Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 1-9, Ps 24-25
The book of Deuteronomy is constructed as Moses’ farewell address to the people. Eugene Peterson refers to it as “the longest sermon in the Bible and perhaps the longest sermon ever.”
This message is Moses’ last hurrah. When it is finished, his days as leader will have come to an end and Joshua will step up to take the reins of leadership. Moses’ task is to remind the people of all that they have been commanded, call them to remembrance of all that God has done for them, and exhort them once again to obedience as they prepare to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land.
Central to today’s portion of this message is the introduction of the Shema, the prayer which continues to be a centerpiece of Jewish faith and practice today. In its full version, the Shema includes Deuteronomy 6:4-9 from today’s reading, in addition to Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41.
The Shema reminds the people of Israel that there is one God, YHWH (sometimes pronounced “yah-weh” and often translated into English as LORD in all caps). Furthermore, they are to love this God with their whole being. The idea of monotheism (belief in a single God) and the concept of a God who welcomes love as a human response were both radical notions at the time. Later, Jesus binds himself and his ministry back to the Shema. When asked one day to state the greatest commandment, he recites Deuteronomy 6:5 in giving his answer.
As people of Christian faith, we have inherited a great blessing from our Jewish ancestors in these timeless words: “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”