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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Did God Have to Test Abraham to Know If He Actually Trusted Him?

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Did God Have to Test Abraham to Know If He Actually Trusted Him? (Genesis 22)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 10

One of the most memorable stories in all of Scripture concerns the patriarch Abraham and his son of promise, Isaac. Isaac was born in a miraculous way. Abraham and his wife Sarah had gone beyond the child-bearing age when Isaac was born.

After Isaac grew to be a young man, the Lord then commanded Abraham to sacrifice his promised son. Abraham obeyed in faith. Though Isaac was his only son, and the one whom the Lord promised would produce offspring, Abraham trusted God to do something miraculous.

The Bible says that when Abraham went to sacrifice his promised son he was interrupted by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord then spoke to Abraham,

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you did not refuse to give me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12 God’s Word)

Does this mean that God did not know what Abraham was going to do before they actually reached the place of sacrifice? Did God have to first test Abraham to find out whether or not he would obey Him? Why did He say, “Now I know that you fear God?” Did He not know this previously? How should we interpret this episode?

Option 1: Some Argue That God Did Not Know What Abraham Would Do

There are those which argue that God did not actually know what Abraham would do until the time He stopped him from sacrificing Isaac. Consequently, they understand the language in Genesis as literal. In this instance, God learned something which He previously did not know. The fact that the Lord said “Now I know” shows that His knowledge of the future is not exhaustive. Open theists say this creates problems for those who insist God knows everything which will happen in the future. This episode, they contend, shows that He does not know what is going to occur.

Option 2: God Knew Ahead of Time

The interpretation of this passage by open theists does not fit the facts. Again, we emphasize that God knew ahead of time what Abraham would do. The fact that Abraham obeyed God confirmed the fact that he totally trusted the Lord.

In addition, we are again dealing with God’s knowledge of the present, not of the future. If God knows everything that occurs in the present then certainly He would know what was in the heart of Abraham. He would not have had to test Abraham to find out what he was thinking in his innermost thoughts. Elsewhere the Bible says,

“And you, my son Solomon, learn to know your father’s God. Serve the LORD wholeheartedly and willingly because he searches every heart and understands every thought [we have]. If you dedicate your life to serving him, he will accept you. But if you abandon him, he will reject you from then on.” (1 Chronicles 28:9 God’s Word)

According to this passage, God presently searches our hearts and knows it thoughts and intents. If God did not know what was in Abraham’s heart when He asked him to sacrifice Isaac, then God’s present knowledge would be limited or defective. Yet the Bible explicitly states that God knows what is in the heart of each of us. Elsewhere, the Lord said,

“I, the Lord, probe into people’s minds. I examine people’s hearts. And I deal with each person according to how he has behaved. I give them what they deserve based on what they have done.” (Jeremiah 17:10 NET)

Therefore, the passage cannot have the meaning that God did not know what was in the heart of Abraham until Abraham actually obeyed the Lord. He certainly did know the heart of Abraham as He knows the hearts of each of us.

There are several other points which need to be made about this episode.

God Already Knew of Abraham’s Faith

The faith of Abraham was not something which was unknown to God. In fact, on a number of occasions Abraham had shown His faith in the Lord. When God called him to leave his family and homeland, Abraham obeyed. The Bible says,

So Abram left, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. (Genesis 12:4 God’s Word)

When the Lord called Abraham he immediately left his place of residence and went to the place where the Lord had called him.

Later, the Lord said of Abraham,

“For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. This is how the LORD will fulfill to Abraham what He promised him.” (Genesis 18:19 HCSB)

Thus, God had already expressed His confidence in Abraham. Therefore, although God had already chosen Abraham and had spoken of His complete confidence in him, this particular test with Isaac was the culmination of the testing of Abraham’s faith.

The New Testament makes the following comment upon Abraham and his faith.

By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. (Hebrews 11:9-11 NIV)

Consequently, the statement of the Lord, that “He now knows that Abraham truly trusts Him” is the testimony that Abraham did indeed live up to the confidence which the Lord had previously shown. It is not that the Lord realized, at this particular moment, that His previous words of confidence in Abraham were only now revealed to be true.

Thus, God’s expression of delight at Abraham’s act of faith should not be seen as something He merely found out at that time.

Summary – Question 10
Did God Have to Test Abraham to Know If He Actually Trusted Him? (Genesis 22)

The Bible records a now famous episode in the life of Abraham. God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Though Isaac was the son of promise, through whom many descendants would be brought forth, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice him. This took place before Isaac married and produced any offspring. This command caused an obvious problem for Abraham.

Abraham obeyed. He was about to go through with this commandment to sacrifice his son when the Lord stopped Him. At that time, the Lord made the comment that He “now knows” Abraham trusts Him because he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Does this mean that the Lord did not know this to be true until this time? In other words, did God have to wait and see what would actually happen? This statement of Abraham has been interpreted in a number of ways.

Open theists understand the words which God spoke in a literal manner. The Lord did not really know what Abraham was going to do until He did it. God was testing Abraham to see if he truly trusted Him. This, it is claimed, shows God’s lack of knowledge of the future. It testifies to the fact that He has created a world in which the future is unknown even to Him. This is one of many passages which give evidence of this.

On the other hand, most commentators understand God’s words differently. God certainly knew what was in the heart of Abraham before this episode. In fact, Scripture clearly says that the Lord knows what is in the hearts of all people. Consequently, there would have been no need to test Abraham to discover what was in his heart.

Furthermore, we are told that God previously confirmed a covenant with Abraham and His descendants. Therefore, it was not necessary for Him to know whether or not Abraham would be faithful. The Lord would not have confirmed the covenant in the first place if He would have thought Abraham to be unworthy.

This episode is the culmination of Abraham’s walk of faith. He had learned to trust God completely. The knowledge which God spoke of attaining was experiential knowledge. While He had known from eternity past what Abraham would do in this situation, when it occurred, God could testify experientially to Abraham’s faithfulness. This is the sense which God “now knows” that Abraham trusted Him.

In sum, this particular episode does not give us any reason to believe that God has no knowledge of the future. To the contrary, all of the evidence says He knows exactly what will come to pass.

Did God Consult with Abraham about the Future of Sodom and Gomorrah? ← Prior Section
Was God Unaware That Israel Loved Him? Next Section →
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