For some Christians, “discipleship” might seem like a trendy concept, but we see the practice of discipling people in the faith of God all the way back when Moses gave them the law in Deuteronomy:
“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. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deut. 6:4-8)
This famous passage in Deuteronomy is called the “Shema” in Hebrew, which means “hear” (i.e., the first word in the Shema). In the Shema, Moses reminds Israel about who God is, how they should relate to Him, and how they can model this relationship to their children so that it becomes their faith too.
The Shema gives us a threefold pattern of passing along the faith, which can be put like this:
Interestingly, Deuteronomy literally means the “second law.” It is not essentially a second law, but rather the repetition of God’s law as already given to a previous generation of Israelites (e.g., in the books of Exodus–Numbers). Deuteronomy was Moses’ pastoral message to the second generation of Israelites after the Exodus, when they were at the border of the Promised Land ready to enter. Since this was a region which worshiped many gods, Moses found it important to give a call to the nation of Israel to pay close attention to his words and obey.
In this central passage in Deuteronomy called the Shema, Moses pleaded to the nation of Israel to keep their attention on God and His works, which He had done so far by bringing His people to the Promised Land. Moses reminded Israel to commit their full devotion to one God. This was the One who during their exodus uniquely intervened by doing several miracles. This included sending the 10 plagues to embarrass 10 of the Egyptian gods, slitting the belly of the Red Sea, and providing manna and quail for forty years. Forty years? That’s a lot of faithfulness and love going on.
Thus, the oneness and uniqueness of the Lord were already practical knowledge to them. They just needed the reminder: “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
When we relate this scenario to our cultural moment today, hopefully the oneness of God is not a problem for us to accept. After all, in the twenty-first century, we do not have any worship of other gods among us, right?
If you assume that worship of other gods is only a thing of the past, I would ask you to think again. A great many things in our lives can become our gods. Do we sometimes make our relationships our god? How about our material possessions? Our opinions? Success? Pride? And this is not an exhaustive list…
If you assume that worship of other gods is only a thing of the past, I would ask you to think again.
Personally, I have witnessed the uniqueness of our one true God, when in Pakistan in the midst of discrimination (as a Christian and a woman) as well as verbal and mental persecution against Christians, God continued to bless and protect me. Similarly, when I came to the United States for continuing education, I witnessed His uniqueness when people partnered with me to support my Bible education, opened their homes during holiday time, and took care of me as their own family member. Similarly, during the pandemic, Boise Bible College let me stay on campus since going home could be a problem.
Likewise, can you think of a time when you have witnessed God’s uniqueness?
Maybe during the pandemic when God kept you safe? Or maybe there was a time when you prayed, and God instantly answered? Maybe there was a time when he relieved you from severe anxiety? Suicidal attempts? Sexual temptations? Life-threatening accidents?
Isn’t God unique? Isn’t God special and amazing?
Yet sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need the reminder that God is one. The same people whom Moses had given the Shema were given this reminder from Moses’ disciple Joshua as they entered the Promised Land, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:14).
The pattern of passing along the faith we see in the Shema begins with pausing and taking time to really hear. Hear O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
In the next article, we will explore the second step in the Shema’s pattern of passing along the faith: after hearing, we do.