One of the most well-known texts of Scripture in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is Deuteronomy 6:4, “The Shema”. Though it is certainly familiar, it is by no means immune to difficulty in the translation process. Daniel Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, in his recent (NIVAC) commentary on Deuteronomy, offers what I feel is both a helpful interpretation and clarification of the text. He writes:
“THE SHEMA IS ONE of the most important symbols of Judaism. To this day, orthodox Jews recite verses 4–5 twice daily as part of their prayers (cf. v. 7). Despite its importance in Jewish and Christian tradition, the Shema is enigmatic. The sense of the first two words is clear. But the construction of the remainder is unparalleled in the entire Old Testament, so any interpretation, including our own, should be deemed provisional. On the surface the four words appear to be arranged in an ABAB parallelistic order, translated literally:
The first line could be interpreted either as a sentence, “Yahweh is our God,” or appositionally, “Yahweh our God,” though the latter creates problems for interpreting the second line. The critical word in the second part is obviously [echad], which in the overwhelming number of occurrences represents the cardinal number “one.” However, in a half dozen instances, the word functions as an equivalent to lebaddô, “unique, only, alone.” Within the immediate and the broader contexts the purpose of this statement is not to answer the question, “How many is God?” but “Who is the God of Israel?” To this question the Israelites were to respond in unison and without compromise or equivocation, “Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone!”
Moses’ concern here is whether God’s people would remain devoted exclusively to Yahweh or be seduced by the gods of Canaan. His exposition of the Shema in the remainder of 6: 5–19 confirms this interpretation. Answering to the Supreme Command, by uttering the Shema the Israelites were declaring their complete, undivided, and unqualified devotion to Yahweh. This is not strictly a monotheistic confession (cf. 4: 35, 39) but a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment that defines the boundaries of the covenant community. It consists of those who claim this utterance as a verbal badge of identity and who demonstrate this identity with uncompromising covenant commitment”
All NIVAC Volumes on Sale! (Kindle Editions)
For a limited time, Zondervan Academic has discounted the entire set of the NIVAC Commentary Series to $4.99 or less (Kindle ed. only). For purchase information on Dr. Block’s commentary, click here. The following are links to each individual volume. Genesis; Leviticus, Numbers;Deuteronomy; Joshua; Judges and Ruth; 1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles;Esther; Job; Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs; Isaiah; Jeremiah, Lamentations;Ezekiel; Daniel; Joel, Obadiah, Malachi;Hosea, Amos, Micah; Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah;Haggai, Zechariah; Matthew; Mark; Luke; John; Acts;Romans; 1Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians;Colossians & Philemon; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus; Hebrews; James; 1 Peter; 2 Peter & Jude; 1, 2, & 3 John; Revelation.
 Block, Daniel I. (2012-08-21). Deuteronomy (NIV Application Commentary, The) (pp. 181-182). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.