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Deuteronomy 6:49; 2 Samuel 14:2324, 2833; Proverbs 4:36comment (0)

May 8, 2008

By James R. Strange

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:49

Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 2 Samuel 14:23–24, 28–33; Proverbs 4:3–6

Deuteronomy 6:4–9

This passage forms the first paragraph of the Shema, a Jewish prayer dating at least back to the second century (the other passages are Deut. 11:13–21 and Num. 15:37–41). The text declares what some consider to be the summit of Jewish confession: the oneness of God and the command to love God with a person’s whole being (see Matt. 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28). This first paragraph also expresses four normative ideas for God’s people.

1. Hear: “Shema” is Hebrew for the imperative “hear,” the first word of the prayer. Israel’s first task is to listen to the proclamation that there is only one God and that God is “our God.” Moses speaks this confession on the eve of Israel’s entrance into the promised land, and it follows Moses’ reminder that God gave the Torah on Horeb (the name in Deuteronomy for Mount Sinai). So the text emphasizes this truth: the one true God has made an everlasting covenant with Israel.

2. Love: Just as Israel’s God is “one” or “whole” — that is, undivided — so God’s people are to love God with their whole, undivided selves. The command also suggests that Israel is to be united in its devotion.

3. Recite: Israel is also to recite “these words.” It is significant that the recitation is done as a people, which means that Israel forms its own audience. Through the Shema, Israel instructs itself in God’s merciful deeds of redemption. The full directions in verses 6–9 paint the image of people who never cross a threshold without being reminded of God’s lovingkindness, who instruct their children in that truth and who bind it to their bodies, keeping it as close as their own skins.

4. Remember: Reciting preserves memory but memory does not mean the act of recall, for all generations of Israelites are to recite. This means that remembering is really becoming. Through recitation, binding and writing, future generations who have never seen Egypt are transformed into that first group who escaped Pharaoh, survived a wilderness crossing, received instruction at the foot of God’s mountain and still tell all as examples of God’s mighty deeds on “our” behalf. Much like the Lord’s Supper does for later Christianity, this kind of “memory” collapses the distinction of time and geography that separates later generations from the first.

Proverbs 4:3–6
The writer of Proverbs also knows about the importance of instructing children. In verse 6, wisdom is personified as a woman who will “guard” those who “love” her (see Prov. 1:20–33). The author knows that moral uprightness does not come automatically but has to be taught, and parents are the primary educators. Here the emphasis is on passing down wisdom from generation to generation and the importance of carrying out one’s duty. It is the child’s responsibility to heed, but it is the parents’ to pass on what they have learned in an unbroken chain that links future generations to the past. The text stresses the importance of person-to-person communication. This is necessary in an oral culture, but the real benefit comes from the face-to-face interaction that happens in this kind of teaching.

2 Samuel 14:23–24, 28–33
These verses come from the tragic story of Absalom, King David’s son. Elements of the story highlight the need for moral instruction and communication by their absence. David refuses to discipline his son, Amnon, when Amnon rapes his half sister Tamar. Enraged, Tamar’s full brother Absalom waits for two years before murdering Amnon. This crime David also does not punish, but he refuses to see Absalom for two full years after Absalom’s return to Jerusalem. When David finally does forgive Absalom, it is too late, for Absalom plots for four years to usurp the throne. The story ends with Absalom’s murder.

Like the earlier story of Isaac, Rebecca (also Rebekah), Jacob and Esau, the author does not hesitate to show what happens when a family system allows immoral and dysfunctional behavior to go uncorrected.

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