“Knowing” God in the Old Testament

In my experience in popular theology, I have frequently read and heard the notion that the God of the Old Testament scriptures was somewhat distant from his people in relation to how the modern Christian experiences him today. With the advent of the coming of Christ and the ushering in of the New Covenant, a new closeness and intimacy with God was now possible to a degree not experienced before through the impartation of the Holy Spirit.  This concept may be further solidified by Jesus’ comment that “the Counselor” will not come to his people until Christ had completed his work and returned to the Father.[1] This idea of God’s closeness to his people being different from one Covenant to the next has always bothered me, most likely because of a perceived consistency of God’s character and his dealings with people summarized by the author of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”[2] It seems odd to me that he would treat his people differently in terms of relational intimacy from one covenant to another.

In order to understand this issue better, I have chosen to examine the Old Testament’s use of the Hebrew word yāda‘ , (to perceive, to know) in terms of God “knowing” man or man “knowing” God.  With a thorough study of this word and its nuanced meanings found throughout the Old Testament and a brief look at its counterparts in the Ancient Near Eastern languages of the time, a good foundation can be laid for further studies in the disciplines of theology and philosophy.  None of these disciplines or any topic within them, however, will be addressed.

Overview of yāda‘

According to scholarship, the different meanings of yāda‘ are difficult to relate to one another.  The range is expansive – it covers knowing facts (intellectual knowing), knowing people (relational knowing), in-depth knowledge and practice of a skill (experiential knowing), and even sexual intimacy.[3] Other uses of yāda‘ in the Old Testament (and in ANE language usage) seem to depart from the general concept of “knowing” in a general sense: “to choose” and “to care for.”

A Note on a Holistic Meaning

It is noted that most usages of yāda‘ (not considering the most narrow uses of intellectual knowing) assume an interactive relationship between the subject and the object that modern Western thinking wants to pull apart.[4] This is best illustrated by Jeremiah 22:16:  “… he defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is this not what it means to know me, declares the LORD?”  Genuine knowledge, to Jeremiah at least and the Hebrew mind at best, meant that a person’s behavior reflects his knowledge; otherwise it is superficial and false.  To know God necessarily involved obedience to him.  True knowledge involves sensory experience and interaction between the subject and the object on not just an intellectual level, but also (when appropriate) on a behavioral or emotional level.  To the ancient and modern spiritually sensitive literary mind[5], these different levels were inseparable from the broader sense of “knowing.”  Along the same idea of knowing through experience and active interaction with the object is knowing gained through contemplation (Prov 1:4, 2:6, 5:2).[6]

Common/Secular Uses

While there are many uses of yāda‘ in the Old Testament involving intellectual or factual knowledge, for the purposes of this paper, we will be investigating a subset that relate to knowledge of people, relationships, or of a particular skill.  After understanding this category,  we can then move to the category of its religious usage—of man “knowing” God; concepts that would have been adapted from already existing common or secular uses.  To understand one will help in the understanding of the other.

Practical Skills

The first category of interest is the use of yāda‘ in describing a practical skill, e.g. hunting (Genesis 25:27), sailing (1st Kgs 9:27, 2nd Ch 8:18), reading (Isaiah 29:11-12), music composition (1 Sam 16:16-18),  lumbering (1 Kgs 5:6, 2 Chron 2:8), law-making (Esth 1:13), architecture (2 Chron 2:16), metallurgy (2 Chron 2:7,2:14) and speaking (Jer 1:6).[7] Most occurrences involve the use of yāda‘ followed by what a person is skilled or knowledgeable in:  “skilled in…”, “trained in…”, “experienced in…”, “knew the…”  One exception is its general use in 2 Chron 2:13 which describes Huram-Abi as a man of “great skill” or translated literally: “A man of wisdom, knowing understanding” ( hn”yBi [:dEAy ~k’x’-vyai) ).  Each of these instances point to the use of yāda‘ as having the meaning of knowing that involves experience of, and interaction with, the object.  In all examples given, the skilled person(s) are not portrayed as intellectually knowing about the skill, but rather as those who have experience with it or have made practical use of it.

Akkadian has a corresponding usage[8] of “knowing” a skill using the verb e/idû (to know) in passages like Gilg. XI.175f, which alludes to the abilities of Ea, the god of manufacture: “Who produces anything, then, other than Ea? Indeed Ea knows every craft!”[9] Egyptian has a similar usage for knowing a skill with rḫ. The phrase rḫ ḫt refers to a person of skill: a craftsman, scholar, magician, or ritualist.[10] It is also used in as an adjective such as rḫ d̠b’w,“with skillful hands.”

Knowing People, Nations, or Animals

People knowing other people, other nations, or even animals makes use of the verb yāda‘. The first instance is when Jacob asks the shepherds at the well if they “know” Laben.  They reply that they do “know” him. (Gen 29:5).  However, it is impossible to know if the shepherds mean “know of” or “heard of” him (but aren’t actually personally acquainted with him) or if they are.  The former usage seems more likely, but it is impossible to know for sure from this text alone.  It seems Jacob was using “do you know” not in the relational sense, but in the “Are you familiar with/have you heard of” sense.  We also find this same general sense of being familiar with a person from Deut 22:2 regarding the law of returning a lost animal “If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it…”  The use of yāda‘ here is one of basic familiarity or factual knowledge of another person – A person either knows or doesn’t know the animal’s owner.

Another use of yāda‘ that seems to carry the connotation of experience and relationship can be found in Moses’ address to the Israelite nation in Deut 9:24: “You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.”  Although he is addressing the nation, there is no doubt Moses can say this from direct experience with a majority of people from the different Israelite tribes or from incidents he had heard about.  It seems in this context that yāda‘ can be used to refer to experiential knowledge, although not necessarily personal, about the general behavior of a group of people.  An experiential knowledge of another nation is also what may be understood by the use of yāda‘ in Deut 22:2, 38:33, and 28:36 all which describe an invading nation as “unfamiliar” or one that they “do not know” (NIV translation).  The Babylonians and Assyrians who eventually fulfilled this covenant curse were “known” in a factual sense very well to the nations of Israel and Judah (and all other nations around them), but were probably not known in an experiential sense: these people did not live among them that they would know them.  Psalm 18:43 may have a similar meaning.  Ezek 28:19 illustrates the opposite: a nation “knowing” another: “All the nations who knew you are appalled at you;…” (Ezek 28:19).

Moving towards the usage of yāda‘ to describe a person “knowing” another person, we find in 1 Sam 10:11 people who had formerly known Saul confused as to why he was prophesying.  In this sense we find that yāda‘ can mean “knowing” a person who is at least familiar with another person’s ways and life in order to know that their behavior is odd.  However, it would still be hard to say from this passage alone that the people speaking about Saul were at one time close friends or acquaintances.  They were at least acquaintances familiar enough with Saul to know his background.  So yāda‘ can be used to describe a person “knowing” another as a general acquaintance and be familiar with their ways and behavior.  This is probably the meaning of “to know” used in other passages (2 Sam 3:25, 17:8, and 2 Kings 9:11).

In the ANE, this concept of “knowing” a person may be similar to the concept used in the phrase “friend of the king” (mudū ŝarri in Akkadian) and rḫ [n] nsw in Egyptian.  In Ugaritic, yd’ can be used to refer to knowing about another in both identity and behavior. El “knows” (yd’) the true nature of Anat, and about her plans to kill him.[11]

In Job we find uses of yāda‘ to describe a person knowing another person well – either as a close friend or family member.  In Job 19:13 we find Job talking about God: “He has alienated my brothers from me; my acquaintances from me.”  The qal participle form of the verb is used here, and we have the benefit of seeing it reflected in a Hebrew parallelism with “brother.”  Although brothers do not necessarily have close relationships, it seems in this context they are thought of to be so from Job’s experience.  He is implying he misses them or their companionship, which in turns implies that they had a close relationship, or at the very least, he enjoyed their company.  However, the fact that he desired their presence when he was suffering seems as if he is describing a person or people who are close friends or family members.  A person doesn’t desire to see distant acquaintances when they are suffering.  Later on in Job 42:11 we find that Job is reunited with his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before.  They “came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him…”  These people seem like the ones he wished he could see in 19:13.

Psalm 88:9 & 19 seem to echo Job 19:13 using the same word for alienate (rāhÌ£aq) “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them…”  Furthermore, term “closest friends” is actually a pual participle form of yāda‘ (y[;D”yUm.))). The striking similarity in context and linguistics may be an indication that the Psalmist had this passage of Job in mind.[12] Since “knowing” here is used to describe a close friendship, the possibility that Job is describing a close friend in 19:13 seems even more likely because it was what the psalmist thought too.  This in turn tells us that yāda‘ can be used mean to have a close relationship or friendship with someone.

Not just people groups or people, but also animals can be “known” by people.  “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal…” (Prov 12:10)[13].   This is literally “knows the soul of his animal.” (ATm.h,B. vp,n< qyDIc; [:dEAy).  This meaning strongly implies that “knowing” is accompanied by action to such a strong degree that the English “to know” is stretched too far and “to care for” becomes more accurate.  To “know” an animal means to care for it, similar to how showing kindness/love (ḥesed) to someone is accompanied by action.

So we find in this example that yāda‘ can hold the concept of “knowing” accompanied by acceptable behavior that is assumed to be present because of the knowing.  However, by the parallel structure found here, the combination of knowing and acting correctly according to that knowledge seems to be what righteous people do.  The opposite is “not knowing” which means not acting according to the knowledge one knows, although one knows what to do, i.e. “not caring” for an animal.  Another thing to note here is that the verse is talking about extremes.  Righteous men are kind even to their animals; how much more so would they be to people.  It would logical to extend this meaning of yāda‘ regarding knowing that assumes appropriate behavior to the realm of inter-personal relationships.  Job 9:21 may have a similar usage in the negative sense: “Although I am blameless, I have no concern ([d:ae-al{) for myself; I despise my own life.”

Akkadian inscriptions have been found that contain this use in the El Amarna letters.  In one letter, Abdi-Asirta, the king of Amurru, calls upon the help of Amenophis III that ends with the plea “May the king and lord know me (lu-u yi-da-an-ni) and put me under the charge of Pahamnate, my royal governor.”[14] Elsewhere in the El Amarna letters, the use of e/idu ana “to be concerned with, to care for” can be found.[15] We find this elsewhere in Akkadian personal names such as ili(AN)-i-da-an-ni, ili(AN)-ú-dan-ni, “My god knows me.” i.e. “My god cares for me.” Also nabû-adanni, “Nabû knows me.”[16]

A final category of a person “knowing” another person refers the act of sexual intimacy.  A majority of these uses occur in the Pentateuch and Judges (13 times) and elsewhere only twice.  Nearly half of these instances are used to describe a woman who is a virgin. “No man had ever lain with her” (Gen 24:16), “…every woman who has slept with a man” (Nu 31:17), “…every girl who has never slept with a man…” (Nu 31:18), and “32,000 women who had not slept with a man…” (Nu 31:35).  The other half is used to describe the act itself, i.e. “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant” (Gen 4:1). Out of these instances, it is used twice to describe homosexual behavior (Gen 19:5, Judges 19:22) and once for rape (Judges 19:25).

Overall, it seems that none of the instances of yāda‘ in this category imply a close relationships or any relationship at all or even a familiarity between the people involved like “knowing” people did in prior examples.  For example, the men of Sodom did not know Lot’s visitors, but wanted to have sex with them.  It seems that this usage is simply describing the act alone with no other connotations.  This observation, coupled with the presence of the same usage of “to know (sexually)” in other ANE languages, such as Egyptian (rh)[17], Akkadian (e/idû)[18], Ugaritic (yd’)[19], and Arabic (arafa) points to this usage of yāda‘ as a euphuism[20] whose origin is proto-Semitic.

Religious Uses

Now that we have surveyed the uses of yāda‘ in secular contexts involving people “knowing” people or animals, we can begin to analyze its use in religious contexts.  It is of interest to note that most of the uses of yāda‘ referring to individuals “knowing” individuals involves people knowing God (40+ occurrences).  Nearly half of that amount involves uses of people “knowing” other people or animals.  Another 14 or so occurrences involve God himself “knowing” people.  So whatever the meaning of yāda‘ in a religious context, it is in this sense that the Old Testament has the most to say―about the different ways that mankind and God can know or not know each other.

The first instance we find of man knowing (or in this case, not knowing) God is found in Exodus.  Pharaoh tells Moses after he is asked to let the Israelites go: “Who is the LORD that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2).  Yahweh was not a god worshipped in the Egyptian pantheon, and only recently did God himself give Moses a unique name to give the Israelites to designate himself (hw”hy>), so it is quite natural to assume Pharaoh did not know him in any sense, either factually or relationally.  This use of knowing God could be similar to Jacob use asking the shepherds at the well if  they “knew” Laban (Gen 29:5), but in the negative sense.  So “knowing” God could simply mean that a person has “heard about” or “heard of” him.

The religious use of  yāda‘ begins to become more interesting in the covenant curses passages in Deuteronomy where God repeatedly warns his people not follow other gods (Deut 11:28, 13:2, 13:6, 13:13, 28:64, 29:26, 32:17)  “that you have not known” ~T'[.d:y>-al{ rv,a] ~yrIxea] ~yhil{a/ or “that neither you nor your fathers have known.” ^yt,boa]w: hT’a; T'[.d:y” al{ rv,a] ~yrIxea] ~yhil{a/.  What is clear is that if God is talking about the Egyptian gods, the gods that Israel would eventually adopt from the land of Canaan, or the gods of Babylon or Assyria, these are all gods that the Israelites were either already familiar with or would become familiar with as these nations grew in influence. Not only were they familiar with these gods by name, but they were familiar with the different rituals involved in worshipping them (Judges 17-18, Jeremiah 7:18, 44) and their mythological histories.  It would be a stretch even to say that the gods they are warned to follow are ones that they don’t know currently (at the time of the giving of the law), because that would exclude all of the Egyptian and Canaanite gods which the Israelites were at least acquainted with.

It would make more sense that this use of “not knowing” is drawing from the form where relational experience is implied.  This usage would be similar to 1 Sam 10:11 where men who knew Saul were confused by his behavior, or similar to its usage in Deut 9:24 where Moses said he “knew” the Israelites and their rebellious tendencies.  At the point of giving the law, it could be said that the Israelites in general “knew” God in this sense―they had all seen his miraculous signs continuously since the Exodus from Egypt.  Their forefathers knew and experienced Yahweh as well (Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Joseph).  These seven instances of God telling the nation of Israel not to follow “gods you do not know” or more specifically “gods that neither you (now or ever) nor your forefathers knew” assumes that both they and their ancestors are on the same page – all had some experiential knowledge of God. It would be hard to say to what the degree of closeness was in that relationship; if it was on the level of an acquaintance or intimate one.  However, it could be said that they understood to some degree his ways, his abilities, and his behavior by his revelation to them.  These “other” gods that are mentioned are probably seen in the negative sense of this meaning.  This contrast most likely brings out this relational/experiential meaning of yāda‘ used here.  The Israelites have not in their past, nor will they ever “know” in an experiential sense, other gods like they “know” Yahweh as he had revealed himself to them.

We find another meaning begin to surface of a man “knowing” God in 1 Sam 3:7: “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.  What we do know quite clearly is that Samuel knew about God; he lived with Eli the priest near the tabernacle for some time by this point. What he didn’t know was God himself on a personal or experiential level.  That very night Samuel became acquainted with God personally―he spoke to him and told him the future of Eli and his family.  In bold contrast to this lies the description of Eli’s sons: priests who had no regard (W[d>y” al{) for the LORD.  This meaning seems similar to its use by Job 9:31 where he states he has no concern ([d:ae-al) for himself.  In both cases, this involves actively choosing not to behave in a way that is consistent with what they know.  There is a right way to care for your body and life; there is a right way to “know” God.  In Jeremiah 22:16, a statement possibly referring to Josiah, God says “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.”  An important aspect of knowing God in this sense is to follow his ways and care about the things he cares about.  The Israelites in Jeremiah’s time definitely knew about God (they regularly worshipped at his temple and felt Jerusalem was safe because God’s presence was there), and they had heard stories of what he did at least during the reign of Hezekiah and possibly also stories of his protection and miraculous intervention in wars with earlier kings.  Some probably knew to a degree his pattern of behavior by experience at these events, others only heard about it.

Another use of yāda‘ can be found in Prov 3:6 that supports the concept of active knowing with a person’s ways as the subject and God as the object: “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Wh[ed” ^yk,r”D>-lk’B.)  The verb form used here is more intense than the NIV translates; it is in the imperative form (i.e. “know God!”) similar to Jeremiah 31:34.  The idea of active knowing is brought out most strongly here by highlighting the “active” part of what it means to know God—to live a life that reflects his ways and his behavior.

God speaking though Jeremiah complains about the priests not wondering where God has gone, and those who practice law (possibly also Levites)[21] not “knowing” him. (Jer 2:8).  The priests, who of all people should know God the closest, do not know him in any personal way that would enable them to realize he is gone from their midst.  Those who deal with the law likewise ought to know at least God’s ways to enable them to make right legal judgments, but they do not.  If they knew about God’s ways, they did not apply them to their legal work, and thus in the sense of yāda‘ meaning an active knowing;  they do not “know” God.[22]

It is clear, with the verses mentioned and many others that one of the great problems the majority of people faced in Israel was they had no “active knowledge” of God (Isa 45:4, Jer 2:8, 4:22, 9:3, 9:6, Hosea 4:1, 5:4, 6:6).[23] In reading these verses, a concerned listener or reader might wonder how they might come to “know” God in this sense.  If they are to know God by imitating his ways in their lives, how are they to know his ways so that they can obey them?  The priests and Levites clearly knew the law, but did not know God personally, as did both Jeremiah and Isaiah as evidenced by their writings and upbringing as priests.  If it is clear that one could know the law, but still not know God, how could one “know” God this way?

It seems our answer comes from the prophets themselves: Isaiah says of the righteous person, “
God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” (Isa 28:26).  “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isa 48:17).  “Many peoples will come and say ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths (Isa 2:3, Mic 4:2).

Even more clues come from the Psalms.  Psalm 119 is filled with ways that a person can learn God’s ways: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps 119:18).  “Help me to understand the teaching of your precepts (Ps 119:27).  “I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. (Ps 119:102).  It seems clear: an active knowing (the ability to know God and follow his ways) comes from, and is sustained by, a personal relationship with God.[24] It is God who teaches guides, gives council when asked, and helps someone who knows him to better understand his laws and his ways.  These are all activities that require a two-way interaction with God.  Reading the law and “knowing it” was evidently not enough.  Active knowing requires a personal relationship with God.  Like the people who knew Job and came to console him (Job 42:11), so God desired to “know” his people–on a personal, intimate level.

“Knowing” God in the New Covenant

We find echoes of the new covenant as early as Deut. 30:5, 6[25]: “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”  This is said of the people of Israel after they had suffered the effects of the covenant curses.  Jeremiah restates this in 24:7: “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Later, in the most famous passage of all describing the new covenant:

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Jer 31:33-34)

So what does this new covenant have to do with knowing God?  The use of (yāda‘) to mean active knowing is used here as well as in the passages already cited; it cannot simply mean intellectual assent or awareness of God’s laws[26] here because that was not why the old covenant failed.  It does not appear to be a treaty term for agreement between a suzerain and a vassal as some scholars assume because its use elsewhere in the prophets seem to be compared with “understanding” or “knowledge of God” or other contexts where the idea is clearly a relational knowing of God and his ways, not of breaking a contract.[27] There was no commandment in the law that demanded people to “know” God, so not “knowing” God was not a sin that the new covenant would enable God’s people to now be able to do.[28] God had already encouraged his people to “know him.”[29] He has already warned them and criticized them that they did not know him although they assumed they did[30], and has already told them how they can.[31] So there is no difference in how people “know” God between the old covenant and the new, but it appears that there is a difference in the covenant’s audience.  It will be (at least)[32] with the people of Israel, but only with ones who choose to “know” God personally and actively.

Appendix: Passage Listing of Uses of yāda‘ Pertaining to People, Skills, or Animals

Man “Knowing” Man / Man “Knowing” Group,  Group “Knowing” Group


1.     Genesis 29:5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?” “Yes, we know him,” they answered.

2.     Deuteronomy 9:24 You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.

3.     Deuteronomy 22:2 If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him.

4.     Deuteronomy 28:33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days.

5.     Deuteronomy 28:36 The LORD will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone.

6.     Deuteronomy 33:9 He said of his father and mother, ‘I have no regard for them.’ He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant.

7.     1 Samuel 10:11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

8.     2 Samuel 3:25 You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.”

9.     2 Samuel 17:8 You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops.

10.  2 Samuel 22:44 “You have delivered me from the attacks of my people; you have preserved me as the head of nations. People I did not know are subject to me,

11.  2 Kings 9:11 When Jehu went out to his fellow officers, one of them asked him, “Is everything all right? Why did this madman come to you?” “You know the man and the sort of things he says,” Jehu replied.

12.  Job 9:21 “Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life.

13.  Job 19:13 “He has alienated my brothers from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me

14.  Job 42:11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

15.  Proverbs 12:10 A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

16.  Proverbs 27:23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;

17.  Psalm 18:43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me.

18.  Jeremiah 9:16 I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have destroyed them.”

19.  Ezekiel 28:19 All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.'”

Man “Knowing” God / Man “Knowing” gods


1.     Exodus 5:2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

2.     Deuteronomy 11:28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.

3.     Deuteronomy 13:2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,”

4.     Deuteronomy 13:6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known,

5.     Deuteronomy 13:13 that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known),

6.     Deuteronomy 28:64 Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods– gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.

7.     Deuteronomy 29:26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them.

8.     Deuteronomy 32:17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not God– gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear.

9.     Judges 2:10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.

10.  1 Samuel 2:12 Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD.

11.  1 Samuel 3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

12.  2 Samuel 3:25 You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.”

13.  1 Kings 8:43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

14.  1 Chronicles 28:9 “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

15.  Job 18:21 Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God.”

16.  Job 24:1 “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?

17.  Psalm 36:10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.

18.  Psalm 79:6 Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name;

19.  Psalm 87:4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush–and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.'”

20.  Psalm 91:14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

21.  Proverbs 3:6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

22.  Isaiah 1:3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

23.  Isaiah 19:21 So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them.

24.  Isaiah 45:4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.

25.  Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,

26.  Isaiah 52:6 Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.”

27.  Jeremiah 2:8 The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

28.  Jeremiah 4:22 “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

29.  Jeremiah 7:9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, {9 Or and swear by false gods} burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

30.  Jeremiah 9:3 “They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph {3 Or lies; they are not valiant for truth} in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the LORD.

31.  Jeremiah 9:6 You {6 That is, Jeremiah (the Hebrew is singular)} live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the LORD.

32.  Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.

33.  Jeremiah 10:25 Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the peoples who do not call on your name. For they have devoured Jacob; they have devoured him completely and destroyed his homeland.

34.  Jeremiah 22:16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.

35.  Jeremiah 24:7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

36.  Jeremiah 31:34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

37.  Jeremiah 44:3 because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your fathers ever knew.

38.  Ezekiel 38:16 You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.

39.  Hosea 2:20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

40.  Hosea 4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.

41.  Hosea 5:4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD.

42.  Hosea 6:3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

43.  Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

44.  Hosea 13:4 “But I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of {4 Or God ever since you were in} Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.

God “Knowing” Man / God “Knowing” gods


1.     Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

2.     Exodus 33:12 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’

3.     Deuteronomy 34:10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,

4.     2 Samuel 7:20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD.

5.     1 Chronicles 17:18 “What more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant,

6.     Psalm 138:6 Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.

7.     Psalm 139:1 For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

8.     Psalm 144:3 O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him?

9.     Isaiah 44:8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

10.  Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I chose you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

11.  Jeremiah 12:3 Yet you know me, O LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter!

12.  Hosea 13:5 I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat.

13.  Amos 3:2You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”

14.  Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,

[1]John 16:7

[2] Heb. 13:8 (NIV)

[3] T. Fretheim, “[d:y,” NIDOT 2:410.  Also see W. Schottroff, “[d:y,” TLOT 2:511.

[4] This concept is expressed in Fretheim, NIDOT 2:410 and by R. Dentan in The Knowledge of God in Ancient Israel, (New York: Seabury Press, 1968), 38-41. See also G. Botterwick and Bergman, “[d:y,” TDOT 2:514.

[5] Dentan, The Knowledge of God, 36.  To Denton at least, “knowing” in a holistic sense can be seen in ancient literature other than the Bible – Homer and the Gilgamesh Epic are cited.  The concept of “knowing” in these works is devoid of a scientific and analytical perspective in its definition or presentation.  Although refreshing (and not dry) to him, it is unclear whether or not this perspective is seen as ignorant.  C.S. Lewis seems to see the spiritual benefit of a holistic understanding in a similar fashion involving “knowing” the nature of man over and above a purely scientific and medical understanding in Pilgrim’s Regress (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd., 1933; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2000), 61-62.

[6] P.R.G.,“[d:y,” TWOT 1:366.

[7] This list is taken from Fretheim, “[d:y,” NIDOTTE 2:410-411.

[8] Schottroff, TLOT 2:514.

[9] Prichard, James ANET p.95a.

[10] Botterwick, “[d:y,” TDOT, 5:454-55.

[11] Botterwick, TDOT 5:459.

[12] This similarity is noted by Kiel and Delitizsch in Psalms (Vol. 5 of Commentary on the Old Testament; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1866-9; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 577.

[13] In Isaiah 1:3, yāda‘ can also be used to refer to an animal knowing a man. “An ox knows its buyer;” (WhnEqo rAv [d:y”)

[14] J. A. Knudtzon, Die El Amarna Tafeln in Hinrich’s Vorderasiatische Bibliothek, II (Lepzig, 1907-9), No. 60, 30-32.

[15] Ibid. 2:1420f.  Huffmon sees these uses as being a specialized use of “to know” in treaty terminology that refers an appeal to be recognized as a legal vassal in order to receive the benefits of that status, “The Treaty Background of Yāda‘” BASOR 181 (1966): 31-33.

[16] Botterwick, TDOT 5:461.

[17] rhÌ® used to refer to sexual intimacy can be found in a hymn to Min from Edfu: E. Chassinat, Le Temple of Edfou, II (Cairo, 1938), 390f.

[18] For more detail of sexual euphuisms in Akkadian using e/idû see: B. Landsberger MAOG 4 (1928/9): 321.

[19] yd’ can be used in the sexual sense: “Ba’al surrounded Anat and “knew” (yd’) her; she became pregnant and gave birth.” H. Cazelles, “L’hymne ugaritique a Anat,” Syr, 33 (1956): 52, 55f.

[20] Schottroff makes this same observation, TLOT 2:515 as does Botterwick, TDOT 5:464.

[21] Thompson argues that “those who know the law” are probably Levites like the priests. Jeremiah, 168.

[22] McKenzie takes this point of view of knowing God – “the knowledge of God” means not just information but knowledge and practice of Hebrew morality J. L. MCKenzie, “The Appellative Use of El and Elohim,” CBQ 10 (1984): 170-181.  Wolff also alludes to this meaning that includes a combination of knowledge and practice ThB 22 (1973): 182-205.  Thompson also stresses that knowing God in this passage includes a volitional and relationship aspect, Jeremiah, 168-169.

[23] Some scholars feel that “knowing” god in these passages is a statement of covenant disloyalty to God rather than a statement of the lack of an active knowledge of him.  See Huffmon. “Yada,” 31-37 and Holliday’s treatment of the subject, Jeremiah (ed by P. Hanson. Philadelpha: Fortress Press, 1986), 1:33.  However, others disagree: see Botterweck, TDOT 5:478.

[24] Some scholars feel that “knowing” god means an intimate personal relationship based on the use of yāda‘ meaning sexual intimacy (see R. Denton, Knowledge, 38 and Holliday, Jeremiah, 1:33.)  However, it seems wrong to understand the meaning of a word from another euphemistic form.

[25] J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 581.

[26] Bright defines “knowing” in Jeremiah 31:34 as being aware of God’s commands and living accordingly although there is no room for the relational aspect of “knowing” This seems odd to divorce God’s laws from a relational “knowing” which has not been found to be the case in all other known instances of a person or group of people “knowing” God.  The phrase “the knowledge of God” has been used for such purposes.  J. Bright, “An Exercise in Hermeneutics: Jeremiah 31:31-34,” Interpretation, 20 (1966): 195.

[27] For theories that “knowing” is a treaty term, see Katho, “The New Covenant and the Challenge of Building a New and Transformed Community in D.R. Congo,” OTE 18 (2005): 118.  Also see Huffmon, “Yada,” 36.

[28] Keown, Scalise, and Smothers see not “knowing” God as a sin. Jeremiah 26-52 (WBC 27; Dallas: Word Books),  134.

[29] This position stands in opposition to a majority of scholarly opinion. J. A. Mackay sees this new “knowing” as being a deficiency that God fixes in his people, Jeremiah (Mentor Series; Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004), 1:237. See also: W. Lemke, “Jeremiah 31:31-34,” Interpretation, 37 (1983): 186., Keown, Jeremiah, 134, and others.

[30] See passages in the prophets where God is critical of the nation of Israel or Judah and its leaders for not “knowing” him, a surprising statement to some who probably assumed that they did: Isa 45:4, Jer 2:8, 4:22, 9:3, 9:6, Hosea 4:1, 5:4, 6:6.  Support for the theory of the nation of Israel not “knowing” God as a criticism or clarification in Jeremiah and Hosea, see J. Dearman The Book of Hosea (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) 174.

[31] Isaiah says of the righteous person, “God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” (Isa 28:26).  “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isa 48:17).  “Many peoples will come and say ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths (Isa 2:3, Mic 4:2).  Also see Psalm 119.

[32] Isaiah 56:3, 6 seems to imply the inclusion of foreigners (non-Israelites) who are dedicated to God in his plans. It would be sensible to believe that his interest in foreigners who knew him within the current covenant would have a place in the new one as well.  This may also be inferred from Abraham’s initial blessing from God that “all peoples” would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3).

    3 Responses to ““Knowing” God in the Old Testament”

    1. lisa delay

      loved this.
      thank you for sharing it.

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Thank you Lisa!! Glad you still stop by!

      Reply to this comment.
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      The Prophecy of the New Covanent | Truth and Purpose

      […] in the Hebrew in this context very likely means to have a personal relationship (see word study research here).  They won’t have to tell each other – “You must to get to know God […]

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