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This topic is adapted from the Bible Project YouTube channel. This is part 1 in the Hebrew Word Studies series.

For thousands of years the Jewish people have prayed the “Shema” (pronounced sheh-mah) – a daily prayer of devotion to God.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NASB) Hear, O Israel! The Lord is 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.

Even Jesus quotes from it in Matthew 22:37-39 when he is asked to list the greatest commandment from the Law of Moses (“torah”). One important word in this prayer is “shema” (שמע) itself.

[Related: Hebrew Word Study: Love]

Video Highlights:

  • “Shema” is usually translated into English as “hear” or “listen.” It’s a common word in the Hebrew Bible.
  • “Shema” means more than just letting sound enter your ears. The word can be used to call attention or focus from readers, such as when Leah names her son Simon (Hebrew: “Shem-own”) in order to remind herself that God “heard” that she was not loved like her sister Rachel by their husband Jacob. God “heard” – meaning his focus and attention were on the situation.
  • “Shema” can also mean responding to what we hear. One example of this usage is Psalm 27:7, which reads, “Hear (shema) me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!” Here, the psalmist is not just asking God to hear – God hears everything! What he is really saying is that he wants God to act in response to what he perceives. He is calling God to action.
  • In the same vein, Exodus 19:5 reads, “Now if you will obey (Hebrew: “shema”) me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.” So God is not just calling Israel to know what God’s commandments are, but to actually live in accordance with them. Shema even occurs twice to really emphasize the fact that God does not have in mind sounds waves going in one ear and out the other but that he expects a response.
  • From God’s point of view, “listening” is basically the same as “obeying” and keeping the covenant (which is why many English translations translate “shema” as “obey” rather than “listen” in Exodus 19:5).
  • In Biblical Hebrew, there is no separate word for “obey.” In the Old Testament (OT), if someone wanted to say that they not only heard but would obey, the single word to use was shema.
  • In Hebrew, listening and doing are two sides of the same coin. That is why when Israel disobeyed God, the prophets would say things like, “The people have ears, but they are not listening.” The Israelites could hear just fine, but they were not listening to and obeying God – or else they would have acted differently.
  • Listening in the Bible is about doing what is said. Real listening is not just hearing, but exercising effort and action.

[Related: Biblical Themes: An Animated Explanation of the Covenants]

Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Share about a time when someone “didn’t hear” what you were trying to say. How does your experience relate to this topic?
  4. Share about a time when you prayed for God to “hear” you.
  5. In the OT, we see that God was not merely calling Israel to know his commandments, but to live accordingly. How does this principle translate into the Christian lives of New Testament (NT) followers of Jesus?
  6. Read John 14:15. From Jesus’s perspective, what does it mean if we live in constant disobedience to him?
  7. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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