The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from book five of the Torah, Deuteronomy, or as the Hebrews named it, “These are the Words”. The text is Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and it contains some very familiar/famous words and phrases that we will explore in our study.
Luther does the best job in dividing up the Book of Deuteronomy and understanding the place and purpose of this writing in Scripture. The first five chapters provide a basic introduction to the context and setting, but, as Luther notes, chapter 6 is the beginning of the first major division that provides an exposition of the first table of the Law, the first three commandments, and continues almost to chapter 20. From that point to the end of the book, Deuteronomy is an explanation of the second table of the Law. Thus, the Gospel reading from Mark 12:28-37 as Jesus speaks to this division, especially vss. 29-31: “Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” It seems obvious Jesus is making direct reference to, if not directly quoting from our text in Deuteronomy 6.
It is also important to realize that this address by Moses to the people of Israel takes place as they prepare to cross over the Jordan and possess the land of Canaan as the LORD God has promised they would. These words serve as a reminder of who they are and whose they are and what that should actually look like. In New Testament language we might talk in terms of “Baptismal identity” while here on the banks of the Jordan, Moses reminds them of their “Covenantal identity.”
Finally, in verse 4, we have the well-known and very important confession of the Hebrew people. In fact, even today these words are recited by the Jewish people more frequently than we recite the Apostles Creed. If the shortest, most concise confession of faith in the New Testament is, “Jesus is LORD,” then the equal to this in the Old Testament is, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.” This is called the “SHEMA” which is the first word of the confession in Hebrew—Hear!
6:1 הַמִּצְוָה; “the commandment” It is important to note the noun is singular here. Most likely this reminds us there is really only ONE commandment and all others are sub commandments to it. Luther sums up this reality well in the Small Catechism.
הַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים “the statutes and the rules” Moses returns to the plural forms.
צִוָּה i Piel: “to command”
לְלַמֵּד. root: למד Piel, infinitive: “to teach; instruct”
לַעֲשׂוֹת; root: עשׂה Qal, infinitive: “to do; for doing”
עֹבְרִיםo Qal, participle “to cross over” Remember, the Israelites are on the banks of the Jordan River preparing to cross over.
6:2 לִשְׁמֹר root: שׁמר Qal, infinitive “to keep; for keeping; by keeping”
יַאֲרִכֻן: root: ארך Hiphil “to be long; cause to be long; to continue long”
6:3 וְשָׁמַעְתָּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ “hear, O Israel, and keep” These two verbs, hear and keep, are regular companions in the Old Testament. The understanding is if you hear, then you will keep—this is assumed. If you do not “keep” it is assumed that you did not truly “hear.”
זָבַת root: זוב Qal: “to flow; drip”
חָלָב, וּדְבָשׁ “milk and honey” Notice the language being used. It reminds the Israelites (and us) of the covenant that the LORD cut with His chosen people.
6:4 As you look at the Hebrew in your Biblia Hebraica you will see the letter ע and the letter ד enlarged in the text. This is the way in which attention is drawn to this very important confession of faith: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.” Luther notes how the LORD expresses the first commandment in a positive way; the declaration of a reality. The LORD is your God and He is one.
6:7 וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם root: שׁנן Piel “to teach; repeat; teach diligently”
בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ root: שׁוב… when you sit*
וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ root: הלך… when you walk*
וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ root: שׁכב…when you lie down*
וּבְקוּמֶךָ root: קומ…and when you rise*
* All infinitives.
6:8 וּקְשַׁרְתָּם root: קשׁר Qal “to bind; to tie down; confine”
לְטֹטָפֹת. “bands; phylacteries”
6:9 מְזֻזוֹת. “door-posts; gate-posts”
Luther writes in his Deuteronomy volume (p.69): “See the order of treating the Word of God: first, it is to be pondered in the heart; secondly, impressed faithfully and constantly on the sons by word of mouth; thirdly, discussed openly and everywhere; fourthly; written on the hand and drawn before the eyes; fifth and last, inscribed, and that on posts and doorways, not in books, since Moses himself has already written them in a book.”
As you prepare to preach this text, remember that these words are being addressed to the believing, covenantal community. This is not “how” you enter the covenant, but rather is for those who have been brought into the covenant by the LORD. Indeed, it is a declaration of a reality. The LORD your God is one—He is your LORD—therefore, you may/can/shall live as His child and this is what that looks like! This is how one lives in this relationship as God’s chosen possession. This shows your given identity.