You have likely heard Deuteronomy 6:4-5 quoted many times. It’s known as the Shema.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
This video from the Bible Project focuses on the last word in the Shema; “strength.”
The word in Hebrew is “me’od” and it’s found 300 times in Scripture. But here is the fascinating part—the word does not actually mean “strength.”
The Shema is one of the few places in the Bible where “me’od” is translated “strength.” Why is that?
The literal translation for “me’od” is “very” or “much.” Grammatically, it’s an adverb used to comes alongside other words to augment their meaning.
For example, in Genesis 1:31, God refers to his creation as “good” six times. But the seventh time he adds “me’od” meaning the creation was “very (me’od) good.”
Later in Genesis 7:18 we read about the Great Flood. The flood waters are called “me’od powerful.”
In the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:15 Cain is said to be “me’od angry.”
In some cases “me’od” is used twice to increase the force of the word it is augmenting to its total capacity as in Genesis 30:43 where Jacob is described as being “me’od, me’od wealthy.”
That means when understanding the word as used in the Shema, it doesn’t mean strength or power but “much”— we are called to love God with all of our “muchness.”
Loving God with all of your “me’od” means devoting every possibility, opportunity and capacity that you have to honoring God and loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s the most wide and expansive word in the Shema because it can refer to almost anything.
The meaning of the word has challenged translators throughout history. Ancient Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek used “dunamis”, meaning “power” or “strength” for “me’od.” It’s the most widely used understanding in Bible translations. But ancient Aramaic scholars translated “me’od” to mean “wealth.” They saw money as a concrete thing that opens up all kinds of opportunities to love God by giving away resources.
Jesus quoted the Shema in Mark 12:30 by using two words to unpack the meaning of “me’od” saying we should love God with all of our mind and power. Both are human capacities that can be used to love God in an infinite number of ways.
The video concludes by telling us that “me’od,” no matter how you translate it, doesn’t limit the number of ways we can show love for God. Rather, it means everything in a person’s life offers a chance to honor the one who made you.
What does that mean for pastors? John Piper described his love for God this way;
“The burden of my ministry is to make plain to others that “The steadfast love [of the Lord] is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). And if it is better than life, it is better than all that life in this world offers. This means that what satisfies is not the gifts of God, but the glory of God–the glory of his love, the glory of his power, the glory of his wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
That is a fitting example of loving God with all of our “muchness.”