Whenever we study a passage, we want to make sure we aren’t taking it out of context (no one wants to have their comments taken out of context, right?). So let’s discuss the book. The bulk of Deuteronomy is Moses addressing the people of God shortly before his own death and before they cross the Jordan to take possession of the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Deuteronomy 6:1-15 expresses, in many ways, the overall message of the book. In the early chapters, Moses tells the people over and over that the LORD (more on the capitalization in a moment) is unique among “gods,” that He is the only true and living God and deserves their obedience. He goes on to remind them repeatedly of the works they have seen the LORD do among them. He reminds them of the miracles done when they left Egypt, and of the devastation wrought among their own people when they refused to obey. He reminds them of who God is— their savior as well as the protector and benefactor of the orphan, the widow and the foreigner. The main thrust of Deuteronomy’s message to Moses’ beloved people, though, is just exactly what is stated here. God must be obeyed in each generation and only in this way will they experience His manifold blessings.
Okay… about writing LORD in all-caps— this may seem minor, but it is actually significant. Notice in your Bible when the all-caps is used because it indicates that the word in the original language is what we call the “tetragrammaton.” We won’t take the space to explain that extensively here, but, in short, it is the personal name of God. It is YHWH and is sometimes translated “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” It does not mean “lord,” but many versions render it this way due to tradition. The name Yahweh distinguishes the God who redeemed Israel out of Egypt from those false idols—the works of men’s hands— which are set up as “little-g” gods. YHWH occurs 550 times (550!!) in the book of Deuteronomy, and should definitely be considered a key word.
Our passage starts with a call to attention. “Hear, O Israel!” is kind of like when I shout, “Listen up!” to my kiddos. It’s a distinct marker that what’s coming next is important, so pay attention. Next, Moses says, “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” Consider this from the perspective of Moses’ audience. This is a people who have been surrounded all their lives by idolatry. The Egyptians have this god, the Moabites have that god, the Ammonites yet another. It’s almost like rival football teams. Teams compete, and at the end of the season, one team has proven itself to be the best. For those worshipping idols, a war happens, a land is conquered, and the idol or god of the conquerors would be seen as best. Moses has been trying to remind the Israelites that Yahweh isn’t like any idol. Despite the fact that He cannot be seen, He is real, He is not the work of a man’s hands, and has performed many proofs of His superiority over everything and every power. So here, Moses says, essentially, “Remember that Yahweh is our God and there is none like Him.” People today tend to interpret “The LORD is one” in light of our own struggles, and say that it means that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are indeed all deity and are one. While that is true, that is not what Moses is getting at. He is reminding the people that there is indeed none like Yahweh, our God.
The next phrase— “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” —is so often quoted that it is easy to overlook, but let’s dive in. “Love,” according to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament means, “To desire, to breathe after… to love… to delight in…” (Gesenius Pg 15, Col. b). This makes me think of the old cartoons where a beautiful woman walks by and a cartoon man’s jaw drops to the ground and he begins drooling and panting as he dumbly follows her. At this point, she could get him to do anything for her. In the cartoon, he’s sinfully lusting after her (we know that), but consider this in a more godly manner. He is so smitten with the woman that he would follow her wherever she goes, do whatever she asks of him. In a very real way, this is the kind of love God is requiring of us. God wants our complete and utter devotion. He wants us to follow where He says, do what He says, and to do it from the heart, with everything we have, mind, body and soul.
Moses next says, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” The knowledge that God is unique and above everything in the entire universe must penetrate every fiber of our being, of our character. Our response to that knowledge must be complete. Sometimes we get the idea there is a sliding scale of devotion and that some people are just naturally more devoted to God while others are less-so, but it’s all good. Not so! These are commands! Loving God with less than all your heart and soul and might is not a valid choice for someone who would please God and see eternal life. Lest we try to excuse ourselves from this command by relegating it to the old covenant, let us remember that Jesus issued the same command in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27.
Beyond our own hearts, these words are to be passed on, generation to generation. Moses says, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” The responsibility of parents to train their children in the ways of the Lord is not a part-time position. It is something that is meant to be done diligently. The word translated “teach them diligently” is found only here. It is a word related to sharpening something (sword, arrow, etc.). When you sharpen a knife with a wet stone, you scrape the edge on a wet, fine-grained stone over and over and over. As you do so, the grit of the stone files away any roughness, leaving a sharp edge. It’s a time-consuming, painstaking process, but even today chefs will tell you it is the best way. Likewise, the training of children, teaching them the statutes of the Lord, is a time-consuming, painstaking process. It must be done gently, over and over and over. The commands of the Lord, His greatness, and His uniqueness, should be the topic of daily conversation all day long. And Moses goes on to give practical ways to make this happen.
Moses says, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The Jews were to do this literally, and you are welcome to do so also (it isn’t a bad idea, really). The commands of their God—of our God— were to be part of their clothing and adornment, they were to be decorations on their houses and on their gates. Everywhere they looked, they would see the commands of the Lord. Moses spent much of his speech reminding the Israelites of Who God is and what He had done for them. If they followed this advice to post reminders of their own everywhere, it would most certainly help them to write God’s commands on their hearts.
So how do we do accomplish the same thing? The options are endless! You can literally make God’s word part of your adornment with jewelry available from a myriad of sources. I had a bracelet made by a vendor on Etsy who engraved my favorite scripture on a metal cuff. A dear friend and sister in Christ has an Etsy store and made me a necklace with my favorite scripture reference on it. You can decorate your house with illustrations from scripture. You can even do the illustrations yourself (if you illustrate this passage, remember to share it with #cfycIlluminations so we can see your creations!). You can follow various scripture-sharing people on social media (@comefillyourcup, @focusongod2016 and @katharosnow just to name a few). Make all of these part of your routine, and writing God’s word on your heart will become second nature. With God’s word on your heart, loving Him with all your heart and soul and might becomes your priority. God knew this, gave the words to Moses to command the people, and it is recorded for our learning. God is truly unique and deserves our full and complete devotion. Use what tools you have to make that a reality!