One thing seems certain, in my opinion: we must renew our covenant with God again and again. Our relationship with God is not a one-time commitment, but an ongoing relationship. In a recent Narkis Street Congregation Bible study, Dr. Randall Buth explained that for a Jew of the first century the recitation of the Shema (“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is God alone!”) was perhaps the principle way to accept or acknowledge God’s reign in one’s life. Confessing the Shema was the acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In Jewish life the Shema was always more than Deuteronomy 6:4; at a minimum it was Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (RSV)
“These words,” or “these commandments” (NIV), in verse 6 refers to the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:6-21), which in Scripture are recorded just before the Shema.
Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said: “Why is ‘Hear, O Israel’ [Deut. 6:4-9] recited before ‘If, then, you obey the commandments’ [Deut. 11:13-21] in the daily prayers? To indicate that one should accept first the Kingdom of Heaven, and only afterwards the yoke of the commandments” (Mishnah, Berachot 2:2). In the rabbis view one must first get one’s relationship with God straight before beginning to observe His commandments.
As Dr. Buth said in concluding his Bible study:
The Shema represents a personal relationship with God. It represents loving God and having a covenant relationship with him. Only within that covenant relationship does the Law mean anything. First you have faith, are “born again,” and then, as a reaction to God’s loving you and choosing you and pulling you up out of the miry clay, you respond in good works. The Shema establishes your relationship with God. Don’t do anything without having your relationship with God fixed. First, you get “born again,” then you do good works. You renew your covenant with God in the morning and in the evening. When you go to bed you remember him and your covenant with him. When you wake up, you remember him and your covenant with him.