I’ll add PG-13 is a stretch for some of it. One is allowed to express it all, as Eugene Peterson suggested with reference to his own rendering in the Message, with arms flailing, so to speak. That doesn’t mean that it’s all good. But it’s surely part of working through a process whether it’s of grieving and lamenting, to risk subjecting the Bible and our reading of it to modern categories. We do well to regularly read it, perhaps even to sing it, so that the rhythm and beauty, all of it somehow appropriately becomes more and more a part of who we are, at least in our expression to God. Of course the Psalms are considered the hymnbook of Israel and the church does well to add its “songs” to the other hymns and songs sung. Jesus knew the Psalms and surely regularly recited them. (An excellent book on the Psalms.)

A good example of what I’m trying to get at in this post is found in Psalm 55. I’ll quote a small part of it here, and I encourage you to read the rest. And to get into the habit of reading the Psalms, maybe daily, five a day so as to read through them each month.

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
    and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
    far from the tempest and storm.”

From Psalm 55.