Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
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(4, 5) Hear, O Israel . . .—These two verses are styled by our Lord “the first and great commandment” in the Law. The first words of the Talmud concern the hours when this form should be recited in daily morning or evening prayer—“Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” The unity of Jehovah, as opposed to the belief in “gods many and lords many,” is the key-note of the Jewish faith. “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” But this truth, though visible in the Old Testament by the light of the New, was not explicitly revealed until it came forth in history, when the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, and both sent the Holy Spirit to represent Him in the Church.

Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel! — The passage contained in this and the following verse, the Jews reckoned one of their choicest portions of Scripture. They wrote it on their phylacteries, (or slips of parchment bound on their foreheads, their necks, their breasts, or wrists,) and thought themselves not only obliged to repeat it twice every day, but very happy in being so obliged; having this saying among them, “Blessed are we who, every morning and evening, say, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord!” Jehovah our God is one Jehovah; 1st, The God whom we worship is Jehovah; a Being infinitely and eternally perfect, self-existent, and self- sufficient. 2d, He is the only living and true God, he only is God, and he is but one. The firm belief of this self-evident truth would effectually arm them against all idolatry, which was introduced by that fundamental error, that there are gods many. It is past dispute that there is one God, and that there is no other but he, Mark 12:32. Let us, therefore, neither have, nor desire to have any other.

6:4,5 Here is a brief summary of religion, containing the first principles of faith and obedience. Jehovah our God is the only living and true God; he only is God, and he is but One God. Let us not desire to have any other. The three-fold mention of the Divine names, and the plural number of the word translated God, seem plainly to intimate a Trinity of persons, even in this express declaration of the unity of the Godhead. Happy those who have this one Lord for their God. It is better to have one fountain than a thousand cisterns; one all-sufficient God than a thousand insufficient friends. This is the first and great commandment of God's law, that we love him; and that we do all parts of our duty to him from a principle of love; My son, give me thine heart. We are to love God with all our heart, and soul, and might. That is, 1. With a sincere love; not in word and tongue only, but inwardly in truth. 2. With a strong love. He that is our All, must have our all, and none but he. 3. With a superlative love; we must love God above any creature whatever, and love nothing but what we love for him. 4. With an intelligent love. To love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, we must see good cause to love him. 5. With an entire love; he is ONE, our hearts must be united in his love. Oh that this love of God may be shed abroad in our hearts!These words form the beginning of what is termed the "Shema" ("Hear") in the Jewish Services, and belong to the daily morning and evening office. They may be called "the creed of the Jews."

This weighty text contains far more than a mere declaration of the unity of God as against polytheism; or of the sole authority of the revelation that He had made to Israel as against other pretended manifestations of His will and attributes. It asserts that the Lord God of Israel is absolutely God, and none other. He, and He alone, is Jehovah (Yahweh) the absolute, uncaused God; the One who had, by His election of them, made Himself known to Israel.


De 6:1-25. Moses Exhorts Israel to Hear God and to Keep His Commandments.

1-9. Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them … whither ye go to possess it—The grand design of all the institutions prescribed to Israel was to form a religious people, whose national character should be distinguished by that fear of the Lord their God which would ensure their divine observance of His worship and their steadfast obedience to His will. The basis of their religion was an acknowledgment of the unity of God with the understanding and the love of God in the heart (De 6:4, 5). Compared with the religious creed of all their contemporaries, how sound in principle, how elevated in character, how unlimited in the extent of its moral influence on the heart and habits of the people! Indeed, it is precisely the same basis on which rests the purer and more spiritual form of it which Christianity exhibits (Mt 22:37; Mr 12:30; Lu 10:27). Moreover, to help in keeping a sense of religion in their minds, it was commanded that its great principles should be carried about with them wherever they went, as well as meet their eyes every time they entered their homes. A further provision was made for the earnest inculcation of them on the minds of the young by a system of parental training, which was designed to associate religion with all the most familiar and oft-recurring scenes of domestic life. It is probable that Moses used the phraseology in De 6:7 merely in a figurative way, to signify assiduous, earnest, and frequent instruction; and perhaps he meant the metaphorical language in De 6:8 to be taken in the same sense also. But as the Israelites interpreted it literally, many writers suppose that a reference was made to a superstitious custom borrowed from the Egyptians, who wore jewels and ornamental trinkets on the forehead and arm, inscribed with certain words and sentences, as amulets to protect them from danger. These, it has been conjectured, Moses intended to supersede by substituting sentences of the law; and so the Hebrews understood him, for they have always considered the wearing of the Tephilim, or frontlets, a permanent obligation. The form was as follows: Four pieces of parchment, inscribed, the first with Ex 13:2-10; the second with Ex 13:11-16; the third with De 6:1-8; and the fourth with De 11:18-21, were enclosed in a square case or box of tough skin, on the side of which was placed the Hebrew letter (shin), and bound round the forehead with a thong or ribbon. When designed for the arms, those four texts were written on one slip of parchment, which, as well as the ink, was carefully prepared for the purpose. With regard to the other usage supposed to be alluded to, the ancient Egyptians had the lintels and imposts of their doors and gates inscribed with sentences indicative of a favorable omen [Wilkinson]; and this is still the case, for in Egypt and other Mohammedan countries, the front doors of houses (in Cairo, for instance) are painted red, white, and green, bearing conspicuously inscribed upon them such sentences from the Koran, as "God is the Creator," "God is one, and Mohammed is his prophet." Moses designed to turn this ancient and favorite custom to a better account and ordered that, instead of the former superstitious inscriptions, there should be written the words of God, persuading and enjoining the people to hold the laws in perpetual remembrance.

One in essence, and the only object of our worship.

Hear, O Israel,.... These are the words of Moses, stirring up the people to an attention to what he was about to say of this great and momentous article, the unity of God, to prevent their going into polytheism and idolatry. From one of the words here used, the Jews call this section Kiriathshema, which they oblige themselves to read twice a day, morning and evening (n); the last letter of the first word in this verse, "Shema", meaning "hear", and the last letter of the last word in it, "Echad", meaning "one", are greater than ordinary; which seems designed to excite the attention to what is contained in this passage:

the Lord our God is one Lord; the doctrine of which is, that the Lord, who was the covenant God and Father of his people Israel, is but one Jehovah; he is Jehovah, the Being of beings, a self-existent Being, eternal and immutable; and he is but one in nature and essence; this appears from the perfection of his nature, his eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence, infinity, goodness, self-sufficiency, and perfection; for there can be but one eternal, one omnipotent, one omnipresent, one infinite, one that is originally and of himself good; one self, and all sufficient, and perfect Being; and which also may be concluded from his being the first cause of all things, which can be but one; and from his relations to his creatures, as their King, ruler, governor, and lawgiver. And for this purpose these words are cited in Mark 12:29 but then they no ways contradict the doctrine of a trinity of persons in the unity of the divine essence, the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit, which three are one; the one God, the one Jehovah, as here expressed; see 1 John 5:7 and so the ancient Jews understood this passage. In an ancient book of theirs it is said (o) Jehovah, Elohenu, Jehovah (i.e. Jehovah, our God, Jehovah); these are the three degrees with respect to this sublime mystery; "in the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth"; and again (p), Jehovah, Elohenu, Jehovah, they are one; the three forms (modes or things) which are one; and elsewhere (q) it is observed, there are two, and one is joined to them, and they are three; and when the three are one, he says to (or of) them, these are the two names which Israel heard, Jehovah, Jehovah, and Elohenu (our God) is joined unto them; and it is the seal of the ring of truth, and when they are joined they are one in one unity; which is illustrated by the three names the soul of man is called by, the soul, spirit, and breath; and elsewhere they say (r) the holy blessed God, and his Shechinah, are called one; see John 10:30.

(n) Mist. Beracot, c. 1. sect. 1, 2.((o) Zohar in Gen. fol. 1, 3.((p) Ib. in Exod. fol. 18. 3, 4. (q) Ib. in Numb. fol. 67. 3.((r) Tikkune Zohar, Correct. 47. fol. 86. 2.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
4. Hear, O Israel] So Deuteronomy 9:1; Deuteronomy 20:3, and similarly Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 6:3; and nowhere else in the Hexateuch. The Sg. is to be explained as in Deuteronomy 5:1; but the continuance of the Sg. through the rest of this section is (especially if it is to follow immediately on Deuteronomy 6:1, see above) analogous to the appearance of the Sg. of the Decalogue in a Pl. context. There, as here, Moses uses the Pl. address for his own words, but quotes what God gave him at Ḥoreb in the Sg.

the Lord our God is one Lord] As the R. V. marg. shows, this is one of four possible translations of the elliptic Hebrew: Jehovah our-God, Jehovah One. The other three are: Jehovah our God, Jehovah is One; Jehovah is our God, Jehovah is One; Jehovah is our God, Jehovah alone. But the four are resolvable into these two: First, Jehovah our God is One, an expression of His unity, appropriate at a time when we know from Jeremiah that by the multiplication of His shrines the people of Judah conceived Him, as Baal or Ashtoreth was conceived, not as One, but as many deities with different characteristics and powers over different localities, cp. Jeremiah 2:28. Second, Jehovah is our God alone: i.e. Israel’s only God, cp. Zechariah 14:9; Song of Solomon 6:9; 1 Chronicles 29:1. These passages are all post-exilic, and in the first two one may mean unique, but that here it means only (for Israel) is probable from the following verse. Some interpreters take the verse as ‘a great declaration of monotheism’ (so Driver). But had that been the intention of the writer the clause would have run ‘Jehovah is the God, Jehovah alone.’ The use of the term our-God shows that the meaning simply is Jehovah is Israel’s only God. Nothing is said as to the existence or non-existence of other gods, and the verse is therefore on an equality with Deuteronomy 5:7, the First Commandment, and with Deuteronomy 7:9, which implies no more than that Jehovah is a or the God indeed; cp. the curious Deuteronomy 4:19 b which seeks to reconcile His sovereignty with the fact that other gods are worshipped by other nations. Only in Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 4:39 does an explicit declaration of monotheism appear in Deut.; it is to be remembered, however, that on other grounds the post-exilic date of these verses is possible1[126]. At the same time the phrase used here lends itself readily to the expression of an absolute monotheism, which later ages of a wider faith read into it. It is interesting to compare with our verse St Paul’s statement 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; we know that no idol is anything in the world and that there is no God but one; for though there be that are called gods …; as there be gods many and lords many, yet to us there is One God, the Father, of whom are all things. Note even here yet to us!

[126] This is not meant to imply that some in Israel had not thrown off belief in the reality of other gods before the Exile. Jeremiah certainly had: e.g. Deuteronomy 2:11.

4–9. The Essential Creed and Duty of Israel, with enforcement of them. Known from its initial word as The Shĕma‘ (= Hear), this section (along with Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41) ‘has been for many ages the first bit of the Bible which Jewish children have learned to say and to read, just as it has for many ages formed the confession of faith among all members of the brotherhood of Judaism’ (C. G. Montefiore, The Bible for Home Reading, Pt i. 127). The later law required its recital by a Jew twice daily; for particulars see Schürer, Gesrh. des jüd. Volkes, § 27 and Appendix (3rd Germ. ed. ii. 459 f.; E.T. Div. ii. Vol. ii. pp. 77, 84). The LXX inserts before it a longish title1[125], which shows how late this editorial practice of inserting titles to important sections of Deut. continued, and explains some similar headings in the Heb. text.

[125] ‘And these are the statutes and the judgements which the Lord commanded to the children of Israel, when they were coming out of the land of Egypt.’

Verses 4-25. - THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. "In the fear of Jehovah all true obedience is rooted (vers. 2, 3); for this is the first and most intimate fact in the relation of Israel and Jehovah (Deuteronomy 5:26). But where the supreme fear of Jehovah hinders men from allowing self to preponderate in opposition to God, there will be no stopping at this renunciation of self-will, though this comes first as the negative form of the ten commandments also shows, but there will come to be a coalescence of the human with the Divine will; and this is love, which is the proper condition of obedience, as the ten commandments also indicate (Deuteronomy 5:10)" (Baumgarten). Verse 4. - Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. This is an affirmation not so much of the moneity as of the unity and simplicity of Jehovah, the alone God. Though Elohim (plu.), he is one. The speaker does not say, "Jehovah is alone God," but "Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah" (comp. for the force of אֶחָד, Exodus 26:6, 11; Ezekiel 37:16-19). Among the heathen there were many Baals and many Jupiters; and it was believed that the deity might be divided and communicated to many. But the God of Israel, Jehovah, is one, indivisible and incommunicable. He is the Absolute and the Infinite One, who alone is to be worshipped, on whom all depend, and to whose command all must yield obedience (cf. Zechariah 14:9). Not only to polytheism, but to pantheism, and to the conception of a localized or national deity, is this declaration of the unity of Jehovah opposed. With these words the Jews begin their daily liturgy, morning and evening; the sentence expresses the essence of their religious belief; and so familiar is it to their thought and speech that, it is said, they were often, during the persecution in Spain, betrayed to their enemies by the involuntary utterance of it. Deuteronomy 6:4With Deuteronomy 6:4 the burden of the law commences, which is not a new law added to the ten commandments, but simply the development and unfolding of the covenant laws and rights enclosed as a germ in the decalogue, simply an exposition of the law, as had already been announced in Deuteronomy 1:5. The exposition commences with an explanation and enforcing of the first commandment. There are two things contained in it: (1) that Jehovah is the one absolute God; (2) that He requires love with all the heart, all the soul, and all the strength. "Jehovah our God is one Jehovah."

(Note: On the majuscula ע and ד in שׁמע and אחד, R. Bochin has this remark: "It is possible to confess one God with the mouth, although the heart is far from Him. For this reason ע and ד are majuscula, from which the tsere subscribed the word עד, 'a witness,' is formed, that every one may know, when he professes the unity of God, that his heart ought to be engaged, and free from every other thought, because God is a witness and knows all things" (J. H. Mich. Bibl. Hebr.).)

This does not mean Jehovah is one God, Jehovah alone (Abenezra), for in that case לבדּו יהוה would be used instead of אחד יהוה; still less Jehovah our God, namely, Jehovah is one (J. H. Michaelis). אחד יהוה together form the predicate of the sentence. The idea is not, Jehovah our God is one (the only) God, but "one (or the only) Jehovah:" not in this sense, however, that "He has not adopted one mode of revelation or appearance here and another there, but one mode only, viz., the revelation which Israel had received" (Schultz); for Jehovah never denotes merely a mode in which the true God is revealed or appears, but God as the absolute, unconditioned, or God according to the absolute independence and constancy of His actions. Hence what is predicated here of Jehovah (Jehovah one) does not relate to the unity of God, but simply states that it is to Him alone that the name Jehovah rightfully belongs, that He is the one absolute God, to whom no other Elohim can be compared. This is also the meaning of the same expression in Zechariah 14:9, where the words added, "and His name one," can only signify that in the future Jehovah would be acknowledged as the one absolute God, as King over all the earth. This clause not merely precludes polytheism, but also syncretism, which reduces the one absolute God to a national deity, a Baal (Hosea 2:18), and in fact every form of theism and deism, which creates for itself a supreme God according to philosophical abstractions and ideas. For Jehovah, although the absolute One, is not an abstract notion like "absolute being" or "the absolute idea," but the absolutely living God, as He made Himself known in His deeds in Israel for the salvation of the whole world.

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