A call to education

“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” (Deut 6:4-5 ESV).

If you are a practicing Jew, then you are probably quite familiar with these words. As a matter of fact, there is a good chance you said them last night before you went to bed.

The Shema, as this portion of scripture is called, is a passage of great significance in the Jewish bible. Consequently, it is of great significance to the Christian Bible as well. Jesus himself quotes this as the greatest commandment, adding to it that we must love our neighbors as ourselves. Truly, according to Christ, all the law and the prophets hang on these words.

Centuries of rich theological discussion are bound up in these words, but my purpose in raising them was not to participate in that discussion. Instead, I want to focus on the words immediately following this, the greatest of commandments.

The full passage says this:

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 (Deut 6:4-9 ESV).

This small passage of scripture really consists of three parts. The first one to strike us is most likely the doctrinal statement, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Here is a rich statement of theology. It is a propositional truth about the essence and nature of God. Immediately following it is a statement of application. Because God is one, we should love him with every part of our being. No aspect, no corner, of our lives should escape this application statement.

Yet, there is a third part to this passage that, in the broader context of Deuteronomy, is as important as the statement itself. Both at the beginning and the end of the passage sit instructive elements.The very first words are a call to listen and the last words are a beautiful statement about the manner in which to think on these things and the responsibility to educate future generations in their truth. Why is that important?

In short, education matters.

The Shema is one statement among dozens in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) that point to the significance of educating ourselves and others in the words of God. In Exodus, God does the most ridiculous displays of might that mankind has ever seen. He took the greatest nation on the planet and made them (and their gods) look weak and powerless next to his great strength.The book consistently talks of the great deeds of God, his signs and wonders, as though they are signposts that point to his glory.Throughout the whole book, we continually here the refrain, “so that you will know I am the LORD.” It is in this book that God gives the law to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Great care is taken to teach the words of God to the people.They are written on tablets. God himself speaks out of a blazing cloud of fire to the people gathered around the base of the mountain. The people are taught with thundering words from the very mouth of God.

Their education in the word of God was that important.

Leviticus is a full unfolding of the law, as people are instructed how they are to live with the holy, omnipotent God in their midst. The constant refrain in Leviticus is a call to, “be holy for I am holy.” The people live in constant education of the words of God. They are steeped in his word through ritual and symbol. Every time they go through ritual cleansings, every time they sit down to eat a meal, every time they go out to the fields and observe the laws governing their work, they are reminded of their nature as the people of God. They are set apart and the God of all heaven and earth lives in their midst. They were forced to live every moment of their lives in constant, symbolic education of the words of God.

Their education in the word of God was that important.

Deuteronomy is the great sermon before Israel finally enters that land promised so long ago, Moses’ last words to his people. Moses recounts the law of God, he delivers the second law (the literal meaning of “Deuteronomy”) to his people. He pleads with them to remember the words of God and obey them, so that they will be blessed in the land they have been promised. Such is the constant refrain of Deuteronomy. He delivers the beautiful words of the Shema, and reveals the great importance of hearing God’s words and teaching them to their children. It is an issue of first importance to the people. Truly, their ability to stay in the Promised Land depended on this education.

Their education in the word of God was that important.

Much has happened since Moses penned the first five books of the Bible. The revelation of God proceeds through 61 more books and the whole story of the Bible plays out, but certain truths remain timeless. This emphasis on education, this command to ” teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, [to] 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” runs through the entire Bible like a brightly colored thread. Education in the word of God is essential so that we will know that he is the Lord, so that we will be holy, because he is holy, and so that we will live in joy as the people of God.  The people of God must know the words of God.

Our education in the word of God is that important.

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