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

Don Stewart :: Why Does the Lord Use the Word "Perhaps?"

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Why Does the Lord Use the Word “Perhaps?” Was He Uncertain of the Future? (Jeremiah 26:2, 3; Ezekiel 12:3)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 14

There are some passages in the Old Testament where the God of Scripture uses the word “perhaps.” To many, this means God was not certain what would occur. Consequently, this is why He used a term of uncertainty. Those who hold this view believe that His knowledge of the future was limited. The evidence is as follows.

Did God Know the People Would Repent? (Jeremiah 26:2-3)

God told the prophet Jeremiah to tell the people to turn from their evil ways. In doing so it sounds like He was not sure whether or not they would repent. The Bible records the following words of the Lord.

“This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the LORD. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.” (Jeremiah 26:2, 3 NIV)

God says, “Perhaps they will listen and turn from their evil ways.” The inference is that He did not know whether or not they would. Some people conclude that He was waiting to see what was going to occur. In other words, He did not know.

Was God Uncertain as to Whether the People Would Understand? (Ezekiel 12:3)

We find something similar taught in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel. The Lord said the following to him.

“Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 12:3 NIV)

In this case, the Lord seems uncertain as to whether or not the people would understand. If God knows what will happen in the future, then why does He use the word “perhaps” which indicates uncertainty?

Do not these passages teach God’s ignorance of how Judah will respond to the message of the prophets, as well as His surprise that they are still worshipping idols?

Option 1: This Passage Testifies to God's Uncertainty of Future Events

There are those who believe that these passages are examples of God’s lack of knowledge of future events. They testify that He does not know what is going to occur. Otherwise, we would not find Him using the word “perhaps.”

Option 2: This Does Not Mean God Was Uncertain about What Would Occur

While these passages are used by a some people to teach that God’s knowledge of the future is not exhaustive such is not the case. There are a number of things that can be said.

First, God is giving orders to two of His prophets to proclaim His Word to the rebellious people. Their responsibility is to tell the people the Word of the Lord no matter what the results may be. It was not important for them to know how the people would respond. Therefore, initially, the word “perhaps” is for the benefit of these prophets. They did not have to know ahead of time what would happen.

We have the same idea in the New Testament. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians.

So, what is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7 HCSB)

According to Paul, God gives the growth. The job of the messenger is to faithfully proclaim the message. The results are completely left up to God. Therefore, it is not necessary that the spokesman knows in advance how his message will be received. The spokesman is to proclaim the message while the Lord will bring about the results.

Therefore, when we properly understand these passages, the so-called problem disappears. God knows the future and these passages do not cast any doubt upon this.

Summary – Question 14
Why Does the Lord Use the Word “perhaps?” Was He Uncertain of the Future? (Jeremiah 26:2, 3; Ezekiel 12:3)

The Bible gives a couple of instances where the Lord uses the word “perhaps.” One instance is founding the writings of Jeremiah and the other in the Book of Ezekiel. To some people, this shows that the Lord was uncertain as to what would happen in the future. Indeed, the fact that He used the word “perhaps” in dealing with the future is a demonstration that He does not really know what will occur.

However, as we examine these passages in their context, the idea disappears that God’s knowledge is somehow limited. The word “perhaps” was for the benefit of the prophets. They were to proclaim God’s message to the people without having to know the results ahead of time. Instead of God guaranteeing the results, He left the matter unknown. It was not important that the prophets knew how the people would respond. Their job was to proclaim the truth. The results of their preaching were left up to God and to Him alone. Consequently, these particular passages have nothing to do with God’s knowledge or lack thereof. It is not the subject which is addressed.

Did God Explicitly Say He Was Unaware What the People Would Do? ← Prior Section
Does God Forget Sin? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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