What Does it Mean to Know God?

January 15, 2024

King Solomon charges us to acknowledge God in all of our ways. The literal meaning of the Hebrew word, translated here as acknowledge, is “know.” Meaning, “In all your ways know Him.” This is the most striking word in this verse. The verse does not say “In all your ways remember Him.” It does not say, “In all your ways think of Him.” If the lesson of this verse was simply that being aware of God keeps one on the straight path, the verb used would not have been “know.”

It is also worth noting that the verse does not say, “At all times know Him,” or “Know Him all of your days.” If the point of the verse is that we should think about God at all times, why does it tie knowledge of Him to behavior – “all your ways” – rather than time?

“Knowing” in the Bible

The Hebrew verb da – “know” – used here, means much more than the mere knowledge of an idea. For example, this verb is used in the Bible as a euphemism for intimate sexual relations.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” – Genesis 4:1

Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin; no man had known her. – Genesis 24:16

The reason for this euphemism is that the Hebrew verb da – “know” – implies integration of a concept into the self, rather than mere intellectual awareness. In other words, just as a man and woman are bonded together in intimacy, an idea that is truly known is integrated and bonded to the personality of the person who knows it. The idea that is known becomes a part of the person himself.

Knowing God

With this more precise understanding of the Biblical meaning of the Hebrew word da – “know”, we can better understand what the Bible means when it speaks of knowledge of God.

Jeremiah 22 records a prophecy of rebuke to Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Jeremiah calls out Jehoiakim for his unethical leadership and abuse of power. Jeremiah opens his rebuke with a call to the king to rule ethically:

Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, you who sit on the throne of David, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates! Thus says the Lord: “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:2-3

Jeremiah goes on to warn Jehoiakim that his kingdom will be destroyed if he does not mend his ways. Then, he invokes a contrast with the righteous reign of his father King Josiah:

Your father ate and drank and upheld justice and righteousness, did he not? And then it went well for him. He judged the case of the poor and needy. And then it went well for him. Isn’t this what it means to know Me? – Jeremiah 22:15-16

“Isn’t this what it means to know Me?” In this rhetorical statement, God Himself (through Jeremiah) explicitly states that to know Him is to behave according to the principles of justice and righteousness. This same idea is expressed in another passage in Jeremiah.

Let the one who boasts, boast in this: that he understands and knows me, for I am the Lord who acts with gracious love, justice, and righteousness in the land. I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 9:24

To sum up, knowledge of God is not an intellectual awareness of God. It is not faith in the common understanding of the word. It is not even a personal feeling of God’s presence in our lives. Knowledge of God, biblically speaking, is a consciousness of God that is so deep-seated and integrated into ourselves that it expresses itself in ethical, altruistic, and righteous behavior.

Look again at the passage from Jeremiah 22. God does not say that knowledge of God leads to ethical behavior. He says that knowledge of God is ethical behavior. In other words, if someone claims to know God but their behavior is not righteous, we may say that they have faith in God. We may say that they are aware of God. But we can not say that such a person knows God.

Now we can fully understand our verse, “In all your ways know Him, and He will straighten your paths.”

To know God is to be intimately bonded with the idea of God. Like the marriage of a man and a woman, this knowledge transforms one’s identity and dictates behavior.

 

This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for ZionVerses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, and he is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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