In Summary: A covenant is only as good as the knowledge of it. If the people of Israel do not know the covenant they have with the Lord their God, then they cannot hold up their end of the bargain. Or, more correctly, they cannot be held accountable for failing to keep the covenant if they do not know what it is.
Therefore, Deuteronomy 6 establishes guidelines for teaching the covenant to the future generations. The Israelites are not left wondering what or when to teach their children. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells them to discuss at home and on the road, in the evenings and the mornings. In short: all the time.
This is an important concept that we often miss in our lives, and I think we read backwards the same problem. While there are definitely periods of intentional teaching in both the Old Testament and today, we cannot neglect weaving teaching the ways of God in the warp and woof of life. It is not viable to fall back only on Sunday School, one homeschool subject, and the occasional VBS to teach our children about Jesus. Neither could the Israelites rely on the Levites to come by every now and then. Instead, this chapter gives the guideline: teach in all places, during all times, through all things.
The content is also present. Even though the minutiae of dietary laws are missing, and even the important moments like the Passover are shortened, Moses gives the people the critical things to teach. First, the fundamental truth of God’s existence and exclusivity. Second, the need to wholeheartedly follow God. Third, the testimony of what God had done for them. Fourth, the need to serve worship God and God only. Fifth, the responsibility to pass it on to the next generation.
In Focus: The focal point here is typically found in 6:4-5, and we see Jesus echo that Deuteronomy 6:5 is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Traditionally, these verses are referred to as the “Shema Israel” (or the “Shema”), as the opening words would be pronounced in Israel. This passage sets apart the Israelite faith as clearly monotheistic, telling us that there is only one God.
We should also see these verses as important, because if we are to be like Jesus, we will see this as the most important commandment to fulfill. Loving the Lord our God with all we are is a robust challenge—and truly, if you live your life driven by this commandment alone you will do many things in obedience to God’s design.
In Practice: I commend to you the following principles for practice, based on this chapter:
1. Know the Word of the Lord. Not only how to find things in the printed, or how to pull it up on the smartphone, but have the Word of God imprinted deep in your heart. Otherwise, how can you constantly note for yourself the works of God?
2. Share the Word of the Lord. First, with those who know Him but need to know Him better. It is a far better thing to connect life experience to Scripture, allowing us to grow through that, than to simply be happy-feely about life. Share the Word that is appropriate to the moment. Second, with those who do not know Him. A well-timed, well-laced gracious word does amazing things.
3. Love the Word of the Lord. This is part of loving Him. We sometimes want to love God and not love His Word. How does that work? Can you love a person but never wish to hear them speak (or see them sign, or whatever method of communication is available)? A love for God translates to a love for what God has said.
4. Remember the Word of the Lord. How else do we know the testimony of God, what He has done? Remember and mark what God has done, and pass that on.
In Nerdiness: So many nerds, so little time—a quick glance at one thing: it is a consistent reality of the Hebrew language that the word translated “God” is a plural word. It’s actually the exact same word as “gods,” for false gods. There is no capitalization to clear this up, so what do we do?
Quite simply, Deuteronomy 6:4 clears it up: when speaking of the One True God, we see that a plural is used. We call it a “plural of majesty” or a “plural of deity,” and the basic idea is that you can’t contain God with a singular word. He’s too big and too much for it. It’s like the traditional “royal we” but exponentially bigger than that.