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I am reading the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the famous "commandment" to love God with all your heart/soul/strength. Jesus quotes it, Jews still say it nightly at bedtime and in the morning today, etc.

The text begins with the verb "וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔" which is often translated "you shall love." But the verb conjugation is conjugate-perfect. As I understand it, this is "reversed" through the vav to imperfect form. You would then have "you will love" or "you are still loving." That is to say that the act of loving God is ongoing and incomplete.

Contrast this with the presence of an imperative in the previous verse (Deut 6:4) after which the prayer is named. The verb shema ("שְׁמַ֖ע‪‬") is in the command form of the verb. You might translate it as, "Listen up!"

Compare this to the Exodus 20:3, the first commandment, where the verse says "You shall not have other Gods than me." Here, the "to be" verb is in the imperfect directly. It is also not in the Jussive/Imperative form.

A contrasting example is in Genesis 1:3 where the verb "to be" is in imperfect jussive form (a command) of "to be" is used for "be light!" in the command to start off creation.

I'm trying to understand what this means in terms of the commandments. My thinking is that this is more of an image of the law as a trellis and not a system of judgment. If one follows the law, then you are like the vine that grows following the trellis. If not, the vine-grower cuts off the branch and throws it in the fire. There is not malice in this.

So the question: Why is this not in the imperative form as "shema" is in Deut 6:4? What does it mean to say "you will love" or "you are loving the Lord your God?" Is this a commandment or a prediction or a statement about what will happen? As I understand it, Deuteronomy, in particular, is quite deterministic in it's anthropology and theology.

Thoughts?

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  • I've been looking and grammars and commentaries, but I expect that the imperative shema gives the following indicatives an imperative meaning. – Perry Webb Oct 26 '20 at 9:01
  • Perry, what is your basis for that? The imperative is merely to “listen up!” Anything, imperative, declarative, or indicative could easily follow such a statement. For example Deuteronomy 9:1 has a shema command followed by a descriptive statement about what is happening. – Gus L. Oct 26 '20 at 12:10
  • Actually, in the Greek NT as in the LXX the verbs quoting here are usually taken as future indicative. – Perry Webb Oct 27 '20 at 9:11
  • In addition to the simple analysis tag of the form ἀγαπήσεις, VIFA--2S, which incidentally does not occur separately in the Greek New Testament, we give VIFA--2S^VMPA--2S, a complex analysis tag showing that the future indicative form is used imperativally, a distinct Hebraistic influence. That is not the case with other forms. Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. (2000). Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Vol. 4, pp. 17–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. – Perry Webb Oct 27 '20 at 9:25
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Another question has a similar flavor - Can the Ten Commandments be interpreted as declarative?

Back to the OP and the Shema. If we couple Deut 6:4 & 5 together, then I think that the statement to love the LORD with all your heart, etc, could be understood as a promise or statement of fact. Indeed, both statements of the 10 commandments (Ex 20 & Deut 5) begin with the reminder that:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

It is almost as if they suggest - Because I brought you out of the land of slavery, therefore, you must have no other gods before me, etc. The Shema and the instruction to love the LORD could easily be understood in this way, both grammatically and theologically.

The NT has a similar idea:

John 14:15 - If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

Note that the tense of the verb τηρήσετε (= you will keep) is Future Indicative Active, ie, NOT imperative! Equally, the reverse appears to be also true:

John 15:10 - If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.

Thus, there is a two-way "relationship" between our attitudes and actions - both appear to feed on each other.

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  • I like this. It is almost more about causality than ethics – Gus L. Oct 26 '20 at 9:21
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The verb וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ is not the perfect aspect. It is instead waw-consecutive perfect. This is a weird grammatical structure which is complicated to explain. It acts like an imperfect aspect verb; however, it has to connect to the previous or next verb in a chronological context. This means that וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ is a continuation of the commandment שְמַע rather than a separate commandment. A similar thing happens quite frequently in the Torah when it says "דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם" "Speak to the people of Israel and you shall say to them" such as in Numbers 15:38. Here again, the words וְאָמַרְתָּ֣, which is of the same grammatical structure as וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔, shows that it is continuing the previous commandment, here specifically the commandment to speak to the people.

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