Biblical Hearing

Have you ever wondered what He meant? After so many parables Jesus spoke that familiar phrase, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” As a younger man, I used to wonder if this was just a throwaway line, something Jesus used to identify when He was done. Deuteronomy 6, however, makes is clear that Jesus had something far more important on His mind.  

The Shema

Deuteronomy 6:4 records the prayer devout Jews start and end their days with. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God….” The Hebrew word for “hear” is shema. It is interesting, but the word for listen and obey is the same, shema. So the command to hear comes with the expectation of putting what one hears into practice. For me to shema the Lord is for me to follow His decrees and walk in His ways.


Later in the prophets, we will read of how the people have ears but they do not shema the Lord’s command. Knowing these two bits of information helps us better understand Jesus’ enigmatic statement. “Whoever has ears, let them hear (let them put into practice what I am saying).” In Luke 8, I believe He says the same thing with different words. “Therefore consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18).


When our ears pick up God’s word, we may hear it, but do we shema it? Do we consider carefully how we listen to it? Let’s try to apply this with something we find in that same chapter.


Applying Shema

So many times we’ve read how the Lord is holy and, because He is holy, He requires that His people be holy so that He may dwell in their midst. We’ve also seen how God is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and abounding in love. It seems accurate, then, to summarize God’s character with two words. God is “Holy – Love.”


Deuteronomy 6 provides the response God’s people give to this revelation of His character. Since God is holy they are to respond in fear. Since God is love they should respond with love (see Deuteronomy 6:1-9). We remember here that “fear” is not terror. In this context fear relates to reverence, awe, respect and, yes, fear of what could happen if this holy God chose to respond to your sinfulness! This idea of fearing God is uncomfortable for some to embrace. Let me try to clarify it by connecting it to a human example.


In a small way, the fear of God is like entering the courtroom of a respected judge. When the judge enters, all rise to their feet out of respect. When addressed he is called “Your Honor.” If you have ever experienced a sentencing presided over by a wise judge, you can feel the weightiness in the room. There is respect and honor but there is also fear because we know how this person’s authority can significantly impact life. To fear the Lord, then, is to live in awareness of His holy character (He is set apart from all others) and to respond with reverential fear. But this fear is not the only response we give because holiness by itself does not fully describe God’s character.


God is not just holy. He is also love and this love is what moves us to respond in love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) is a command responded to with joy and not dread. When we take the time to know the character of God revealed in His word, consider what it means for our lives and then yield ourselves to the truth (these bold-faced words are what we do when we shema the Lord), the natural outcome is a response of fearful, reverential, awe-filled love.


Knowing God as Holy – Love brings a response of Fear – Love. We see this when Peter came face to face with Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish. In seeing something of who Jesus was Peter said, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.” Jesus replied, “Don’t be afraid” (Luke 5:8-11). And we read this most clearly when John wrote, “God is love….We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).


The challenge is before me. When it comes to God’s revealed truth, what have I actually taken the time to hear and apply? And with all that God has revealed, where do I begin? It just may be that the most important truth—the one we need to begin with—has to do with God’s character, His Holy – Love. What would happen to my faith and my expression of faith if I took the time to let Holy – Love sink down deep into my soul? How might this impact my response to other commands? Would loving my neighbor, being quick to forgive or even sharing my faith become a natural overflow rather than a required task? I wonder.


In the reading ahead, become aware of those statements that grab your attention. Such moments may just be the Lord asking you to stop and shema so that you can be transformed by the power of His Word.


Walking with you,

Rob Eyman