The Shema – Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV) Hear, O Israel: 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 strength.
Did you know that the Jewish people have prayed these well-known words to express devotion to God every morning and evening for thousands of years? This prayer is called the Shema (Hear).
I want to focus our attention on the last word of the Shema, a powerful, colorful, meaningful word that speaks to our needs today. The word STRENGTH that is used in the Shema is the word me’od. It occurs 300+ times in the Bible, and it doesn’t exactly mean strength. There is a different Hebrew word for strength, koach.
Interestingly, the Shema is the only place in the whole Bible where me’od is translated as strength.
The meaning of me’od is “very” or “much.” It’s what grammar nerds call an adverb, a word that comes alongside other words to augment their meaning. For example, in Genesis chapter one, God looks at the world that He’s made, and six times He calls it good but then the 7th time He says it is me’od or it is VERY GOOD. Later in Genesis in the story of Noah, the floodwaters keep rising, and they become me’od or “me’od” powerful. In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain wasn’t just angry at his brother. He was me’od angry, or when Saul became the King of Israel, he was me’od happy.
Me’od is a Hebrew word that intensifies the meaning of other words. The Bible uses this word to increase another word’s forced or enlarge its meaning; they would say the word me’od twice. When the Israelite spies investigated the promised land, they said the land we walked through is me’od, me’od good! Jacob became me’od, me’od wealthy with many flocks, camels, donkeys, and servants.
Can you see that me’od doesn’t mean strength in terms of muscle power but rather “very or much?” Back to the Shema, where we are called to love God with ALL our hearts and with ALL our will and affections. And with ALL our soul or with our whole life and physical being. And with ALL our me’od.
That is with all our “MUCHNESS.” I know, that sounds kind of funny, but if me’od can intensify any word’s meaning to greater capacity, then this final thing that we used to love God isn’t a thing at all; IT’S EVERYTHING! Loving God with our me’od means devoting every possibility, opportunity, and capacity to love and honor God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It’s the most amazing, colorful, powerful word in the Shema. Me’od can refer to almost anything. This raises one last fascinating point because this word is capable of many degrees of meaning. The ancient Jewish communities interpreted me’od in the Shema in different ways. So, the ancient Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, when they came to me’od in the Shema, translated it with the Greek to Dunamis. And this Greek word is used to describe the power or strength we have because of the Holy Spirit.
But if you look at the ancient Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, you’ll discover that these scholars interpreted me’od to mean wealth. Money is a tangible thing that opens all kinds of opportunities to love God by giving away resources. And when Jesus was asked about the most important commandment scripture, he quoted the Shema, and he used two words to unpack the meaning of the me’od. Jesus said, love God with all your mind and with all your strength. So, which of these interpretations of me’od is right?
Does it mean strength or wealth or money? That’s the wrong question. The word me’od doesn’t limit the number of ways you can show love for God. It is just the opposite; the point is that everything in a person’s life, every moment, every opportunity, every ability, and capacity, offers a chance to love and honor the ONE who created us. We are called to love God with ALL OF our MUCHNESS! And that’s the meaning of strength in the Shema that is repeated twice a day, every day!
With me’od, me’od blessings,