“For now I know that you revere God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” —Genesis 22:12
Throughout the scriptures there are various ways in which this word “yada” is used, but the overall implication is that it has very intimate connotations both in how we know something or someone, and how we are known.
In Genesis we see this word being used by God to express His knowledge of Abraham’s heart based on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice that which is most important to him. Through this act of obedience, God came to know the intimate devotion and faith within the heart of Abraham. It was revealed that Abraham not only believed that God’s promise would come to be, but that it would come about even when the command of God seemed to be stripping His very promise away. Abraham had an incredible amount of faith, and this faith he possessed was demonstrated in the act of offering up his son, even when he knew that he needed that son for the promises to be filled. We know that it would have been easy and even appropriate for Abraham to rationalize his way out of this, for him to say, “I don’t really need to do this because God knows my heart and my intention. On the contrary, Abraham’s way of expressing his devotion and trust in God was to do exactly as God told Him… to carry out the command.
Sure, because God knows everything—even the depths of our hearts, and every action we will perform—He could have said to Abraham, “I know that you love Me and believe My promises, so I am not going to ask you to sacrifice your son because I know that you would do this for Me.” He didn’t say this, and I cannot fully explain why God asks us to do these things, despite the fact that He already knows what would happen and what lies within our hearts. The only thing I can think of is that for some reason or another the act itself is important to God; it pleases Him, and it seems to be something He likes to experience with us. It is equally (or ought to be) equally important for us because it is a confirmation that the faith, trust, and devotion we have in our hearts are more than mere feelings, assertions, or intentions. The action confirms what we profess to “feel” or possess in our hearts. According to James, these actions complete our faith:
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was completed” (James 2:22).
What is important to note here is that it’s not just any action that confirms this for God, but it’s obediently carrying out the exact command that God asks us to do because this makes evident that we have faith that His exact word is true and right and beneficial for us, whether we understand or agree with it or not. Abraham was not permitted to modify the plans of God to accommodate his desires, preferences, understanding, comfort, or even his fears. Abraham did not say, “I know God told me to offer up my son, but I’m sure He would still appreciate it if I offered a ram instead because He knows my heart.” Nor did Abraham lean on his own understanding because if he had, it would have been easy to say, “I know God told me to sacrifice my son, but God is love and He is against murder, so what He said must not be true, or He must just want me to think about what this spiritually means.” We have to believe that Abraham struggled because what God asked him to do presented a variety of conundrums, but regardless, he did exactly as God commanded knowing that God had the power to work it all out in the end… and God did work it out in the end.
This is where faith and works intersect, as a way for us to demonstrate to God that we wholeheartedly believe that every word that comes from His mouth is not only true, but given to provide and bring life. Throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrated and modeled this faith and obedience (he showed us its perfection). He came to this earth to teach and obediently live out the word of God (John 7:16; 4:34; 8:55; 12:44-50; 14:24, 31; Matthew 4:4). Jesus demonstrated exactly what it means to listen and to obey because He always did exactly as He was instructed by the Father. He did not deviate to the right or left, but obediently followed the path God laid out for Him. Even more, Jesus lived each command obediently, not only because He understood the physical implications of each command, but He understood the deeper spiritual truths behind each command.
There are many words that God has spoken or commanded us that seem irrelevant, obsolete, or even contrary to His nature, but the measure of our faith lies in our confidence that if He said it, then it is true. The measure of our confidence in this truth, then, is whether we are willing to obey it despite our every inclination not to. Our obedience confirms our confidence and faith in the truth of God’s word, just as Jesus’ obedience confirmed the truth in and His devotion to God’s word and commandments. Thus, the obedience we live is not our own, but that of Christ (1 John 2:6), and Jesus was fully obedient to the word of God (John 15:10) because he knew that His commandment is life (John 12:50). In doing so, not only will we “know” God as Christ knew Him, but God will know us with the intimacy that He knew Abraham. After all, as we read in Matthew 7:21-23, knowing Christ is not the only essential thing, but Him “knowing” us seems to be of greater importance. How then will He know us? Through our doing the will of the Father (vs. 21). What is the will of the Father? The will of the Father is embedded in law, the prophets, and the rest of the scriptures, magnified in the obedience of Jesus Christ.
In the end, the essential question may not be did you know Me, but does He know “yada” us? Or, what does He know of us? If God knows us the way that He “knew” Abraham, then we will not even have to bother with the first question, because it will be made evident through both our faith and obedience in His word. In other words, if God comes to know us the way that He knew Abraham, then it is clear that we know Him.
The word sh’ma in Hebrew is such a beautiful and instructive word, speaking to the very heart and nature that God desires from His children. For the people of Israel are to be characterized not only by their attentiveness to God’s instruction, but also by their steadfast obedience to those very instructions. Sh’ma is a double command to “hear”—with attention, interest, and understanding—and to obey. In living the divine life, both aspects of the command are not only necessary, but without exception. In other words, to have one without the other leaves the follower susceptible to either irreparable negligence or inaction. In this week’s Torah portion, we bear witness to the fullness and reality of this command, carried out by Moses and the people… Continue Reading Vayyakhel PDF