To Know God

THE heathen philosophical mind, whether it was that of the classical Greek, the Roman, or the Hindu, was quite sure of its ability to arrive at the ultimate truth of God and His being. This state of mind was quite foreign to that of the theocratic people. Throughout the Old Testament emphasis is laid on the reality of God, the fact that God is. The theocratic believer's conviction that a knowledge of God was possible, was possible in depth and to great personal benefit, was made clear throughout their history; but on the ultimate truth of God and His being the Hebrew mind did not speculate. . .

THE heathen philosophical mind, whether it was that of the classical Greek, the Roman, or the Hindu, was quite sure of its ability to arrive at the ultimate truth of God and His being. This state of mind was quite foreign to that of the theocratic people. Throughout the Old Testament emphasis is laid on the reality of God, the fact that God is. The theocratic believer's conviction that a knowledge of God was possible, was possible in depth and to great personal benefit, was made clear throughout their history; but on the ultimate truth of God and His being the Hebrew mind did not speculate.

The Hebrew believer came to know that a knowledge of God was obtainable; not by philosophical speculation, not by immersion in mystery cults, but by a sincere, wholehearted surrender to the divine will, the divine directives. In seeking to make known to others their knowledge and understanding of God, the Hebrews used various names for God that are descriptive of His person.

The most general name for God in the Old Testament is 'Elohim, which occurs 2,555 times, of which 2,310 of these in stances are used of God as the true and living One. The form of the name is probably a plural of majesty, indicating the greatness, the infinity, and inexhaustibility of His nature. More simple and elementary forms of 'Elohim are 'Eloah, 'Elah, and 'El, each one implying the true God who is strong; the God of Israel. These words, though often used alone, are also often used in dependence upon another term, as "the faithful God, which keepeth covenant" (Deut. 7:9), "a great God" (Deut. 10:17), "God that is holy" (Isa. 5:16), "God my rock" (Ps. 42:9), "a God of knowledge" (1 Sam. 2:3), "God my exceeding joy" (Ps. 43:4), "God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth" (Ex. 34:6). These more simple forms of the name 'Elohim are found numerous times in the Old Testament. Here is a wealth of information about God that invites our study.

One of the most wonderful names of God is 'El-Shadday, translated in the Authorized Version "Almighty God." The uncompounded form Shadday is always translated "Almighty." This is a pity, for the word implies fullness, richness, tenderness. The root is shad, the female breast, and is connected with the Arabic word for "moisten." Here is the suggestion of tender mercy, bountifulness, and sweet tenderness.

Another name that expresses in He brew the nature of God is 'Adonay, which has connotations of firmness, determination, command, rule, ownership. This title implies the truth that God is Lord and has right to our full surrender and obedience.

Malachi 1:6 expresses the believer's duty as implied in this word: "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where is mine honour? if I be a master ['adonay], where is my fear?"

The Hebrew word translated "fear" (inora'), used in connection with God, is like the New Testament word phobos, not the cowardly, fearful emotion of reverential awe and piety. This word is of the same root as the word fear that is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10) and of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). It demands departure from evil (chap. 16:6), and leads to a knowledge of God (chap. 2:5).

The personal or proper name of God in the Old Testament is Yahweh (K.J.V., Jehovah), which is found there some 5,500 times. Mystery has always surrounded this name, with its origin and precise meaning unknown. The Hebrews connected the word with the very hayah, "to be," in Exodus 3:14, given as the equivalent of "I am that I am." This name apparently was introduced by Moses in connection with the covenant; yet it is found in Genesis, suggesting its use from very early times. The transliteration Jehovah was unknown until 1520, when it was introduced by Galatinus; but the Jews have never presumed to pronounce the Hebrew word, substituting others for it in their reading of the Scriptures. The name Yahweh generally sets forth God as the absolute and unchangeable One, the self-consistent One who fulfills all His promises, being the self-existent God of redemption.

A most significant statement, one that is a promise, was made by God to Moses: "Certainly I will be with thee" (Ex. 3:12). The promise was continued: "Ye shall serve God upon this mountain." This promise was not only fulfilled by the divine Presence and help given to Moses in a miraculous manner during the preliminary negotiations with Pharaoh but continued until his mission was fully accomplished.

The service upon the mountain included the giving of the covenant. The covenant is a bond between God and His people. It includes a revelation, a moral law that demands obedience: "Obey my voice," "keep my covenant." The promise follows: "Then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people" (Ex. 19:5). The words translated "peculiar treasure" are correctly translated "my own possession" (R.S.V.). The covenant is then an election. It involves a very close relation between God and the believer. This relationship is maintained by obedience .to God's will, thereby leading to a personal, practical knowledge of His person, His attributes.

To remain in covenant relation with God, the believer must obey the law of God. The law stresses God's transcendence and sovereignty; it emphasizes the believer's duty to live in conformity with God's directives and thereby points out the road to a knowledge of God.

In the Old Testament we have a moral basis for a knowledge of God. He is personal, high and holy; yet near to the repentant believer. Obedience is of a peace with trust based on a knowledge of God: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isa. 26:3).

God's people should know Him. The covenant should be a dynamic reality in their life. Unfortunately, the lament of Isaiah has been too often true: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider" (Isa. 1:3).

Throughout history God's people have again and again shown themselves less intelligent than dumb animals. An animal recognizes its master; it acknowledges him as the source of its sustenance and well-being. The ass and cattle find their way to the barn; but God's people again and again ignore God as their Lord, friend, and the source of spiritual and physical life.

Ignorance of God is culpable, blame worthy. Particularly in the Old Testament knowledge of God is a synonym for obedience to God's will. The prophet Hosea says that the Lord desires chesed rather than offerings (Hosea 6:6). This word is translated "mercy," "kindness," or "lovingkindness" in the K.J.V.; "steadfast love" in the R.S.V. The Hebrew lexicon gives us a more meaningful translation, "kindly instruction," and mercy and charity as a branch and not the basic idea. Further, the word chased has close and inalienable connection with God's covenant; moreover it expresses firm adhesion to the conditions of the covenant, always maintaining a notion of strength, firmness, and stead fastness. So very naturally the prophet completed his thought by saying that a knowledge of God is what is required and not burnt offerings.

God established the sacrifices and offerings; so it cannot mean He did not desire them in the absolute sense; but He demanded moral and spiritual values with them. The moral and spiritual aspects are always the true ends for which law and ordinance are established. Also the knowledge of God that He requires is referring to a personal, person-to-person, practical, experiential knowledge. Knowledge of God goes together with piety, love, and kindness; and all of these are involved in chesed with a determined relation to the covenant. It has been truly stated: "that chesed, in all its varied shades of meaning, is conditional upon there being a covenant. Without the prior existence of a covenant, there could never be any chesed at all." —NORMAN H. SMITH, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, p. 94.

Let it not be forgotten that chesed involves that love and duty which we owe to God and His covenant, and is intimately involved in a knowledge of God.

The minister today must have a personal, experiential knowledge of God to give to God's people. A most fruitful labor to this end is to study the names used of God in the Word. "Ministers should become Bible students. . . . The word of God should be thoroughly studied. All other reading is inferior to this. ... If we study the word of God with an interest, and pray to understand it, new beauties will be seen in every line." God promises to reveal new and precious truths (see Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 337, 338). It is not enough to have our sermons consist to no small degree of quotations from books other than the Bible. We must know and present the Word of God.


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February 1970

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