Deuteronomy 6: The Great Commandment

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 72–73

Do you have a scripture that has been a special strength and guide to you? Why has it had this influence? How often do you remember it? How often do you share it with others?Deuteronomy 6 contains a passage that is one of the Jews’ most frequently quoted scriptures. This passage is also what Jesus called “the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38; see also vv. 36–37). As you find and read this passage, ask yourself why this is the great commandment. Why is this the “first and great commandment” when it was given hundreds of years after the Ten Commandments? Deuteronomy 6 also includes Moses’ explanations concerning how the Israelites should observe this commandment and why.

Understanding the Scriptures

Deuteronomy 6

Frontlets (v. 8)A band or ribbon worn across the forehead 
Preserve (v. 24)Save 

Deuteronomy 6:4–5—The First and Great Commandment

In Hebrew the word hear is shema. Consequently, the Jews call Deuteronomy 6:4–5 the Shema. When asked which was the greatest commandment in all the law, Jesus quoted the Shema (see Matthew 22:36–38). President Ezra Taft Benson explained why it must be first: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 3; or Ensign, May 1988, 4).

Deuteronomy 6:8–9—How Did the Israelites Apply This Instruction?

By the time of Jesus, many Jews interpreted Deuteronomy 6:8–9 in a very literal way. They wrote verses 4–5 on small scrolls, put the scrolls in small boxes called “phylacteries,” and tied one box on their arms and another around their heads so that the box was over the forehead. They also put one of these scrolls in a small container called a “mezuzot” and nailed the mezuzot to the right doorpost of their homes.

phylactery mezuzot

Studying the Scriptures

Do activities A–C as you study Deuteronomy 6.

Activity A iconCross-Reference

Write the reference Matthew 22:35–38 next to Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (the Shema). Read the verses in Matthew and summarize what Jesus said about the Shema.

Activity B iconHow Can You Remember?

  1. 1.

    List the things Moses told the people to do in Deuteronomy 6:7–9 so they could better remember and keep the commandment in verses 4–5.

  2. 2.

    Write about ways you could better remember this same commandment. Choose and put into practice at least one of the ideas you thought of.

Activity C iconWrite a Question

Write what you think is an important, meaningful question that can be answered by Deuteronomy 6:24.