Understanding the Hebrew Word for ‘Listen’ Will Change Your Relationship with God
Oftentimes we falsely assume that having ears equates to listening. This is especially applicable to a western culture that is saturated with headlines, texts, hashtags, posts, ear buds, and tweets. We are swimming in a sea of words while listening to very few of them.
I remember as a Communications major in college taking a class on listening (the only one of its kind in the nation at that time). I learned that research indicates that we “listen” more than we do any other communicative activity. However, that same research showed that we do a poor job of listening. An argument can be made that we shouldn’t have to listen to so much of the useless information that bombards us daily. As believers, we have someone—the Grand Informer Himself, God—we really need to listen to.
Do the scriptures address this important issue of listening? The answer is a resounding and ancient “yes”!
In the following video from The Bible Project, a short word study is provided for the Hebrew word “shema”, which means “listen” or “hear”. Shema is the first word of the daily confession about God Jewish people have made ever since antiquity. The confession is referred to as the Shema and upholds the important theological truth about the oneness of God. The first mention of the shema is located in Deuteronomy:
“Hear, (or “Shema”) O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)
We read in scripture that God is the maker of our ability to shema (Prov 20:12). But don’t be fooled: shema-ing is more than passively letting sound waves go into our ear canals. It can also mean to “pay attention to”; “to focus on”; but especially to “respond to what you are hearing”. Interestingly, to have someone listen is also asking to them to act. In Exodus 19:5, God equates listening to Him with keeping the covenants made by Him. Listening then, according to the wisdom of God, is to listen AND to obey. In Hebrew, which is the original language of the Old Testament, there is no distinct word for “obey”. In fact, according to Old Testament usage, to listen and to obey is the singular word of “shema”. So in light of the following video: How are we doing at truly listening to God?
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