When my daughter was three, she had an imaginary friend named Galleria. Galleria lived in a stick house and had a cat that would jump out of the car whenever we were in a hurry.
Galleria was awesome, but that cat had a mind of its own. Several times the world had to stop so we could find the cat. The problem was the cat wouldn’t listen to anyone. We couldn’t just call for the cat, we had to go and get it.
My daughter would explain it wasn’t a bad cat, it just couldn’t hear well.
In our culture, hearing and obeying are disconnected. A person can hear, but not obey what they heard. In ancient Hebrew culture, it was very different.
To hear was to obey.
The Hebrew word shema can be translated as both. When we read obey in the Old Testament, it usually comes from Shema. In other places, it is translated as hear. The meaning however, is the same.
A great example of this is Exodus 24:7. The people are responding to Moses after he read God’s covenant with them. Their reply to Moses was “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey”. Literally in Hebrew, this is written “All that God had said we will do and we will hear”.
When you see the word “hear” in scripture, don’t read it as hearing with your ears. Read it as hearing with your heart like you are going to do something about it.
This idea helps us respond from deep within ourselves. When we hear something in our head it can go in one ear and out the other. Not so when our soul has been touched by the finger of God.
Hearing with your heart propels a person to sincere obedience. It’s not shallow, or forced by peer pressure, pride, or expectation. There is no underlying sigh of, “I need to do this” or “I guess it’s the right thing”. Sincere obedience is an intimate, inner response to the living God.
Sadly, some views of Christian obedience can be compared to Galleria’s cat. It’s fun, free, and is really only bothersome when we have to do something about it.
But sincere obedience is found in relationship with the one, true God. In that relationship we listen and respond out of love. It costs us something, but it is worth it
…because it is real.
To learn more about the meaning of the word Shema, check out the book “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus” by Lois Tverburg.