TO HEAR/LISTEN: shama/shema. Verb feminine & Verb masculine. (Strong’s 8085).
Sounds like: shaw-mah.
If you’ve been blessed with hearing, (and not all of us have), you’ve been blessed with a phenomenal gift that is often take for granted: having ears to hear.
I’m frequently surprised at what I can hear. From two rooms away I can hear cats jumping off the counter where they’re not supposed to be; I can hear the sound of my youngest daughter peeking in the snack cupboard 15 minutes before supper; I’m aware of the sound of the garage door opening when my husband arrives home from work. My oldest daughter I don’t hear as well, because she has learned the power of being stealthy. She can sneak up on a person better than anyone I know… but even then, sometimes a simple creak of the staircase can give her away.
Hearing is a wonderful, wonderful, gift. Here are some of my favourite sounds:
- the laughter of my daughters when they hang out together
- the purr of any one of our cuddly cats (we have three)
- ocean waves swooshing along the shoreline, with seabirds calling overhead
- the warm rumbling of an almost ready tea kettle
- Dvorak’s 7th symphony
- each individual voice of my family
Hearing is a blessing. It can also be a warning… like hearing your bosses footsteps reminding you to quickly finish a particular task. The first Biblical reference to hearing was hearing the footsteps of God:
They [Adam and Eve] heard [wa-yish’m’u] the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of YHWH God among the trees of the garden. Then YHWH God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard [shama’ti] the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
Adam & Eve heard God and then thought “uh oh”! In response to hearing God’s presence, they hid, but they revealed themselves at the sound of His speaking. At this point they had already disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree; they had already cursed themselves and they hid in their shame. But they had to face God, and He had to let them go. They were exiled out of the Garden, and YHWH was left to put a plan into place to save them.
Hearing and Responding: Listen! Obey!
Hearing and obeying are often synonymous in the Bible. When Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac to God, he was stopped and the angel of YHWH told Abraham he would be blessed because he heard, and responded to, God’s voice:
Genesis 22:15-18 (See also Genesis 26:4-5)
Then the angel of YHWH called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares YHWH, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed [heard: shama’ta] My voice.”
We are all called to hear, but not just hear sounds, but to actually listen and respond with obedience to YHWH:
“You shall follow YHWH your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen [tish’ma’u] to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.”
God says: “Listen to Me… Listen to My voice”
God calls us to listen to His voice. Yeshua (Jesus) made it clear: hearing the word of God, and acting on it, would bring the greatest rewards.
…one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him [Jesus], “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
Those who are truly blessed, hear the word of God and apply it to their lives. They live God’s teaching out loud and strive to keep listening. But if history has taught us anything it’s that humans prefer to listen to themselves:
Jeremiah 11:3-4, 7-8
Say to them, ‘Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, “Cursed is the man who does not heed the words of this covenant which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Listen to My voice [shim’u b’qoli], and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God,’…
…‘For I solemnly warned your fathers in the day that I brought them up from the land of Egypt, even to this day, warning persistently, saying, “Listen to My voice. [Shim’u b’qoli]” Yet they did not obey [w-lo sham’u] or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.’”
YHWH is the God of Life. Listen to His voice and we will live! But if we listen only to ourselves in stubbornness, we will be led down a dangerous path.
YHWH: “Listen to Me [Shim’u Elai], you stubborn-minded, who are far from righteousness. I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, and My glory for Israel.
YHWH will bring His righteousness to us, if we just open our ears and listen. He wants us to live, not die.
But Adam and Eve, with a single bite, made a covenant with death. By biting into the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve made a choice to try to become gods themselves. They listened not to the voice of YHWH, but to a tempting voice that told them that they were the centre of their own universe, and that the knowledge of good and evil was theirs to take. One bite, in disobedience, and they cursed themselves… and had to leave the Garden of Eden.
But the Garden was where they were meant to be, and so God put a plan into action to save them. He would find a way to bring them back, fully redeemed, into the Garden. Heading to the grave would not be their final fate:
Therefore, hear the word of YHWH [shim’u d’var YHWH], O scoffers, who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”
Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place. Your covenant with death will be cancelled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand…”
This was an incredible promise… but it wouldn’t be a quick one. The story of humanity would have to take the long road and wander through many a desert before we could be truly redeemed. There would be much learning and listening along the way.
Many times the Hebrew people did listen and learn from YHWH. When they wandered in the desert under Moses’ leadership, the people heard God’s voice from the fire, and they were amazed that they could hear and yet still live:
‘Behold, YHWH our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard [shama’nu] His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.’
They feared, however, that this honour (to hear God’s voice, yet still live) might be temporary, so they asked Moses to listen to YHWH on their behalf:
‘Go near and hear [u-shama] all that YHWH our God says; then speak to us all that YHWH our God speaks to you, and we will hear [w-shama’nu] and do it.’
And Moses immediately replied to them:
“YHWH heard [wa-yish’ma YHWH] the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and YHWH said to me,
‘I have heard [shama’ti] the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’
YHWH was very aware, however, that the attitude of a willing ear and an eagerly obedient spirit would be short-lived. Jeremiah was also keenly aware of the fickleness of the people. In fear of the impending Babylonian invasion they promised Jeremiah that if he would speak to God on their behalf they would listen and react favourably to YHWH’s message:
“Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen [nish’ma] to the voice of YHWH our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen [nish’ma] to the voice of YHWH our God.”…
And so Jeremiah brought back God’s message to them. YHWH said:
…‘Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares YHWH, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil. But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen [sh’moa] to the voice of YHWH your God, saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; then in that case listen to the word of YHWH [shim’u d’var YHWH], O remnant of Judah. Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious, will follow closely after you there in Egypt, and you will die there…’”
So Jeremiah had done as he had been asked. He brought God’s message to the people, the message they had promised to listen to, be it favourable or not. Here was their response:
Jeremiah 43:2-3, 7
“You are telling a lie! YHWH our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon,”…and they entered the land of Egypt (for they did not obey [lo sha’mu] the voice of YHWH) and went in as far as Tahpanhes.
This was an unfortunate story. The Hebrew people cursed themselves by asking for God’s message and then rejecting it. They had been given an offer of salvation and deliverance by God Himself, but they didn’t take it. They closed their ears, turned, faced the wrong direction and went their own way… to disastrous results.
Dear God, Hear me!
Although we are meant to hear God, He also listens to us when we call to be heard. David wrote:
…As for me, I shall call upon God, and YHWH will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear [wa-yish’ma] my voice. He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me, for they are many who strive with me. God will hear [yish’ma El] and answer them— even the one who sits enthroned from of old— Selah.
We are supposed to listen for YHWH and heed His voice, but it’s not a one sided audio experience. We can, and should, also call on God, asking him to hear our prayers. David consistently called on YHWH to hear him and save him:
Hear [Sh’ma], O YHWH, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me. When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O YHWH, I shall seek.”
1 Kings 8:28b-30
“O YHWH my God, to listen [lish’moa] to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today; that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ to listen [lish’moa] to the prayer which Your servant shall pray toward this place. Listen [w-shama’ta] to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear [tish’ma] in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive [w-shama’ta w-salakh’ta].”
Even Yeshua (Jesus) thanked God for hearing Him, when He called upon God to raise Lazarus:
So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”
YHWH Hears, YHWH Heard
God absolutely hears all who call on Him. He wants a relationship with us. He wants to hear and to rescue, and to bring us back to His presence. And so, He listens and responds.
YHWH heard that Leah was unloved and rewarded her with children to love her (Genesis 29:33); YHWH heard Elijah’s call for help to revive the life of a dead child (1 Kings 17:22); YHWH heard Hagar’s prayers and the cries of her infant son who was dying of thirst (Genesis 21:16-18); and YHWH heard Hezekiah’s prayer asking for help and healing:
2 Kings 20:5b-6
Thus says YHWH, the God of your father David, “I have heard [shama’ti] your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of YHWH. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”
But just as YHWH lovingly has heard our prayers, He has also heard our grumbling. While wandering in the wilderness the Hebrew people struggled with their ability to trust God:
Psalm 78:19-22 (See also Exodus 17:2-7)
Then they spoke against God; they said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, and streams were overflowing; can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?”
Therefore YHWH heard [shama YHWH]] and was full of wrath; and a fire was kindled against Jacob and anger also mounted against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation.
Regardless of their complaints, Moses did his very best to try to convince the people to put their full faith in God:
“YHWH hears [bish’moa YHWH] your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against YHWH.”…
…And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,“I have heard [shama’ti] the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am YHWH your God.’”
God provided what was needed, regardless of their whining. Humans are less likely to do the same.
But to those who have sought God in humility, without grumbling or demand, He hears them. The poor, the brokenhearted, the crushed… these are not waves of people whining about their lives, these are individuals in great need, quietly seeking YHWH, and He will always hear them:
Psalm 34:4-6, 17-19
I sought YHWH, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and YHWH heard [YHWH shameh’a] him and saved him out of all his troubles….
…The righteous cry, and YHWH hears [YHWH shameh’a] and delivers them out of all their troubles. YHWH is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but YHWH delivers him out of them all.
Testifying: Come and Hear
We don’t know who wrote Psalm 66, but they shared a great testimony about being heard by God:
…Come and hear [shim’u], all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul. I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear; but certainly God has heard [shama]; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me.
Those who testified that they heard and understood Yeshua were those who had been changed by him. One such person was a man who had been born blind. Yeshua healed him on the Sabbath, and that angered the Jewish leaders. They questioned him and he would not deny that he had been blind, and that Jesus healed him. Unimpressed with his answer, the Jewish officials questioned his parents:
His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be the Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”
The Jewish leaders took great offence at this reply, and they hated the man for his insolence. They certainly did not want to become a disciple of this man named Yeshua. A disciple is one who hears the words of their teacher, and they listen, and they respond. This was certainly not what the Jewish leaders wanted to do with Yeshua’s words!
Hearing the Word of YHWH also meant hearing the words of the Messiah, the perfect child of God. The gospel writer, John, called Yeshua “the Word”. He was the Word we should listen to, the Word who was God and, at the same time, separate from God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
In the Hebrew scriptures (the Tanakh) duplication of words was a way to really emphasize a point. Double words happened a lot, but triplication only occurred three times (as far as I’ve been able to find… drop me a line if you find another):
- Isaiah 6:3 “Holy, holy, holy is YHWH of hosts”
- Ezekiel 21:27 A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I will make it!
- Jeremiah 22:29 “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of YHWH!” [shim’i d’var YHWH!]
Jeremiah wanted his readers to know that the whole earth, all of it, needed to hear the Word of YHWH. If Yeshua was the Word, then we ALL need to hear Him.
Listen to the Messiah
There is a story in the New Testament (B’rit Chadashah), commonly referred to as “the Transfiguration,” where Peter, and the brothers James and John, are led up a high mountain by Yeshua (Jesus):
And He [Jesus] was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
This is a great story, and an accurate reflection of human behaviour. Yeshua, and Moses, and Elijah were having a conversation, and Peter in his excitement just blatantly interrupted them with these grand plans. And while he’s still going on about building tabernacles, God came in the form of a cloud and just stopped Peter’s chatter, saying: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
In other words, “this is not the time to speak, Peter… Listen to My Son.”
Sometimes we need to close our mouths and open our ears. This was God’s beloved Son, His words were God’s words… and if we trusted in the words of Yeshua (Jesus), His words would become our words. But we have to let Him speak first so that we can hear, and then (and only then) we can speak on His behalf. Jesus said to His disciples:
“The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
It is possible to understand Yeshua’s words if you are open to hearing them, but so many people hear the name “Jesus”, and close their ears. Those who are not “of God” and those who have rejected the call to be part of His family, they won’t understand, at least not until they are open to hearing:
John 8:43, 47
Jesus: “Why do you not understand what I am saying? Is it because you cannot hear My word?… He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
It’s quite simple, really. Open your heart to God; open your ears to hear His word; listen and you will understand, because wisdom comes from His word.
Matthew 7:24-27 (see also Luke 6:46-49)
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
All the wonderful miracles of Yeshua had a double meaning. They did exactly what they were meant to do: physically heal. But it was also a symbol of something greater… a spiritual healing.
When Yeshua opened the eyes of the blind, He also opened the eyes of the spiritually blind. He was revealing the Kingdom of God for all to see. In the same way healing the deaf was symbolic of healing those who had spiritually closed their ears:
They brought to Him [Jesus] one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!”
And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
This man physically was unable to hear or speak plainly, and with a touch and one word, Yeshua changed his life. This was a proclamation on Yeshua’s behalf… in the same way as this man was physically deaf and mute, so many others were spiritually impaired. But Yeshua opened the ears of those who couldn’t hear God’s words, and now that they could hear, they could proclaim it!
If Anyone has Ears, Let him Hear!
Hearing was a common theme within Yeshua’s ministry. He often used stories (parables) to make a point, and He often ended the parable with the phrase, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words, everyone should be hearing this! (See: Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mark 4:9, 4:23, 7:16, Luke 8:8, 14:34-35).
Listening to stories is a really effective way to learn. Even if the story puzzles you, it tends to stick in your head. Many people were completely baffled by the stories Yeshua told; their ears heard the words but they didn’t get the point.
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will keep on hearing, but you will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.’
“But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Kings and prophets had longed to see the Messiah. Did the disciples really understand how amazing it was that they got to see the Messiah in the flesh, hearing all the mind-blowing words He uttered, day in and day out? How blessed they were to hear the voice of the Son of God.
Are you listening for the voice of the Son of God? Is He your Shepherd?
John 10:2-3, 24-26
“But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…
…“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
We are the sheep, Yeshua is the shepherd… and He’s guiding us home to the Father. We are family:
And it was reported to Him [Jesus], “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.” But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
Listen that you may Live
God is the God of Life and Order. The Adversary (or ha-Satan) is the promoter of Death and Chaos. Death was never the plan for us; we were meant to live, face to face with YHWH in the Garden. Yeshua proclaimed that those who heard and responded to Him would live:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
Roughly seven hundred years before Yeshua, Isaiah recorded YHWH’s similar message:
YHWH: Listen [shim’u] carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen [shim’u], that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.
The time to return to the Garden is getting closer for all of us. With the sacrificial death of the Messiah, we are redeemed. He conquered death, so that it no longer has its grip on us. Our covenant with death has been invalidated. The grave can no longer hold us down. But we have to hear the word of God, and we have to respond to it. If we do, we can Live!… fully and freely in the Garden.
But as for me, I will watch expectantly for YHWH; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me [yish’maeni Elohai]. Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, YHWH is a light for me.
In the Jewish faith there is a prayer that is to be said a few times throughout the day; it is called the Shema and it comes directly from the book of Deuteronomy:
“Hear, O Israel [Sh’ma Israel]]! YHWH is our God, YHWH is one! You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.”
We are called to hear and recognize that YHWH is the God of all gods, which includes everyone who ever considered themselves a god, (as many humans have). But it’s not enough just to hear… we must hear and respond.
How do you respond to the fact that God is THE God? Love Him… with all your heart, all your soul, and every fibre of your being. And if you do, then you have a relationship with the greatest being in the Universe… the Creator of it all. Open your ears to His voice; He’s telling you that He loves you.
Next week: Almighty