Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 10. Deuteronomy (2)
Deut 6:4,5 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Six times in Deuteronomy Moses uses this formula, “Hear O Israel” (4:1, 5:1, 6:3, 6:4, 9:1, 20:3) as a special call to take note of what he is saying. In it’s first usage when he turns from reminding them of their history since leaving Mount Sinai nearly forty years before, he used “Hear now O Israel,” as a pivotal point calling them to now heed his teaching there on the Plains of Moab. He is going to remind them of the Law that has been imparted to them, and then there are going to be multiple but varied calls to faithfulness. In some ways Deuteronomy is the most compact and dense book in the Bible and it is Moses discharging his role as their leader before he leaves them to die on Mount Nebo.
It would appear that Moses spoke before the nation several times there. The second, “Hear O Israel” appears in 5:1 at what appears to be the start of his second talk to Israel: “Moses summoned all Israel and said….” Now in chapter six we observed the third “Hear O Israel” in the previous meditation noting it was a refocusing on the blessings that would follow their complete obedience.
Now as we arrive at this fourth usage we observe it goes to the very heart of their existence, a relationship based upon love. Now of course we find Jesus referring to this command: “Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Mt 22:37,38) Thus we now find ourselves meditating upon a command that Jesus considered the greatest of all commands and, when linked with the command to love your neighbour as yourself (see Mt 22:39), he declared that all the law and the prophets hung on these two commands, essentially meaning that they sum up all other laws. That is how important this verse is that we have before us.
I suspect that to many, if not most of us, this is a very well-known command, one that perhaps we almost take for granted, but I want us to step into the shoes of the Israelites who are listening to Moses. What would they think about that command? How do you love a God you cannot see? In fact I think that many Christians have this deep down worry, “How do I love God? Do I really love God?”
Let’s be absolutely basic. What is love? In the past when I have looked in a dictionary I have found, “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings” which, if you translate that in respect of all that we know of God, then in respect of Him it means, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us.” Do either of those sets of definitions suggest what we can feel about God? Let’s stick with the Law for the moment, trying to apply definitions to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. I’m struggling. The first definition, I think I can go along with but then I think, there seems a difference between the two sets; the first seem to be about emotions and the second seem to be more about will.
Let’s think about what I have learned about love from my marriage. It started out very emotional but there were times, over the years, when for a variety of reasons (tiredness probably being the main one) I couldn’t conjure up the same emotional buzz that I had for my wife when we first went out together. But then I ponder on what our love is about today after well over forty years of married life. On a good day I am absolutely sure I love my wife more now than I ever did in the past. If you like, I appreciate her more and am amazed at her love for me which constantly blesses me. On a tired day when emotions are all over the place, I declare my love, if for no other reason than loyalty. She has stuck with me over forty years and that’s amazing! I will stick with her accordingly.
So yes, love seems to vary between being an emotional thing and an act of the will. So what was Moses call? To love God with all your heart, soul and strength, that last one changed to ‘mind’ in the New Testament. So what do those three things mean? Heart has to do with acts of the will. Pharaoh was hard hearted in Exodus and set his heart against God. It was an act of will. Soul is all about feelings (ever heard ‘soul music’?) and mind is about intellect and reason. (Strength is about energy and direction).
So let’s take them in reverse order. Intellect & Reason: When you know about someone you have reason to appreciate them. Israel had been through the Exodus and all that that meant and so their ‘faith’ is built on the testimony of God, what He had done, what He had revealed to them. For us, our knowledge of God through His Son, Jesus Christ has had the content of the Gospels added to it.
Feelings/Emotions: When God had blessed them, like the psalmist they could rejoice and praise Him. When we find ourselves forgiven and adopted as His children and are then indwelt by His Spirit and even filled with His Spirit, we too find ourselves overflowing with gratefulness, thankfulness, praise and worship, all of which involve our emotions.
Will: And whether it is a good day or a bad day we resolve we will remain faithful. That was the call to Israel and to us, and it has nothing to do with how we ‘feel’. It is a pure act of will.
Now as I ponder this, three conclusion rise in my consciousness. The first is that my ‘loving God’ can include emotions but in the absence of emotions then all that is required as my expression of my love for Him is my faithful obedience. (“This is love for God: to obey his commands.” 1 Jn 5:3).
The second is that without His grace (the presence of his Holy Spirit within) I am doomed to remain a self-centred, godless being. It is His grace than enables me to love my neighbour etc. Grace is more and more available the more and more we draw near to Him and experience His presence.
Third, and finally, because I am less than a perfect (yes, I am in His sight, but we are talking about daily experience!) my love (reason, feelings and actions) may fall short and therefore, ultimately, I rely upon the Cross. The truth is that Moses’ command was ‘the Law’ and we all fall short when it comes to law-keeping and therefore I must rely on the Cross for my salvation in this area as much as in any other area.
Yes, I will use my intellect to build my intellectual knowledge of Him. Yes, I will worship and pray and praise to build my emotional experience of Him and, yes, I will seek at all times to be obedient, but while I do this, I will turn to Him and seek both His grace as the provision I need, and His forgiveness through the Cross to cover my failures and my inadequacies. When I declare, “Lord, I love you,” He knows the reality of that, my seeking to obey His leading and His word, my yearning to feel more about Him, and my desire to be found faithful when He returns. Yes, Lord, I love you, you know I love you, you know all things (Jn 21:15-17).