Obedience in Hebrew is: shama (שָׁמַע). It means to hear, to listen, to give attention, to understand, to submit to, and to obey. There is only one word in Hebrew for obedience, and it is this word – shama. This Hebrew word is also generally translated as “hear”.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
“One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In this Hebrew word there is a direct correlation between hearing and obeying. This is where we run into difficulty in finding a proper English word to fit the context of a verse. “Shama” is an excellent example of the difference between Hebrew, which stresses physical action, and Greek and Western culture that stresses mental activity. In terms of our relationship with God, the Hebrew translation shows the intent and meaning of “shama’s” use in Scripture.
Willingly Yoked To Him
To know God and His voice, we need to first have an intention to do what it is we hear Him say. We must have a willingness of spiritual intent, and practice to prepare the soil of our minds and hearts to directly experience this oneness as we hear and obey.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
Willingness is yoking ourselves to the will and word of God. When we do this we will obey as we hear (shama). As a result, just as in the scripture above, we will eat the good of the land; the rich produce that comes from yoking ourselves to Him. The produce is the shama what we hear from God. Unless we have harnessed our willingness to yoke ourselves with Him and His instruction, we will not shama or hear the voice of God and obey, and subsequently, will not eat the good of the land.
To Obey Is To Hear
Listening, in our culture, is a passive mental activity, and hearing just means that our ears registered sound waves. But in Hebrew, the word shema describes hearing and also its outward effects of taking heed, being obedient, and doing what is asked.
“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
Those of us who are parents already understand this biblical truth by the way we speak to our children and give them instruction. The fact that our children simply heard our instruction is not enough; usually there is a physical, concrete action they take as a result of their hearing us. When there isn’t, we will often repeat it, even louder, until they finally hear and obey. It is only then do we consider that they in fact heard us. The same is true with this Hebrew word in Scripture. Almost every place it is used in the Bible we see it translated into the English word “obey”.
Faith Comes By Hearing
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
It is fruitless for us to read God’s word without committing ourselves to do what it requires of us. It is worse than fruitless, really, because it dulls our hearing all together, and it is disobedience and sin. How can we call ourselves a disciple, a follower, and ignore the transformative changes in our lives that He demands.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Yeshua says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” He is calling us to put his words into action, not just listen. He wants us to be doers of the word, and not hearers only. We as Westerners put all our stress on what is in our minds, and tend to consider action as “dead works.” However, the biblical way of thinking according to Hebrew is that we have not yet truly understood until we have put what we have heard into our hearts and allowed it to transform the way we live.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
When we approach God and His word, it isn’t simply about an academic study so we can recite truth. It’s about having our lives changed and transformed. If my life isn’t changing because of His words, then I haven’t learned anything, and by biblical definition, I haven’t heard. The action of obedience is our only sure measure of successful listening.