In our last session we declared that worship is the purest form of relationship, and we contended that we are born to have that worship relationship with God and if we don’t worship Him then we will worship something else -which we term an “idol”.

We looked at how people worship a football team, or a Pop Star or their spouse, their work or their hobby.

But many consider that in our society of the 21st Century the biggest idol is…OURSELVES!

We are called to “put yourself first”, “think about No.1”, “you’re the most important”, “It’s all about you”. We are told in song to do things “my way” (Frank Sinatra).

And so, man without God cries out: “Who am I and why am I here?” Wrong questions!

The Shema asks the right questions: “Who is the LORD and what does He want?”


This passage from Deuteronomy 6 is one of the most important (if not THE most important) declarations made by the Jewish people as an expression of their worship to the LORD (YHWH). It is said to be the Jewish confession of faith. It can be seen to underpin our whole understanding of what worship is, who worship is for, and how worship is expressed.

I am indebted to many articles written on this subject in the explanation which follows – particularly “A Hebrew interpretation of the Sh’ma” by Jeff A Benner and “Who we worship: The Lord who is one” by Dr John Andrews – I draw liberally on both of these.

As we look into these two short verses, we see the two ingredients of true worship:

  • A revelation of who God is.
  • A response to Him on the basis of this revelation.

Again we see that if we want to worship better then we need to have a better revelation.

  1. Hear, O Israel

Well…this lets me out of the deal doesn’t it? I mean, I am not a Jew. This is a proclamation to Israel…

Wrong! This is for me and for you to “hear”. Theologians have long declared that we are the “spiritual Israel” – not meaning that we have replaced the Jews in God’s heart but that the promises that our Father made to the Jews now also belong to us: for we have been grafted on to the vine of Jesus, and we are heirs to His promises (Galatians 4: 28), and we are now children of God (Galatians 3: 26), adopted into His family which includes the Jews (Galatians 4: 5-7), and now His chosen people (2 Peter 2: 9). We are now seen to be children of Abraham just as the Jews are (Galatians 3: 7). So…I’d better listen carefully to what is being said here…it is for me!

So now let us look at the command to “hear” The Hebrew verb שמע means “to hear” but with the Hebraic idea “to pay attention to what is being spoken and act upon it.” When Israel “hears” the directions of God, they agree to act upon them (they obey his words). When God “hears” the pleas of Israel in bondage in Egypt, he acts upon them (he rescues Israel).

Therefore, Shema is seen as something very important which must truly be listened to; “to obey” – it is a proclamation that expects obedience, “to proclaim” – as something to be declared to all. This is “serious stuff”.

Jesus tells a parable of 2 sons who were asked to go into the vineyard to help their father (Matthew 21: 28-32). One says “yes” but did not go. The other moaned and said “no” but did go in the end. The second son was the one who really heard for hearing leads to obedience, hearing leads to action.

“Hear” means “listen and obey”. If I do not obey, then I have not heard.

  • The LORD our God

And right away we have it confirmed that it is YWHW (Yahweh) who should be the object of our worship, the One with whom we have the deepest no.1 relationship. It is He and no other. Time again to check out our priorities and what (or who) is truly first in our lives.

  • The LORD is “one”

The use of the word “one” in this verse is commonly interpreted to mean that there is only “one” God. However, from a Hebraic perspective, the Hebrew word אחד (ehad) can mean a “unit” within a unity. This verse is stating that YHWH is in unity with himself. A good example of this is the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. A cloud and fire are opposites—one provides coolness and shade and the other heat and light. Yet, they work together to preserve the people during the day and the night.

To the Jews of the Old Testament, living at a time of plurality of gods, this was REALLY important to understand and accept. There is no other God besides YHWH. To the Christian today it has the added bonus of confirming the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three manifestations of the One God.

And in an age of growing omnism – the belief that ALL religions are equally valid and lead to God – this is our fundamental declaration that there is no other God and no other way to God except through His Son, Jesus Christ. All other ways are lies and deceptions.

  • Love the LORD your God

Love, the Hebrew verb אהב (ahab) is not an emotion: it is an action. The context of this word in the text indicates that we are to “love” God with our actions, not with our emotions. It can be seen that we will “act lovingly towards” Him.

It is said that “actions speak louder than words”. It is the “doing” that proves our “saying” of love. It is so easy to flippantly say to your wife “I love you” but what you then do for her proves or disproves this.

So, when we are in a worship relationship with God then our worship should take the form not just of words but of deeds. Let us ask ourselves: what are we doing for Him as a demonstration of our worship of Him?

It is said that a more accurate translation of verse 5 begins with the little word “and”…”AND you shall love the LORD”. Does this little word make a big difference? You bet it does! For it means that what is now said follows on directly from what has been said before. This is not a command that you MUST love the LORD. This is a declaration that because you KNOW the LORD (relational) you shall therefore LOVE the LORD. The more you know Him, the more you love Him. Worship comes out of relationship.

  • With all your heart

The heart, לבב (lebab) in Hebrew, is the rational thoughts of the mind, not an emotion as the word is generally understood in western minds. In this passage, we are informed how to “love” Yahweh—by keeping all of our thoughts focused on him. And, of course, the key phrase here could be seen to be “all”. If we are half-hearted then we are giving our worship to something or someone other than God. Let us examine our thoughts. Are they focused on God? Or do we actually spend more time thinking about other things and people? Now, I am not saying that if we think about other things, and spent time doing other things, that we are not worshipping Him. We are told to “seek His will in all  you do” – whether it is thinking about your wife, your way-ward child, your work, the colour to paint your living room, or the hobby that you take your ease with. The question is whether He is FIRST in our thinking and not whether we are thinking about anything else.

  • With all your soul

Ah! Now we have met this word before – the Hebrew word נפש (nephesh) which is literally the whole of the person. First, we are told to love Yahweh with our minds, now with all of our bodies – all that we are, all that we do. Again, we have the little “all” before this. Worship is not a “box” of time and effort – an “it’s now time to worship” – it’s an all-day, every-day commitment of relationship. Yep! Let’s examine ourselves…are we?

  • With all your strength

The Hebrew word used here is מאד (me’od) and is a very interesting word, especially in the way that it is used in this context. This word is used throughout the Hebrew text as an adverb, intensifying a verb, and is usually translated as very, greatly, or much. This is the only time this word appears as a noun and is best translated as “muchness.” This idea of muchness is expanding on the previous two ways we are to love Yahweh, first with our mind, then with our body, and now with everything we have – including all that we possess – our talents, our work, our health, our finances. Phew! Quite exhaustive really! This message is being given on “Father’s Day” and the story is told by Dr John Andrews of how overwhelmed he was by the present given to him on Father’s Day by his youngest daughter. As he ripped open the rather large present he discovered that she had made him a book of pictures – photo memories of times that they had happily spent together over the years. The present had nothing to do with money. It had everything to do with thought and all the energy that she had invested in doing something so tender. He was moved greatly. He says “what I held was her best, and in that moment, I got an insight into who she was, what she thought of me, and what she was prepared to do to please me”. This is loving with “all your strength”.


Many, not least of whom is Rabbi Sacks, have explained that “Shema Yisrael” means so much more than “Hear, O Israel”. It is our declaration of a relationship of worship to the One whom we have decided shall be first in our lives. It is our confession of faith to God, and how we are going to worship Him.

Maybe we could say the Shema in the following way:

“Listen. Concentrate. Give the word of God you most focused attention. Strive to understand and choose to obey. Make His will your own. Promise right now to engage ALL that you are in your worship of Him. Worship Him with everything that you think; with everything that you are – all your emotions, all your hopes and all your fears; and with everything that you have – all your strength, all your abilities, all your possessions. He is the most important One in your life – make Him first in your life – always”.


  • What struck you most about this session?
  • The Bible Project have done a whole series of short films on the SHEMA – check them out and see what you learn from them:
  • So…is worship, based on the SHEMA, a command or a relationship?
  • Why not carry on your own personal study of the different ways we can “Praise” Him.