“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, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)
In the church, we refer to this as The Great Commandment.
In the Great commandment, Jesus is quoting the foundation of Hebrew Law. When Yahweh came down in the time of Moses and joined Himself to the Hebrew people – binding Himself to them and them to Him in a COVENANT – He said:
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “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.
This is the Shema, and Deuteronomy 6 goes on to instruct God’s people to put these words on their hearts, their hands, foreheads, doorposts & gates. They were to teach the Shema – the Lord is ONE and we are to love God with all we are and have – to their children as they were sitting, walking, lying down, rising up. Jews throughout history have taken these commands seriously.
The Shema was repeated throughout the days, months, and years of a faithful Jew’s life, as a PRAYER, as spiritual formation, and as a reminder.
Because this is the primary mark of God’s people: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is One. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
What does it mean to love God with one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength?
In Deuteronomy 6 and following, Loving Yahweh is used synonymously with
- Not forgetting Yahweh (who He is or the deliverance He worked)
- Fearing (respecting or revering) Him first and only
- Worshiping Yahweh
- Not following other Gods (exclusive)
In Deuteronomy 11 we see Loving Yahweh linked with
- Keeping His charge and commandments (11:1)
- Listening to Him, living responsively to Him
- Serving Him (the word means binding yourself to one) (11:12-14)
- Walking in His ways and holding fast to Him (11:21-23)
Then in Deuteronomy 13, Loving God is used interchangeably with Following Him and CLINGING to Him (13:1-4)
There is also a warning in Deuteronomy 13 against being pulled away from loving God, listening to Him, clinging to Him – the word used for being drawn away is “SEDUCE”, “to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk…”
So the choice for the Jewish people was to love God by obeying His commands, living His way, clinging to Him OR be “seduced” away to lesser loves.
I was struck by something as I read the Hebrew background to Jesus words.
When I hear “Love the Lord your God…” I hear it through the filter of our culture. I hear romantic love. I hear a feeling.
The synonyms of love that come to my mind are: Like, adore, cherish, favorite.
The words Deuteronomy uses interchangeably with love are: worship, hold tight to, keep, obey, listen to, walk in His ways – these are words that indicate a rearranging of my life around Yahweh.
The Jewish understanding of “love Yahweh with your heart, soul, mind and strength” was more than a feeling. It was commitment.
That can sound hard – I struggled as I studied to reconcile the Biblical understanding of this with my own theology of Grace, wrapped up in God’s love. It’s hard for me to see God’s love and grace in this command to love Yahweh by choosing, committing, wrapping my life around Him.
I don’t think Moses’ readers (in Deuteronomy) or Jesus’ listeners (and those reading Mark’s gospel) would have asked my questions or seen a conflict between love, grace, and obedience/loyalty. Because they would have understood every word in Deuteronomy in the context of COVENANT.
The language in Deuteronomy, and around the Shema is COVENANT language. Marriage language. To love Yahweh is a covenant concept.
In my marriage, it does not feel hard to cling to Matt. To remain faithful to him, to wrap my life up with his, to commit myself to him. It isn’t hard because I love him, and I chose to love him for a lifetime. And he loves me, laying down his life for me every dang day.
Hasn’t God done this same thing? He has wrapped me in His love, laid down His life, committed Himself to me.
How different would my life look if I took this command, this commitment to love God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength as seriously as I take my marriage commitment? If I took it as seriously as the ancient Hebrews did, reminding myself morning, noon and night?
This summer I’m sharing some of my own lessons and thoughts from a Bible study I wrote with my friend Stacey and did with a group of (amazing) women last Fall. This 8 week study, The Call of Jesus, is available for free here or by clicking the “Free Bible Studies and Resources” link in my blog header. If you’re looking for a Bible study to do yourself or with friends this Fall, check it out!