An Epistemology of Grace

by | Oct 22, 2016 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments

            “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” Ex. 33:13

The Background

  • The people of Israel have been delivered miraculously from Egyptian bondage by the mighty hand of God.
  • They have passed through the red sea and have come to the base of Mt. Sinai.
  • Moses has recieved and delivered the Covenant with its commandments and the people of Israel have affirmed their covenant with God.
  • Moses has returned to the top of the mountain and received additional instructions from God to the people.
  • But while Moses is on the mountain, the people get restless, and, as we tend to do, they grew obstinate and returned to their sinful ways.
  • This includes the egregious sin of idolatry, which the people committed by creating a golden calf and worshipping it.
  • There are a number of theories as to the identity of the calf. The two most likely theories are that the calf was associated with Ba’al or perhaps it had ties to the mood god Sı̂n. It is thought that the latter theory had slightly more evidence than the former.
  • After Israel commits her idolatry, Moses intercedes on her behalf.
  • It is during this back and forth with God that Moses utters the text that serves as the basis for this post.

Moses begins his petition with a plea for grace that leads to revelation. In other words, divine revelation on God’s part is an act of divine grace. We do not deserve divine revelation. God would have been well within his right to leave human beings to their own devices, wallowing in immorality and epistemic blindness. Moses points up to grace and asks God to show him his ways, literally, “that I may know your ways.” Moses depends on God’s kindness for knowledge of God’s ways. So here we have our first premise: Human knowledge is utterly dependent on God. If it involves humans, and if it involves knowledge, it necessarily involves God. I always want to point out that the construction here in the Hebrew, weʿǎt·tā(h), is drawing a conclusion from a previous statement. That previous statement is located in v. 12: Moses reminds God that God had said to him, “I know you by name.” In other words, LORD, you know me by name, therefore, give me grace that I may know your ways. But it gets better.

The Hebrew word ḥēn appears 69x in the OT. The ESV translates it favor 53x, and grace 10x. Of the 69 occurrences, 43x it appears in the phrase “to find favor in the eyes of.” According to Flack the verb describes “an action from a superior to an inferior who has no real claim for gracious treatment. [Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.] It is used when Noah is said to have found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8)

Moses knew that if he was going to know God’s ways, God would have to graciously show them to him. He knew that there was no amount of evidence, arguments, or autonomous human reason that he could call upon in order to know God’s ways. He was epistemically helpless.

The Hebrew construction is very interesting: hōwdiʿēnî is a Hif’il imperative of ydʿ. The Hif’il stem represents the subject as causing an object to participate indirectly as a second subject in the notion expressed by the verbal root. [Waltke] Not only is this verb in the Hif’il stem, it is in the imperative conjugation. This means that Moses is expressing a strong desire for God to cause him to know God’s ways. Moses is pleading with God to cause him to know God’s ways. What about this word “ways?” According to the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, it ranges from, way, path, road, passage, 2. journey, 3. venture, mission, errand. 4. manner, 5. course of life, conduct, morality, 6a. commandments of Y., 6b. activity of Y., 7. hill, mountain, pasture. This word appears 680x in the BHS biblical text and it is translated way/ways 516 in the ESV. In Gen. 6:12 it is used in an ethical sense: “for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” In Psalm 1:1 we are told that the man who does not stand in the way of sinners is blessed. Moses wants to know God’s ways. So, he pleads to God to cause him to know them.

The next construction wĕʾēdāʿăkā connects knowledge of God’s ways with knowledge of God. Literally, “and know you.” In other words, to know God one must know God’s ways. To grow in one’s knowledge of God, one must grow in his or her knowledge of God’s ways. The idea that knowledge of God can be separated from knowledge of God’s ways is patently false. The Bible paints just the opposite picture. So here we stand. We need grace in order to know God’s ways. And we need to know God’s ways if we are going to know God. Therefore, we need grace in order to know God in the manner described by Moses. Apart from divine grace then, knowledge of God as described by Moses is impossible.

Finally, Moses tells God that his purpose for wanting to know Him is so that he may find favor in his eyes. In other words, Moses’ real petition is that he would please God. Moses wants to live a life that pleases God. But in order to live a life that pleases God, Moses knows that he has to know God. And in order to know God, Moses knows that he has to know God’s ways. And Moses knows that in order to know God’s ways, God has to act graciously upon Moses to cause him to know God’s ways. This means that the only way we can live a life that is pleasing to God in any ways is if God takes the initiative to dispense divine favor, his amazing grace, upon us.

What are the implications of this passage for Christian theology and apologetics? First, it means that men cannot truly know God unless they know God’s ways and they cannot know God’s ways unless God acts to open their eyes. That act is a supernatural act of grace initiated by God alone. Yes, Moses petitioned God but God had already known Moses. This is the prayer of a regenerate man. An unregenerate man would never pray such a prayer because God does not know him and he does not know God.

This means that an apologetic method must acknowledge the Bible’s description of the unregenerate condition. We see how men come to know God throughout Scripture. I like to begin with the New Covenant description and move from there.

The New Covenant tells us that it is God who brings men into the covenant and that God is the one who teaches men and writes his law upon their heart and places the fear of Him in their heart. (Jer. 31-32)

Solomon clearly tells us that the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of knowledge. (Prov. 1:7) Again, it is God who places the fear of the Lord in the hearts of men. Unless God acts, there is no beginning of knowledge.

Luke tells us that Christ opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures. (Lu. 24:45) The act of opening up the mind was and is divine, supernatural.

Luke again reminds us in Acts 16:14 that it was the Lord who opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the gospel. The Lord acts and when he does, men always respond. Otherwise we are left with the implausible notions that God opens men’s minds and they still reject his good news or men come to understand the gospel themselves, based on their own analyses and assessments and criteria.

John articulates the epistemic situation quite clearly when he says, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (1 Jn. 5:20) Here John says that our knowledge of the One who is true is dependent on our understanding, which is itself, dependent on the act of the Son of God coming and giving us that understanding. Apart from that act, we simply cannot know the One who is true.

Apart from faith that is given by grace, men cannot possess true knowledge of God.

Unregenerate men have not been given faith by grace.

Therefore, unregenerate men cannot possess true knowledge of God.

Now, if unregenerate men cannot possess true knowledge of God, they also cannot possess true knowledge of God’s ways. And since they cannot possess true knowledge of God’s ways, they cannot possibly subject Christian belief to a fair evaluation. They simply do not possess the necessary tools to do so. Only God can do that. Where does that leave us? Think about it.











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