The Lord is One

By: Staff Writer; ©2001
Deuteronomy 6:4 reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” We asked biblical scholars to comment on what those words mean, both in context and for us today.

 

“The Lord is One!”

What do the experts say about Deuteronomy 6:4? “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!”

W.A. Criswell, The Believer’s Study Bible:

These words are a concise statement of the fundamental monotheistic dogma of the Old Testament. In Egypt the Israelites discovered the uniqueness of their God (cf. Ex. 15:11) in contrast to the fickleness of the Egyptian gods. The nature of polytheism is such that no god is omnipotent, and there can be no single “will of god.” So the good intentions of one god may be overturned by the ill intentions of another. In God’s covenant relationship with His people, He revealed to them His unity. He made promises from which He never varied, nor could anyone revoke the commitment of YAHWEH. The Jewish confession of faith given in this verse is called the shema (Heb.), after its first word, meaning “Hear!” The verb indicates hearing with intent to obey. This exhortation to all Israel is the basic confession of monotheism: God is one. However, the Hebrew word for “one” emphasizes unity rather than singularity (cf. Gen. 2:24). The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (or “tri-unity”—cf. 1 Pet. 1:2) affirms the unity of the Godhead, while at the same time affirming that God eternally exists in three Persons, having three centers of consciousness but one harmonious divine will. This verse is one which the Jews write upon their phylacteries because of its awesome expression of divine truth. The words are also used both morning and evening to begin their daily liturgy.[1]

King James Version Study Bible:

The content of chapters 6–11 of Deuteronomy relates to the first two commandments. This portion deals with the principal commandment: to love God. Hear, O Israel: This small section (vv. 4–9) has been known to the Jews for many centuries as the shema (“Hear”) and has been recited along with 11:13–21 and Numbers 15:37–41 as a daily prayer. One LORD: Usually translated “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” Yahweh was to be the sole object of Israel’s worship, allegiance, and affection. The word one (alone, or unique) implies monotheism. The word expresses the “uniqueness” and the “unity” of God. There was no one like Him (Ex. 15:11), and there was no other to contradict Him when He spoke. [2]

Word in Life Study Bible:

The Hebrews were unique among the peoples of the ancient world in their belief in only one God (Deut. 6:4). All of the surrounding cultures were polytheistic; they worshiped numerous gods. For example, the Canaanites had at least seventy deities. Likewise, the Egyptians had a pantheon, or collection, of gods, and the Pharaohs themselves were considered gods. Most cities throughout the Middle East had their own local god or gods.

The Israelites were different. Abraham originally lived in the city of Ur with his father and family (Gen. 11:27–30). Ur was dedicated to the moon god Sin and the goddess Nin­gal. But in the midst of this polytheistic society, the Lord spoke to Abraham, instructing him to leave the country (12:1–3; Acts 7:2–3). From then on, it appears that Abraham essentially believed in only one God—the God who continued to reveal Himself over many years to Abraham and his descendants. In fact, by Moses’ day, the Lord referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:15)….[3]

Jerry Falwell, KJV Bible Commentary:

Deuteronomy 6:4–5. These verses are called the shema after the word Hear (Heb. shema). Even though some have tried to deny the Trinity because of this verse, the word one (Heb. ‘echad), means “compound unity.” The phrase one LORD means God has one name; it is also a testimony against polytheism. Both the unity and the trinity of the Godhead are taught in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:26–27; Ps. 2:7; Isa. 48:16).[4]

Matthew Henry:

What we are here taught to believe concerning God: that Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. (1.) That the God whom we serve is Jehovah, a Being infinitely and eternally perfect, self-existent, and self-sufficient. (2.) That he is the one only living and true God; he only is God, and he is but one. The firm belief of this self-evident truth would effectually arm them against all idolatry, which was introduced by that fundamental error, that there are gods many. It is past dispute that there is one God, and there is no other but he, Mk. 12:32. Let us therefore have no other, nor desire to have any other. Some have thought there is here a plain intimation of the trinity of persons in the unity of the Godhead; for here is the name of God three times, and yet all declared to be one. Happy they that have this one Lord for their God; for they have but one master to please, but one benefactor to seek to. It is better to have one fountain than a thousand cisterns, one all-sufficient God than a thousand insufficient ones.[5]

J. Vernon McGee:

That is a tremendous statement. “The LORD” is the Hebrew tetragram transliterated YHWH or JHVH, translated in English as Jehovah. “God” is the translation for Elohim. Elohim is a plural word. Since there is no number given with it, one can assume the number is three. In the Hebrew language a noun is singular, dual, or plural. When it is plural, but no number is given, one can assume it to be three. This is, therefore, a reference to the Trinity. It could be translated, “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah, our Trinity is one Jehovah.”

Israel lived in a world of idolatry. The nations were polytheists who worshiped many gods. The message that the nation Israel was to give to the world was the message of the unity of the Godhead, the oneness of the Godhead. Jehovah, our Elohim, is one Jehovah. That is the message for a world given over to idolatry.

Today we live in a world, not so much of idolatry and polytheism, but of atheism. In our age we also are to give the message of the Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are talking about the same Jehovah. He is our Elohim, our Trinity. But He is one Jehovah. [6]

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge:

Shema Yisrael, Yehowah, Elohainoo, Yehowah aichod, “Hear, Israel, Jehovah, our God, is one Jehovah.” On this passage the Jews lay great stress; and it is one of the four passages which they write on their phylacteries. On the word Elohim, Simeon Ben Joachi says; “Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim: there are three degrees, and each degree is by itself alone, and yet they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other” (Zohar. Lev. Sect. 16. Col 116). [7]

Do you want to learn more? Check out the cross references given in the quotes above and in the margin of your own Bible.

NOTES

  1. W.A. Criswell, Believer’s study Bible [computer file], electronic ed. , Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1991 by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies.
  2. Thomas Nelson, Inc., King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  3. Thomas Nelson, Inc., Word in Life study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
  4. Jerry Falwell, executive editor; Edward E. Hinson and Michael Kroll Woodrow, general editors, KJV Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1994.
  5. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.
  6. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.
  7. Jerome H. Smith, editor, The new treasury of scripture knowledge [computer file], elec­tronic edition of the revised edition of The treasury of scripture knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.

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