The Hebrew word yada can be used broadly to mean “to know.” However, it can also be used in a specific way to refer to knowing personally and directly. Yada often means involvement, revealing, or relational intimacy. It can even refer to physical intimacy, as in Genesis 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (KJV).[i]
We learn through the Scriptures that God desires a yada relationship with us.
He wants to know us through direct involvement and committed relationship, creating spiritual intimacy with us. In Amos 3:2, God tells Israel, “You only have I known.” Yada here must refer to a special type of knowing, for certainly God has knowledge of every nation. God’s knowledge of His people is an exclusive experience.
Not only can God know us in an intimate way, but He offers to be known by us in a personal way. Unlike Adam and his descendants who have a propensity for hiding from covenant partners, God offers to reveal Himself to those who have committed themselves to Him. After establishing a friendship with Abraham, God asks Himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?” God decides that He will not hide His plans from His friend; instead, He will reveal His intentions to Abraham. God explains, “For I have known [yada] him” (Genesis 18:17, 19, NKJV).
Several hundred years later, God announces that He is going to reveal Himself further to the Israelites: for the first time, He will let His covenant people know Him by His personal Name. He tells Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known [yada] to them” (Exodus 6:3, ESV). This is a profound offer of personal disclosure and relationship.
Isaiah writes that God’s people have been chosen to know (yada) Him (43:10). Another prophet, Jeremiah, tells us that God will give us “a heart to know [yada]” Him (24:7, NIV).
Psalm 139 begins with repeated amazement that there is nothing that God does not know about the psalmist. Certainly, God knows every detail of our lives, even when we are heavily masked, cleverly camouflaged, and deeply hidden in our best burrows. Yet at the end of this beautiful song, the writer invites God to know (yada) his heart and to know (yada) his thoughts. Having first acknowledged God’s factual knowledge of him, the psalmist is now asking for God’s experiential knowledge of him. Before God, to whom all things are laid bare factually, we can bring ourselves to be known experientially through relationship.
[i] Vine, W.E. Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Nelson. 2005.