Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 2 (most recently: Oct 11, 2015).

For those working the 10 Commandments, here is my linguistic commentary based on Exodus 20.  What is an interesting insight is that the 10 commandments change, at least slightly, between when the people enter and exit the wilderness...but that is not what I want to focus on today.

Let's look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Summary:  There are a million and one good sermons in this passage.  I will focus on the importance of life-long, week-long and  home-based faith formation.  But for those wanting a different direction, read on.  There is plenty!

6:4 "Hear O Israel..."
שמע ("Shema" meaning "hear", 6:4)  This passage is often referred to as the "Shema" and forms the centerpiece of Jewish worship and theology.  Jesus would have 100% been aware of this passage, having prayed it and proclaimed it his whole life.

אחד ("ekhad" meaning "one" or "alone", 6:4).  The basic idea, between Deuteronomy 5 and 6 is ethical monotheism. There is one God who gives us rules to live by.

Hebrew textual lore:  The Hebrew Bible contains only handful of "large" letters.  Two are in this verse alone (שמע and אחד )!  If you are interested in this topic, it is a never-ending pool of lore.  Here is a good article that talks about how they are used in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

6:5 "Love the Lord with all..."
Where to begin:  heart, soul and might captures, in summary, what the Hebrew wants to say:  "EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU."  Fortunately for you, each word is impossible to translate in one word so you can have a great three point sermon ready to roll.

לבב ("lebab" meaning "heart", 6:5)  The word heart in Hebrew does not mean center of feelings but center of will.  As BDB lexicon says "the inner man, the soul, comprehending mind, affections and will."  In short, the part of us that makes decisions.  However, this should not be translated "brain" in the sense of a cool calculating machine.  This word also appears in the context of the emotional center of decision:
Psalm 31:24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.
Ezekiel 3:10 He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears;
In short, it not simply emotions as we would have them (ie, where emotion and reason have been split since the enlightenment).  The heart is the place emotions, home of the deep longings that guide our actions.

נפש ("nephish" meaning "soul", 6:5)  The word in Hebrew means the "that which breathes."  In short, this is not the ghost inside of us (thanks Greek philosophy).  This is the very essence -- the very breath -- the very spirit of us!  In Hebrew there is no separation of soul and body.

מאד ("moad" meaning "force" or "much, exceedingly."  This word is typically a describing word, as in "very" (God saw that it was "very good," for example.)  In this sense one could translate it in 6:5 as "in all one's abundance."  This is a more natural translation than with one's might.  This could be a fascinating sermon -- how to love God in our abundance when we don't think we have any!

Note:  If you do preach this, make the Gospel move and proclaim how Jesus loved God for us with everything he had.

(Further evidence of the impossibility of translating this verse word for word?  Jesus changes the LXX translation and in Mark and Luke's version, adds a word!)
6:7  "Recite them to your children"
Interesting point.  Read the instructions of 6:7
"Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up/stand."
Compare to Psalm 1:1
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
The Hebrew words line up for both walk and sit (hlk and yshv)

The connection is clear:  Meditation on the law is a command that bears fruit for the individual and as Psalm 1 reveals, the whole community. Thanks to Dr. Diane Jacobson for that insight.

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