A Hearing Heart
In 1 Kings 3:3, God appeared to King Solomon in a dream as he offered sacrifices in Gibeon and said, “Ask what I shall give thee.” Solomon’s request is recorded in verse 9: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart.” God told Solomon that his prayer was answered and hence Solomon became the wisest man. God also gave Solomon many things he did not ask for as well. Re-read 1 Kings 3 for the full story. The English phrase ‘understanding heart’ in verse 9 is translated from the Hebrew phrase
– לֵ֤ב שֹׁמֵ֙ע – lev sh’ma – which literally means ‘a hearing heart’. As stated already, the word sh’ma means ‘hear’, but since effective hearing means that one must also understand what is being heard, hence the KJV translators use of “understanding heart”. Sh’ma also carries the idea of obeying what one hears so that if you don’t obey, you don’t really hear. I think a ‘hearing heart’ is exactly what God wanted not just Solomon, but all the children of Israel to have and hence, His constant use of the word ‘lev‘ (heart) in Deuteronomy.
The word ‘heart’ (Hebrew – לְבָבְ –le-vav) occurs 43 times in the book of Deuteronomy – more than any of the other books of the Torah! The other books of the Torah tell the ‘story’ of the Jewish people, from God’s promise to Abraham until they are standing on the shores of Jordan ready to cross over to the land God gave them. However, Deuteronomy retells the story somewhat, but it adds one important factor – the emphasis on the heart. God wanted the children of Israel to know that the motives of the heart were more important than their actions.
The sh’ma is found Deut. 6:4-6 and is part of this week’s Torah portion.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃
וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ
This passage is known as the sh’ma (שְׁמַ֖ע) because this is the first Hebrew word of the passage. Sh’ma (Strong’s #8085) which means ‘hear’ and the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) defines it as listening in order to obey.
On the second line of Hebrew text note the word לְבָבְ – le-vav (‘heart’ – Strong’s #3824) which occurs 47 times in the book of Deuteronomy – more than any other book of the T’nakh! The other books of the Torah give us the history of the Jewish people from God’s promise to Abraham until they are standing on the shores of Jordan ready to cross over to the land God gave to them. However, in Deuteronomy, Moses retells the story somewhat and adds one very important factor – the emphasis on the heart. Although our actions are important, the motives of the heart that underlies our actions are the most important.
In the New Testament gospel of Matthew, a lawyer (meaning an expert in the ‘law of Moses’) asked Jesus a very important question. Matthew 22:36: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus’ reply is most important because He quoted to the lawyer the sh’ma: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Mat. 22:38-40 Perhaps the lawyer was thinking of which of the 613 commandments in the law should he most concentrate on ‘doing’. Jesus helped him to understand the same lesson that Moses taught in Deuteronomy – that our motive for our acts must be love for God and for others. Without love, our actions are no good and become meaningless rituals.