Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge
Jeff A. Benner
Return to index of articles
The parent root חם (hham), meaning “heat,” is the root of the word חכם (hhakham) which means “wisdom.”
The word hham appears as in its original pictographic script. The letter is a picture of a wall which “separates” one side from another. And the letter is a picture of “water.” Combined, these two letters literally mean “separate water.” When “heat” (hham) is applied to water, we have evaporation, or a “separating of water.”
The following Hebrew words are all derived from the parent root חם (hham).
While we can plainly see the root חם (hham) at the beginning of each of these words, what may not be as plainly seen is how the meanings of each of these words are related.
Soured (חמץ) milk was placed in a skin-bag (חמת) that was set out in the heat (חם) of the sun (חמה) and shaken (חמס). The natural enzymes in the skin-bag causes the “water to separate” (חם) from the milk forming the delicacy (חםד) cheese (חמה).
So, what does all of this have to do with wisdom? חכם (hhakham) is related to the idea of “separating,” as this word means “one who is able to separate between what is good and bad.” This one word can be translated as either “skill” when applied to a craftsman, or as “wise” when applied to a leader or counselor.
and now send for me a man of skill (hhakham) to work in gold... 2 Chronicles 2:7
Provide for yourselves wise (hhakham) men and understanding and knowing for your tribes and I will set them as rulers over you. Deuteronomy 1:13
A verse found in the book of Isaiah has a very interesting connection between חמה (hheymah - cheese) and a חכם (hhakham - wisdom).
And he will eat cheese (hheymah) and honey (This Hebrew word can mean honey or dates) to know to reject the bad and choose the good. Isaiah 7:15
There appears to be a physical connection between cheese and wisdom as this passage indicates that eating cheese can bring about wisdom.
The Hebrew word for understanding is תבון (tavun) comes from the verbal root בין (biyn) meaning to “understand” but the deeper meaning of this word can be found in a related verbal root - בנה (banah) which means to “build.” In order to build or construct something one must have the ability to plan and understand the processes needed. This is the idea behind the verb בין (biyn) and its derivative noun תבון (tavun), to be able to discern the processes of construction.
The Hebrew word for knowledge is דעת (da’at), which is derived from the parent root דע (da). The name of the Hebrew letter ד is dalet, from the Hebrew word דלת (delet) meaning “door.” This letter was originally written as in the ancient pictographic script and is a picture of the tent door. In a previous discussion, we learned that this letter meant to “hang” as the door “hung” down from the roof of the tent. Each Hebrew letter has more than one meaning, and this letter can also mean back and forth or in and out movement as the door is used for moving in and out of the tent. The name of the Hebrew letter ע is ayin, from the Hebrew word עין (ayin) meaning “eye.” This letter was originally written as in the ancient pictographic script and is a picture of an eye. When these two letters are combined, the Hebrew parent root דע (dea), is formed, meaning “the back and forth movement of the eye.” When something is carefully examined, one moves the eye back and forth to take in the whole of what is being examined. In the Ancient Hebrew mind, this careful examination is understood as knowledge and experience on an intimate level.
Do you know (yada) the balancings of the clouds, the wonderous works of complete knowledge (dea)? Job 37:16
The verb ידה (Y.D.H) is derived out of this parent root and carries this same meaning of an intimate knowledge. This verb is commonly used in reference to the marital relations of a husband and wife.
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain... Genesis 4:1 (KJV)
Do you know God? Not in the casual sense of awareness, as implied in the English sense of knowledge, but in a close and intimate relationship?
And those knowing your character will trust in you for you will not leave those seeking Yahweh. Psalm 9:11
God certainly knows us in this manner.
Will not God search this, for he knows the secrets of the heart. Psalm 44:21
Do we know God in this same manner? Do we know the heart of God?
And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 1 John 2:3 (RSV)
The above verse is being translated from a western perspective, but if we translate it through the mind of the Hebrews, we get a slightly different perspective.
And by this we may be sure that we have an intimate relationship with him, if we preserve his directions.
Derived from the parent root דע (da) is the noun דעת (da’at), meaning “knowledge.” The Hebrew word for knowledge is דעת (da’at), a noun derived from the verb ידע (yada) meaning “to know.” The idea of “knowing” in Ancient Hebrew thought is similar to our understanding of knowing but is more personal and intimate. We may say that we “know” someone but simply mean we “know” of his or her existence but, in Hebrew thought one can only “know” someone if they have a personal and intimate relationship. In Genesis 18:19 God says about Abraham “I know him” meaning he has a very close relationship with Abraham. In Genesis 4:1 it says that Adam “knew Eve his wife” implying a very intimate sexual relationship.
Knowledge is the intimate ability to perform a specific task or function. This can be seen in Exodus chapter 31 where God had given men the ability to build the various furnishings of the tabernacle.
AHRC Book Recommendation
(see our other recommendations)