“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

For many people this is a memory verse, both because it’s quite succinctly and beautifully phrased, and also because it is one of those snippets that can be a kind of life mantra.  Often when we read this verse the emphasis is on the first sentence, while the second sentence—that of acknowledging Him and allowing Him to direct us—gets glossed over.  I read it recently and the word “acknowledge” jumped out at me, because I had never really ever thought about what that really means.

Understanding “acknowledge”

See, while the technical definition of the word hasn’t really changed, the way our society uses it definitely has—basically to “give a nod” to.  If you’re walking down the street and you see someone you’ve met before, you’ll often acknowledge them with a nod or wave, basically saying “yeah, I see you”.  Or you may acknowledge someone when they give you a gift, or in centuries past a nobleman might acknowledge an illegitimate child as being his own (bestowing some legitimacy).  So by today’s standards, “in all your ways acknowledge Him” is basically the equivalent of professional athletes pointing to the sky after a touchdown—meaningless.

The trouble is that these understandings of the word render the verse in Proverbs very distant and cold, when the meaning is much more powerful.  The word translated “acknowledge” in most bible translations is yada (H3045), which generally means “to know or recognize”.  In the case of Proverbs 3:6, it is to know His ways inside and out and to recognize that He is the ultimate arbiter of our lives.  It’s a root word so it can be translated many different ways and is used almost a thousand times in the Old Testament.  While most translations use “acknowledge”, the NIV says “in all your ways submit to Him”, while the NLT says “seek His will in all you do”.  Throughout the rest of the bible, yada is most often translated as some form of “to know” (i.e. known, know, knowing), but other uses include “respect”, “understand”, “be sure in”, “consider”, “discover”, and “discern”, and these start to paint a more complete understanding of the word.