On the “Sh’ma” and Hearing God
On the Sh’ma and Hearing God
by Lonnie Lane
Yeshua said the greatest commandment is what Judaism calls the Sh’ma which says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4,5). This is the foundational statement for monotheism, the truth that there is only one God, and He alone is God. And how are we to begin to relate to this All-powerful, All-knowing God? By listening to Him, by hearing what He has to say.
The New American Standard Bible lists 275 verses using the word “listen” and while not all of them refer to listening to God directly, many have to do with listening to those who speak for God. Many other verses use the word “hear” as in when Yeshua repeatedly said, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16; Luke 7:16; 8:8 etc.) The word is the same in Hebrew: Sh’ma which means to hear intelligently with the implication of obedience; to listen attentively, carefully. It means to give ear so as to discern, to obey, perceive, to understand. There is also a sense of making a sound or noise. I can just imagine that throughout the crowd listening to Yeshua you could hear an audible murmuring as people “got it.” Perhaps there was even a resounding “Amen” or two. Don’t we respond those same ways, at least inside ourselves if we’re in a church setting where responding out loud isn’t kosher.
If we never talk about [Yeshua], it is likely we’ve heard little from Him.
The word sh’ma also carries a sense of to tell or to proclaim and to witness. What Yeshua had to say would cause those who really heard what He was saying to tell others. The implication here is that if we aren’t verbalizing somewhere to what we’ve heard Yeshua saying to us, we’ve not really heard Him. If we never talk about Him, it is likely we’ve heard little from Him. If that’s you, listen up! He has things He wants to say to you. We know those who heard Yeshua speak gave voice to what they heard. How else would the word have spread so quickly about Him and what He had to say? People were moved by what they were hearing (sh’ma) from Him and went and told others. Is it possible that why so few people tell others about their faith in Yeshua today, or bring others to the Lord, has to do with believing that hearing a message from a preacher or teacher is how God speaks to us, so that the messages have usurped the place of hearing from God for ourselves?
When the Risen King Yeshua spoke to John to tell the seven churches what He was saying to them in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, He repeatedly said to the believers in each city, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This was not something He hadn’t said while walking the earth as a Man. As mentioned above, He continually said while preaching to the people, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” or “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” But notice, now that the Spirit has been poured out on the church, He adds in His admonitions to each of the churches, “Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Now the Spirit of God is inside of a person’s own spirit who bears witness to the truth. He speaks to us continually, we need only to have ears to hear.
So what does it mean to have ears to hear? Remember the song you may have sung as a kid that went something like, “The head bone’s connected to the neck bone; the neck bone’s connected to the shoulder bone…” and all down through the body? Well, it seems that spiritually speaking, our ears, as well as our eyes, are connected to our hearts. While this is a negative picture, it does show the connection: “For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15).
Hardness of heart or being distant from God isn’t an event, it’s a process, just as growing in the Lord is a process.
Yeshua seems to indicate they weren’t always that way, these people had “become” dull, evidently, through a process. Hardness of heart or being distant from God isn’t an event, it’s a process, just as growing in the Lord is a process. Whatever took place, they were now heavy, weighted down with a burdensome and grievous load. Something of a grave and heavy nature was upon them so that they spiritually closed their eyes so as not to see the truth of Who He was or what He was saying. What could that have been? It doesn’t seem to have affected those who were economically depressed, that is, the poor, nor were they the sick because both groups came to Him in droves. And it couldn’t mean the blind because they heard and “saw” that He would be the one to bring them their sight.
Who was it then who couldn’t “see?” To “see” in this regard implies to know, to perceive, understand, and (consequently) to tell. So it isn’t about visually seeing, it’s about cognitively seeing, a knowing, we could say. No, these people were so burdened down with something that it kept them from perceiving and understanding Who was among them. Those who did perceive and understand were able to tell others the good news. But these who didn’t “see” had only condemning things to say about Him. They spoke about Him according to what they perceived about Him and their interpretations of how they saw Him as violating the law.
As we read the stories in the Gospels, we see clearly that those who were the most religious were the most unable to “hear” what He was saying. Despite their attention to detail in their attempts to live impeccably religious lives, they were in fact deceived. Their religiosity was obstructing their ability to recognize what God was saying and doing right in their midst. Were they religious because they were following God’s commandments? If that was the case, then we would have to say that God built into the Torah the requirement of being religious. Being religious is about performance in order to gain relationship. It’s about working for acceptance. But that is not God’s way or His desire for those who wish to follow Him. God is a God of love. John said, “God IS love” (1 John 4:7,8, 16 my emphasis). Yahweh was after relationship with Israel, not a boat-load of laws they must keep in order to appease Him so as to gain His favor. The fact is, Israel had already gained His favor when He chose them. It was only when they disregarded His ways and forfeited their relationship with Him by being seduced away from Him that they were outside of His favor. The favor of God comes from enjoying God and walking in His ways out of love for Him. But religion has fear of rejection at the core, and cannot rest in His acceptance.
Those Pharisees and Scribes who professed to be the most learned in the ways of the law were actually focused on laws they had added to the commandments God had given to Israel. Most of those extra-Biblical laws had developed while Israel was in exile in Babylon as the consequence of having strayed into idolatry and away from God. Out from under His protection they lost their sovereignty and were deported from their land to Babylon. But God’s plan was not thwarted even by their rebellion. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah and told Israel they would return to their land: “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10). While in Babylon, having realized how far they had stayed from God, the Hebrews began to meet in places they called “synagogues” to study the Torah they had ignored. When after seventy years Israel began to return to the land as God had prophesied, they brought the practice of meeting in synagogues with them and so even today, Jewish people meet in synagogues. And they brought the added laws that today make up a good bit of what rabbinic Judaism is about. The more orthodox one chooses to be, the more of those laws one is obligated to obey, even though they “exceed what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).
In order to avoid violating the Torah which is what got them expelled from the land to Babylon, extra laws were invented by the rabbis to make sure God’s laws weren’t violated. We call them hedges around the law. The trouble is, the hedges began to take on a life of their own and in time became more important than the original commandments God had given Israel. These were the laws Yeshua inveighed against when He called them “hypocrites” and “blind guides” (Matthew 23:14, 15, 16, 24) who, though they were leaders in Israel, had no spiritual eyes to see spiritual realities and to perceive correctly Who He was.
Their preoccupation with religious performance was the very thing that was keeping them from enjoying God.
Those are pretty strong words: hypocrites, blind guides. Fightin’ words, it would appear. This is not gentle Jesus, sweet and mild. This is challenging, revolutionary, uncompromising truth He’s declaring. But what’s His motive? To expose them or shame them? To let them know they blew it as far as God is concerned? No, His motive is always redemptive. He is always trying to bring people to His Father in Spirit and in truth. He didn’t come to judge but to save!! Their preoccupation with religious performance was the very thing that was keeping them from enjoying God. They missed what God wanted from them and for them. And their misperceptions of God were causing them to miss the connection between Yeshua and His Father. The same thing happens for us today. The simple example is the church where it’s not acceptable to respond outloud to something that stirs your heart, where an “Amen” would be considered unacceptable. And God forbid someone has something that they feel God would want to interject while the pastor is preaching, oi vey. It’s not the people who are quenched, but the Spirit of God when the only person who ever speaks in a service in the preacher. Not all churches are like that, of course. My own church is wonderfully spontaneous and free and the joy of the Lord, along with sound convicting, encouraging, Biblical teaching come together in a way I imagine Yeshua’s teaching sessions might have been. Life impacting and fun, alive and captivating, joyful and free. With lots of love. Sometimes we just have to hug one another. I believe before Yeshua returns every true body of believers will enjoy Him and each other like this. If we’re really His, we’ll be as He is. And He’s not religious!
However, if we have a wrong idea about God or Yeshua, the more fervent we are and the more religiously involved we are, the more distorted our concept and expression of God will be. You know the old adage, about the carpenter who measured a little off, but then based each next measurement on the faulty previous one so that in the end, what he had was far off of what it should have been like. The same applies to religion. If you have it wrong but you’re not too involved, not too much will be affected. But have your perceptions of God wrong and be deeply involved in your erroneous ideas, all the deeper and wider will be the error. Consider the likes of the Crusades, witch hunts, forced conversions (or death – you get to choose), or mysticism, poverty vows, secluded monasteries, excommunication of dissidents (which supposedly meant eternal damnation), or simply one denomination having nothing to do with other believers because they don’t all believe the same way about an issue. It doesn’t have to be overt. It could just be the status quo we’ve been taught and consider as normal Christianity but yet which doesn’t bare much resemblance to the Biblical experience.
To personalize this somewhat, when I first came to the Lord, I really MET the Lord! Nothing religious about Him. He was (is!) present, vital, involved, relational and seemed to have moved into my life as if He had a right to all of me. It was glorious. I read the Bible, which I had never done before, and there He was. Same Yeshua. Awesome! I wondered, how could I not have heard about all this? I couldn’t understand how come we Jews hadn’t heard what the Christians obviously must have in Him all along. Did they keep it a secret on purpose?
When I eventually went to church, it was confusing to me. How could what was so real and fresh and alive and powerful in everything surrounding Yeshua have devolved into the somber, relatively lifeless, ritualistic, powerless, (not to mention unJewish) “church” that I found in the early seventies, though I learned it had been this way for centuries. It wasn’t that the church had been keeping the wonder of Yeshua a secret from us Jews, it was that there was little wonder in the church. At least that I could see. Religious structure had somehow replaced the vitality I found in Yeshua and that I read about in the New Testament. What in the world had happened? I’ve spent the last thirty four years seeking to figure that out in order that perhaps we might find our way back to Him! I guess that’s what all these articles are about.
The systems of the world took hold right in the middle of the kingdom of God and religion was the result.
As best as I can figure, what in the world happened is that the world happened. The systems of the world took hold right in the middle of the kingdom of God and religion was the result. How to’s and should’s and must’s and must not’s replaced the immediate response to the leading of the Spirit in any given moment, and the uncompromised adoration of Yeshua that spilled out of every persons mouth so that they drew others to Him: “There were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord”(Acts 11:20, 21). And what about men like Barnabus. We know about him because Luke included him in the book of The Acts of the Apostles, but there could have been many Barnabuses about whom things like this could be said: “When he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (11:23, 24).
Thinking about someone like Barnabus makes me smile and something inside reverberates with a resounding Yes! Barnabus was a man who, whether he ever heard it directly from Yeshua’s lips or from His followers, he heard what the Spirit was saying. He had ears to hear. Kingdom ears. We need Kingdom ears today. We also need to be familiar enough with our Bible’s to recognize and discern when God is speaking in the voices we hear or it’s another voice, a world system voice, one that robs us of the spontaneity and vitality of the Spirit of God, one that reverberates with rules and obligations that speak so loud we don’t even realize we can’t hear the voice of the Shepherd of our souls. And so we obey men who limit rather than God who enlarges our souls and expands His Kingdom while doing so.
This brings me back to the Sh’ma, the declaration of God that He is one God. This was said to the nation of Israel that was surrounded by nations that believed in many gods. Often those gods were seen as conflicting and trying to dominate one another. Imagine, if you can, the chaos and confusion in people’s minds and lives as they tried to live according to many gods. Who do you look to for stability and security? You better be sure you’re praying to the right god for the thing, whether it’s personal issues or something like storms and rainfall. And what if the god you’re looking to is weaker today than this other one? The gods were demanding yet non-relational. But then Yahweh enters into a nation and reveals Himself as the One and only Supreme God over all. He is not charged with attempting to manage creation, He created it and He “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). In the oneness of Almighty God, He is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 14:8), I don’t have to worry if something He says today will change tomorrow. There is consistency in God. There is faithfulness in God. Therefore, I can look to His Word and read it as if He is saying it to me today.
Every word is as true today as the day it was written. Nothing has passed away, so I don’t have to heed a religious justification of powerlessness. We can still look to the Spirit of God to empower us just as He did to the early believers. The gifts are still for today, tongues is still for today, healing and miracles are still for today, And best of all, the immediate glorious sense of the presence of Yeshua is available today. He didn’t give up speaking to His people when the Bible was codified. He still speaks today. Listen. Hear, O Israel. Hear O child of God. Hear what the Spirit has to say to the churches today. And to you personally. As the Sh’ma shows us, loving Him is directly linked to hearing Him. I don’t know that we can truly love Him if we are not listening for His voice and hearing what He is saying to us personally. He is a very personal God; relational. As we hear His voice to us, our lives are changed as we are conformed to what we hear from Him. When the fragmentation in our souls yields to the oneness of God He has a great unifying affect on our lives as He leads us, each one, to bring the whole of our lives under His lordship in wholeness.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2010.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.