I was reading an article by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and he said that there is no Hebrew word for “obey.” I always just assumed the actual word ‘obey’ was in the Hebrew Bible….it’s translated in our English Bibles, and it’s definitely in most sermons that are preached. I did some further research, and sure enough, there is no word in Hebrew for our English word ‘obey.’ The word translated obey in our Bibles is the Hebrew word “shema.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against obedience, and I’m definitely not advocating for disobedience. I am one of those people that obedience just comes naturally to. I was an extremely obedient kid… to the point of losing a cat once… but that’s another story for another blog! I also like rules…truthfully I LOVE following rules and setting them. In fact, my kids and husband call me the rule maker! I’m sure they mean it as a term of endearment… right??
Just as there is no Hebrew word meaning “obey,” there also is no English word for shema. While this Hebrew verb translates as “hear” it means much more than just hearing or listening. The King James Bible chose the verb ‘to hearken’ rather than hear. But now, nobody hearkens anymore so the English translators of the Bible didn’t know what to do with this verb. So they translated it as ‘obey’.
But “obey” poses a problem…before we obey we usually go through a 3 part process.
- We hear what God says
- we evaluate the command based on our understanding
- we make a choice to obey based on our evaluation.
That’s a Greek mindset to understand first then obey. But God doesn’t give us instructions in order that we might understand Him! He gives His instructions to us that we might live life well… Proverbs 10:17 “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life.”
There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament and 1050 commandments in the New Testament. With so many “commandments” you would naturally assume that obedience is what God is requiring. But He’s not looking for obedience from us the way we understand obedience.
Webster’s Dictionary defines obey as to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do. Some synonyms are to submit, to keep, to comply, to be governed by, bow to, do one’s bidding, do what is expected, do as told, to take orders. Lots of English synonyms for a word that’s not even in the Hebrew language.
IF NOT OBEDIENCE — WHAT IS GOD LOOKING FOR?
So, what does God require from us? He’s looking for shema levot….for hearing hearts. A hearing heart is a heart that is intent on… or committed to… doing whatever God commands… whatever He asks from us. And most importantly a hearing heart is rooted in love (Deut 11:1; John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
The first time “shema” appears in Scripture is in Genesis 3:8. “And they heard (shema) the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
Adam and Eve had just sinned and eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This scripture shows us God’s response to them in spite of their sin… in spite of them not following their hearing hearts and doing what God required of them. God came walking through His garden in the cool of the day.
The word walk is halak; it has the idea of moving or going as opposed to just sitting there. The term “cool of the day” wasn’t just added as a poetic phrase, the word cool is the word ruach which is the word for spirit.
Immediately following their disobedience they “heard”(shema) the Spirit of the Lord in the Garden ready to walk with them… eager to enjoy fellowshipping Spirit to spirit with them. They heard His Spirit come into the garden desiring to be with them like always.
To hear (shema) is hearing with understanding, attention, and with a response. Response to what? To come to Him and walk with His Spirit as usual. Allowing the wind of His Spirit to blow over them and make things right.
Our translations then tell us that God said “where are you?” Actually, in the Hebrew it is a Semitic idiomatic expression meaning “he is nowhere.” God wasn’t asking a question; He wasn’t asking where Adam was. He was crying out “Adam is nowhere in My heart.”
This is not a picture of an angry God who is looking for Adam so that he can punish his “disobedience”… this first look at sin for us is a picture of a caring Father so sad that His son left His heart.
Today let’s have hearing hearts, let’s respond to Him, walk with His Spirit, committed to doing whatever He asks. Today let’s be hearers and doers.