Yada and the Gift of Discernment – Paul L. Cox

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Recently at a conference, a lady testifying about her experience there said, ‘Thank you for teaching us the yada way of knowing God’. What did she mean?

The Hebrew word yada is first used in Genesis 3:5:

For God knows [yada] that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:5

Translation in English is not always simple, and meaning can be lost in transliteration, which is more an art than a science. Opinions vary widely on the correct way to transliterate, but the context is always of utmost importance.

Yada is used 944 times in the Bible, is a root word used in every stem, and which expresses a multitude of shades of knowledge gained by the senses (see Hebrews 5:14). Its closest synonyms are bı̂n, “to discern” and nākar, “to recognize”. A summary of the meanings of this primitive root listed in Strong’s includes knowledge at all levels, including the senses. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary states that yada is, ‘…to apprehend and experience reality. Knowledge is not the possession of information, but rather its exercise or actualization’.

While yada is most frequently translated as ‘to know’, its meaning is in fact far broader. The meaning includes considered knowledge, learning, to consider, ability to distinguish, to possess a developed sense of awareness, professional skills, heightened consciousness, perception, intuition, and discernment. The physical expression of these may include declaration and acknowledgement, performance, creativity, sexual intercourse, and skilled use of the five physical senses. Some Biblical examples of the diversity of the use of yada include:


Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know [yada] that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. Exodus 34:29

Artistic and Professional Skills:

Bezalel and Aholiab, and every gifted artisan in whom the Lord has put wisdom and understanding [yada], to know [yada] how to do all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, shall do according to all that the Lord has commanded. Exodus 36:1

Sexual Relations:

And Adam knew [yada] his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, “for God has appointed seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed”. Genesis 4:25

Declaration, Understanding, Perception:

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me”. And He said, “Go, and tell [yada] this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand [yada]; keep on seeing, but do not perceive [yada]’.” Isaiah 6:9

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know [yada] wisdom. Psalm 51:6

I considered [yada] all this in my heart, so that I could declare [yada] it all; that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know [yada] neither love, nor hatred, by anything they see before them. Ecclesiastes 9:1

They do not know [yada], nor do they understand [yada]; they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are unstable [or moved]. Psalm 82:5

Perception, Considered Knowledge:

To know [yada] wisdom and instruction, to perceive [yada] the words of understanding [yada]. Proverbs 1:2

The earth will be filled with the knowledge [yada] of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14

Knowledge, Understanding, Professional Skills:

Young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge [yada] and quick to understand [yada] [some translations render this ‘quick to understand science’], who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach [yada] the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Daniel 1:4

That you may tell [yada] in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt and My signs which I have done among them, that they may know [yada] that I am the Lord. Exodus 10:2

In Hebrew thought, each letter of the alphabet has a meaning, and each letter has a numerical value.

In summary, yada is the developed expression of an intimate knowledge of God incorporating every aspect of our lives as an act of worship. Yada has been described as an abbreviation for the entirety of Yahweh’s message to mankind.

This has been a surprise to me! Throughout seminary we discussed yada. The word was always taught to me as a “knowing” as in an intellectual knowing (or perhaps a metaphysical knowing). Understanding that yada has to do with knowing through the five physical senses shows us again that the Lord desires that we know Him not only intellectually but also with our physical senses.