What It Means to ‘Know’ God

As most of you know we are currently in a sermon series called, “The Hidden Prophets” in which we are studying twelve Old Testament books that are most often known as the Minor Prophets. These books are divided into three categories, pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic, and we’re currently in the third book of the pre-exilic prophets, Hosea. 


Hosea in many ways has been different from any other book we’ve looked at thus far. The first three chapters set up a scenario where the prophet’s life is meant to be a mirrored image of God’s relationship with Israel. In chapter one we saw that God called Hosea to marry a woman who was promiscuous and to have children with her, and then by the end of chapter two we learned that Hosea’s life and marriage was a living metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel. Israel had also been promiscuous by worshipping a host of other gods, but, in particular, a god called Ba’al, which was a fertility god. 

In chapter three we saw that Hosea found himself in the position of having to redeem his wife Gomer from some kind of slavery. And so he went and literally bought her back, and God said, you are to do this because this is what I’m doing for Israel. All of this leads us to Christ who, through his death and resurrection, has purchased with his blood, all those who call upon his name. 


So, this is the framework thus far. The people of Israel are wayward…lost, and God is enduring their sin. And, while the people would face consequences for their disobedience, they would eventually be conquered and scattered by the Assyrians, the future hope is that God will ultimately provide a redeemer who will restore them. 


From there, the book changes a bit in that we don’t get a lot more about the story of Hosea and Gomer. Now, there are eleven more chapters in Hosea, but the remainder of the book is mostly poetry describing Israel’s sin and God’s response. We’re going to divide these eleven chapters into two sections and look at them over today and next week. 


Hosea 4

1 Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel,

    for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,

    and no knowledge of God in the land;

2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;

    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

3 Therefore the land mourns,

    and all who dwell in it languish,

and also the beasts of the field

    and the birds of the heavens,

    and even the fish of the sea are taken away.


Hosea saves some of his harshest words for chapter four. If you remember in the book of Amos, (and he was writing at roughly the same time in the exact same cultural situation with the exact same king of Israel) Amos’ primary accusation against Israel was that they had crushed and oppressed the poor. Amos was writing to wealthy elites who had enriched themselves and lived comfortable lives of ease all on the backs of the poor. Hosea, though, drills even deeper into what I believe is truly the primary issue here, and it is an issue of knowledge. Look at verse one:


There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,

    and no knowledge of God in the land;


There was no knowledge of God in the land. But, the people still gave Yahweh God some lip service; he was just seen as one among several other God’s including Ba’al. Hosea’s point is not that the people don’t know ‘about’ God, his point is that the people don’t ‘know’ him. You know about him, but you don’t have a relationship with him. And, so, as a result of this, the moral state of the nation is laughable: 


2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;

    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.


Notice that Hosea sees these things not through a moralistic lens, meaning, his primary intention is not just to get people to stop swearing and lying and stealing. Rather, he sees this behavior as being symptomatic of a far deeper issue, a people who have lost their knowledge of God, meaning, their relationship to God. He repeats this in a more final way in verse six:


My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;

    because you have rejected knowledge,

    I reject you from being a priest to me.

And since you have forgotten the law of your God,

    I also will forget your children.


Israel’s lack of relationship with the Lord is ultimately bringing about not just their present behavior, but also their undoing.


The Bible uses the word ‘knowledge’ in an interesting way. The Hebrew word here is “da’at,” and it is a word that isn’t just talking about intellectual knowledge or like book knowledge, but rather experiential knowledge. The idea is that I know something not just because I read it or because someone told it to me, but because I’ve lived it. Say, for example, that I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I could read a book on how to ride a bike and memorize the information or intellectual knowledge of how to ride a bike. But, that still doesn’t mean that I ‘know’ how to ride a bike, or, in other words, that I can actually do it. The only way to acquire that kind of knowledge is to physically try to ride the bike. And, often, that kind of knowledge is acquired through trial and error.  


You could also refer to this kind of knowledge as “intimate” knowledge, meaning, I know it because I’ve been close to it. 


In ancient Hebrew the root of da’at is the “da” or the Hebrew letter dalet. It kind of looks like a backwards “r” in the Hebrew alphabet. Originally, though, the language was written as pictographs and this was the way that dalet was written. (Tent door) It is meant to be a picture of a tent door. And, one connotation of this is an in-and-out movement. In order to come up with the word knowledge, though, dalet get’s paired with the Hebrew letter ayin, and it was originally written as an eye. So, you put these together and the idea is the back and forth movement of the eye where the whole of something is being examined. This was the understanding of knowledge in ancient Hebrew. It’s knowledge and experience on an ‘intimate’ level. So, thus, here are some ways that the word knowledge gets used in the Scripture. 

  • So, Adam ‘knew’ his wife and she conceived and bore Cain. – Genesis 4

  • Psalm 44: God ‘knows’ the secrets of your heart. 

  • 1 John 2:3: And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
  • Now, that verse was originally written in Greek, but if you were to translate it into the Hebrew it would read something like: 

And by this we may be sure that we have an intimate relationship with him, if we preserve his directions.


Hosea’s main point is, “Israel, you do not ‘know’ God. You are not intimate with him. You do not preserve his directions. You do whatever you think is best”. The other night at our book club we talked about how God is perfect in wisdom and how, so often, we don’t pray for wisdom which the Scripture indicates the Lord wants to give us, we pray for knowledge. We pray, Lord tell me what to do. Lord, give me the answer. Lord, show me the path. But, Biblical wisdom is rooted not in our knowledge of what is to come in the future. We are not intimate with the future. But, rather, Biblical wisdom comes from our knowledge of God…our intimacy with him. This is why Solomon says in Proverbs nine:


The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.


If your so-called knowledge of God is not couched in a sense of fear or awe at his enormity, mystery and power, then is it really God that you know? For the Israelites, their lack of fear of the Lord declared that they didn’t actually know him. You don’t actually know the Lord if you can worship other gods without concern. 


Now, if you’ve ever done a “How to Study the Bible” class with me, you know that the most basic method of Bible study is what is called the inductive study method. There are three components to inductive study, observation, interpretation and application. And, a mistake that we can make is to inadequately observe the text and then immediately jump to application. Yet, I confess, that is so much what I want to do with this text. I want to immediately jump to America in 2021 because so much of what Hosea accuses Israel of, we are also guilty of. We talk often of the dangers of Christian culture because so often it looks like a people who claim knowledge of God, but do they really ‘know’ him?  Is there a fear of the Lord in them?


For Israel, the answer was clearly “nope.” This is why the marriage of Hosea and Gomer is so appropriate. Gomer did not deserve Hosea. She had not earned him or his love. And, yet, he was willing to give all his love and faithfulness to her despite her reputation and past transgressions. He was willing to double down on that commitment by having children with her. And, when she went back to her former way of being, Hosea, who by our standards does not deserve that kind of mistreatment, humbled himself and gave his own money to buy her back. And, based on her unfaithfulness and Hosea’s actions of faithfulness, we have no problem when he demands that she be loyal to him. Yeah, she should be loyal because of what he did for her. To use this language of knowledge, Hosea knows Gomer, but Gomer does not know Hosea. To truly know Hosea would have been to see his sacrificial love and respond accordingly. 


Now, turn over to chapter eleven. Hosea goes on for many chapters decrying Israel’s lack of knowledge of the Lord. But, then we get to chapter eleven, and he turns and speaks instead of God’s knowledge of Israel:


1When Israel was a child, I loved him,

    and out of Egypt I called my son.

2 The more they were called,

    the more they went away;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals

    and burning offerings to idols.

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;

    I took them up by their arms,

    but they did not know that I healed them.

4 I led them with cords of kindness,

    with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

    and I bent down to them and fed them.


This sounds like a Father talking, doesn’t it? This is the father of the prodigal son. When our oldest Aubrey was born, they put her under the warming light in the delivery room, and I went over to look at her and she reached out and grabbed my finger. It was this really meaningful moment that the Lord used to show me just how critical my role was and is as her father. At that point she was completely helpless, and we had to do everything for her. But, the time is fastly approaching where she is going to decide that I’m a complete idiot who has no clue what I’m talking about. The thing we have to be wary of is not spiritual infancy…because in infancy all we can do is be dependent on God. It’s a spiritual adolescent that we need to be watching out for. It’s the stage where we think we know a thing or two. Israel’s spiritual infancy was in Egypt. They had no choice but to rely on God. But, once they got out on their own and got their own place, that’s when things started to turn south. 


But, the Father’s faithfulness remains, even when we think we know better than him, and this is the point of chapter eleven. You’ve left me, but I haven’t left you. It is the father waiting at the road watching for his son to return. When you realize that you don’t actually have it together and that true maturity is a total dependence on me, then I am here to receive you and to welcome you in as a beloved son. 


If you’ve ever heard the expression that you spell love “t.i.m.e,” I think that gets to the heart of what’s happening here. You cannot ‘know’ someone you don’t spend time with. You cannot know a God you don’t really worship. You cannot know a God that you don’t honestly talk to in prayer. You can’t know a God whose Word you won’t read. This is Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” thing in a way. If you’ve ever read his book Outliers, he claims that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Here’s the thing though. If your exposure to God is only on Sunday mornings, you won’t come anywhere close to being an expert. You’ll only have a little over 4,000 hours in an 80 year lifespan if that is it for you. But, here’s what people forget about the 10,000 hours, Gladwell’s proposition is not just 10,000 hours, but 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.” Which means that just passively sitting in a worship service with no intention of retaining or practicing what you hear would not even count toward 10,000 hours. This is why personal time in the Scripture, in prayer, in spiritual practices is so critical if you desire to ‘know’ God. Deliberate practice is the habit of:


  1. Practicing the skill
  2. Constantly striving for improvement
  3. Monitoring your performance
  4. Evaluating your success
  5. Working on the aspects you aren’t good at. 
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