The Hebrew biyn (H995) is translated several ways in our AV Bible, including (and most often) “understand” (62) and understanding (32). Several other translations (e.g., “consider, perceive, discern”) reflect the fact that biyn, which with its derivatives appears 247 times, has a wide range of meanings, also including: “to discern, perceive, observe, understand, pay attention, be intelligent, and be discreet.”
Biyn is, therefore, much more than just gathering knowledge. It’s about understanding that knowledge. As was true of Daniel, for example, a person might be able to hear words, but not understand them (Dan_12:8). As vital as knowledge is, by itself it is virtually worthless. To illustrate, a man might know by heart every medical work that has ever been written and yet be the worst doctor in the world because he doesn’t truly understand how it all works. He can memorize it, but he can’t apply it.
Biyn, therefore, speaks of how we use the knowledge we acquire. I am struck often by the depth of Psalms 119. In Psa_119:27, the psalmist (probably David) prays, “Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works,” and again in Psa_119:34, “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart,” and still again in Psa_119:73, “give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments” (see also Psa_119:100,). David didn’t want just knowledge but to know why that knowledge was important, the way that knowledge applied to the real world, and even the consequences that knowledge would have on everything else.
That is what is so desperately needed today. A consistent Christian life is absolutely impossible without constant learning and a growing understanding of what that knowledge will demand in one’s Christian walk. And from where does such understanding come? David again answers, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Psa_119:104). Understanding is not a product of rationalism or empiricism. It is comes only from God (Dan_2:21) and only by diligent seeking (Pro_2:4-5).
Scriptures for Study: In Pro_17:10, what is the difference between the wise (biyn) man and the fool? In Pro_28:5, what do those who “seek the LORD” understand?