With-ness

I scored 126th out of 126 students.  When I was a junior in high school our class took a test for possible college level English curriculum in our senior year.  Having been told the results, I sat sobbing on my bedroom floor.  For some reason, grammatical prowess in my mother tongue eluded me.  Syntax seemed like “sin tax” to me.

It was not until I learned another language that I began to understand my own.  I fell in love with small words that told other words what to do and where to go.  I was introduced to “from,” “in,” “through” and other prepositions in college Greek classes.[1] The importance of directional connectors cannot be overestimated.  To this day I am impressed by the versatility of language, the multi-colored interaction of words with each other.

“With” is a key preposition when it comes to human interaction with God.  “With” suggests relationship: closeness, proximity, interaction which is impossible “apart from” another.[2] From the earliest pages of Scripture, God desired long-term, continual, personal presence by walking with His people.[3] But it is Enoch and Noah who are singled out as ones who “walked with God.”[4] After the paths of Abel[5] and Cain are clearly marked in Genesis four, Enoch’s birth gives new hope for change.  Not many people took the initiative to walk with God; in Genesis five, Enoch and Noah set the standard.[6]

For Israel at large, God uses the literary format of the day to communicate His clear instruction: “The least you can do as my servant nation is to follow me.” The form of the book is organized around a suzerain-vassal treaty which meant that the king had the right to demand obedience from the servant nation.  Meeting the baseline measure of God’s expectation is to do as Deuteronomy 6:14 commands not to “follow other gods” but only to “follow after God” (13:4).  There seems to be a “lowest possible denominator” here that one would “at least” do this—give obedience to God and not other gods.  Following God is a covenantal obligation.  Loyalty is expected.[7]

Some are said to have “walked before” God.[8] David “followed after” God as did Josiah.[9] While Israel is commended for following God in the desert in Jeremiah 2:2 it is only a few verses later (2:23) where God says these same people have run after other gods.

Yet there will come a day in the future Zechariah foretells when “ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you”.[10]

But covenantal people should walk with God.[11] The idea seems to be very specific, unusual, something not routine.  Once in the Minor Prophets, God is said to be with His priest Zerubbabel tying the covenant to His closeness with His servant.[12] But in Malachi 2:4-6 we learn of Levi the priest: “He walked with me in peace and uprightness, turning many from sin.”  There too the covenant is mentioned.  In Levi’s case, the man took the initiative.

So what is my responsibility?  It should come as no real surprise that Micah 6:8 is mentioned here: “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

To walk with God seems to be quite different than following after or walking before Him.  The preposition matters.  A high benchmark is set.  Walking with God means side-by-side, not behind or out in front.  There is a sense of accompaniment, of with-ness possible between me and my Maker.  Not only do I now understand the grammar, I desire the intimacy of with-ness.

Dr. Eckel still believes learning original languages is key to understanding The Bible.  However, he puts less stock in test results with his students. This essay is part of Mark’s book I Just Need Time to Think (2014).


[1] For those who know or remember, Dana and Mantey’s famous “Diagram of the Directive and Local Functions of Prepositions” in their A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament is the best visual picture to communicate prepositional usage (p. 113).

[2] The normal preposition in Hebrew means accompaniment or instrumentation.  Now it is possible to say you are with someone when it is not true.  The Lord calls His people out this way by saying, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live.  Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say He is” Amos 5:14.

[3] See WALKING: He Went First (Part 1).  Comments there about the durative action of the Hebrew verb hold true in Genesis 3:8; 5:22, 24; 6:9.

[4] Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9.

[5] Seth is literally the meaning of his name—Abel’s “replacement.”

[6] Bruce K. Waltke gives a superb, structural overview of the text in question.  2001. Genesis: A Commentary. (Zondervan): 109-120.

[7] J. G. McConville. 2002. Deuteronomy. In The Apollos Old Testament Commentary. (IVP):233-244.  It is impossible to communicate in a short article the importance of the word, idea, and application of “covenant.”

[8] Abraham and Isaac: Genesis 17:1; 24:40; 48:15; Psalm 56:13.

[9] 1 Kings 14:8 and 2 Kings 23:3.

[10] Zechariah 8:23.

[11] Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9; 17:1; 24:40; 48:15.  “Covenantal people” should be committed, no matter what.

[12] Haggai 2:4.

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