God is renowned in Judah;
in Israel his name is great. — Psalm 76:1
Psalm 76 begins “God is renowned in Judah.” Literally, the verse translates from the original Hebrew as “God is known in Judah,” but what does it mean to really know God?
In the Jewish tradition, there are three types of wisdom. The first, chochma, is pure knowledge. It’s knowing facts and figures. The second, binah, is understanding. This kind of wisdom goes beyond simple facts into understanding the reason why the facts exist. For example, knowing that four times eight is 32 is knowledge. Knowing how multiplication works and why four multiplied eight times becomes 32 is understanding.
Finally, there is da’at, or knowing – truly knowing something to the point where it affects the way that a person lives. For example, a person can know that eating too much cake makes you overweight and sick, and even understand the science behind weight gain. But da’at is taking that knowledge and then adopting and living a healthy lifestyle. Da’at is knowing something so deeply that it directs every thought and action in our lives.
The Jewish sages teach that this psalm refers to the time period of King Hezekiah, and more specifically, when he was threatened by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (see 2 Kings 18—19). Assyria was the superpower of its time. King Sennacherib had already captured many countries, including the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and it was clear that he had set his sights next on Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah.
From all appearances, Judah was doomed. The tiny kingdom didn’t stand a chance militarily against the great Assyrian army. But Judah had a God-fearing king who prayed, acted with righteousness, and trusted in God. King Hezekiah’s prayers were answered, and God caused a great miracle. The entire Assyrian army was destroyed by God’s angel of death. Sennacherib had no choice but to retreat home – where he was promptly assassinated by his own sons.
This is how the people of Judah came to know God – to really know God to the point where their lives were profoundly changed. They had seen firsthand how God was present in their lives, how He loved them, and how He would do anything for them. How could they not be permanently and fundamentally changed?
While we may not experience miracles on the magnitude of Hezekiah’s time, God sends us other experiences that make it clear He is present and lovingly involved in our lives. If we take the time to seek God, we will find Him and come to truly know Him – in a way that profoundly affects our lives.
How well do you know your God?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President