Today’s Hebrew word is one of those that permeates the OT, appearing some 1,150 times, and having equivalents in Akkadian, Aramaic, Arabic, Ugaritic, and Ethiopic. Šāma‘ (H8085) basically means “to hear with the ear” with several shades of meaning derived from it that generally denote effective hearing, that is, truly listening. Ideas conveyed by šāma‘, then, are “paying attention, regarding, and obeying.”
The first occurrence of šāma‘ well illustrates the above concepts. After they sinned, Adam and Eve “heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen_3:8). Here was, as many expositors believe, the pre-incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus, walking in the Garden. Adam and Eve recognized Him as such and knew fully how they had disobeyed His one and only command. We find šāma‘ again in Gen_3:10 and still again in Gen_3:17, where God told Adam that he “hearkened” (listened to, obeyed, or at least followed the lead of) his wife instead of His God.
We repeatedly find this word, therefore, in reference to obeying God. We are told to “hear the word of the LORD” (e.g., Isa_66:5; Jer_22:29), “hear [His] voice” (Isa_28:23), “[hearken] unto counsel” (Pro_12:15), and obey His law and “commandments” (Isa_42:24; Neh_9:16). Two passages that sum it all up are, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deu_6:4-5), followed by the command to keep these words in one’s heart and teach them to your children (Deu_6:6-9). Those verses actually comprise the “Shema,” the basic confession of faith of Judaism recited both morning and evening.
The challenge to us today is both clear and convicting. As šāma‘ indicates “hearing with the intent to obey,” so does the Greek akouō (G191), which is how the Septuagint renders šāma‘ here. It means not only to hear in general (e.g., Mat_2:3), to hear with attention (e.g., Mar_4:3, “hearken”), and to understand (e.g., Mar_4:33), but also to obey (e.g., Luk_16:19-31). In a day when Christ is presented as a way to salvation without Lordship, and when Christian living is viewed as not involving strict obedience to anything definitive, Scripture’s emphasis on obedience has never been more critical.
Scriptures for Study: Who hears God, according to Pro_1:5 (cf. Pro_1:7)? To what should we hearken and what is the result in Pro_1:33; Pro_8:32-35? What comes by “hearing” in Rom_10:17?