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Go to Bible: Deuteronomy 6
“carry them out.” That is the idea of the more clipped Hebrew text, “to do” them (cp. NET; “observe” them (TNK, NRSV); “you must obey them” (NLT); “follow them” (HCSB)). Using the word “may” or “might” (KJV; HCSB; ESV; NASB) gives the wrong impression in English because God did not give His commands so that we “might” keep them, but so that we “would” keep them. When it comes to obeying God, it is important that the English translation conveys the meaning of the text very well.
“are crossing over.” Israel was about to cross over the Jordan River and then fight and possess the Promised Land.(top)
“fear Yahweh your God by keeping.” “Fearing God” (which includes both fear and reverence) is integrally tied to obeying God. The person who says, “I revere (reverence, love) God” but does not keep His commands is fooling himself. Jesus taught, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15); “Whoever has my commandments, and is keeping them, that is the one who loves me” (John 14:21); “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23); and “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24). Peter Craigie translates the phrase: “fear the Lord your God by keeping all his statutes and commandments” (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament), and the JPS Torah Commentary has the comment: “Literally, ‘revere...by following.’” Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible) has, “in order that you may hold YHWH your God in awe, by keeping all his laws and his commandments….” People who reverence God obey God.
“and so that your days may be prolonged.” The primary meaning of this phrase it that when the people of Israel obey God then the country (the “your” in the verse is plural) will be blessed by God and so the people will live long and blessed lives. However, in cases like this, although the primary emphasis is on Israel as a community, there is also an unstated secondary meaning that the people will live forever because they loved and obeyed God.(top)
|Deu 6:3||- (top)|
“Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone!” It is believed by some Trinitarians that the Hebrew word 'echad (#0259 אֶחָד), “one,” that is used in Deuteronomy 6:4 and other verses indicates a “compound unity.” Concerning the use of the word echad, Anthony Buzzard writes:
“It is untrue to say that the Hebrew word echad (one) in Deut. 6:4 points to a compound unity. A recent defense of the Trinity argues that when “one” modifies a collective noun like “bunch” or “herd,” a plurality is implied in echad. The argument is fallacious. The sense of plurality is derived from the collective noun (herd, etc.), not from the word “one.”Echad in Hebrew is the numeral “one.” “Abraham was one [echad]” (Ezek. 33:24; “only one man,” NIV). Isaiah 51:2 also describes Abraham as “one” (echad; “alone,” KJV; “the only one,” NJBO, where there is no possible misunderstanding about the meaning of this simple word.” Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound [International Scholars Publications, New York, 1998], p. 25).
In the Old Testament, there is no reference to the word “one” as indicating a plurality of any kind. A study of its uses in the Old Testament will reveal its simple meaning and the truth it conveys. It is used of “one” in number, “the first” in a series, “one” in the sense of “the same” or “alone,” and “one” in the sense of “each” or “a certain one.” It is used as “alone” in verses like Deuteronomy 6:4, and “first” in verses like Genesis 1:5, when God made light on the “first” day. The whole earth spoke “one” language before Babel (Gen. 11:1). Hagar cast her child under “one” of the bushes (Gen. 21:15). In Pharaoh’s dream, there were seven ears of grain on “one” stalk (Gen. 41:5). In the plague on Egypt’s livestock, not “one” cow died in Israel (Exod. 9:6). Exodus 12:49 says that Israel shall have “one” law for the citizen and the foreigner. The examples are far too many to list for this frequently used word, which appears more than 950 times in the Old Testament, and there is no hint in any Jewish commentary or lexicon that it somehow implies a “compound unity.”
The history of the Jewish thought is well known. They were famous in the ancient world for being downright obnoxious when it came to defending their “one God” against the polytheistic views of other civilizations. God chose the Jews as His people, and He chose to communicate to them in the Hebrew language. The Jews debated their writings to the point of tedium and argued over almost every word in the Law, yet there is no evidence that any of them thought that their word for “one” implied a compound unity. That assumption did not develop until Christians needed evidence for the Trinity in the Old Testament; it is a late and invalid assumption with no solid evidence behind it.
Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone,” where echad is translated “alone,” is one of the strongest texts against the Trinity. The Bible affirms that God is “one,” not “three-in-one” or some other plurality. This has been the rallying cry of Jews down through the ages who have stood aggressively against any form of polytheism or pantheism. Although it is commonly believed that Deuteronomy 6:4 (known as the Shema) is a statement of “monotheism” and thus the “compound unity” of God, that is not what the verse is saying. Of course, it is certainly a statement about monotheism (that there is one God), but that is not its primary emphasis.
In addition, it is not a statement about the compound unity of God for a number of reasons. For one thing, the compound unity of God does not appear in Scripture. Also, the Old Testament was given by God to the Jews so they could know and obey Him, and never in the more than 3500 years since the Shema was written have the Jews understood it to refer to a compound unity in God—quite the opposite. They took it to mean that there was only one God, and they fiercely fought against polytheism throughout their history. So if the Shema was God’s attempt to reveal a compound unity in Himself, the attempt was an epic failure. It makes much more sense that God gave the verse to the Jews and intended it to mean what the Jews say it means. Furthermore, the Jews did not take the Shema as their primary statement of monotheism because many other verses in Hebrew Scripture made that point just as clearly.
Also, the context of the Shema in the Old Testament and where it is quoted in the New Testament indicate that the Shema is not saying “God is ‘one,’” but rather is saying that Yahweh “alone” is God. The context of Deuteronomy 6:4 is using the Hebrew word echad (#0259 אֶחָד; “one, only, alone”) in the primary sense of “only” or “alone,” in contrast to the number “one,” and Mark 12:28-34 confirms this. Note how Deuteronomy 6:4-5 flow together and thus make a major—and logical—point: “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone! And you must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” It is because Yahweh “alone” is God that we can worship him with “all” our heart, “all” our soul, and “all” our might. If we had more than one God, our worship would have to be divided between all the gods we served, and each god would get only “part” of our heart, soul, and strength. In fact, that is what happens with Trinitarians today: they divide their worship of God into the worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that division of worship is what is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29.
Also, the connection between Deuteronomy 6:4 and Zechariah 14:9 shows that echad means “alone,” not “one” in the sense of a compound unity. Deuteronomy 6:4 was the heart of the first and great commandment, and it said to Israel that Yahweh “is our God,” (Israel’s God), yes, “Yahweh alone.” But in fact, although Yahweh was “alone” in the sense that He was the true God and Creator, that was not the way it was lived out in day-to-day life because Yahweh was not worshiped as “God alone.” There were always other gods among the people of God, and of course the pagan world was filled with all kinds of pagan gods. Jacob had to tell his family to put away their pagan gods (Gen. 35:2). Joshua told Israel to put away their pagan gods but they never did (Josh. 24:23). Israel served Baal and pagan gods throughout their history in Israel (cp. Judg. 2:11-13).
Thankfully, the prophet Zechariah foretold a time when “In that day Yahweh will be echad” (Zech. 14:9). That is the same basic message as is in Deuteronomy 6:4, and echad cannot mean “one” in the Trinitarian sense of a compound unity because Zechariah was speaking about something new, that Yahweh “will be” echad. The nature of God does not change, so what will change in the future so that God “will be” echad in a way that He was not echad before? “In that day,” the day when Christ reigns as king over the earth, Yahweh will finally be echad, “alone,” in a realized sense among the people. There will be no other gods on earth in Christ’s kingdom. When Jesus is finally king on earth there will be no pagan idols, pagan altars, or pagan worship. Finally, Yahweh “will be” “alone” as the God who is worshiped on earth. God had always wanted to be God “alone” among His people, but He never was—the people always had other gods in the picture. But in the Millennial Kingdom, what God longed for and stated in Deuteronomy 6:4 will be finally actualized on earth: Yahweh alone will be God!
What should be clear is that Deuteronomy 6:4 is a statement about our personal relationship with God. He “alone” is God, so He is to be our only God and we must worship Him with all that we are and have. Deuteronomy 6:4 is not primarily a statement about monotheism, it is a statement about relationship. Stated another way, Deuteronomy 6:4 is not about the nature of God, it is about our relationship with God. Monotheism is important, and God had established that there was only one God earlier in the book of Deuteronomy. Only about 50 verses before the Shema, God had twice stated that He was the only God. Deuteronomy 4:35 says, “Yahweh is God, besides Him there is no other.” Four verses later Deuteronomy 4:39 reiterates that truth again and reads, “Yahweh is God in heaven above and on earth below. There is no other.” After establishing that there is only one God, Deuteronomy 6:4 then takes that truth and makes it personal: Yahweh who alone is God is to be “our” God, and we are to worship Him with all “our” heart, soul, and strength. Furthermore, after Deuteronomy 4:35, 39 and 6:4 have established that there is only one God, and thus Yahweh alone is to be “our God,” Deuteronomy 6:13 then says that we should fear and serve Him, and swear oaths in His name.
Furthermore, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 as part of the first and great commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone” (Mark 12:29). It is quite inconceivable that Christ would be promoting some form of the doctrine of the Trinity while at the same time quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 to a Jewish audience who then would have surely misunderstood him. According to the use of echad in Scripture, it is more reasonable to believe that Jesus was simply affirming that if we are to love God with all our heart we must be certain who He is—God alone for there is no other.
[For more on the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus reigns as king over the earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?” For much more complete information on God and His Son, Jesus, see Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, One God and One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, 4th ed. (Indianapolis: Spirit and Truth Fellowship International, 2010), p. 422.
|Deu 6:5||- (top)|
“in your heart.” The words of God are to be “in (or “on”) your heart,” that is, they are to be so well known that they are more than just memorized by mechanical repetition, although that is often a good start, but also they are to be understood to the end that they make sense as the foundation and guiding principles of one’s life. God loves people, His creation, and His words to us are an expression of that love. However, many people think and act as if God’s commands are restrictive and oppressive, but that only shows that many people are self-willed, prideful, and defiant towards God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus clearly demonstrated what godly humility looks like: “Not my will but your [God’s] will be done.” Each person must decide who is the most important one in their life. The right choice is always God. As our Creator, He deserves first place in our lives, but more than that He is also the One who can grant us everlasting life. God creates and sets up the rules: everlasting life or everlasting death. We have the privilege of making the choice.
Sadly, many people who think they are following God and have memorized and learned what they think are God’s commandments but they have actually only learned the commandments of other humans. Since Genesis people have been making up rules for others to follow, and historically many leaders have been successful in passing off their doctrines as the commandments of God. Jesus spoke about that and said to the religious leaders of his time, “And he [Jesus] said to them [the religious leaders], ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly of you hypocrites, as it is written, The People honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they show devotion to me, teaching as their doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God, and hold on firmly to the tradition of men.’ And he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition...thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you are doing many things like that’” (Mark 7:6-9, 13). People are responsible to do their best to make sure that the commandments they follow are indeed the commandments of God and not just human tradition.(top)
“repeat them over and over.” The Hebrew word is shanan (#08150 שָׁנַן), and it is the piel aspect. The HALOT Hebrew-English Lexicon has, “to repeat...to speak, or to recite again and again (Deut. 6:7).” The Christian Standard Bible has “Repeat them to your children;” the NAB has “Keep repeating them to your children;” and the NLT has “Repeat them again and again to your children” (cp. also Fox, The Schocken Bible).
Children learn by repetition, and parents have the responsibility to make sure their children have a knowledge of what God expects from them. The world acts as if children have the wisdom to make up their own minds about right and wrong, good and evil, and so worldly people want to make it a crime to try to direct the way children are to go in life, but the world will not be the Judge on Judgment Day, and parents who ignore the command of God to teach their children the ways of God are disobeying God. The Bible is clear that children are an inheritance from Yahweh (Ps. 127:3 ), and “a child who is left to itself puts his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15). Adults and children need direction. Adults should have gotten some godly direction from their parents, but many never did and have to learn from the Bible, others, and the hard knocks of life. Children should have the advantage of learning about life and God from parents, and God holds parents responsible to give that godly direction.(top)
“bind them for a sign on your hand.” This verse is the basis for the wearing of phylacteries, little boxes that contain scripture that the ultra-orthodox Jews tie on the back of their hands and also tie on their foreheads. However, God did not mean for Deuteronomy 6:8 to be taken literally that way, which we can tell from that fact that this rule is for all Israel, and the nature of daily life in ancient Israel would not accommodate it. By saying to bind them to your head and hand He was emphasizing that the Word of God should be near their thoughts (head) and in what they do (hands).
The pure nature of this command of God was occasionally perverted by religious superstition, as we can see by the very word “phylactery,” which comes from the Greek word phulassō (#5442 φυλάσσω) which means to guard, to keep watch, to protect you from a person or thing, to keep safe. Thus the very thing that God said to assure that people would keep His Word and keep people from wandering from it occasionally became an object of superstition, complete with all the rules and regulations about exactly how to tie it on, when and where to wear it, etc. [For more information, see commentary on Matt. 23:5].(top)
|Deu 6:9||- (top)|
|Deu 6:10||- (top)|
|Deu 6:11||- (top)|
|Deu 6:12||- (top)|
“You are to fear Yahweh your God.” Deuteronomy 6:13 is quoted in Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8.(top)
|Deu 6:14||- (top)|
|Deu 6:15||- (top)|
“Do not tempt Yahweh your God.” This phrase in Deuteronomy 6:16 is quoted in Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12.(top)
|Deu 6:17||- (top)|
|Deu 6:18||- (top)|
|Deu 6:19||- (top)|
|Deu 6:20||- (top)|
|Deu 6:21||- (top)|
|Deu 6:22||- (top)|
|Deu 6:23||- (top)|
|Deu 6:24||- (top)|
“every one of these commandments.” This translation of Deuteronomy 6:25—“every one of these commandments—tries to capture the fact that “commandments” is singular in the Hebrew text. A more literal translation of the Hebrew is “all this command,” but that phrase is not very clear in English, so the REV has “every one of these commandments.”
The point the Hebrew text is making is vital to grasp in order to understand how God considers His Word and His commands. God does not look at the Law as a bunch of commandments and if a person does most of them they are more righteous than if they do some of them. God looks at the whole law as a giant single command, and to fulfill the Law a person would have to do “all this command,” i.e., the whole Law without breaking a single commandment. Thus, Moses says that a person will be considered righteous in the eyes of God if they do “all this command,” but humans with sin nature cannot accomplish that, hence righteousness cannot come through the Law (Gal. 2:21; 3:21). In fact, we learn from Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6 that Abraham was righteous by trusting God before the Law, and David echoed the same thing under the Law (Rom. 4:6-8). It was by being humble and trusting God that people were declared righteous before God even under the Law (Ps. 51:16-17; Micah 6:8). Furthermore, there were signs all through the Law that being humble and trusting were what was important. For example, every sacrifice made was to contain salt, “the salt of the covenant” (see commentary on Lev. 2:13). The point of the salt was to reaffirm the covenant and one’s commitment to it, and to make it clear that no one could be righteous in God’s sight by just “going through the motions” of what God commanded in the Law.(top)