Jesus declared that the greatest commandment of all is: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30) If we truly love our Lord, then how can we not spend time with Him in prayer and reading His words to us?
Hearing and Obeying
Language is a funny thing. If I say the word bank without any context what do you think of? Did you think of the place for money or the side of a river? Sometimes words give us a clue about their meaning by changing their spelling (like to, too and two) but you can’t see spelling in spoken language so, again, the context of what is said will tell you the meaning. These rules of language are challenging to anyone learning a language and that explains a lot of the early time spent in school. Until we know and use the language properly, we cannot really communicate with others.
Even when you know the words of a language, it can be a challenge sometimes because of different cultures. Saying something polite and proper in Southern USA English might well be insulting or derogatory in Northern USA English. And the American language in general can be far different from English as spoken elsewhere in this world!
The next challenge then comes in using more than one language. A word that means one thing to you, might well mean something totally different to someone speaking another language. An example would be the word gift. While it sounds like something you would want to give someone in English, in the German language it means poison. Perhaps not the best thing to impress a pretty girl with!
All this brings up the subject of translation. How do we convey the actual original meaning of a word or thought from one person to another? And taking all this into account we begin to realize the problem with translating the Bible!
What God is telling us through His word, the Bible, is important to our lives here and to our eternal lives. So getting these words and meanings right is essential! And it’s for that reason we spend much time in both reading and studying God’s word.
By now you must be wondering what all this has to do with the title. Simply this, in the Old Testament Hebrew, the word for hearing and the word for obedience are exactly the same word. If you hear or listen to (even in reading) what God says, then you are expected to obey Him.
Perhaps you’ve used similar terminology to someone else (or had it used to you). As a person is doing the wrong thing, you ask the question: Didn’t you hear what I said? What you are really asking is, Why aren’t you doing what you were told?
The Hebrew word for hearing AND for obeying is shama. You never really hear or know what God is telling you unless you obey Him!
This lesson begins with Adam and Eve. After they chose to sin and disobey God, They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). This is the very first (of over 1000 occurrences of this word) use of shama in the Hebrew Bible. A short time later Adam responds to God, He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). It was hearing the sound of God that they had failed to obey that caused the entire problem! And Moses in writing the account carefully links this all together.
Just as Genesis tells of the beginnings of things, so it begins the travesty of, We heard you, God, but we didn’t obey you!
As the story continues in Genesis 3:17 God tells Adam, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Think for a moment about that. Did Adam sin by simply hearing what Eve said? Did Eve sin simply by virtue of Satan saying something? Or was the sin in obeying, in doing what they knew was wrong?
Whenever you see the words related to hearing, listening, understanding or obeying in the Old Testament you need to realize that it is the same word and the same lesson! If we hear God and fail to understand, fail to obey Him, then we might just as well have never heard Him at all!
The Psalmists would use this same word over 70 times and its most frequent use is in the request of God to hear a prayer or request or to praise God for having heard. For God to hear our prayers is for God to act, to answer our prayers.
So true is this that we even get the reminder in the New Testament that everyone knows that God does NOT hear the prayer of sinners, those unwilling to obey Him (cf. John 9:31). By the way, this understanding also gives us the insight to recognize why God heard the prayers of Cornelius since his prayer was from one who would obey God when he understood or heard what God required him to do.
All of this comes together to teach us one more lesson. While a lot of people today imagine that salvation comes by the simplistic act of reciting Jesus’ name or acceptance of the facts of the existence or even the work of Jesus, that is never true. Belief in Jesus requires hearing (in God’s terminology) God’s word, believing it involves obeying it… all of it or else you really haven’t listened to God at all.
Whenever the New Testament talks about hearing, believing and obeying it is talking about, from God’s perspective, exactly the same thing!
When we read our Bibles, we are reading God’s word. Unless we understand, accept and obey His word we might just as well have ignored Him to begin with. God has made that lesson plain from the very beginning of His word to the very end. In Revelation 12:17 Satan is enraged and makes war on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. A short while later God says that those who stand out as the faithful are, the holy ones who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Revelation 14:12).
From beginning to end, from first to last we must be those that hear and obey God’s word. Keep reading and keep obeying!
—Lester P. Bagley