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  • Writer's pictureRobin Smit

Does God Require Obedience?

A few years ago, I was reading an article by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and he said that there is no Hebrew word for obey. What!? I always just assumed the actual word obey was in the Hebrew Bible. I mean, after all, it's translated in our English Bibles, and it's definitely in most (if not all) sermons preached. Obedience is a big word in Western Christianity. I lived 20+ years as a Christian obeying God, and hoping I was obeying everything, and even obeying quick enough. Because I thought that everything hinged on my "obedience." And the result would be more favor, stronger anointing, wealth, health, etcetera. Little did I know that God isn't interested in my obedience.

Or at least He's not interested in obedience the way we’ve understood it.

So, I did some further research, and sure enough, the word obey isn't in the Hebrew Bible. The word translated to obey in our Bibles is the Hebrew word shema. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against obedience, and I'm not advocating for disobedience. I am one of those people that obedience comes naturally. I was an extremely obedient kid, to the point of losing a cat once! But that's another story for another day!!  I also like rules in general. Truthfully I have always LOVED following rules and setting them. My kids and husband even call me the rule maker! I'm sure they mean it as a term of endearment. Right??

And just as there is no Hebrew word meaning obey, there also is no English word for shema. While this Hebrew verb translates as hear, it means much more than just hearing or listening. The King James Bible chose the verb to hearken rather than hear. But no one uses the word hearken anymore, so the English translators of the Bible didn't know what to do with this verb. So they translated it as obey. Because EVERYONE understands that word!! But our understanding of the word obey poses a problem. Before we will obey we usually go through a three-part process.

1. We hear what God says

2. We evaluate the command based on our understanding

3. We choose to obey, based on our evaluation.

That's a Greek mindset; understand first, then obey. But God doesn't give us instructions so that we might understand Him! He gives His instructions to us that we might live life well (Proverbs 10:17). 

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament and about 1050 commandments in the New Testament. With so many commandments, you would naturally assume that obedience is what God is requiring. But He's not looking for compliance from us the way we understand obedience.

Webster's Dictionary defines obey as to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do.

Some synonyms are to submit, to keep, to comply, to be governed by, to bow to, do one's bidding, do what is expected, do as told, or to take orders. That's a lot of English synonyms for a word that's not even in the Hebrew language!!

So, if God isn't looking for obedience from us the way we've understood it, what does God want? He's looking for shema levot....for hearing hearts. A hearing heart is a heart that hears and responds. And a hearing heart is rooted in love (Deuteronomy 11:1; John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). The first time shema appears in Scripture is in Genesis 3:8.

It says, "And they heard (shema) 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." (NKJV – emphasis mine).

Adam and Eve had just "sinned" and eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Although actually, the word sin isn't mentioned in this story at all! Here we see God's response to them despite them eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, despite them not responding with a hearing heart. God came walking through His garden in the cool of the day.

The word walk is halak; it has the idea of moving or going as opposed to just sitting there. The term cool of the day wasn't added as a poetic phrase; the word cool is the word ruach, which is the word for spirit. 

Immediately following their disobedience, they heard (shema) the Spirit of the Lord in the garden ready to walk with them. Eager to enjoy fellowshipping Spirit to spirit with them.

They heard (or shema) His Spirit come into the garden as usual! To hear (or shema) is listening with understanding, attention, and with a heart response. A heart response to what? To come to Him and walk with His Spirit as usual. Allowing the wind of His Spirit to blow over them and make things right! Our translations then tell us that God said, "Where are you?" Actually, in the Hebrew, it is a Hebrew idiom meaning "he is nowhere." God wasn't asking a question; He wasn't asking where Adam was. He was crying out, "Adam is nowhere in My heart."

It is NOT a picture of an angry God who is looking for Adam so that he can punish his "disobedience."

And it is NOT a picture of God separating Himself from man because of sin!

This first look at disobedience (at what we call sin) is a picture of a caring Father so sad that His son left His heart. But we've believed a different story about Adam. And we haven't understood obedience as a hearing heart. A heart that says YES before it even understands what God is saying or asking of us! And if we've misunderstood obedience, what else have we misunderstood? What other Western doctrines have we just accepted without question? Beliefs such as progressive salvation, limited atonement, or man not having a glorified, resurrected, WHOLE, body until we die and get to heaven? 

Understanding that obedience is a heart that responds yes to ALL God says, even without understanding it, is a game-changer! It makes it EASY! I entered the word obey (English) I google translate, wanting a Hebrew translation. The English word it gave me was to ABIDE! So easy!

Obeying is simply abiding IN HIM with a hearing heart that responds YES!

And Hebrews 5:9 in the Mirror Bible says that He has forever perfected our hearts to hear what He had heard! Your heart is wired by Him to hear and respond. Your heart is wired to abide! His obedience is your obedience. IT IS FINISHED!

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