Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:42 AM

Biblical Understanding

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:42 AM
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:42 AM

The verb and its derivatives are used 247 times. Its main English usage is “understanding” or “insight.” The background idea of the verb is to “discern,” and this lies behind the derivative nouns and the close relation derived from the substantive bayin (see below) from which comes the preposition bên “between.” The combination of these words, “discern between” is used in I Kgs 3:9, “That I may discern between good and evil.” bîn includes the concept of distinguishment that leads to understanding.

The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to the mere gathering of data. It is necessary to know how to use knowledge one possesses (Pirke Abot 3:12). The verb y?da? (q.v.) can also mean “understanding” in the sense of ability (e.g. Esau as a skilful hunter). It can also mean “to be perceptive,” (Ps 73:22). However, y?da? generally describes the process whereby one gains knowledge through experience with objects and circumstances. bîn is a power of judgment and perceptive insight and is demonstrated in the use of knowledge.

A person can perceive pertinent data with his senses: with his eyes he can discern (Prov 7:7, with his ears he can understand words (Prov 29:19). Understanding can also be said to feel (Ps 58:10) and discernment can even be sensed through taste (Job 6:30).

It is possible to hear without perceiving. Daniel did not understand what he had heard (Dan 12:8). It is said in a derogatory sense that the wicked cannot understand the knowledge he knows (Prov 29:7). Other instances emphasize an attentive observation or consideration: Moses accusingly asked the people to consider diligently the years of experience of all generations (Deut 32:7), and David perceived the destination of the wicked (Ps 73:17).

The Hiphil stem especially emphasizes ability to understand. Ezra read the word of God in the presence of men, women, and those able to understand, i.e. old enough (Neh 8:3). God can make a person understand his ways (Ps 119:34, 73). His angel came to give understanding to Daniel (Dan 10:14). The participial form refers to a teacher, i.e. one who gives discernment to his students (Ezra 8:16). From a number of instances, insight or moral understanding is a gift from God (Dan 2:21) and is not the fruit of empiricism. It is ethical discernment. A person prays for it (Ps 119:34) and since this insight is uniquely God’s, he can reveal or conceal it (Isa 29:14). The seat of insight is the heart and it is the heart which discerns (or fails to discern) the works of the Lord (Ps 28:5), the fear of the Lord (Prov 2:5), righteousness and justice (Prov 2:9), and his will as his word is obeyed (Ps 111:10).

While understanding is a gift of God, it does not come automatically. The possession of it requires a persistent diligence. It is more than IQ; it connotes character. One is at fault if he doesn’t have it and in fact, not to pursue it will incur God’s punishment (Prov 2:1f; Ruth 1:21f.). [1] Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (103–104). Chicago: Moody Press.

« back