Hear and Obey!

1 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-9 ESV

God had given the people of Israel His commands, and every single one of those divine regulations were to be treated with reverence and fear. They were not up for debate and were to be protected from any form of tampering or alteration. And God had given ample incentive for the people to keep His commands. If the Israelites would obediently and faithfully follow them, they would enjoy the blessings of God. If they chose to disobey them, they would experience very real and painful curses. The very kinds of curses God brought on the Egyptians would fall upon the people of God.

But God’s commands, while holy, righteous, and just, were nothing more than a set of rules if the people of God refused to hear and obey them. The long list of God-ordained imperatives that Moses had shared with the people was passive and, for the most part, powerless. God’s commands could not change anyone. They were intended to regulate human actions and attitudes but were powerless to change the human heart, from which all human behavior flows. The book of Proverbs has much to say about the heart.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Listen, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart on the right course. – Proverbs 23:19 BSB

Laws, even those given by God, exist outside the human heart, and while they can influence and motivate a man’s actions, they cannot alter the true condition of his heart. Jesus Himself painted a bleak image of the condition of the fallen human heart.

“But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-10 NLT

Notice that each item on the list Jesus provides lines up with one of the commands of God. While God had clearly placed prohibitions on murder, adultery, immorality, theft, and lying, it had not resulted in their eradication. Man’s sin problem is an internal one, and cannot be controlled by externally based rules. No amount of regulations and restrictions on human behavior will ever remedy the problem of sin.

God would later say of His own people:

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

They knew the rules. They could even quote them from memory. But they had a heart problem. And, hundreds of years later, Jesus would use this very passage to level a charge of hypocrisy against the religious leaders of His day. He accused them of corrupting the clear commands of God by watering them down with their own set of man-made regulations.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

So, as Moses continued his preparation of the people of Israel to enter the land of promise, he reiterated the necessity for them to treat God’s commands with reverence. And he seemed to understand that, while he could not change their hearts, he could give them ample motivation to obey God’s laws.

These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. – Deuteronomy 6:1-2 NLT

If they wanted to enjoy long and prosperous lives, they were going to have to obey God’s commands. Moses was making an appeal to their hearts. He was attempting to speak to them as parents and to get them to understand that their decisions, whether to obey God were going to have long-lasting implications.

Two different times in these verses, Moses states, “Hear therefore, O Israel.” The Hebrew word he used is shama` and it carries the idea of hearing or listening, but with the intent to obey. Verse four begins with the same phrase, “Hear, O Israel” and then continues with the words, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Verses 4-9 came to be known as the Shema prayer and was prayed daily by the Hebrew people. In fact, on one occasion, Jesus was approached by a scribe who asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). And Jesus responded by quoting the Shema prayer.

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 soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:29 ESV).

Hearing and obeying are inseparable partners when it comes to God’s laws. It is not enough to hear what God commands. He demands obedience. And notice that God expects that obedience to flow from the heart. It is to be an obedience based on love and obeisance. There is to be an obedience that flows from a reverent awe of God and a passionate desire to please Him for all He has done.

And Moses made it clear that the law of God was not to be seen as some external list of rules regulating behavior, but he told the Israelites “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6 ESV). 

They were to become a permanent part of their daily lives. The Israelites were to teach them to their children. They were to surround themselves with God’s commands, allowing His holy code of conduct to permeate every area of their lives. While men tend to view all laws as restrictive in nature, the Ten Commandments were to be seen as coming from a loving God who knew what was best for His children. He wasn’t trying to be a cosmic kill-joy, arbitrarily limiting the behavior of His people. He was providing them with a divine list of carefully crafted rules that were meant to improve their lives, not inhibit their joy.

Moses wanted the people to hear what God was saying. But more importantly, he wanted them to apply the words of God to their hearts so that their behavior would flow from the inside-out. When Moses said, “Hear, O Israel” he was calling them to carefully discern the intent behind God’s laws and to see them as expressions of His love for them. If the people of Israel could grasp just how much God loved them, they would be more prone to return that love with all their heart, soul, and might.

But if all they heard was a list of restrictive rules, they would tend to respond in disobedience or, at best, a heartless obedience lacking in love and marred by hypocrisy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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A Lack of Light.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6:7-11 ESV

At the heart of Israel’s sin was their failure to keep their covenant with God. When He had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God had given them His law and made a bilateral covenant with them at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That remarkable event was accompanied by thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. After seeing this dramatic display of God’s power and hearing the holy requirements of God, the people were petrified. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:18-20 ESV).

God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. They were to be His representatives on earth, living according to His holy law and revealing to the world the blessings that come with obedience to His will. But God had warned them that there were going to be consequences to their disobedience. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). Over the years, the nation of Israel proved remarkably unfaithful, even before the kingdom was split in two. And after God had divided the kingdom, the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, took their unfaithfulness to a whole new level. And as a result, God was forced to keep His word. He was going to bring about their destruction.

Forsaking God always has dire ramifications. You cannot ignore God and hope that all will go well for you. Failure to honor and worship Him as God always leads to devastating consequences. In the case of Israel, their sinfulness spread like a plague among the people. Murder and robbery became common place, even in those cities that had once been known as sacred sites. The priests and religious leaders, rather than being icons of spiritual virtue, were fully complicit in the immoral and unethical acts of the nation. They were guilty of leading the nation astray, not only by advocating the worship of idols, but in committing acts in direct defiance of God’s commandments. God had made His will crystal clear. His commands were non-negotiable and free from interpretation.

You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … Honor your father and motherYou must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:3-17 NLT

And Israel had violated them all. Just as Adam, the first man, had broken God’s covenant in the garden, disobeying His command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites had willingly and persistently broken God’s covenant with them. They had failed to take God seriously. They had doubted His word and ignored His warning about curses and promise of blessings. It is interesting to note that their failure to love God as expressed in their disobedience of His law, manifested itself in a lack of love for one another. Murder and robbery are relational crimes committed by one individual against another. Just as murder followed the initial sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites’ forsaking of God was followed by a hatred for one another. The great Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, was a required daily prayer for all Israelites, learned at an early age. It reads:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

The law of God and a love for God were to be inseparable. God’s commands contained both vertical (God-focused) and horizontal (man-focused) elements. If someone obeyed God’s law out of love for Him, they would automatically express love for those around them. Obedience to God would manifest itself in mutual respect and love for others. But notice that the Shema contains the admonition to teach God’s commands to the next generation. They were to be a constant part of everyday life, dictating and determining behavior and influencing every aspect of life. But failure to keep God’s laws always follows failure to keep God as the center of your life. Disobedience is a byproduct of disbelief and distrust. Adam and Eve sinned because they listened to Satan and doubted God’s word. The people of Israel had sinned because they had forsaken God. Just as darkness is an absence of light, so sin is an absence of God. Walking away from God is like walking away from a light. You will eventually find yourself stumbling around in the dark, incapable of knowing where you are going and what you are doing.

The apostle John wrote, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). Israel had walked out of the light and into darkness. Their behavior was a result of their failure to honor and esteem God. And we can experience the same tragic outcome if we fail to keep God as the central focus in our lives, honoring Him for who He is and lovingly obeying His will because we know He loves us.

Deuteronomy 5-6, John 12

Called Out. Sold Out.

Deuteronomy 5-6, John 12

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. ­– Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV

God had chosen the people of Israel for a reason. He wanted them to be a living, breathing example of what a relationship between God and man might look like. He wanted to reveal His power through them. He wanted to providentially provide for them. He wanted to guide and direct them, as well as protect them. Their relationship and interaction with God was to be a special and unique, unlike that of any other nation. But that relationship required allegiance and obedience. God had proven His love for them through His decision of choosing them, redeeming them from slavery in Egypt, and giving them His irrevocable pledge of a land of their own. But God expected theirs to be a reciprocal relationship. He wasn’t just looking for half-hearted adherents to His laws who obeyed solely out of fear. He desired a people who would love Him for who He was and for all He had done for them.

Verses 4-5 of Deuteronomy 6 contain the great “Shema” – what would become, in essence, the statement of faith for the Hebrew people.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to commitment, a corporate live in a covenant relationship with God, recognizing Him as their God and loving Him accordingly. The proof of their love for God was to expressed in their faithful devotion to Him alone. It was to be holistic in nature, influencing every area of their life and every aspect of their nature. They were to be wholly holy, completely set apart to God and fully in love with Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God desires a relationship with mankind. He could have demanded unwavering allegiance from those whom He has made, and hold them accountable for their failure to obey. But knowing that they were completely incapable of living in obedience to His law and unable to meet His righteous standards, He chose to show mercy and grace. He lovingly and graciously provided the means by which they could enjoy His presence and receive His forgiveness and pardon, in spite of their repeated failures to remain faithful and sinless. But God expected those whom He had chosen and showered with His mercy and grace to respond in love. He wanted them to recognize His goodness and appreciate just how blessed they were to have this one-of-a-kind relationship with Him. He wanted them to tell their children. God expected His people to be so overwhelmed by His grace that they would willingly and gladly tell the next generation.

In those days, the key to living in a loving relationship with God was based on an understanding of and obedience to the law of God. That’s why Moses tells the people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV). But it wasn’t just the law of God that was to be passed down. They were to constantly remind one another of God’s goodness and grace. They were to remember His great deeds done on their behalf. They were to recall His covenant faithfulness and recount it to those who were too young to have experienced it. One of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our willingness and eagerness to talk about Him to others. We talk about those whom we love. We brag about those who are near and dear to us, including our family members or friends. But do we brag about God?

What does this passage reveal about man?

Over in the gospel of John, we read that not long after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, people began to believe in Him. It’s amazing how a little thing like raising the dead made a profound impact on them. Even some of the rulers of the Jews had become convinced that Jesus was truly who He claimed to be. But John tells us, “but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43 NET). Isn’t that the problem we all face? They cared more about what others thought about them than they did about all that God was doing among them. They worshiped man more than they did God.

Jesus Himself said, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me” (John 12:45-45 NET). Ultimately, belief in Jesus was really an expression of belief in God, because He had been sent by God. He was the Son of God. Upon His arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus had been greeted by enthusiastic crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13 NET). They appeared to be expressing love for Jesus that was from their whole mind, their whole being and all their strength. It looked as if they were giving it their all. But in just a short time, their shouts of joy would turn to screams of rage. Instead of “Hosanna!,” they would be shouting, “Crucify Him!” Their love for Jesus would prove to be short-lived and short-sighted. Instead of recognizing Him as their Savior, they ended up rejecting Him. His talk of death and sacrifice were unappealing to them. They weren’t looking for a suffering Savior, but a conquering Messiah and King.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus told the people in the crowd, “If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26 NET). Jesus was calling for a commitment. He was asking for a wholesale expression of allegiance on the part of His followers, involving their whole mind, their whole being, and all their strength. Jesus was calling them to a long-term relationship that was going to last long after this world has ceased to exist. God expects those for whom He sent His Son to express their love and appreciation for His great gift of mercy and grace. We show our love through our belief, but also through our behavior. We express our love for God by talking about Him incessantly and eagerly. We tell of His goodness. We brag about His power. We express thanks for His blessings and remind one another of His promises yet to come. Those of us who have been called out are expected to live sold-out lives, fully committed to Him and expressing our love for Him as we live in obedience to Him.

Father, thank You for choosing me. I was totally unworthy, but You sent Your Son to die in my place in order to pay for the sins I had committed. Help me comprehend the magnitude of that reality and live accordingly. May my life increasingly reflect my love for You as I talk about You, brag on You and live in obedience to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org