Among Jews, the verse is known by its first word, “sh’ma”, it is the central credo of Judaism. Sh’ma means hear or listen. The word connotes obedience or understanding. In the Hebrew, sh’ma has the meaning of listening and obeying. The most famous verse in Judaism reads,
“Hear (sh’ma), O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NKJV)
Jesus references the sh’ma in each of the synopic gospels (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28) as the great commandment in the Law and the Prophets. Jesus adds to the Deuteronic passage with the caveat of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He calls this “the greatest commandment.”
Listen and Love
God is telling us to listen and love. This is indeed the point of the entire Bible and the Judeo-Christian ethic, listening and loving God. Loving God is commanded. Loving God with all we have to give—our heart, our soul, and our strength, is the point of the Bible follower, the true Jew, and the Jesus disciple.
Loving God is not natural for us. Even the fact that God commands us to love Him is an indicator that it’s not natural to love God. We are not commanded to love our children, it comes naturally. So, God speaking through Moses, is saying “Listen up people, it’s not natural for you, but I’m commanding you to love God with everything you have!”
I have found that I must decide to love God. Love is an act of the will. When the Bible commands us to love God, it’s commanding an emotion—something it almost never does (Prager, Deuteronomy, p. 115). Emotions fuel our actions. Love is behavior fueled by emotion.
We must choose to love God and when we make such a choice, it creates a love for His image bearers. True love of God should fuel love for people. John notes, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16 NKJV) In fact, our passage indicates the principal indicator that we are listening to God is that we are loving God and people. This is so hard. It’s not natural and it’s difficult. That must be why it’s the main command of the Bible.