The Knowledge of God

“To me they cry, ‘My God, we Israel know the Lord.’ Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him, (Hosea 8:2,3).” On first glance it would appear that these two verses are unrelated, since they seem to contradict each other. But on further study of the context, it becomes clear that irony is intended. All of Israel’s claims to the contrary, she does not “know” God.

What, then, does it mean to know God? If Israel does not “know” God, who does?

The English verb “to know” has two connotations (among others). Thus, you might ask a group if all those present know some nationally prominent person. Probably the majority would answer “yes,” meaning “I have an intellectual acquaintance with that person—I know who he or she is.” But if you were to ask whether anyone in the group really knows that prominent person, probably no one would answer “yes”—meaning that no one present has had an experiential acquaintance with him or her. No one really knows that person.

In the great majority of cases the Hebrew word yadac “to know” has only the latter connotation. We English-speakers may think of the knowledge of God as something primarily intellectual, philosophic, or apologetic. Not so the Hebrew! The knowledge of God was forged in the fires of conflict and testing, of disobedience and punishment, of repentance and grace. He knew God and God knew him.

The primacy of this experiential content is beautifully illustrated in the language of the sex relationship. The Hebrew text says literally that a man knew his wife. This is no euphemism. Rather, it means precisely what it says. Two people in the most intimate, personal, revealing ways give their bodies and their personalities to one another. And they know one another. In those moments of passionate, unreserved giving, one tastes the reality of commitment. This- is one more reason for the preservation of the sanctity of sex, as well as its freedom within the prescribed bounds: it is a type or illustration of the relationship between God and His own. So once again, when the Bible speaks of knowing God, it is speaking about an experience, not an abstraction-an experience not unlike holding a live electric wire.

Examples of this concept appear throughout the Old Testament; however, those from Hosea and Amos will suffice. One of the most poignant of the prophecies is that of Hosea. The touching interplay between the prophet and his unfaithful wife and God and unfaithful Israel is unforgettable. Hosea’s many allusions to marriage and sexual embrace are not by chance.

It is precisely because of her lack of knowledge of God that Israel will be exiled (4:1). She has not sustained such a relationship. The God who knew her in the wilderness (13:5), she has forgotten.

But as Hosea’s writing and, indeed, the whole Bible indicates, to sustain such a relationship is difficult. This is no cut-and-dried affair. This is the One who is truly Real, before whom all my tinsel is evident. This is the One who is truly Love, before whom all my apathy is made· plain. This is the One who is truly Holy, before whom my stained clothes are seen to be what they are. To allow myself to be enclosed in that embrace is to be unmade, to be remade. It is to feel my too-reluctant spirit heated white – hot, pounded, hammered, stamped into that unattainable image. It is too much! His designs are too great!

How much easier to backpedal, to sidestep, to propitiate Him with services, with sacrifices, with the reciting of creeds, with abstinences! Somehow we must find ways to keep Him happy without letting Him at the blueprint of our lives. We will show that we know God by doing all the religious things He likes so well. And God says, “There is no knowledge of me here (4:1,2,6).” What are religious deeds? Show me My nature in you (6:6)! I hate your religiosity (Amos 5:21-26)! Knowledge of God may indeed result in religious acts, but not before it has issued in a life which breathes the breath of God (Psalm 51).

Jeremiah speaks in a similar vein (9:25a). How easy it is to trust in externals, in religious practices, in our marks of circumcision. But where is the circumcision of the heart? Where is that knowledge of God, that consuming relationship with God, which issues in goodness, gentleness, justice, righteousness? (Micah 6:6-8). Where is the knowledge of God?


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