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B'resheet/Genesis 18:19 For I have known him for the purpose that he should command his sons and his household after him
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The text recordsHaShem speaking about Avraham, after He has visited him in his tent and given him the promise of an heir - "At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son" (B'resheet 18:14, ESV) - and just before the famous scene where Avraham bargains with HaShem to save the city of Sodom if only as few as ten righteous men can be found in the city. HaShem is debating at this point whether He should disclose to Avraham what He is about to do in Sodom - this is part of His argument. Both the choice of vocabulary and the grammar in HaShem's words attract the attention of commentators ancient and modern.
The verb is a 1cs affix from the root - to know - with a 3ms suffix pronoun to give the simple meaning "I have known him". The root has a small range of meanings: to know, perceive, discern or be aware of; it can have the social meanings "to be acquainted with" or "to regard, care for" (Davidson). It also has the important physical meaning, "to know sexually", so that it is frequently used - in a proper context - to describe an ongoing and intimate sexual relationship (rather than an encounter): for example, "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain" (B'resheet 4:1, ESV), or "And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the L-RD remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son" (1 Samuel 1:19-20, ESV), as compared with, "When Judah saw [Tamar], he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, 'Come, let me come in to you'" (B'resheet 38:15-16, ESV) where a very different verb and image is used".
The degree of intimacy being expressed by HaShem towards Avraham is discussed at length. TheRamban says: "'I have known him' is an expression denoting affection as 'Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband's side, a man of substance, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz" (Ruth 2:1, JPS) [here, the Ramban is pointing out that the word 'kinsman' is based on the same root and means 'a known one'] and 'And the L-RD said to Moshe, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favour in My sight, and I know you by name"' (Shemot 33:17, ESV)", where HaShem knowing Moshe "by name" is stated as one of the reasons why He will follow Moshe's words. Martin Buber wrote, "In western thought, 'know' is related to mind and thought, to reflection. But in the Bible it expressed contact between the person and the thing known, immediacy and intimacy - dialogue. This dialogue-relationship relationship between G-d and His elect, the prophets that He charges, is unique in intensity. 'Know' in this context expresses Divine concern and intimate contact with those He has sought out."1
Nahum Sarna comments that Avraham enjoys a special degree of intimacy with G-d; he quotes "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2, ESV) to show the level of connection and responsibility. The same theme is picked up by theSforno, who adds, "I have known him - I admonish him with directness". The level of relationship allows rebuke and admonishment at a frank level. Hirsch takes this a step further to describe the way in which those known by G-d are taken care of by G-d: "'I have known' - while between man and woman this denotes the most intimate procedure of married life, between G-d and man it designates the special consideration of His Providence ... those who place themselves completely under the guidance of G-d, and do not wish to be anything else than G-d's messengers on earth, to them G-d directs His special guidance and protection, measure for measure. Those who offer themselves to be His instruments on earth, who strive with their whole existence and activities to fulfil His will, and leave everything else to Him, G-d takes under His special guidance and care. This is what is called .
So how do we "know" G-d? The obvious answer seems to be in Yeshua's words. "Philip said to Him, 'L-rd, show us the Father, and it will be enough for us'" (John 14:8, CJB). Yeshua responds by gently chiding Philip for not seeing the obvious: "Yeshua replied to him, 'Have I been with you so long without your knowing Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, "Show us the Father"?'" (v. 9, CJB). So that's all there is to it, right? If you've shaken Yeshua's hand, you've shaken the Father's hand; if you've had a cup of coffee with Yeshua, you've had one with G-d? Clearly, Philip and the others are not convinced, for Yeshua goes on, "Don't you believe that I am united with the Father, and the Father united with Me? What I am telling you, I am not saying on My own initiative; the Father living in Me is doing His own works" (v. 10, CJB). While both the Greek () and the Vulgate (ego in Patre, et Pater in me est) texts show this 'unity' as "I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me", the CJB chooses the word 'united' to try and echo the familiar theme of the Sh'ma: "The L-RD our G-d, the L-RD is one" (D'varim 6:4), which uses the word for 'one'. Finally, seeing the disciples' still puzzled faces, Yeshua adds: "Trust Me, that I am united with the Father, and the Father united with Me. But if you can't, then trust because of the works themselves" (John 14:11, CJB); if this too big for you, then just look at what has been going on - the blind receiving sight, the lame being healed, the dead being raised - and remember that only G-d can do these things. Yeshua points back to the realities that the disciples have seen with their own eyes over the past three years; He declares His identity as part of the G-dhead and, because of the enormity of the claim and its theological complexity, reminds them of the evidence that they have all seen and heard. Even if they can't understand how it works, they have to believe that it does! The understanding will come later.
There are many churches today who express their mission statement, their one-line sound-bite of what they are trying to do, in words like "To know Jesus and to make Him known" or similar. But what does this mean and how does it happen? To those outside the church, words are not interesting. The enemy of souls has purposely devalued speech so that words, political rhetoric, campaign promises and clever advertising slogans are all around us every day and are rightly recognised by most people as just so much rubbish: more lies, deliberately fabricated to get someone off the hook, make you buy something or persuade you to vote for someone. What matters, what makes a difference to others, is actions. Changed lives, changed attitudes, unexpected grace and love that doesn't conform to the patterns the world uses - these have a powerful impact on the people around us. These are what make people ask the question "Why or how do you do that?"; then the way is open to explain in words. We can only live in that way if we "know" G-d; we can only pass on what we have.
Our D'varim text above shows how this works: HaShem knows Avraham "for the purpose that he should command his sons and his household after him" We know that we know G-d when we accept His commands; we prove that we know G-d - both to ourselves and others - when we obey those commands. G-d didn't know Avraham just to give him a nice pink glow, but so that he would pass on that certainty of relationship to the following physical (his sons) and spiritual (his household) generations. This is how we "know" G-d: because we have an intimacy with Him, through Yeshua, that is so contagious that others cannot help seeing and catching what we have. Not everyone is an evangelist, not everyone brings others to faith in Yeshua every day; some teach and exhort, some comfort and encourage, some counsel or simply stand alongside in support, some pray and meet material needs. The one common factor is that we overflow the reality of our relationship with G-d. Whether we overflow because we know, or know because we overflow is immaterial. It is the overflow that matters!
1. - Martin Buber, Good and Evil: Two Interpretations, Charles Scribner and Sons, New York, 1953, pp. 55-56
Further Study: D'varim 10:12-16; Matthew 11:20-24; Hebrews 1:1-3
Application: Are you overflowing the values of the kingdom and the reality of G-d into your family, your job and your world? Ask G-d to "know" you better, more intimately, so that your overflow can increase and make a difference to others.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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