Ramifications of Shema IV – Isaiah 41:10
In the Shema we declare that the Lord is our God. What do we mean when we say that God is “ours”? Is the Lord not God over all of creation? How is it appropriate to use such possessive language in relation to God?
In previous articles we have explored one connotation that is inherent in our declaration that the Lord is our God. We presented the concept that as Jews we trust in no other power aside from the one Creator of heaven and earth. We acknowledge that no being or force has the ability to harm us or to bring us benefit aside from the One Creator. In this sense we would translate the words “our God” as “the Power that we trust in”.
There is yet another connotation to the possessive terminology that connects us to God. This connotation is expressed in Isaiah 41:10. God encourages His servant Israel; “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God; I have strengthened you, even helped you even sustained you with My righteous right hand.”
Israel is reassured with the fact that the Creator of heaven and earth is her God. Here the concept is presented not as a motion that reaches from Israel towards God but rather God is identifying Himself as Israel’s God in a motion that extends from God towards Israel. Israel calls the Creator of heaven and earth “our God” not only on the basis of their trust in Him, but also on the basis of God sealing a covenant with them.
The Creator of heaven and earth entered into an irrevocable relationship with the people of Israel. He made it clear that this relationship is true and real through the unparalleled events surrounding the exodus (Deuteronomy 4:30-35). He further confirmed this relationship by having His presence dwell amongst them in an open way (Leviticus 9:23; 1Kings 8:10). The open miracles that God performed for His people further confirmed His ongoing relationship with Israel (1Kings 18:38; 2Kings 19:35). God’s preservation of the Jewish people and the preservation of His truth in the hearts of the Jewish people further confirm the eternal nature of God’s bond with the Jewish people.
When we declare that the Lord is “our God” we are saying that the Creator of heaven and earth has bound Himself to us in a covenantal relationship. He identifies Himself as the God of Israel and He calls us His people.
This truth is both reassuring and demanding. It is reassuring because if we are bound to God in this eternal relationship that means that His truth will forever abide in our midst. This truth is demanding because if God allowed us to be so inextricably bound up with His name we must live up to the calling that comes with the title “God’s people”.
May He grant us the strength, the light and the courage to live up to that name.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal