The Toe of the Kingdom
An Exposition of Deuteronomy 6:4-5
S. DEAN MCBRIDE, JR.
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Tale University Divinity School
The verses have constituted a living document upon which
our various forebears, seeking to discover and revitalize
for themselves identities in the world, have left behind a
succession of exegetical imprints.
Λ Τ THE HEART of Old Testament covenant theology is the affirma-
-¿V-tion of an intimate but conditional symbiosis between Yahweb
and his people Israel. The covenanting God is not merely the divine
ruler of a single nation. He is the ultimate source of all life and wisdom,
the one whose royal decrees create and define existence, whose judgments
alone are decisive in governing the affairs of nature and mankind.
But while God's kingdom is universal in scope—and hence revealed in
countless ways to those who have eyes to see—it is with the progeny of
Jacob that he has chosen to initiate his manifest rule in history. When
Yahweh delivered the clans of Jacob from Egyptian bondage, he brought
"Israel" into being and thereby established a living testimony to his own
incomparable power and providence. Conversely, when the clans ac-
cepted freedom from the burden of pharaoh, they took upon themselves
the yoke of a far mightier suzerain whose gracious deeds and laws
So viewed, Israel's very existence becomes at once a political and
theological fact of awesome proportions. A collection of slaves is trans-
formed into the vassal-nation in whom Yahweh stakes the destiny of his
temporal kingship. Israel's vicissitudes, its achievements and failings,
inevitably shape the way God himself is known by all peoples of the
earth : And for its part, the nation Israel can survive only so long as it
faithfully honors the exclusive divine rule of Yahweh, the suzerain who
alone is able to sustain its common life.
This fundamental notion of Israel's identity is concisely articulated in
the verses from Deuteronomy whose meaning and significance it is our
purpose to investigate here. The Hebrew text may be translated thus:
Hear, O Israel !
Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone !
And love Yahweh your God with all your heart,
with all your life, indeed with all your capacity !
I. T H E TEXT AS "TRADITION"
The words of Deuteronomy 6 i^î. are eloquent and lucid... deceptively
so ! They crystallize a wealth of ancient ideology, the precise lineaments
of which are still in dispute. Yet equally important this one, like few if
any other Old Testament texts, carries with it an accumulated weight of
interpretation, controversy, and familiar usage which the modern exegete
can neither ignore nor easily shoulder aside. Thus before examining the
verses in their Deuteronomic context, it is appropriate to sketch the
development of the secondary guises in which we most commonly recog-
By New Testament times the text had already become a semi-inde-
pendent tradition—a living expression of allegiance to God's eternal king-
dom—nurtured and transfigured in the cult, preaching, and private wor-
ship. For the Jew, recited as the crux of the "Shema c ," Deuteronomy
6:4f. epitomized the essential legacy claimed from ancient Israel. For
the Christian, promulgated anew as the "Great Commandment" and
combined with the command to love the neighbor (Lev. 19:18), the
verses first tended to summarize the Mosaic Torah and then to replace
it as the fundamental decree of the "new covenant."
The Yoke of the Kingdom
From at least the end of the first century A.D., Judaism has recognized
no more important devotional tradition than the "Reading of the
Shema'" (qerV at sema').1 The title "Shema c " (sometimes "Shema'
Israel") derives, of course, from the initial word of Deuteronomy 6:4,
the imperative "Hear!" In classical sources the extent of the text so
labeled is somewhat fluid, and in modern usage Shemac is often variously
employed to designate Deuteronomy 6:4-9 or 6:4L as well as verse 4
alone. However in its definitive form, (c.f. Mishnah Berakot 1:1—3:6)
the Shema' consists of a catena of biblical passages (Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-
21; Num. 15:37-41) and accompanying benedictions. The faithful are
required to recite the text twice daily, upon rising in the morning and
before falling asleep at night (cf. Deut. 6:7), not simply as a pious gesture
but to effect an orientation of the whole self toward the rule of God.
Reciting the Shemac is a two-fold act of sacramental incorporation into
the communal faith of "Israel." Thus the Mishnah records that inten-
tional, reflective "hearing" of the words in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 should
precede the reading of the other portions of the text ". . . so that a man
may first receive upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven (God)
and aftei ward receive upon himself the yoke of the commandments"
While the earlier growth of the tradition is not certain, there is evi-
dence (Mishnah Tamid 4:3—5:1 ) for a prior, formal stage of develop-
ment. We are told that the liturgy associated with daily Temple sacrifice
included the reading of four biblical passages which are separately en-
titled : the Decalogue, the Shema ', Deuteronomy 11:13 (-21 ) and Num-
bers 15:37 (-41 ). Similarly, in our oldest Hebrew manuscript that seems
to attest the Shemac as such—the so-called Nash Papyrus, dating to about
the mid-second century B.C.—a version of the Decalogue immediately
1. The standard discussion of the Shema' as an early Jewish liturgical tradition remains that
of Ismar Elbogen, Der jüdische Gottesdienst in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Hildesheim,
Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1962 reprint of 1931 s ), pp. 14-26. Cf. also Ludwig Blau,
'Origine et histoire de la lecture du Schema," Revue des Études Juives, 31:179-201 (1895);
and Louis Finkelstein, "The Development of the Amidah," JQR, 16:1-43 (1925). For a brief
discussion in English of the text and its significance, the following is useful: Louis Jacobs,
"Shema, Reading of," in Encyclopaedia Judaica (New York, The Macmillan Company, 1971),
XIV (Red-Sl),cols. 1370-74·
precedes Deuteronomy 6:4L (6-g?). It appears probable, therefore,
that Shema' originally designated a section of the biblical text used in
the daily liturgy, perhaps 6:4 alone but more likely 6:4f. and later 6:4-9.
When the public recitation of the Decalogue was discontinued sometime
during the first century A.D., the Shema ' headed the liturgy and, in accord
with the ancient practice of incipit titling, gave its name to the whole.
Both within and apart from the Shema ' as a liturgical tradition, Deu
teronomy 6:4 holds a place of special prominence in the literature, the
ology, and practice of Judaism.4 In contemporary discussion this is
frequently expressed by referring to the verse as "the Jewish confession
of faith par excellence," "the fundamental doctrine of Judaism," and the
like. In rabbinic sources, two phrases are associated with the verse which
aptly characterize its import and classical interpretations : "the unifica
tion of his (God's) Name" (meyahedet semo), and "receiving upon one
self the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven (God)" (meqabbel 'alavo ς61
malkût sämayim ).
2. It may be noted that the citations of Deut. 5:6ff. and 6:4L attested here reflect not the M T
but the Hebrew text which seems to underlie the "Old Greek" preserved especially in L X X A .
Moreover, the Nash text remains our oldest Hebrew witness to Deut. 6:4L The "All Souls
Deuteronomy Scroll" from Qumran (4 Q Deut n ) breaks off at Deut. 6 : 1 , and Frank M. Cross
has informed me that the gap is not filled by any of the unpublished Deuteronomy fragments
from Qumran Cave 4 (though 4 Deuto enticingly preserves ]3«lôhênû yahweh[ from Deut.
6 : 4 ) . The M T tradition of Deut. 6:4-9 1S attested in a phylactery from Murabba c ât dating to
the early second century A.D.
3. See Midrash Sifre Deut. (Wa'ethanan 6:7) 34; Elbogen, Der jüdische Gottesdienst, pp.
24L, 242, 246-48; and George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian
Era: The Age of the Tannaim (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1962 6 ), III, 68f., 95L
Cf. also Geza Vermes' recent discussion, "The Decalogue and the Minim," in Matthew Black &
Georg Fohrer, eds., In Memoriam Paul Kahle (Berlin, Alfred Töpelmann, 1968), pp. 232-40.
The identity of the sectarians (Minim) whose "quibbling" prompted discontinuation of the
public recitation of the Decalogue (to avoid the charge that of the laws in Torah only the
"Ten Words" were directly sanctioned by divine authority) has been much disputed. Vermes
argues that the Minim in this case were "liberal" Jewish Hellenists rather than Judeo-Christians
". . . since none of the parties within the early Church taught an 'antinomianism' as radical as
the complete denial of the divine origin of the Torah" (pp. 237f.). In this regard, however,
there is definite evidence that by the mid-second century A.D. some gnosticizing Christians (or
Judeo-Christians) were indeed claiming that only the Decalogue was "pure" legislation decreed
by God himself, and hence not abolished by the mission of Jesus. (The remainder of the Law,
abrogated or superseded by Christ, was of lesser inspiration, having been delivered through
Moses and the elders.) See Gilles Quispel, tr. and ed., Ptolémée, Lettre a Flora (Sources
Chrétiennes, 24; Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf, 1966), pp. 54-57, 6of.
4. The Hebrew Massoretic Text of the Bible signals the verse's unusual import by "capita-
lizing" the final consonants of its first and last words (i.e., the majuscule writing of the ' in
lemac and the d in 'ehäd). Cf. Leviticus Rabbah 19:2 and Canticles Rabbah 5:11. For
discussion of the general meaning and significance of Deut. 6:4 in Jewish thought, see especially
Arthur Marmorstein, Studies in Jewish Theology, J. Rabbinowitz & M.S. Lew, eds. (London,
Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 72-105.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
The former phrase articulates an understanding of Deuteronomy 6:4
which came to be widely held in Judaism and remains so : By reciting the
verse one proclaims the immutable unity of the one God, Yahweh.5 And,
while this interpretation is not canonized in the biblical text itself, it has
been sanctified through the centuries by the blood of Jewish martyrs who,
facing pagan and Christian opponents, have died with the first words of
the Shemac on their lips, as it were, "unifying55 God.6
Rabbinic Judaism may have begun to interpret Deuteronomy 6:4 as
an affirmation of the "unity of God'5—in opposition to both Gnostic and
Christian theologies—as early as the beginning of the Amoraite period
(third century A.D.). 7 But there is scant indication, if any, of such an
emphasis or interest in the rabbinic literature of the preceding Tannaite
age (first and second centuries A.D.). Here we find that the claims of
dualism, polytheism, and atheism alike were answered not by an avowal
5. The classical interpretation of the verse as a statement of radical monotheism and monism
is set forth in the work of Maimonides, the eminent Jewish philosopher of the late 12 th
century. (Cf. Harry A. Wolfson, "Maimonides on the Unity and Incorporeality of God," JQR,
56:112-36 [1965-66].) Following rabbinic precedent, Maimonides classified Deut. 6:4 second
among the 248 positive commandments (out of" a total 613) given to Moses on Sinai and
subsequently promulgated in Scripture. Exod. 20:2 was reckoned to be the first commandment,
asserting the existence of God and the necessity of Israel's belief in him. The second positive
commandment proclaimed in addition that God is metaphysically one, that he is pure spirit
and hence indivisible. On the one hand it denied polytheism's claim that the divine is manifold
in substance and form; on the other, it denied the corporeality of God himself, the view that
since he is a *'body" he is intelligible as a whole comprised of a number of "members." Maimon-
ides' philosophical arguments here were directed, at least in part, against the sorts of christologi-
cal and trinitarian speculations dogmatically fixed in the creeds of the early church. And,
clearly, in the history of Jewish thought Deut. 6:4 has often been used as a doctrinal bulwark
against those ". . . who darkened the sky of Israel's pure monotheism by teaching their
peculiar theory of Jesus, identifying him with God, and declaring him to be God's son by
advancing the dogma of the Trinity . . ." (Marmorstein, Studies in Jewish Theology, pp. 74f.).
Maimonides' stress on the metaphysical "unity" of the single divine Being was, to a limited
degree, anticipated by Philo Judaeus; see Moore, Judaism, I, 359-62 and the references there
6. For the significance of the verse and the formula meyahedet lemo beginning with the early
medieval crusader pogroms in Europe, see Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, trans. Judaíx
Goldin (New York, Schocken Books, 19692), pp. 17-27 and the literature there cited. The
origin of this martyrological tradition is usually traced to Rabbi 'Aqiba' who when executed as
a revolutionary by the Romans in 135 A.D. died reciting the Shema', prolonging on his lips the
final word, 'ehäd, of Deut. 6 : 4 ; Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 61b. (This, however, was surely
an affirmation by 'Aqiba' of God's exclusive sovereignty and not an avowal of divine meta-
physical unity.) I know of no occurrences of the formula meyahedet semo which are Tannaitic
or demonstrable early Amoraic; for examples of the formula, specifically associated with the
twice-daily recitation of the Shema', see the following: Genesis Rabbah 2 0 : 7 ; Canticles Rabbah
2:16, 7 : 2 ; Lamentations Rabbah 1:14, 3:21-24.
7. The first clear antichristological interpretation of Deut. 6:4 seems to have been derived
by reading the verse in the light of Eccl. 4 : 8 : God is "one" (and not "two"), having neither
"son nor brother." Cf. Deut. Rabbah 2 : 3 3 ; Eccl. Rabbah 4:7f.
of God's "oneness53 but by the confession of his preeminent sovereignty,
his unrivaled power and providence. And here too it is the phrase "re-
ceiving upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven55 which most
incisively captures the meaning and significance ascribed to the opening
line of the Shemac.8 The verse was read as an oath of allegiance to the
suzerainty of Yahweh alone. Rather than proclaiming God's unity, it
effected the unity, the corporate identity of those bound into his kingdom,
setting them free from the lesser political dominions of the world.
This is borne out by the earliest rabbinic comments on Deuteronomy
6:4 which are preserved in the Tannaite Midrash, Sifre Deuteronomy.
According to the tradition first attested here and in the Palestinian Tar-
gums, the initial verse of the Shema ' originated as a solemn declaration
by the sons of Jacob-Israel, delivered at their father's deathbed (i.e., the
setting described in Genesis 49 ) .9 The patriarch, troubled lest his off-
spring prove unworthy of the blessing they are to inherit, questions them
to see if they, like their kinsmen, are prone to idolatry and polytheism.
They respond, "Hear, O Israel (our father) ! Our God is Yahweh . . . !"
swearing fealty to the divine lord who alone had guided their fathers
before them. Further, the Tannaite exegetes derived from the verse a
statement of the two-fold nature of God's providential rule when it was
read in the light of Zechariah 14:9. Yahweh, who has chosen Israel as
his special possession and is now acknowledged as its only God, is also the
sole God whose exclusive divine suzerainty will be acknowledged by all
nations of the earth in the coming age.10
8. On the formula meqabbël ( äläw ' δΐ malkût lämayim and its analogues in rabbinic sources,
see especially the citations and discussions in Israel Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the
Gospels, Second Series (London, Cambridge University Press, 1924), pp. 4-14; and Adolph
Büchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century (Library
of Biblical Studies; New York, KTAV Publishing House, 19672), pp. 36-118. Cf. Deut. Rabbah
2:31 where the title "Kingdom of Heaven/God" for Deut. 6:4 is discussed. "Yoke" ('öl) in
the metaphorical sense of "dominion, sovereignty, rule" is, of course, well attested in the biblical
literature: e.g., Deut. 2 8 : 4 8 ; Isa. 10:27; Jer. 2 : 2 0 ; Hos. 11:4; cf. Matt. n : 2 9 f . Cf. also the
biblical and ancient Near Eastern evidence for the use of nîr in this sense collected by Paul D .
Hanson, "The Song of Heshbon and David's NIR," HTR, 61:310-20 (1968).
9. Sifre Deut. (Wa 9 ethanan 6:4) 31. Cf. Deut. Rabbah, 2 : 3 5 ; and Gen. Rabbah, 9 8 : 3 .
10. Zech. 14:9, which may indeed be an early comment on Deut. 6:4, reads: "And Yahweh
will become king over the whole earth in that day; Yahweh will be ' ehäd (sole, unique, alone)
and his name 'ehäd/9 Hence the rabbis derived that the words yahweh *eWhênû in Deut. 6:4
express the primary, intimate relationship between Yahweh and Israel ("our God"), and that
yahweh ' ehäd affirms the universal eschatological rule of God over the nations. It seems quite
likely this interpretation is reflected by Paul in Romans 3:29f., though modified in the light of
his own mission and eschatology.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
In sum, the classical Jewish sources reveal two overlapping stages in
the interpretation of the opening line of the Shema In the first, it articu-
lated a radical monotheism, a universal divine kingship awaiting his-
torical actualization. In the second, developed largely in response to
Christian theology and persecution, it became a statement of the immuta-
ble oneness of the single divine Being.
The Great Commandment
In the history of Jewish interpretation, Deuteronomy 6:4 was virtually
hypostatized from its biblical context, the "meaning55 of the verse ap-
propriately nuanced to meet the changing needs of Israel's religious
identity. Much the same must be said of Deuteronomy 6:5 in early
Christian exegesis. In a development that is a classic example of Christian
midrash, the command to "love God55 was transformed from the funda-
mental obligation of the Deuteronomic torah into the "new command-
ment55 received by the church alone, enjoining God5s new chosen people
to abide as one, bound together in the spiritual love manifested through
The pericope commonly labeled "the Great Commandment55 is found
in all three Synoptic Gospels, although the Greek phrase so translated
(entöle me gale) appears in only one of them (Matt. 22:36, cf. v. 38).
Indeed the three accounts are at variance in a number of significant
respects. While some inter-Synoptic development is clear, critics have
long disagreed as to its exact typology and whether one primary tradi-
tion or more must be recognized.11 Let us examine each of the passages,
giving particular attention to the Marcan narrative.
The account in Mark (12:28-34) is the most vivid and spontaneous
of the three. A scribe, possibly associated with the Pharisees, asks Jesus,
"What commandment (entöle) is foremost (prôtë) of all?55 (v. 28).
Jesus5 response (vs. 29-31) links Deuteronomy 6 : 4 ! and the so-called
"love commandment55 from Leviticus 19:18 :
11. Günther Bornkamm, for example, posits separate traditions behind the Marcan and
Matthean accounts (largely, it seems, because he wishes for theological reasons to stress the
import of the latter) : "Das Doppelgebot der Liebe," Neutestamentliche Studien für Rudolf
Bultmann (Berlin, Alfred Töpelmann, 1954), pp. 85-93; see also Bornkamm's essay "End-
Expectation and Church in Matthew" in Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew, trans.
Percy Scott (The New Testament Library; Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1963), pp.
I S - S ^ S P - 30-32.
Foremost is 'Hear, Israel! Our God is 'Adonai (Kyrios), 'Adonai alone he is;
and you shall love ' Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' Next (to it) is this, Ύοιι
shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater
A second exchange then follows. The scribe, affirming Jesus response,
paraphrases the biblical quotations and, in an apparent allusion to I
Samuel 15:22, observes that the demands they make are more funda
mental than acts of the sacrificial cultus (v. 33 ). The pericope concludes
with Jesus commending the scribe : "You are not far from the kingdom
There is not the slightest trace of hostility in the scribe's manner or re
marks. He comes forward to speak out of admiration for the exegetical
sophistication this unknown teacher has shown in debating the Sadducees
(12:18-27). So too the scribe's response to Jesus' words shows that he
has recognized a wise and welcome answer (but not necessarily a novel
one) to a serious question. For this reason critics have usually supposed—
and no doubt correctly—that the question itself must reflect learned
Jewish discussion about the Torah in Jesus' day.15 Certainly this eli
minates the possibility, which the text cannot support in any event, that
Jesus was asked and acquiesced in attempting to single out one or two
12. Greek kyrios heis estin follows the LXX of Deut. 6 : 4 and renders literally the Hebrew
text witnessed by the Nash Papyrus: (see note 2) yahweh 'ehäd hûy (as against the M T and
Samaritan Pentateuch which lack the final pronoun). Standard Hebrew and Greek syntax both
support the Eng. trans, of the verse given above. For heis elsewhere in the sense "only, alone"
see, for example, Mark 2:7, 10:18.
13. On the textual issues posed by the Synoptic renditions of Deut. 6:5 see Krister Stendahl,
The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament (Philadelphia, Fortress Press,
19682), pp. 72-76; and Robert H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew's
Gospel with Special Reference to the Messianic Hope (Supplements to Novum Τ est amentum,
18; Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1967), pp. 22-24.
14. The definite article is used with neither prôtë nor deutera and hence the usual trans-
lations "the first" and "the second" adopted in Eng. texts are at least potentially misleading.
It is not clear, in other words, that Jesus' answer is meant to suggest a ranking or rota of the
individual commandments of Torah, and indeed this seems quite unlikely. Note the use of
deuteros in the L X X to render Hebrew misneh in the sense of "alongside, next to, second-born" :
e.g., I Sam. 8:2 ; 23:17 ; II Sam. 3 : 3 .
15. It has often been suggested that the scribe inquired as to which of the 613 commandments
of Scripture (see above note 5) was "greatest," "weightiest" or the like. But efforts to catalog
the stipulations of Torah and to tie the oral law to fixed scriptural loci were a post-Jamnia
development in Judaism. The evidence usually cited pertaining to the tradition of 613 com-
mandments dates to the Amoraite period and later, and hence sheds little direct light upon
rabbinic debate in the first half of the first century A.D.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
specific commandments as most enlightened, thereby implying that the
others were of lesser value and authority. Instead, the scribe seems to
have asked for either an epitome of the law or its fundamental beginning
point, the sine qua non for access into the divine government which the
Why the combination of these two scriptural passages? We have no
other evidence from early Jewish sources attesting just this configuration
of verses. Nevertheless there are sufficient data to suggest with reasonable
certainty how the stipulations are comparable or, better, related as "fore-
most of all." In the initial part of his reply to the scribe, Jesus was ob-
viously citing the section of the biblical text known in the Jewish liturgy
as the "Shema c ." As we have already seen, these verses, and especially
Deuteronomy 6:4, were beginning to play an ever larger role in the Jew-
ish self-understanding of Jesus5 time.16 Recall too what the text meant
for the Jew who recited it with full intention: "receiving upon oneself
the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven." It was the act par excellence of
acknowledging God's sovereignty over the individual Israelite and Israel
as a whole.17
The acceptance of Yahweh's rule was certainly foremost of all for
faithful Jews, literally prior to every other demand, ritual law, and
ethical norm articulated in the Torah, both oral and written. Yet once
allegiance is sworn to the divine king, obedience to his decrees must fol-
16. The significance of Mark 12:29 equaling Deut. 6:4 has all too often been slighted in
New Testament criticism. As is indicated beyond any doubt by the stress it receives in the
scribe's paraphrase, the verse was a crucial part of Jesus' answer and not a mere introduction
to Deut. 6:5 where the love of God is commanded. Surely if we seek to distinguish the two
fundamental "commandments" here proclaimed, they are not "love of God" and "love of
neighbor" but the confession that Tahweh alone L· to be honored as Israel's God and love of
neighbor. (Hence also the difference between the Marcan and Matthean versions is not simply
"stylistic." Equally gratuitous, however, is G. G. Montefiore's comment on Mark 12:29, sug-
gesting that Jesus cited Deut. 6:4 as a "confession of pure, unadulterated monotheism" in
order to deny rumors of his own quasi-divinity : The Synoptic Gospels Edited with an Intro-
auction and a Commentary (London, The Macmillan Co., 1927), p. 286.
17. It affirms, in other words, the covenant initiated at Sinai-Horeb. In this connection we
should note that in first century rabbinic discussion there is a parallelism between the two
yokes articulated in the Shema* (accepted through its recitation) and the text of the Decalogue,
which at one time preceded the Shema* in the liturgy. Thus Exod. 20:2/Deut. 5:6 may also be
described as "the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven," which Israel received in Egypt by choosing
to be delivered from pharaoh: Exod. 2o:3-i7/Deut. 5:7-21 is the "yoke of the command-
ments," the fundamental burden of God's rule accepted by Israel at Sinai. For the rabbinic
texts which make this interpretation explicit, see A. Büchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement . . .,
pp. 36-40; and G. G. Montefiore & H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (Philadelphia, The Jewish
Publication Society, "Medidian Books" edition, 1963), pp. 77-79, 117, 121.
low, which the Rabbis described as "receiving upon oneself the yoke of
the commandments.55 Is not this latter "yoke55 the one which Jesus com-
mends by citing Leviticus 19:18? It too is foremost, summarizing and
leading into the whole of the Torah. Here we may take note of a com-
ment attributed to a contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Haninah who is
called "the Chief of the Priests.55 The decree to love the neighbor as one-
self enshrined in Leviticus 19:18, he said, is the "commandment55 (däbär)
upon which "the whole world is suspended55 (hä'oläm kûllô täluy). It
articulates, in other words, the essence of God5s universal government
over mankind, made specifically binding upon Israel at Sinai.18 The true
servants of Yahweh are those who, having confessed his preeminent king-
ship over their own lives, accord their fellow subjects the same worth
they themselves have received in abundance.
In this pericope from the Gospel of Mark, therefore, we catch a glimpse
of Jesus who is in full but creative continuity with the most profound Jew-
ish tradition, thought, and piety of his day. In the Lukan and Matthean
versions this is not the case, at least not to the same extent.
The account in Luke (10:25-28) begins abruptly with neither setting
nor rationale specified. A "lawyer55 stands up, apparently while Jesus
is addressing a crowd, to "tempt55 or bait him. The lawyer's question
differs from that of the scribe in Mark, though on a more fundamental
level it connoted much the same thing: "Teacher, what must I do to
inherit eternal life?5519 Jesus answers the question with a question, "What
is written in the Law?55 to which the lawyer responds by citing in conflated
form Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18; there is neither citation of
nor allusion to the opening line of the Shemac20 "You have answered
correctly;55 Jesus then says, "do this, and you will live.55
18. Abot de Rabbi Natan 6 : 2 7 : 9 - 1 1 . In the "A" text ( 16:33!:.) the saying is attributed
to Simeon ben Eleazar. Cf. Büchler, op. cit., pp. 301.
19. Note in this regard the rabbinic formula (s) "to acquire (qänäh) I to enter (bô') the
life of the world to come (hayyê häe oläm habbä' ) " associated with obedience to the Torah. See,
e.g., 'Abot de Rabbi Natan A:2-25, 14:10; and Mishnah 'Abot (Pirqe 'Abot) 2:7.
20. Apart from Mark 12:29, the New Testament makes scant reference to Deut. 6:4. There
appear to be only several oblique allusions to the verse in the Pauline corpus to affirm that there
is but one God of all mankind (Rom. 3 : 29L; I Cor. 8:4, 6; Gal. 3 : 2 0 ) . Cf. Brevard S.
Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1970), pp. 202-19. Much
more explicit use is made elsewhere of Lev. 19:18 as the single commandment which "fulfills"
or "summarizes" the Law (Rom. 13: 8fî. ; Gal. 3 : 2 0 ; James 2 : 8 ) . The verse affirms what
one should do to be numbered among the righteous, but if the positive law of love is not obeyed
then divine retribution exacted on the basis of the manifold negative commandments may be
expected (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5 : 1 5 ; James 2 : 9 ) .
The Yoke of the Kingdom
The Marcan tradition has here been attenuated, its force and most of
its profundity swept aside. The Torah is affirmed but in a rather back-
handed manner as its significance is reduced to a debater's point. This
becomes even clearer in the following verse when the lawyer retorts, "And
who is my neighbor?" (v. 29). In fact, "the Great Commandment" is
not an independent pericope at all in Luke; it serves only to introduce
the lawyer's second question and Jesus' subsequent response, the parable
of the "good Samaritan" (vs. 30-37).
The Matthean version also presents us with a confrontation, but it is a
more meaningful one. The pericope (22134-40) is placed in the context
of a series of disputations between Jesus and his Jewish opponents
(21:45—22:46) in which the latter attempt to discredit and indict
the new "prophet" whom the people acclaim, by posing for his bemuse-
ment difficult and controversial interpretive issues. (The result is that
Jesus emerges as a preeminent "rabbi" as well as prophet.) Thus in
22:34-36 a lawyer, here identified specifically with the Pharisees, "tests"
Jesus by asking him to formulate "the great (est) commandment in the
law." Both the wording of the question and Jesus' answer are remarkably
similar to the tradition in which Rabbi c Aqiba ' declared Leviticus 19:18
"the greatest principle in the Torah" (Ifläl gädol battoräh).21 Jesus in-
deed seems to derive an exegetical and practical principle in Matthew's
account by juxtaposing two "commandments" which are "like" (homoia)
one another in demanding love. Deuteronomy 6:5 (again, without allu-
sion to the preceding verse), is cited as "the great (est) and first (or
'foremost') commandment" and "a second (or 'another')" is the love
of one's neighbor; upon these together "depend (Heb. tlh?) all of the
Law and the Prophets" (vs. 37-40). The value of the Torah as a whole
is neither denied nor reduced, but here and elsewhere in the Gospel of
2i.Sifra, Lev. 19:18 loc. cit.; and Genesis Rabbah 24:7. Morton Smith's rejection of the
"parallel" is hasty and unwarranted: Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels (JBL Monograph
Series, 6; Philadelphia, Society of Biblical Literature, 1951), p. 138. The relevant comparison
is, of course, between Mal gädol battoräh and entolê megalê en to nomo (Matt. 22:36 rather
than 2 2 : 3 8 ) . Whether entöle accurately renders keläl is a moot point but that a "rule" is
formulated in Matt. 22:37-39 "which includes by implication all the rest (of the Law)" is
made explicit in 22:40. On the tradition of the so-called "negative golden rule" as an epitome
of the Law in early Jewish texts, see especially the following: Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a;
Tobit 4 : 1 5 ; Mishnah 'Abot (Pirqe 'Abot) 1:12; 'Abot de Rabbi Natan B : 2 6 : i - 8 .
Matthew its fulfillment is measured by the rule of "love."22
There is no convincing reason to deny the development of a single
tradition in these three Synoptic accounts. The clear priority of Mark
should be evident. Even apart from formal considerations, the Marcan
narrative alone is fully illuminated by early Jewish sources. The tradi-
tion as Mark presented it was either misunderstood, tendentiously re-
shaped, or both, in the Lukan and Matthean versions. The Judaic Jesus
of Mark is replaced in Luke by the Christ whose universal message pre-
figures the Gentile mission of the church, and in Matthew by the Messi-
anic Lord who radicalizes and fulfills the "old" covenant. But most im-
portant for our purposes, in the latter two accounts we can trace the early
typological development of the two-fold "love commandment" into a
Christian norm which is supposed to stand above Jewish parochialism
(whether the combination of Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 was originally
Judaic or not). 23
As it so often does, the Johannine literature offers an ambivalent wit-
ness to the tradition with which we are concerned. The "Great Com-
mandment" pericope as such is not represented in the Fourth Gospel.
And yet the biblical structure of its earliest Synoptic form (as preserved
in Mark) can be detected, fleshed out with a theological and ecclesiologi-
cal interpretation going well beyond the development of the tradition
attested in Matthew.
Although in no small measure the Fourth Gospel polemicizes against
the Jews, in content it is neither anti-Judaic nor non-Judaic. When one
reads John in the light of first-century Jewish thought and its Old Testa-
ment antecedents, it becomes apparent that for the writer or community
which produced the Fourth Gospel, Christianity has inherited—perhaps
more accurately, usurped—the traditional identity of Israel. From the
midst of the old covenant community God has called forth a new people
22. Cf. Gerhard Barth, "Matthew's Understanding of the Law," in Tradition and Interpreta-
tion in Matthew, trans. Percy Scott (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1963), pp. 58-164,
esp. 75-85 ; and the studies of Bornkamm cited in n. 11 above.
23. For the rabbinic traditions on love of God and neighbor, see esp: Israel Abrahams,
Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, First Series (London, Cambridge University Press, 1917),
pp. 18-29; G. F. Moore, Judaism, II, 84-88. Explicit Jewish association of Deut. 6:5 and
Lev. 19:18 is suggested (if not proven) by 3 passages in "The Testament of the Twelve
Patriarchs" : Issachar 5:2 ; 7 : 6 ; Dan. 5:3.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
to be his witness, in much the same way he called forth Abraham from
Mesopotamia, promising his progeny blessing and dominion when Abra-
ham "believed" (cf. John 8:31-59; 10:22-42).
According to John, God has not rejected the Jews; they have rejected
his rule throughout their history, condemning themselves finally by their
failure to acknowledge the one whom he has sent to offer redemption and
entrance into the eternal divine kingdom (12:37-50 ). To believe in Jesus
is to affirm the authority of God and Scripture, and that Jesus was not
well received means that most of those to whom he came "have not the
love of God" within them (5:31-47, especially v. 42). 24 It is, in other
words, Christ alone who now offers "the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven."
Nor is "the yoke of the commandments" missing in Johannine formula-
tion. To those who accept him and enter God's kingdom, Christ delivers
a solemn decree, "love one another," no doubt derived from Leviticus
In the Fourth Gospel this pattern—acknowledging God in Christ and
accepting the law of love—is revealed especially in two keynote sections
of Jesus5 "Last Discourse" delivered to the disciples following the "new
covenant" meal they share together ( 13:1-30). Thus in 13:31-35 Jesus
first announces his imminent departure (passion and resurrection)
through which he and God will be glorified as one. Then follows im-
mediately the "new commandment" (entolê kainë) : " . . . love one
another; just as I have loved you, so shall you love one another. If you
have love for one another, then all will know that you are my disciples."
The pattern is more elaborately developed in John 15:7-27, a homily on
the parable of the vine (15:1-6). Christ is portrayed as the essential link
between the divine Father and those who would serve him. When the
Jews rejected Jesus, they rejected the God of the Shemac as well (vs.
22-25). Conversely, those who acknowledge Jesus experience the love of
God revealed through him; as members of the new covenant community
24. While the phrase tën agapën tou theou is grammatically ambiguous, the context here
strongly suggests that it refers to Israel's love for God (demanded in Deut. 6 : 5 ) , rather than
God's love for Israel. The point of the pericope is that if the Jews were truly the "Israel"
defined in the Shema'—having both acknowledged Yahweh's sovereignty and internalized his
decrees in order to do them—they would have accepted the divine mission of Jesus. See also
James 1:12; 2:5.
—no longer "slaves" of God but now "allies55 of Christ25—the disciples
are charged to abide in the divine love, manifesting it toward one another.
In both of these passages we observe that it is not universal love which is
commanded but love among the disciples (i.e., the church), witnessing
to their chosenness while distinguishing them from the rest of mankind.26
Finally, attention may be called to the prominence of this same pattern
in the Johannine epistles (I John 2:1-17, 3:19-24, 4:7-5:5; II John
5-11 ). In I John 3:23 the shape of the two yokes is succinctly delineated :
God has decreed that "we should believe in the name of his son Jesus
Christ, and love one another " God, Christ, and believing community
are joined in a mystical kingdom whose bond is mutual and exclusive
love. To be sure, there is recognition in the epistles that the "love com-
mandment" is "old," which is to say Mosaic (I John 2:7; II John 5). 27
But in Christ it has become both "new" and "true" in an eschatological
sense, setting Christians as "children of God" apart from other people
and freeing them from bondage to the flesh, the devil, and the world
Evident in the New Testament data we have surveyed is a widening
gulf between the church and the synagogue, between Christianity and its
parent faith. In fashioning its own secure identity, initially within and
then over against first century Judaism, the church appropriated and re-
interpreted Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Two tendencies
may be discerned. In Matthew the commands to love God and neighbor
25. John 15:7-17 is permeated with covenantal language and ideology, attesting esp. close
acquaintance with the Deuteronomic concepts, literature and theology of the OT. Of particular
interest is the use of philoi in vs. 13-15 in the sense of "(covenantal) allies," RSV, "friends").
See in this connection Deut. 5:10 (cf. 7 : 9 ) , and the discussion of Deut. 6:5 below.
26. On the narrowness of the love command in the Fourth Gospel, see Ernst Käsemann,
The Testament of Jesus: A Study of the Gospel of John in the Light of Chapter 17, trans.
Gerhard Krodel (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1968), pp. 59-61.
27. Like the Fourth Gospel, the Johannine epistles exhibit a close acquaintance with O T and
rabbinic traditions; they reveal the early church attempting to claim the identity of the old
Israel while interpreting that identity in the light of a new revelation. Similarly, the primary
threat to which the epistles speak is the danger that the new will not survive as distinct from
and the fulfillment of the old. Hence also the "deceivers," the "false prophets," the "antichrist"
(I John 4:1-6; II John 7-11) abroad in the land are not those spreading a docetic heresy or
the like, but Jews or, most likely, Judaeo-Christians who fail to acknowledge the full divinity
of "both the Father and the Son" (II John 9 ) . From the Johannine perspective it is the
doctrine of the exalted Christ who "came in the flesh" which is threatened by the "deceivers"
and not the humanity of Jesus. This is made quite explicit in I John 2:22f. where acknowledging
Jesus as the Christ and Son of God becomes the test distinguishing the church from sectarian
Judaism. Cf. C. W. Dugmore, The Influence of the Synagogue upon the Divine Office (West-
minster, The Faith Press Ltd., 19642), pp. 1-6.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
are exegetically compounded into an ethical principle in which the
Mosaic Torah is positively summarized and fulfilled.28 While this is often
represented as a broadening of the love demand as Judaism interpreted
it, in the Johannine literature especially, the "way" into the divine king-
dom has become very narrow indeed. Here the "Yahweh alone" con-
fessed in the Shemac is replaced by the God who is one with the exalted
Christ. And the love of God and neighbor is transformed into an inner-
directed and self-justifying sign of Christian election. No doubt in the
Johannine formulation we must recognize the emergence of the theology
which provoked Judaism a century or so later to reinterpret Deuteronomy
6:4 as a declaration of the immutable "unity" of God.
II. T H E TEXT AS DEUTERONOMIO TORAH
The dynamic of contextual reinterpretation illustrated by early Christ-
ian and Jewish use of Deuteronomy 6:4f. was hardly a post-canonical
innovation in the history of the biblical literature. Recasting older tra-
dition in order to hear it speak to changing communal needs and condi-
tions was the process which shaped the Old Testament canon itself and
which may be detected already in the formation of its earliest strata.
Deuteronomy provides a classic example of this process in operation.
With its magnificent synthesis of narrative prose, legal instruction, and
homiletical exposition the book embodies a profound second-level reflec-
tion upon central themes and texts crystallized in the earlier Epic (JE)
traditions of the Tetrateuch.
In its present form, of course, Deuteronomy was promulgated during
the half-century that began with the propitious accession of Josiah to the
Judaean throne in 640 B.C. Reform, national renewal, the tragedy of the
young king's death, subjugation to foreign powers, and internal strife
followed in rapid succession; the period ended with the demise of the
Davidic state, its populace scattered among the nations. And the many
facets of Deuteronomy reflect these tumultuous years, the hopeful and
28. The development can be traced through the Patristic period. See particularly Justin,
Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 93, where the "double love commandment" is used as the text
for an incredible polemic against the Jews. Cf. (without the polemical overtones) II Clement
13:14; Didache 1:2; Barnabas 19:5.
the bleak alike.29 Yet we miss the point if we suppose the book to be
primarily a reactionary product of the age. Despite its complexity, Deu-
teronomy is not a loose, rambling panegyric whose authors used the
artifice of Mosaic teaching to prop up the crumbling religious and politi-
cal institutions they served. Neither is it an elaborate corpus of burden-
some laws and dogma meant to coerce social conformity as a last ditch
defense against national dissolution. While Deuteronomy speaks to a
people in transition, a nation threatened by disaster, its message seeks to
articulate from the tradition what is enduring in Israel's experience,
what is vital to its continuing existence—Israel's covenantal identity.
Appropriate to this endeavor, the book is cast in the form of Moses5 last
will and testament, addressed both to the tribes assembled on the plains
of Moab, poised for the conquest of Canaan, and to their heirs in sub-
sequent generations who must decide anew whether to participate in the
elusive reality of Yahweh's historical kingdom.30
The spirit which pervades Deuteronomy is nowhere more eloquently
captured than in 6 :/.t Although frequently severed from one another in
the history of interpretation, the two verses comprise a syntactical and
semantic whole, a single coordinate sentence bound together by the im-
perative construction "hear . . . and love. . . ."31 Moreover the verses are
a legitimate text for exegesis, distinguishable within their larger literary
setting. Like the similar constructions introduced by the formula "Hear,
O Israel !" in 5:1 and 9:1-3, Deuteronomy 6:4f. sounds the keynote for a
29. The origins and history of the Deuteronomic traditions remain matters of substantial
critical disagreement. A very strong case can be made for the pre-Josianic origins of much of
the book (whether or not this material is to be associated with the document discovered in the
Jerusalem Temple during Josiah's reign). However, the decisive stages of the book's final
redaction certainly correspond with the major "editions" of the Deuteronomic History, on
which see esp: Frank M. Cross, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic History" in J. M.
Rosenthal, ed., Perspectives in Jewish Learning (Chicago, The College of Jewish Studies Press,
1967), III, 9-24.
30. In recent years the remarkable affinities between Deut. and the ancient Near Eastern
treaty literature have rightly been stressed. But while Deut. is pervaded from beginning to end
with treaty or covenantal language, forms, and ideology, in its present overall form, it cannot
be considered the text of a treaty or the like. The "suzerainty treaty" scenario is, at best, residual
in the present structure of the book whose structure is certainly that of a "testament."
Deuteronomy preserves, in other words, a second-level reflection on the covenantal traditions
associated with the figure of Moses. Note that the "covenant in the land of Moab" (Deut.
29:1—30:20 [28:69—30:20 Heb.]) is part of the Mosaic legacy, in the same way that the
legacy of Joshua (Josh. 23L) includes the making of a pact at Shechem.
31. I.e., the imperative continued by waw plus the perfect. On this construction (esp.
common in Deut.) see Thomas O. Lamdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (New York,
Charles Scribner's Sons, i 9 7 i ) , p . 119 (para. 107:b).
The Yoke of the Kingdom
new subsection in the structure of Moses' farewell discourse.32 The text,
then, constitutes a literary rubric which serves two ends. It introduces
the theme of radical obedience to the rule of Yahweh elaborated in
6:6—8:20, and it links this parenetic unit with the larger Mosaic sermon
on the fundamental import of the divine law which includes 4:44—
Let us turn now to an exposition of the specific phrases through which
the Deuteronomists have fashioned this superlative statement of the
Hear, O Israel!
Old Testament occurrences of "Hear, O Israel!55 (semaf yisrä'el) are
limited to the Book of Deuteronomy where the specific phrase appears
five times.33 As noted above, in three cases (5:1 ; 6:4; 9:1) it is used as a
structural signal within a major discourse; in the two additional oc-
currences it functions as a formal salutation (20:3; 27:9). On the
strength of these latter attestations, Gerhard von Rad suggested that
"Hear, O Israel !" was ". . . the traditional summons with which in the
old days the assembly for worship of the tribes, the qähäl, was opened."34
This is not at all unlikely and yet it is a generalization which sheds little
light on the meaning and possible origin of 6:4. Support outside of
Deuteronomy for the formal antiquity of the specific expression is lack-
ing, and "the assembly for worship of the tribes" is an apt description not
only of the five passages where the phrase occurs but for the setting
presupposed by Deuteronomy as a whole. Rather than objecting to the
description of the phrase as "merely a literary coinage" (Von Rad), we
should ask what informs its prominent literary use by the Deuteronomists.
While the specific expression is not found elsewhere in the Old Testa-
ment, comparable formulas are abundantly attested. Imperative forms
of the verb säma often associated with vocatives specifying the parties
addressed, are employed in numerous contexts to introduce commands,
32. Cf. William L. Moran, "Deuteronomy," in Reginald C. Fuller, ed., A New Catholic
Commentary on Holy Scripture (Camden, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1969), p. 265, and Norbert
Lohfink, Das Hauptgebot: Eine Untersuchung literarischer Einleitungsfragen zu Dtn 5-11
(Analecta Biblica, 20; Romae, E Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1963), pp. 63-68, 163L
33. There are also direct echoes of the formula in Deut. 4:1 and 6:3.
34. Deuteronomy: A Commentary, trans. Dorothea Barton (The Old Testament Library;
Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 63.
requests, proclamations, accusations, and simply good advice. In pro
phetic speech the imperative "Hear!" is especially frequent as, for exam
ple, when it signals a direct pronouncement from the heavenly court of
Yahweh (e.g., I Kings 22:19; Jer. 34:4; Amos 7:16). "Hear!" is also a
common rhetorical device in wisdom discourses; in particular, it may
mark the beginning of the kind of practical instruction a sage offers his
students (e.g., Prov. 1:8; 4 : 1 ; 8:32). Or, the imperative may com
mence a special plea, as when one directs a heartfelt petition to Yahweh
(e.g., Deut. 33:7; II Kings 19:16; Ps. 28:2 ).
In each of these cases "Hear!" communicates a sense of urgency, spe
cial import, or both. The speaker is not only soliciting attention, he is
anticipating a positive response. For example, when divine judgment is
"heard," repentance is expected and that this does not always happen is
part of the anomalous burden of prophecy (cf. II Kings 22:11,18-22 ; Isa.
6:9-10; Ezek. 3:27). Similarly, the efficacy of prayer and divine entreaty
is predicated on the expectation that when God "hears" a just complaint
or pious supplication he will act favorably: "Hear, O Yahweh, and
show grace toward me !" (Ps. 30:10 [11 Heb.] ) ; "And hear (O God) in
heaven, your place of enthronement, and when you hear, forgive!" (I
Kings 8:30.) There is, in other words, a strong note of intentionality
conveyed by the verb sarna' whose force in Hebrew must often be
rendered in English by "obey," "heed," rather than simply "hear." If one
really hears, he will respond in accord with what he has learned.
Hearing in this purposeful, almost compulsive sense is crucial to the
whole enterprise which the Book of Deuteronomy represents.36 First, it
is the mode through which nascent Israel received the Decalogue, the
35. Primarily on the strength of this evidence it has been suggested (Dennis McCarthy,
Treaty and Covenant [Analecta Biblica, a i ; Rome, Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963] pp. 114,
9> 135) t n a t Deut. 6:4fr. reflects a "wisdom" genre. The "parallel" is scarcely remarkable
however, and the speeches in Deut. introduced by the imperative "Hear" can no more usefully
be subsumed under the rubric "wisdom" than can the numerous prophetic oracles which begin
similarly. A general caution should be urged regarding recent attempts to posit strong "wisdom"
influence in Deuteronomy on the basis of supposed terminological and ideological parallels.
Without the controls of firm literary typology and genre analysis such arguments from common
language are seldom convincing.
36. Cf. Josef Schreiner, "Hören auf Gott und sein Wort in der Sicht des Deuteronomiums" in
Erich Kleineidem & Heinz Schürmann, eds., Miscellanea Erfordiana (Erfurter Theologische
Studien, 12; Leipzig, St. Benno-Verlag, GMBH, 1962), pp. 27-47. As Norbert Lohfink (Das
Haubtgebot, pp. 148-53) has argued, the import of sarna' is both stylistic and conceptual in
Deut. 5—6. Note that lama* occurs seven times in the brief section 5:23-28 where Moses is
commissioned as mediator for the people.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
basic stipulations of the divine government, directly from Yahweh at
Sinai-Horeb (5:4-22). Second, the remainder of God's covenantal de-
crees, elaborating and protecting the fundamental royal policy, are
"heard" by Moses on behalf of the people and mediated to them through
his teaching office (5:27 ; cf. 5:23—613). Thus when hearing the Mosaic
instruction—whether standing on the plains of Moab or in the context
of later covenant celebrations—each member of the Israelite community
internalizes the demands of God in order "to do them55 and "live55 in the
land of inheritance (3119-13; 4:1).
So emphasized by the Deuteronomists, hearing is an act of initiation
and assent. It defines Israel as a truly transcendent community, forming
a link between the covenant nation then and now, between those who
initially heard the Mosaic legacy, and those who later receive it. "Hear,
O Israel!55 The opening words of Deuteronomy 6:4 are a summons to
those who would be Israel in any age.
Our God is Yahweh, Tahweh alone!
Deuteronomy 6:4 opens on a note of proclamation, of direct address
to the assembled nation. This carries over into verse 5 where Israel is
commanded to "love Yahweh your God. . . .55 But the words in verse 4
thus bracketed by second person imperatives are not themselves phrased
in the imperative mood. They are neither instruction nor commandment,
but a declaration, a confession. The stress is on the personal and hence
the particular : "Our God,55 the God of Israel, Yahweh.
What is confessed about "our God?55 The Hebrew text is clear
enough.37 It consists of four substantive elements, two being the divine
name Yahweh, juxtaposed without a verb: yahweh 'Hohênû yahweh
'ehäd. And yet, after the divine sentence-name in Exodus 3:14 and
possibly the opening words of Genesis 1, no statement in the Hebrew Bible
has provoked more discussion with less agreement than this one. A glance
at a variety of English translations, all claiming some currency if not
equal support, will serve to illustrate the grammatical and theological
issues at stake :
37. The reading of the Nash Papyrus (with final hu')s also reflected in the LXX, is prosaic
and almost certainly secondary. See above notes 2 and 12.
The Lord is our God, the Lord alone38
The Lord is our God, one Lord39
The Lord our God is one Lord40
The Lord our God, the Lord is one41
The Lord is our God, the Lord is one42
Our one God is Yahweh, Yahweh43
On the grammatical level the problem is two-fold: first, whether the
four words should be read as one or two nominal clauses and, in either
case, which elements function as subject and which as predicate ; second,
the precise semantic force and syntactical function of the final element
'ehäd. On the theological level the question is whether we have a decla-
ration of Yahweh's "oneness," the indivisibility of his person into semi-
autonomous attributes, local manifestations and the like, or a declaration
that Israel is to serve Yahweh exclusively, however many other "gods55
there may be vying for the nation's attention. An acceptable reading of
the statement must satisfy both the criterion of appropriate Hebrew
grammar and that of appropriate meaning in the context of Deuter-
It must suffice here to treat the grammatical issues briefly. In his recent
and thorough study on the syntax of nominal clauses in the Pentateuch,
Francis Andersen has raised fundamental objections applicable to the
first five translations in the list above. Andersen, whose own rendering of
6:4 is the last cited, argues for a single nominal clause in which
yahweh ... yahweh is the discontinuous predicate and * Hdhenu . . . ' ehäd
is the discontinuous subject.44 Admittedly, this is an unusual and some-
what awkward construction in Hebrew. Nevertheless in taking 'elôhênû
38. So the following, loc. cit.: The Torah: The Five Books of Moses (Philadelphia, The
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967 2 ); The New American Bible (New York, P. J.
Kenedy & Sons, 1970) ; The Revised Standard Version, footnote reading.
39. The New English Bible (London, Oxford University Press, 1970), loc. cit.
40. So the following, loc. cit.: The King James? Version and The Revised Standard Version;
cf. The Jerusalem Bible (Garden City, New York; Doubleday & Company, Inc., 19683).
Gf. also Samuel Rolles Driver, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy (ICC
Edinburgh, T.&T. Clark, 1895), pp. 89f., n. 30.
41. RSV footnote reading, loc. cit.
42. RSV footnote reading, loc. cit. Cf. J. Schreiner, "Hören auf Gott . . . , " p. 36.
43. Francis I. Andersen, The Hebrew Verbless Clause in the Pentateuch (Journal of Biblical
Literature Monograph Series, 14; Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1970), p. 47.
44. Andersen, The Hebrew Verbless Clause, p. 47. Cf. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament
Theology, trans. D.M.G. Stalker (New York, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962), I, 227 n. 87.
The Yoke of the Kingdom
as subject, Andersen has emphasized what is surely correct : the declara-
tion is an answer, not to the implied question "Who is Yahweh?" but to
the question "Who is our god?" Beyond this the ambiguities of syntax
may be real. The awkwardness of Andersen's discontinuous subject may
be avoided, however, if with regard to ' ehäd we follow normal Hebrew
word-order, reading it as an adjective modifying the second occurrence
of "Yahweh." An appositional predicate is thereby formed : "Our God
is Yahweh . . . Yahweh alone!" The translation "alone" for 'ehäd should
provoke neither surprise nor objection.45 Long before the advent of his-
torical-critical study it was recognized to have this sense in Deuteronomy
6:4. Moreover, we now have clear evidence for the use of the adjective
'ehäd and cognate forms with the meaning "only, alone" in early North-
west Semitic and especially Akkadian.46
What is the appropriate meaning of yahweh 'Hôhênû yahweh 'ehäd
in the context of the historical, political, and religious concerns to which
the traditions in the Book of Deuteronomy were addressed? In the first
place, Deuteronomy lacks the dramatic eschatological dimension attested
in Zechariah 14:9 and the Tannaitic comments on Deuteronomy 6:4
noted earlier. The Deuteronomic traditionists, to be sure, affirmed that
Yahweh was God par excellence, the sole creator and sustainer of the
cosmos (4:32,35,39; 10:14; 32:8,39). But an eschatological kingdom
incorporating the nations was quite beyond the interest if not the potential
45. Andersen dismisses the reading "Yahweh alone" for yahweh ' ehad with the remark that
it ". . . involves a strange use of 'ehäd with the meaning of febaddô" (p. 4 7 ) . In fact, though,
it is not at all clear that lebaddo would be a more appropriate way to convey the meaning of
"alone" here. First, the form febaddo (preposition + substantive + suffix) is properly used as
an adverbial accusative of specification or mode in biblical Hebrew; with few exceptions it is
employed in verbal sentences. Secondly, lebaddô and the related compound preposition lebad
connote "aloneness" with the specific nuance of "apart, separate, distinct (from)." Thus in
the few passages where febaddö is used with reference to Yahweh, it has an objectifying force,
setting Yahweh apart from all other "gods." Yahweh is the God; he is in a category by him-
self (cf. II Kings 19:15, 19; Isa. 37:16, 20; Pss. 83:18 [19 Heb.]; 8 6 : 1 0 ; Neh. 9 : 6 ) . In Deut.
6:4, on the other hand, we have a subjective classification: Yahweh alone is "our God."
Gf. A.B. Ehrlich, Randglossen zur Hebräischen Bibel: Textkritisches, Sprachliches und Sach-
liches, Vol. 2, (Leipzig, J. G. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, 1909), p. 270.
46. Note particularly the following Ugaritic example (in a speech delivered, apparently, by
the god M o t ) : 'ah(h)adayya (sic) du yamluku 'ale 'iVima, "I alone am he who will rule
over the gods" (CTÀ 4 : V I I : 4 9 f . ; UT 51 : V I I : 4 9 f . ) . See also GTA 14:11:96 and I V : 184
(UT Krt 96, 184) where 'hd and yhd ("alone, only, solitary one") appear as variants. For
Ganaanite yahudunni * y ah (u) danni with the meaning "by myself, I alone" see the following:
Moshe Held "The Root ZBL/SBL in Akkadian, Ugaritic and Biblical Hebrew," JAOS, 88:94
n. 81 ( 1 9 6 8 ) ; and EA 365:24. For examples of Akkadian edenu and edu with meanings
"solitary, alone" see CAD, IV ( E ) , 27, 37.
purview of the Deuteronomic preaching. Rather the Deuteronomists
were concerned with the historical continuity of God's rule over Israel,
with Israel's national identity and well-being as defined in terms of the
particular covenant initiated at Sinai-Horeb. For the same reason very
little is said in the book about the present relationship between Yahweh
and the nations. It is noted in Deuteronomy that the plethora of lesser
cosmic forces designated "gods" by Israel's neighbors are at best proxy
rulers whose existence and authority were decreed by Yahweh himself
(4:19; 32:8; cf. 29:26 [25 Heb.] ). Yet the Deuteronomists' theological
interest in such deities goes no further than the point of enjoining Israel
from having anything whatsoever to do with them.
And this is the crux. It is underscored emphatically and often in the
book. From Israel's point of view (as the Deuteronomists define it), the
contrast between Yahweh and the "gods" is not relative in either a
qualitative or quantitative sense; it is, quite simply, absolute.
Yahweh is a zealous God who demands exclusive allegiance from those
he has created to be his people (4:23-24 ; 5:7-9 ). If Israel rebels against
its divine suzerain by dividing its loyalties, by following after other gods,
Yahweh's judgment will be swift and sure (6:i4f.; 27:25-28 [24-27
Heb.] ; 30:17f.; 31:16-18; 32 : i6f,2i ). So too the threat which infidelity
poses to Israel's existence becomes the chief rationale for a conquest of
Canaan that is to be decisive and thorough. The destruction of the land's
pre-Israelite inhabitants must be complete lest they remain to ensnare
the covenant people in alliances and marriages which lead to idolatrous
worship (7:1-5; 20:16-18; 29:16-19 [15-18 Heb.]). When the land is
secure, any sign of apostasy or idolatry which appears in Israel's midst
must be weeded out with the same single-minded zeal. Idolators are to
be purged as a warning to others but, more important, to stop the disease
before the entire national body is contaminated, thereby bringing down
God's judgment upon the whole people (13:1-18 [2-19 Heb.]; 17:2-7;
18:9-14). In short, Israel must be as vigorous in protecting itself from
potential threat to the covenant as Yahweh will be in guarding his ex-
clusive claim upon Israel's loyalty.
Those who find in Deuteronomy 6 an assertion that "Yahweh is one"
see it addressed to another issue, largely internal to Israelite Yahwism.
As Von Rad has stated the matter, the verse preserves " . . . a confession
The Yoke of the Kingdom
of the oneness of Yahweh in face of the multiplicity of divergent tradi-
tions and sanctuaries of Yahweh."47 God's "unity" is thus set over against
not only the manifold hypostases in which the pagan gods were recognized
by their worshipers but also the analogous partisan, provincial cults of
Yahweh scattered across the Palestinian countryside. Rather than the
Yahweh of Jerusalem, the Yahweh of Shechem, the Yahweh of Bethel,
and the like it is supposed that the Deuteronomists wished to reinstate
worship of the "one Yahweh" who was God of all Israel. Hence also,
it is claimed, Deuteronomy 6:4 must be understood as a "doctrine" of
God's unity connected with the Deuteronomic program of cult-unifica-
"One Yahweh, one place of worship, one people" : this has become in
the critical discussion virtually a liturgical summary of Deuteronomy's
message. But it is quite misleading to the extent that it implies that the
Deuteronomists saw their task as one of "unifying" Yahweh and his cult.
We must be careful not to distort the way the issues are focused by the
Deuteronomic writers themselves. And, there is not the slightest hint in
Deuteronomy—or elsewhere in the Old Testament for that matter—that
fragmentation of Yahweh into numerous minor deities or semi-hypostases
was recognized as a problem. Nor are the Deuteronomists interested in
cult "centralization" if we understand by that term an attempt to relocate
in one place the disparate but legitimate cultic institutions of pre-Deuter-
onomic Yahwism. Instead, the Deuteronomists viewed the worship of
Yahweh at the high places and the local sanctuaries, however venerable
their traditions, as part and parcel of the gross infidelity infecting Israel's
national body. The Book of Deuteronomy makes no effort to draw a fine
distinction between idolatrous Yahwism, syncretistic Yahwism, Baalism,
polytheism, or paganism in general. By definition, Israelite worship
47. Deuteronomy: A Commentary, p. 63. Von Rad here gives this reading as one alternative,
a more flexible position than is stated in his Old Testament Theology, I, 227. Cf. also the ap-
parently contradictory assessments of Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, trans.
John Baker (The Old Testament Library; Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1961, 1967),
I, 94; II, i88f.
48. Gf. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, I, 227 where cult-centralization is
described as ". . . the direct consequence of the important theological proposition that Jahweh
is one . . . ." Gf. also S.R. Driver, Deuteronomy (ICG), pp. xxviii-xxix; and Moshe Weinfeld,
"Cult Centralization in Israel in the Light of a Neo-Babylonian Analogy," JNES, 23:2031. and
n. 11 (1964). Such an origin for the Deuteronomic legislation concerning "the place which
Yahweh shall choose" is, however, altogether implausible, regardless of the meaning of Deut.
which adopts the places and customs of the Canaanites is not Yahwistic
but pagan and therefore a threat to the nation's existence (i2:i-3i). 4 9
This Deuteronomic perspective may be elitist, but it is scarcely a novel
way of viewing the crisis which Israel faced in the last centuries before
the Exile. The prophet Hosea's message is pervaded by the same un-
compromising attitude toward "Yahwistic" worship tainted by idolatry
(cf. especially Hos. 8:1-14; 10:1-8; 13:1-3). Prophesying a century and
a half after Hosea, in the final days of the Judaean kingdom, Jeremiah
describes the situation as one in which Yahweh's people have thrown off
the yoke of his rule, prefering to whore after the gods of Canaan : "for
as many as your cities are your gods, O Judah!" (Jer. 2:28). This was
no doubt unrealistic hyperbole to those so indicted who still claimed to be
nominal Yahwists. Yet for Jeremiah the paganizing forms of their wor-
ship condemn them; there is no middle ground between exclusive devo-
tion to Yahweh and pursuit of the "gods55 who cannot save (Jer. 2:2-27 ).
The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah, and the Deuteronomists, know an
apostate Israel, a people whose single focus on Yahweh has been distorted
by the enticements of foreign cults and idolatrous practices. The solution
does not lie in finding the right theological synthesis, in articulating a
doctrine of the one Yahweh who encompasses or transcends the many
"gods55 venerated in the local shrines. If time remains for them, the peo-
ple must reaffirm their undivided allegiance to Yahweh's rule as defined
in the covenant. To do so is to choose life, hope, blessing, and identity (30 :
11-20). For in the final analysis Israel's alternative to reliance upon
Yahweh alone is not Yahweh and the gods, or the gods alone, but death,
destruction, and loss of land (e.g., 11:8-21 ; 28:58-63 ). It is this practical,
existential decision with which Deuteronomy is passionately concerned.
From this vantage point it is possible to look beyond the present literary
setting of the words yahweh 'Hohênû yahweh 'ehäd to their ultimate
origin. It may be that we have here a positive restatement of the first
49. See especially 12:2-5, 8-11, ißf., 29-31. The explicit argument here is that if Israel had
carried out the conquest as charged, then only one place for sacrificial worship "chosen" by
Yahweh himself would have existed after the inheritance was secured. In other words, the
argument undercuts precisely the claims of those sanctuaries (especially Bethel and Shechem)
whose origins in popular tradition were traced to the Patriarchal period. By contrast of course,
Yahweh's "election" of Jerusalem and the construction of its Temple occur when Israel's full
"rest and inheritance" are achieved (cf. II Sam. 6 : 1 — 7 : 2 9 ; I Kings 5:3-5 [17-19 Heb.];
8 : i 5 - 2 i ; P s s . 78: 67-72; 132).
The Yoke of the Kingdom
commandments of the Decalogue as has so often been supposed (5:7. ) .50
If so, it is an example of Deuteronomic preaching at its finest. And yet
the words have an integrity suggesting more than a piece of inspired
exegesis. The formulation has a liturgical aura about it, the feel of hav-
ing been shaped through long usage in the cult.51 The words themselves
and the act of acknowledgment they express bring to mind the climax of
the covenant ceremony narrated in Joshua 24 where the assembly of
tribes is offered the familiar and fateful choice between allegiance to
"Yahweh, God of Israel55 and worship of the gods of other nations
(vs. I4f.). The people's response, prolonged and elaborated as it is in
this passage (vs. 16-24), includes several oaths which strongly resonate
with Deuteronomy 6:4 (vs. 18,21,24).
When we read Deuteronomy 6:4 in this context its function is per-
fectly clear. The verse is a solemn reminder of a commitment once made
but forgotten, a yoke once received but broken. It is at the same time an
urgent summons to affirm anew the covenantal oath of undivided alle-
giance to Yahweh : "Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone !"
And love Yahweh your God
In the context of the covenant, election and responsibility are mutual
categories. And thus the assurance of personal, communal, and national
worth which comes with incorporation as "the people of God55—the
acknowledgment of Yahweh5s suzerainty—demands a reciprocal commit-
ment by those so valued to the obligations which God's rule imposes.
The rabbis, as we have seen, used the metaphor of the "yoke55 to ex-
press both of these necessary dimensions as confessed in the Shemac. The
recitation of Deuteronomy 6 ^(-g), "the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven,55
50. So, for example, both Calvin and Luther: John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last
Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, tr. and ed. Charles W. Bingham (Calvin's
Commentaries; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.), I, 420;
Martin Luther, Lectures on Deuteronomy, tr. Richard E. Caemmerer (Luther's Works, 9; St.
Louis, Concordia Publishing House, i 9 6 0 ) , pp. 67. Cf. also G. Ernest Wright, "The Book of
Deuteronomy: Introduction and Exegesis" in George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Bible
(Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1953), II, 372.
5i.Lohfink, (Das Hauptgebot, pp. i63f.) suggests that while Deut. 6:4a ("Hear, O Israel")
indicates Deuteronomic redaction, 6:46-5 preserves an ancient ". . . short-formulation of the
chief commandment (of the covenant), long isolated in the cult." Syntactically, however, such
a division is unlikely since 6:5 continues the imperative force of "Hear!" Moreover, although
the command to "love Yahweh" may well be an old covenantal demand, its expression in Deut.
6:5 is certainly Deuteronomic and secondary. Thus it seems more plausible that 6:46 alone
is the ancient covenantal formula here set within the Deuteronomic framework of 6:40 and 6:5.
is followed by the biblical verses which represent "the yoke of the
commandments.55 The two dimensions of covenantal allegiance, how-
ever, are already encapsulated in 6:4. The remainder of the pericope in
Deuteronomy and the rest of the Shemac are, quite literally, commentary
With verse 5 we revert to the imperative mood established by the open-
ing summons of verse 4. As Joshua 24 dramatically illustrates, one must
choose to accept the rule of Yahweh; this is an act of will which cannot
be coerced. But once allegiance is sworn (Josh. 24:24) or covenantal
identity reaffirmed (Deut. 6:4) then instruction, statute, and decree are
appropriate (cf. Josh. 24:25-27). Even so, the formulation of this in
Deuteronomy 6:5 is extraordinary. The stipulations of the covenant, the
irreducible demands which God makes upon his subjects are summarized
in the single exhortation "love Yahweh your God . . . !55 Love of God is
not presented as a worthy emotion which the faithful should strive to
attain. Much less is it set forth as a lofty spiritual ideal or mystical exer-
cise in piety, either exceeding or replacing mere obedience to the "law.55
The love of God is itself a duty; it is commanded, expected of all those
who are Israel.
A great deal of attention has rightly been given to exploring the nature
of this "love55 and the possible sources of the idea. In the biblical litera-
ture antedating Deuteronomy it is minimally attested with comparable
significance. The prophet Hosea, who not infrequently shares concerns
and terminology with the Deuteronomists, refers a number of times to
God's love for Israel.52 The nuance of this love is not the same in each
case, but it stands in obvious contrast to harlot Israel's passion for the
"gods.5553 On the basis of this evidence it has usually been supposed that
the Deuteronomists borrowed a term belonging properly to the sphere of
sexual and familial relations—the bond between husband and wife, the
52. Gf. Hos. 3 : 1 ; 9:15; 11:1,4; x 4 : 4 (5 Heb.). For discussion, see especially William
Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy," GBQ,
25:77f. (1963), and Lohfink, "Hate and Love in Osee 9, 15," GBQ, 25:417 (1963). It seems
likely that Hosea was dependent upon the covenantal love demand reflected most clearly in
Deuteronomy, which he secondarily interpreted especially in light of his marriage-harlotry-
divorce metaphor. There is simply no evidence to support the reverse claim that Hosea was
secondarily developing within a covenantal context an ancient "bride-rescue story" which was
". . . the basic thematic framework of the Exodus narrative even at its earliest level": Robert
B. Goote, "Hosea XII," VT, 21:401 ( 1 9 7 O .
53.See Hos. 9:10, and cf. Hos. 2:5,7,10,12,13 (7,9,12,14,15 H e b . ) ; 3 : 1 ; 4 : 1 8 ; 8 : 9 ; 9 : 1 .
The Yoke of the Kingdom
compassion of parent for child, or, more broadly, the fidelity uniting
kinsmen—and refined it to epitomize the God-centered love incumbent
upon Israel as a whole.54
More illuminating, though, are two passages where the plural participle
of 'äheb designates those loyal to Yahweh. The invocation which con-
cludes the Song of Deborah contrasts God's "friends" (literally "those
who love him/you") with his "enemies55 (Judg. 5:31). Similarly, in the
parénesis to the second commandment of the Decalogue the judgment of
God upon those who "hate55 him is contrasted with the "covenant grace55
(hesed) he bestows upon those who love him and keep his command-
ments (Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9; cf. Deut. 7:9). As William Moran has
convincingly argued, these texts suggest what is even more explicit in
Deuteronomy and further substantiated in the vocabulary of ancient
Near Eastern political relations: the love Israel must manifest toward
God is, specifically, a covenantal love, the steadfastness which a vassal is
obliged to maintain toward his suzerain or faithful subjects must show
When 'äheb is viewed within its covenantal setting, several features of
the Deuteronomic theology are highlighted. The love of God which
Deuteronomy demands of Israel is, first of all, response in kind. It is the
appropriate counterpart to the faithfulness Yahweh has demonstrated
in his previous dealings with the Israelite community. Thus Yahweh
"loved55 the patriarchal progenitors of Israel and because of this "chose55
(bhr) their descendants as his prized people in bringing them forth from
Egypt (4:37; 10:15). Or stated conversely, the oath which Yahweh
had sworn to the fathers issued in his "love55 for their heirs (j:jf.) ; cf.
54. See, for example, G. Ernest Wright, "The Terminology of Old Testament Religion and
its Significance," JNES, 1:406-09 (1942),* and James L. Mays, Hosea: A Commentary (The
Old Testament Library; Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1969), pp. 151-54.
55. E.g., in about the same era Deuteronomy was promulgated the Neo-Assyrian rulers
Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal imposed oaths of allegiance upon their vassals in which the latter
swore to "love (ra'ämu) their Assyrian overlords. (For citations of relevant texts, see Moran,
"Ancient Near Eastern Background," pp. 78-82 and especially 80, notes 22 and 24.) The
difference in precise terminology ('äheb and ra'ämu / / rhm?) alone suggests that the Deute-
ronomists were not simply borrowing a concept from Assyrian diplomacy but rather were
placing special emphasis on a familiar idea, elevating it to a decisive position in their technical
vocabulary. In any event, the treaty context of "love" demonstrated by Moran brilliantly
illumines the legal and political implications of the biblical concept which all too often has
been characterized in largely moral, antinomic, and psychological terms. On the relationship
between Akk. ra'ämu and Heb. räham, see the following: Michael Fishbane, "The Treaty
Background of Amos 1:11 and Related Matters," JBL, 89:313-18 ( 1 9 7 0 ) ; and Robert B.
Goote, "Amos 1:11 : RHMYW," JBL, 90:206-08 ( 1971 ) .
23:5 [6 Heb.] ). The love of God toward Israel is hence synonymous with
the acts of gracious election upon which the covenant is grounded. But
equally important, the same divine love—manifested as blessing, physical
well-being, tenure in the land of promise, and abundant progeny—is
assured to succeeding generations who are obedient to Yahweh's rule
(7:9-15). God's love is the motive force in Israel's history, creating the
nation and encompassing its present and future.
The nature of the reciprocal love of Israel toward God is concretely
defined in Deuteronomy. It is, indeed, the zealous allegiance to Yahweh's
exclusive, divine kingship which underlies the manifold decrees, statutes,
and ordinances of the Deuteronomic torah ( 11:1 ; 13:3 ; 30:6) ,57 Here
we should also emphasize that Deuteronomy attributes to Israel a com
mitment fully analogous to God's love which spans the generations. The
covenant must be periodically rehearsed (a much better term than "re
newed" ), not because it ceases to be binding upon the nation after a given
number of years but precisely so that the successive incarnations of Israel
will fully appreciate the awesome and irrevocable commitment which has
already been made for them ( 5 : 3 ; 29:14t [i3f. Heb.]; cf. 3ΐ:9-ΐ3). 5 8
This too is the clear rationale for the Deuteronomic stress on careful rear
ing of children in the tradition through instruction and example. Elders
must instill in younger generations the love of God as informed by both a
mature comprehension of the responsibilities inherent in Israel's fealty to
Yahweh and the divine grace to which the perpetual oath sworn at Sinai-
Horeb was a response (6:6-25; 11:1-7,18-21; 31:12.).
In the Deuteronomic exposition of the Mosaic legacy, then, Israel's
56. Similarly, a commitment or gracious election by the suzerain spanning several generations
may be affirmed in the treaty literature; see, for example, the "Treaty between Mursilis and
Duppi-Tessub of Amurra," tr. Albrecht Goetze, in James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern
Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1 9 5 5 2 ) , pp.
57. More specifically, the love of Israel toward Yahweh is glossed and paralleled by the
following expressions in Deut.: "to walk in all his ways" (läleket bekol-deräkäw)—10:12;
11:22; 19:9; 3 0 : 1 6 ; "to serve Yahweh your God" (la'aböd 'et-yahweh 'elöhekä)—10:12;
11:13; "to cleave to him" (ledabeqäh-bo)—11:22; 3 0 : 2 0 ; "to fear Yahweh your God"
(leyir3äh 'et-yahweh '^löhekä)—10:12; "to obey him" (lismo™ beqo"lo)—30:20.
58. In other words, all future manifestations of Israel were proleptically present with those
who enacted the treaty at Sinai-Horeb. (Cf. Montefiore & Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology, p.
108.) Once again, a similar emphasis may be found in the Near Eastern treaty literature.
See especially Donald J. Wiseman, "The Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon," Iraq, 20:29-30
(VTE I : i - i a ) , 49-52 ( ^ . - 2 8 3 - 9 1 ) , 57-58 (V:38o-96), ( 1 9 5 8 ) ; and Joseph A. Fitzmyer,
The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefìre (Biblica et Orientalia, 19; Rome, Pontifical Biblical Institute,
1 9 6 7 ) , p . 14 (Sf I : A : i - 6 , 14-15)* i7 ( I : B : i - 6 , 21-22).
The Yoke of the Kingdom
fidelity is motivated out of gratitude for what Yahweh has done and
promises to do and out of fear of the dire consequences of covenant break
ing. To love God is to obey his decrees. But we would be remiss without
underscoring the positive and trusting relationship which the command
to love Yahweh so vividly expresses. The God who entered into treaty
with Israel is not an obscure, otiose divine principle to be contemplated
and revered from afar; neither is his rule whimsical or burdensome for
those who acknowledge him. Love is an appropriate demand because it
measures the personal, the intimate, and hence the particular dimension
of covenant faith, the nearness of the cosmic divine king who is passion
ately concerned with the day-to-day well-being of those who serve him
(cf.8:i-io; 15:7-11; 26:1-15; 28:47).
"And love Yahweh your God . . .": Obey his laws faithfully, not
simply because it is an obligation under oath to do so but as joyous par
ticipants in his beneficent and providential government.
. . . with all your heart, with all your life,
indeed with all your capacity!
Israel is inexorably sworn to serve Yahweh; yet however meritorious
and unwavering that service, it must spring from the depths of being to
be labeled "love." Love is the logical counterpart of faith in God because
once he is truly acknowledged as the sole, ultimate source of value in life,
then a total commitment of the self to his rule must follow.59
"Covenant" in the Old Testament and the ancient Near Eastern litera
ture is a concept or metaphor most appropriate to communal relations
and international law. It denotes a political reality whose forms, require
ments, rituals, and ideology can be described in institutional terms. And
perhaps it is characteristic of our own thinking that we tend to view such
"realities" as extrinsic to the inner man. For the same reason we are often
impatient with rabbinic "legalism," considering it a futile if not idolatrous
quest to institutionalize what is properly personal and spiritual. And we
become intellectually and morally bored by the chapter after chapter of
59. In his comments on Deut. 6:5, Luther expressed this well: "No one can have one God
unless he clings to Him alone and trusts in Him alone : otherwise he will be snatched off into a
variety of works and will devise various gods. . . . [W]hen we repose all faith in Him to whom
we cling and understand that all things flow from Him alone and that we are in His care,
then sweet love toward Him has to follow." (Lectures on Deuteronomy, p. 68.)
ritual and legal instructions which adhere to the Sinai covenant, making
up the bulk of the Pentateuch after Exodus 20. With relief we turn to
the "new covenant" passages, especially in Jeremiah (31:31-34; 32:3ο-
4i ), where it seems the focus has changed. What had hitherto been
external is internalized, the communal context gives way to an individual
ism, and the objectively legal is transformed into an expression of subjec
Doubtless there is a shift of emphasis in Jeremiah's portrayal of the
covenant (though not necessarily a benign one. ) Moreover, the way for
this shift does seem to have been prepared in Deuteronomy which pro
motes an Israelite community whose individual members are motivated
from within to obey Yahweh. As we have observed, through the act of
hearing the demands of God are internalized or, in the words chosen by
Jeremiah (31:33), "inscribed upon the heart" rather than merely on
tablets of stone.62 Hence the doing of the law, epitomized as the love of
God, begins in the heart and embraces the whole man. But the instruc
tion of Deuteronomy and the vision of Jeremiah are hardly unique in
this regard. Earlier prophetic calls to repentence (e.g. Hos. 14:1-3 [2-4
Heb.] ) and the covenantal traditions to which they refer, as well as the
legal corpora of the priestly writers and Pharisaic Judaism, certainly
share the concern for an inward, all-encompassing obedience. Moreover
a similar desire to assure profound, total loyalty of the vassal to his sover
eign clearly underlies the manifold stipulations, blessings, and curses of
the ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties.63
The key phrase in the three-part adverbial clause modifying the com
mand to "love Yahweh" in Deuteronomy 6:5 is reflected, in fact, in the
extra-biblical treaty literature. For example, the Hittite king Mursilis II
adjures Niqmepa, the vassal ruler of Ugarit, to "be faithful with all your
heart (ina kul libbika) " and to "fight with all your heart" in support of
60. Cf., for example, George Adam Smith, Jeremiah (New York, Harper & Brothers Pub
lishers, 1929 4 ), pp. 367-80; and John Skinner, Prophecy and Religion: Studies in the Life of
Jeremiah (London, Cambridge University Press, 1936), pp. 320-34.
61. I.e., Jer. 31:31-34 suggests a lobotomy of the human will. Individual obedience will be
assured at the cost of individual freedom since there will no longer be even the possibility of
rebellion against God. Christian interpreters should be wary of exalting this text as a pre-
figurement of the New Testament message !
62. Cf. Sifre Deut. (Wa 5 ethanan 6 : 7 ) 34, where Jer. 31:33 and Deut. 6:4fr are explicitly
63. Note, for example, the treaty stipulations imposed upon Assyrian vassals by Esarhaddon
on behalf of his heir designate, Assurbanipal. Wiseman, op. cit., (VTE 1:49-54).
The Yoke of the Kingdom
his suzerain's policies.64 Here and in 6:5 alike "heart" obviously denotes
"intention, will, desire"—a "whole-hearted" commitment leaving no
faculty of the person untouched.
However, while the Deuteronomists have used a traditional formula to
express the intentionality with which Israel must love its divine suzerain,
the full expression (bekol-lebäbekä ubeko-napsekä ûbekol-me'ödekä) bears
the particular stamp of the Deuteronomic writers themselves. Elsewhere
it appears only in II Kings 23:25, a Deuteronomic tribute to the covenant
fidelity of King Josiah.65 A shorter version of the expression—"with all
(your) heart and with all (your) life" —is found seventeen additional
times in the Old Testament, in each case occurring in a Deuteronomic
passage or in a context directly reflecting the work of the Deuterono-
How are we to understand the specific force of the three parts of the
expression in Deuteronomy 6:5? Two quite different options are sug-
gested in the early history of the verse's exegesis. Midrash Sifre Deu-
teronomy interprets lëbab, ne pes and me'öd as designating distinct but
complementary ways of manifesting love toward God.67 "With all your
heart" means with a loyalty that is undivided, involving both the "im-
pulse" (or "inclination, purpose"—Heb. yëser) to do evil and the "im-
pulse" to do good which together comprise the human will.68 "With all
your life" means commitment to God even to the point of death or
martrydom should that be necessary. And nf'öd here denotes the indivi-
dual's "substance, wealth, property" all of which must be expendable in
the service of God. On the other hand, early Christian exegesis especially,
working with the Greek text, viewed the three terms as designating
complementary attributes of the human personality, together comprising
the whole "inner man."69 Thus dianoia and kardia interpret Hebrew
64. PRU 17. 353:20-21 ; J. Nougayrol, Le palais royal d'Ugarit, IV, 89.
65. The specific correlation of terminology between Deut. 6:5 and II Kings 23:25, and the
claim for the unrivaled faithfulness of Josiah thereby promulgated, is without question of funda-
mental import in understanding the purpose and structure of the Deuteronomic history. Josiah,
as the leader of Yahweh's people, excels even David in actualizing the Mosaic legacy ! Cf. F. M.
Gross, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic History," pp. 14-16.
66. Deut. 4 : 2 9 ; 10:12; 11:13; 13*3 (4 Heb.); 26:16; 30:2, 6, 10; Josh. 2 2 : 5 ; 2 3 : 1 4 ;
I Kings 2 : 4 ; 8 : 4 8 / / I I Chron. 6:38; II Kings 2 3 : 3 / / II Chron. 3 4 : 3 1 ; II Kings 2 3 : 2 5 ;
II Chron. 15:12 ; Jer. 32:4i (in Yahweh's pledge to restore Israel). In each case the expression
reinforces a covenantal commitment.
67. Sifre Deut. (Wa' ethanan 6:5) 32; cf. Montefiore & Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology,
pp. 276, 377.
68. Rabbinic exegesis associated the two "impulses" with the double b of lëbâb.
69. See the references cited in note 13 above. Cf. Luther, Lectures on Deuteronomy, pp. 68f.
lëbab as "mind, intellect, intention" while psychë for Hebrew nepes de-
notes the "soul," and dynamis or ischys for Hebrew me'5d means " (spirit-
ual and moral) power."
There is a third alternative more appropriate to the Deuteronomic
context than either of these interpretations. Clearly in Deuteronomy 6:5
we do not have a statement of early Greek psychology nor does it seem
likely that precise modes of expressing love were intended by the three
terms. They were not meant to specify distinct acts, spheres of life, attri-
butes, or the like, but were chosen to reinforce the absolute singularity of
personal devotion to God. While syntactically the three phrases are co-
ordinate, semantically they are concentric, forming a sort of (prosaic)
climactic parallelism. Thus, as noted above, lëbab alone designates the
intentionality of the whole man; nepes similarly means the whole "self," a
unity of flesh, will, and vitality. Most difficult is me'5d since its use here
as a substantive noun is a hapax, found only in the two occurrences of the
full expression. Usually me'öd connotes "excess, muchness" and it hence
appears to function in 6:5 to accent the superlative degree of total com-
mitment to Yahweh already expressed through the use of the preceding
terms. Rather than a particular faculty, "strength" or the like, me'5d
evokes the fullest "capacity" of loving obedience to Yahweh which the
whole person can muster.
Finally, we should reemphasize that the intense personal allegiance to
Yahweh as suzerain adjured in Deuteronomy demands self-discipline but
it bears no trace of mystical self-denial or spiritual privatism. The com-
munion between God and man has a social setting so that obedience and
love, though springing from the "heart" of the individual, are manifest
within the community, in the sharing of God-given value with other selves
(cf. 10:17-19). "And love Yahweh your God . . . with all your capaci-
ty !" : Serve him with your whole being in order to prosper his kingdom on
III. FAITH AND IDENTITY
For us as present-day interpreters, Jews and Christians alike claiming
continuity with the biblical record, Deuteronomy 6:4L should pose a
challenge. The text is an extraordinary testament, yet it must appear to
us as something of a palimpsest, promulgated not in one age but many.
The verses have constituted a living document upon which our various
The Yoke of the Kingdom
forebears, seeking to discover and revitalize for themselves identities in
the world, have left behind a succession of exegetical imprints. In the
preceding pages, our task was first of all to distinguish the primary layers
of over-writing, to read each briefly within its own setting. The purpose
of this was not to deny the validity of particular claims but rather to
view with greater clarity the basic script which elicited the complex his-
tory of interpretation. There should be no pretense that we have fully
deciphered the pristine writing. But we have seen the text as a whole and
in doing so have discovered nothing less than a magnificent epitome of
the Deuteronomic preaching, itself echoing and reinvigorating far older
notions of Israel's covenantal identity.
The Deuteronomists addressed a fragmented community whose links
with the transcendent realities, that alone were able to sustain it, had
become strained or broken. No longer were the heirs of Jacob a single
nation unified through exclusive allegiance to Yahweh, bound together
in his service, and living in the shadow of his protection. No longer were
they a contemporary manifestation of the Israel which had escaped
bondage to the hostile dominions of the world. Nor were they the peo-
ple—alive and yet to be born—who had stood at Sinai to enter into
solemn pact with their divine deliverer. Or the Israel to whom Moses
had spoken on the border of the promised land, or the Israel which
Joshua, Samuel, David, and Solomon had led into a bountiful inheritance.
And yet the transcendent realities themselves, covenant people and sover-
eign God, were no less immanent and powerful than they had ever been.
For the Kingdom of God proclaimed by the Deuteronomists was neither
a quaint archaism, an outmoded relic, nor merely an ideal awaiting some
future actualization. It was present—as a historical legacy whose poten-
tial remained untarnished and as a perennial summons, urgently tendered,
to accept the yoke of God's rule.
Has the Mosaic legacy as the Deuteronomists articulated it lost its
force and currency over the centuries? Perhaps it has. Certainly more
often than not the heritage it represents has been a divided one, a cause
of contention rather than unity. As H. Richard Niebuhr argued, the all-
encompassing faith in "the Creator and God of grace" affirmed by both
Judaism and Christianity has seldom existed as a living orientation.70
70. Radical Monotheism and Western Culture (London, Faber and Faber, i960), pp. 24-37,
56-63 and passim. As Niebuhr defined it, radical monotheism has two positive components.
We find on close and honest examination that even during those eras in
the past when total faith in the One, "radical monotheism," seems to have
blossomed most elegantly—such as in the age of Israel's great prophets
or in the period of the church's formation—it did not in fact escape con-
tamination from lesser forms of worship and belief. The antithesis of
radical monotheism has always been not atheism but a narrow vision
which confuses loyalty to particular communities and causes with faith
in the One in whom alone reside life's ultimate reason and destiny.
Thus while claiming to be "Israel" the church has frequently erected
barriers within its own midst and between itself and the greater kingdom
for whose service it was created. Repeatedly the church has even denied
its essential kinship with the heirs of those to whom the Mosaic legacy
was first delivered. And how often in theology and practice have Chris-
tians failed to distinguish clearly between the sole God and the Christ
through whom they are grafted onto the body of "Israel"? However, the
failure is not the church's burden alone. It has been shared by all seg-
ments of human society. Whenever particularistic values—land and
property, national sovereignty and ascendancy, race and social ties, and a
host of other communal and individual concerns—have been used to
establish primary identity for some while denying comparable worth to
others, radical monotheism has been contaminated.
Yet for us too the Mosaic legacy should be present as a summons and
as a hope. We can no longer afford a world where, in Niebuhr's terms, our
lives are ruled by the "half-gods" of national henotheism and the "mini-
mal gods" of social polytheism. It probably matters very little whether
we can still hear Deuteronomy 6:4f. as a clear call to affirm covenant
with Yahweh in the guise of cosmic king, historical suzerain, and divine
judge. But it matters a great deal whether we as individuals and as com-
munities can find common identity and purpose through participation in
the Kingdom, at once transcendent and immanent, which the One God
alone governs. The yoke is indeed offered to us as it was to Israel of old.
The first is total reliance upon a single, transcendent locus of value. It is manifest as con-
fidence that not only the self but everything which exists has significance through relationship
with the God who is the source of all being. The second and reciprocal component is total
faith-loyalty to the One, manifest especially as love for all that God creates and sustains. We
can, of course, recognize here the legacy of Deut. 6:4; and the two components can be
labeled by their rabbinic titles: "the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven" and "the yoke of the
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