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

Don Stewart :: Did God Explicitly Say He Was Unaware What the People Would Do?

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Did God Explicitly Say He Was Unaware What the People Would Do? (Jeremiah 18:6-11)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 13

One of the key passages for open theists is found in the Book of Jeremiah. It is a warning for the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. It says,

“House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will not bring the disaster on it I had planned. At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will not bring the good I had said I would do to it. So now, say to the men of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem: This is what the LORD says: I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you. Turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and your deeds” (Jeremiah 18:6-11 HCSB).

Open theists argue that the text could not be clearer. If the people repented of their sin, they would be spared God’s judgment. However, if they did not repent they would be judged. The outcome is conditional upon the behavior of the people.

We find that open theists argue that this shows that God’s mind has not been settled on what will occur; the future is open to what the people make it. Is this what this passage is teaching us?

This Does Not Deny God’s Foreknowledge

The fact that this announcement of judgment is conditional is obvious. The future will be decided by the behavior of the people to the promises of God. However, this does not mean that God does not know which way they will choose! In fact, in the very next verse God predicts what they will do.

“But they will say: ‘It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (Jeremiah 18:12 HCSB)

Therefore, rather than not knowing what the people will do, the Lord accurately predicts their behavior.

Consequently, contrary to open theism, there is nothing in this passage which remotely suggests that God does not have knowledge of what will occur in the future. In point of fact, God knows exactly what they will do and He says so! Though God warned the nation of the coming judgment they refused to listen. Therefore, Judah and Jerusalem were going to be judged. While God knew the outcome of their decision before it occurred the people were still held responsible.

Summary – Question 13
Did God Explicitly Say He Was Unaware What the People Would Do? (Jeremiah 18:6-11)

Open theists often appeal to Jeremiah 18:6-11 to show that the future is still open or not settled. In this passage, the Lord Himself says that He will bring judgment to Judah and Jerusalem if they do not repent. The announced judgment is clearly conditioned on the behavior of the people.

Therefore, judgment may or may not occur. At the moment Jeremiah delivered this word, it was unknown what would happen because the people had not chosen what they would do. This passage has been interpreted in a couple of ways.

Open theists see this as a clear statement of the future being open; a statement by the Lord Himself. Indeed, it is argued, means the future is not settled for humans or for God. Until the people make their own freewill decision, God does not know what they will do. Therefore, it speaks of His limited foreknowledge.

Yet this is not at all what this passage is saying. Indeed, in the very next verse the Lord predicts how the people will act; they will reject His word through the prophet Jeremiah.

Consequently, instead of illustrating that God does not know the future, the passage states just the opposite! In fact, we have an excellent illustration of what the Bible teaches about human freedom and God’s knowledge. While the people were free to choose whether or not they would obey God, God knew ahead of time what they would choose. The fact that God knew ahead of time did relieve them of their responsibility.

This is consistent with what the rest of Scripture says about this subject. Humans are free to make choices and are held responsible for these choices. Yet, all along, God already knows what they will choose because of His exhaustive knowledge of the future.

Was God Unaware That Israel Would Not Produce Good Grapes? ← Prior Section
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