Last week, we read how Moses began to review the Law of God with the people of Israel before they entered into the Land of Promise. He began with the Ten Commandments. Tonight, we continue our study with chapter six.
Moses points out in verse one that God had commanded him to teach these things. Just as Paul would later describe it, Moses was "under compulsion" (1Cor. 9:16).
It had not been easy for Moses - or Paul - to teach God's Word. There was always opposition. The disciples, too, encountered this. When Peter and John were arrested for preaching, the high priest, rulers, and elders...
Acts 4:18-20 ...commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."
There are a lot of forces at work against us all the time, trying to keep us from teaching the Word of God, attempting to prevent us from speaking in the name of Jesus. But we must obey the command of the Lord above all other threats, and in spite of all fears.
This verse is known as the Sh'ma. "Shaw-MAW" means "hear" in Hebrew. The whole sentence reads, "Shaw-MAH Yis-raw-ALE! YAH-weh El-o-HEEM, YAH-weh Ekh-AWD!"
To translate, "YAH-weh" is the proper name of God. "Hear, oh Israel! Yahweh is Elohim, Yahweh is one!"
As Christians, we have been taught about the Trinity - that God is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But many Jews accuse Christians of being polytheists, claiming that we believe in three Gods, when this verse asserts that there is one. And yet, they neglect their own Hebrew language when claiming our "mistake." You see, the singular word for "god" in Hebrew is "El." When two gods are being referred to, the word used is the dual form, "Ella." When speaking of three or more, the word is "El-o-HEEM."
The Hebrew clearly states that God is one, yet several. How does that work? No one can explain it adequately, because any physical description we use - or concept that our minds can grasp - diminishes the truth of God. God is not like an egg or an ice cube!
All we can truly say is this:
- The Bible clearly shows that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God.
- The Bible clearly shows that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not the same Person.
- The Bible says that God is one God.
Now, if you are able to put all of those facts together into an understandable equation, you haven't thought about it hard enough!
One day, a lawyer approached Jesus and asked Him,
Matt. 22:36-38 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment."
This one verse is the greatest commandment in all of the Bible.
It is sad to see so many believers camp on other issues as being the most important. Baptism, legalism, Calvinism, Arminianism; justification, sancfication, regeneration; etc. The greatest commandment is that we love God with everything we are. If we don't love God, all of the other issues are a moot point.
1Cor. 13:1-3 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
I have met many hateful people who claimed that certain doctrines were all important. But these people are nothing, and I refuse to argue with them. I simply remind myself that the Bible says,
1Cor. 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed...
To this day, many Jews will bind leather pouches containing verses of the Bible upon their arm and head.
They are called phylacteries after the Greek word for "amulet," "foo-lak-TAY-ree-on." Some Jews dislike the word, preferring to call them "tefillin," based on the Hebrew word for "prayers," which is "Tef-il-LEEM."
This was originally a great way to obey literally the command to bind them as a sign on their hand and be as frontals on their foreheads. But soon, the phylacteries became the focus, rather than the Word contained within them. By the time Jesus began His ministry, it had become all about pride.
Matt. 23:1-7 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
The religious people of the day demonstrated their hyper-devotion not by obeying the commands, but by broadening their phylacteries - making the boxes super-big so as to be admired.
There is another interesting aspect to God's command to bind these words upon the hand and the forehead. This sign of devotion will be imitated by the devil in the future.
We read in the book of Revelation that the beast will demand to be worshiped. Whoever does not will be killed. Whoever does, will...
Rev. 13:16 ...be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead
This mark is the name of the beast or the number of his name (Rev. 13:17).
One fascinating Bible study to undertake is to examine everything that the devil does, and see how often it is simply a pale imitation of God's ways. The devil, in seeking to be like God, has foregone creative inspiration and sought after shallow imitation.
Notice too that the command consists of writing the Word on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates. This command has given birth to the tradition of the "mezuzah."
If you have ever walked into a Jewish person's home, you may have noticed a small box made of metal, glass, ceramics, or wood mounted in the doorway. This is a mezuzah, named for the Hebrew word for doorpost: "mez-oo-ZAW."
Inside the box is a small piece of paper on which is written this passage (Deut. 6:4-9) as well as chapter 11, verses 13-21.
God was giving them what they did not earn or deserve. Can you imagine being given a house for free? Full of furniture and things you did not buy?
I read in the news this week that Regis Philbin's daytime show had a contest which gave the winner a brand new 3,000 square foot, 1/4 million dollar house, full of appliances and furniture. That's something that only one in a billion people could ever dream of winning. And yet, God was doing that for all of the Israelites. They were moving into a land where the inhabitants were judged by God, driven out and destroyed.
Now, God has not promised Christians material blessings, but spiritual ones which are far superior. He has not promised us undeserved land, cisterns, and houses, but undeserved salvation!
Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God's grace is the free gift He's given to us. It will outlast every house in the land of Canaan. It will even outlive Regis Philbin!
In English, the word "swear" has come to mean, "utter a profane word." But when someone swears by the name of God, they are taking an oath - making a promise with God as the witness to that promise. The most common example of that would be a witness in a courtroom swearing "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God."
When someone swears by the name of God, they are testifying that God is, that He sees and knows all, and that they are accountable to Him. This is supposed to be the highest form of accountability that exists. Interestingly, the Bible says that...
Heb. 6:13 ...when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself
It is the highest statement of truth you can make. And yet, there are people who do this without truth or righteousness (Isa. 48:1), people with no fear of God who swear by His name. This is warned against:
Lev. 19:12 "You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD."
Swearing falsely by God's name profanes His name, and will be judged (Zech. 5:4). Because of the possibility of incurring judgment, James recommended a safer approach:
James 5:12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
In other words, "If you take an oath in the name of God and are proven false, you will be judged. So it's safer just to say yes or no."
Some religious people started to make oaths on things less dangerous: "I swear on my mother's grave," "I swear by the hair on my head," etc. But Jesus forbade all of that completely:
Matt. 5:33-37 "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil."
The Pharisees Jesus was rebuking had failed to realize that when you swear by anything, it all comes back to God anyway!
You certainly remember the incident in which Moses struck the rock to bring forth water for the people to drink. What you may not remember is that the place was called "Mas-SAW" ("testing") because,
Ex. 17:7 ...they tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us, or not?"
To test the Lord is to put action to your doubts. In the same way that faith can be acted upon, doubt can also be acted upon. "Is the Lord with me or not? I'll test Him to see if He is."
This behavior is evil, and the devil attempted to get Jesus to do it:
Matt. 4:5-7 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and *said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"
Jesus refused to test the Lord, knowing it was evil.
There is, however, one place in the Scripture in which God challenges His people to test Him:
Mal. 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows."
Many people are afraid to give to God, because they doubt they can survive financially if they do. God says, "Go ahead and test Me in this one. Watch what I'll do as a result."
One of the most inspirational statements in these verses for me has been:
Deut. 6:23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in...
The Jews had to leave the safety of slavery in Egypt in order to be brought into the Promised Land. This is a reminder that God often takes something out of our lives before it is replaced by something better. Job had to lose everything before gaining back twice as much. Joseph had to lose his position as family business manager in order to be elevated to manager of all Egypt. Even Jesus had to leave His place of equality with God in order to be exalted to inherit everything.
The lesson for us tonight is this: God will often let things be taken away from us in order to prepare us to receive something else. We will often experience terrible loss before experiencing great gain. There will often be grief before glory.
If you are in a difficult time of loss, believe that God is preparing you for something new and better:
Rom. 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.