I don’t know about you, but when I read this passage the first time I thought “that is a lot of things they are told to do.” You shall this, and you shall that, how can you love someone when you are told you have to. In verses 4-19 (at least in the ESV) the phrase ‘you shall’ appears 13 times. Then I realised that you can read this two ways. The word shall could be a commandment, or it could be a promise. It could say ‘you have to’, or it could say ‘I predict/promise this will happen to you’. If you take the second meaning of the word the passage reads very differently. Suddenly a passage that sounded like a harsh list of commandments is turned into a prophecy of Messianic proportions. Read verses 4-19 again (in the ESV if you have one), and see the difference. (In the NIV you’ll have to read every ‘command’ as “you shall”.) When I read these verses this way it suddenly started to sound like Ezekiel 36:26:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
No longer a harsh command, but something to be desired, to look forward to. The summary of this chapter is really verses 4-5,24, which I think is very much along the same lines:
4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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 might.
24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.
In other words: love God with your whole being, let it be the identifying feature of your life, because that is good for you. As always God commands us to do things, because they are good for us, not because He needs to be loved, but because loving Him is the best thing we can do with our lives. The best thing for us, and for those around us. When we love him it will (shall) change our lives, our hearts, and our behaviour.
It is interesting that verse 24 seems to equate loving God with fearing Him. Love and fear are normally opposites, but in this case fear is not just being afraid of God, it is being so overawed with Him that you suddenly feel ‘afraid’. I can only remember one occasion where I had that experience. I was reading a popular science article about the way scientists think some of the universe fits together, and suddenly there was this overwhelming awe. I suddenly realised that God did not only understand all this stuff but actually designed it as well. With it came a feeling of what I can only describe as fear, a sense of “What/Who have I gotten involved with?”, an awareness of how great God really was. There suddenly was a connection, just for a few seconds, with God, especially with the fullness of His power and creativity, and I suddenly knew what it meant to fear God. I reckon that when we truly love God with our whole being there will be a connection similar to that, and through our love for Him will come a fear of Him, not a negative being afraid of, but a positive overwhelming awe, something that inspires us to love Him more.
Learn the lesson of this chapter: love God, draw close to Him, passionately pursue Him, and let Him overwhelm you and fill every last little corner of your life.