“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. " - Deuteronomy 6:4
This verse is the refrain of Israel’s monotheistic religion. Monotheism is just a 3 dollar word for the belief that there is but one God. And this verse makes the exclusive claim - “the LORD is one” - that God is the one and only true God. One God. One Truth. Absolute. But take a casual stroll through the Old Testament and one will see that this wasn’t necessarily the norm. At this point in the biblical storyline, God’s people are preparing to enter the long-awaited Promised Land of Canaan. The Canaanites, however, didn’t share Israel’s mono-God mindset; they were pagans, worshipping and serving a plurality of gods.
The Book of Deuteronomy can be viewed as a sermon - one that is largely encouraging God’s people how they are to live in their new home amidst a people morally, ethically, and spiritually different from them. And directly following the familiar “10 Commandments” do we find this Shema as it is called (from the Hebrew word “Hear”): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Why does Moses include this claim of the LORD’s exclusivity? Amidst the rules and commandments, why take time to remind Israel of God’s unshared trueness as a prerequisite for the Promised Land?
God’s Children Need Truth
No doubt we all need to be reminded of who God is, and who we are in light of that reality. But we don’t just need truth about God; we need to know that God is truth. Moses put the exclamation mark of exclusivity on God’s commands. Essentially, he was assuring the Israelites that they could trust and obey God’s commands because His words are perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true (Ps. 19), because He is true.
Entering a culture where self was dominate, gods were plenty, and truth was relative, this kind of certainty would have been crucial. And so it is for us today, where capital “T” Truth is determined by the relative truths of the individual. This inevitably opens the door for myriad inconsistencies, however, my pastor once poignantly put it this way: “Exclusive truth claims are inevitable and unavoidable… To say nobody should be allowed to have an exclusive truth is itself an exclusive truth claim.”
We cannot avoid exclusive truth claims. Each of us will, in fact, cling to one.
God’s Truth Guides Life
With topics like this, we can begin to feel our heads start spinning. We can get lost in all sort of fallacies and circular thinking. But God didn’t design us to be cold, calculated logicians, arguing from cognitively crafted talking points. God made us to live - with heart, soul, and might.
This is where the truth of God’s exclusivity was meant to lead. Immediately following Moses’ cry, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one” is the resulting effect that we “shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The reality that God is Truth leads to real life change in the context of a broken world.
This is what the Israelites needed as they entered into a land offering little “t” truths. The only way they could live among the Canaanites - with heart, soul, and might - was for them to go knowing that God alone is Truth, and their heart, soul, and might need not be swayed!
God’s Truth Gives Life
But God’s children are forgetful. Only three chapters later the Israelites plunge into idol worship. And this is the story of the Bible: God’s people continually fail to remember Him and keep his commands. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for sinful Israel, for people like you and I. This Old Testament Shema finds its fulfillment in the New Testament:
“—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” - 1 Corinthians 8:5-6
Paul applies the very heart of monotheistic religion to Jesus, asserting that Jesus is God. In fact, Scripture is brimming with the reality that Christ is God in the flesh. And, if God is Truth and became man in the person of Jesus Christ, Jesus must therefore be the physical manifestation of Truth.
Truth came. Truth opened his mouth and uttered the most exclusive truth claim of all time: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). Abrasively exclusive, yet unfathomably inclusive. Jesus’ invitation to resurrection life is offered to any who confess their sins and believe that Jesus is Lord.
There is but one Truth that can give life to every horror of heart, every sickness of soul, and every misstep of might.
His name is Jesus.