I have finished my first year of theological training. Horray! As I completed my Hebrew assignment, wrestling with those disappearing nuns (nun is a Hebrew letter that sometimes drops off when making a verb – no nuns were harmed!), I started to wonder if this was all worth it and if I should bother taking Greek next year.
I reflected on the several conversations me and my fellow students have had over the year regarding Hebrew and Greek. Usually ending with us all agreeing that most people we meet in ministry won’t care about the original languages, but that sometimes knowing the original language adds an extra layer to our understanding of the words in the Bible.
And for me, out of everything I have learned this year, the most important thing I have learned was a little Hebrew word—שׁמע pronounced ‘shema’. Shema is usually translated as “hear” in Deuteronomy 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord (YHWH) is our God, the Lord (YHWH) alone.” (NRSV) But “hear” doesn’t do the word justice.
Brown, Driver, Briggs defines shema as “hear”, “obey”, “heed”, “understand.”Shema is to hear, but it is to hear in such a way that your actions are affected by what you hear. Shema is hearing so that what you hear becomes a part of you. For example, when I ask my kids to come and eat their tea, shouting “Did you hear me?” I’m not checking for listening ability. I am expecting action in response to the hearing. This little word שׁמע has had a big impact on my theological development this year. As a result, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on hearing that transforms and changes. שׁמע hearing is God’s kingdom building stuff.
Shema is a call (as Jesus said) for those who have ears (not just physical ears, but a heartfelt desire to listen and obey God) to hear (and in hearing, act upon what they hear).
Because as James wrote, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17 NRSV).
And that’s just one little word. Imagine what God can do with the rest!
May God bless you with shema hearing!