Although technically not a name of God, ADONAI Echad, like all names of God, declares something about His character. ADONAI Echad states that ADONAI, the God of Israel, alone is God; there is no other. ADONAI Echad is proclaimed multiple times daily and at the end of life by Jews around the world in what is known as the Shema – “Shema Israel ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI Echad,” “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4).
Most often the Shema is understood as a declaration of monotheism, because the word “echad” usually means “one.” In the light of Christian trinitariansim, it then becomes debated whether echad is a simple or complex unity. Yet the Shema is so much more than a statement of monotheism, it is a way of life. To understand ADONAI echad as a way of life, we need to look at its context in the Shema, and the context of the Shema in Deuteronomy.
In the Book of Deuteronomy Moshe passionately pleads with Israel to obey the commandments, statutes and judgements of the covenant, to insure an enduring life in the land of Israel which they were about to enter. After reiterating the Ten Commandments (chapter 5-6), he expounds the first two commandments “You shall not have other gods besides Me. Do not make for yourself a graven image—no image of what is in the heavens above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” (Deut. 5:7, 8; cf. Ex. 20:3,4).
It is in this context that the command for Israel to shema, ADONAI our God, is ADONAI Echad. He alone is God, and only He is God; there is no other. Because there are no verbs in the Hebrew sentence, other than the command to “shema”, the context in Deuteronomy allows for the above translation, and the understanding that ADONAI Echad refers to His uniqueness. When “echad” is understood as “alone/unique”, it describes a relationship with God rather than simply his nature.
“Shema” is one of the most important words in the Torah, yet it is one the most often misunderstood words. One reason is because there is no one English word to translate shema. It means to listen, to heed, to pay attention, to understand, to respond, to obey, what ADONAI is saying. Notice ADONAI does not command us to “obey” but to heed, and do. In fact there is no verb for “obey” in the Torah. Instead some form of “shema” is used. Listening and speaking is a form of communication. ADONAI does not want blind obedience, but an intimate relationship.
Every time we hear or say the declaration “Shema Israel, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI Echad,” let’s remember that He is calling us to a relationship with Him, the only and unique God. Heeding this call brings us into an intimate relationship with the ADONAI Echad, the unique God of Israel, and leads to knowing Messiah Yeshua in all His fullness.