Things Foreknown by God
THROUGHOUT the Bible record, God’s exercise of foreknowledge and foreordination is consistently tied in with his own purposes and will. Since God’s purposes are certain of accomplishment, he can foreknow the results, the ultimate realization of his purposes, and can foreordain them, as well as the steps he may see fit to take to accomplish them. (Isa. 14:24-27) Thus, Jehovah is spoken of as ‘forming’ or ‘fashioning’ his purpose concerning future events or actions. (2 Ki. 19:25; Isa. 46:11) As the Great Potter, God “operates all things according to the way his will counsels,” in harmony with his purpose (Eph. 1:11), and “makes all his works co-operate together” for the good of those loving him. (Rom. 8:28) It is, therefore, specifically in connection with his own foreordained purposes that God tells “from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.”—Isa. 46:9-13.
When God created the first human pair they were perfect, and God could look upon the result of all his creative work and find it “very good.” (Gen. 1:26, 31; Deut. 32:4) Rather than distrustfully concerning himself with what the human pair’s future actions would be, the record says that he “proceeded to rest.” (Gen. 2:2) He could do so since, by virtue of his almightiness and his supreme wisdom, no future action, circumstance or contingency could possibly present an insurmountable obstacle or an irremediable problem to block the realization of his sovereign purpose.—2 Chron. 20:6; Isa. 14:27; Dan. 4:35.
FOREKNOWLEDGE CONCERNING CLASSES OF PERSONS
Cases are presented in which God did foreknow the course that certain groups, nations or the majority of mankind would take, and thus he foretold the basic course of their future actions and foreordained what corresponding action he would take regarding them. However, such foreknowledge or foreordination does not deprive the individuals within such collective groups or divisions of mankind of the exercise of free choice as to the particular course they will follow. This can be seen from the following examples:
Prior to the flood of Noah’s day, Jehovah announced his purpose to bring about this act of destruction, resulting in loss of human, as well as animal, life. The Biblical account shows, however, that such divine determination was made after the conditions developed that called for such action. Additionally, God, who is able to “know the heart of the sons of mankind,” made examination and found that “every inclination of the thoughts of [mankind’s] heart was only bad all the time.” (2 Chron. 6:30; Gen. 6:5) Yet individuals, Noah and his family, gained God’s favor and escaped destruction.—Gen. 6:7, 8; 7:1.
Similarly with the nation of Israel; although God gave them the opportunity to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” by keeping his covenant, yet some forty years later, when the nation was at the borders of the Promised Land, Jehovah foretold that they would break his covenant and, as a nation, would be forsaken by him. This foreknowledge was not without prior basis, however, as national insubordination and rebellion already had been revealed. Hence, God said: “For I well know their inclination that they are developing today before I bring them into the land about which I have sworn.” (Deut. 31:21; Ps. 81:10-13) The results to which such manifest inclination would now lead in the way of increased wickedness could be foreknown by God without making him responsible for it due to his foreknowledge, even as one’s foreknowing that a certain structure built of inferior materials and with shoddy workmanship will deteriorate does not make that one responsible for such deterioration. Certain prophets delivered prophetic warnings of God’s foreordained expressions of judgment, all of which had basis in already existing conditions and heart attitudes. (Ps. 7:8, 9; Prov. 11:19; Jer. 11:20) Here again, however, individuals could and did respond to God’s counsel, reproof and warnings and merited his favor.—Jer. 21:8, 9; Ezek. 33:1-20.
God’s Son, who also could read human hearts (Matt. 9:4; Mark 2:8; John 2:24, 25), was divinely endowed with powers of foreknowledge and foretold future conditions, events and expressions of divine judgment. He foretold the judgment of Gehenna for the scribes and Pharisees as a class (Matt. 23:15, 33), but did not say thereby that each individual Pharisee or scribe was foredoomed to destruction, as the case of the apostle Paul shows. (Acts 26:4, 5) Jesus predicted woes for the unrepentant populaces of Jerusalem and other cities, but did not indicate that his Father had foreordained that each individual of those cities should so suffer. (Matt. 11:20-23; Luke 19:41-44; 21:20, 21) He also foreknew what mankind’s inclination and heart attitude would lead to and foretold the conditions that would have developed among mankind by the time of the “conclusion of the system of things,” as well as the outworkings of God’s own purposes.—Matt. 24:3, 7-14, 21, 22.
FOREKNOWLEDGE CONCERNING INDIVIDUALS
In addition to there being foreknowledge concerning classes, certain individuals are specifically involved in divine forecasts. These include Esau and Jacob, the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Samson, Solomon, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Judas Iscariot, and God’s own Son, Jesus.
In the cases of Samson, Jeremiah and John the Baptist, Jehovah exercised foreknowledge prior to their birth. This foreknowledge, however, did not specify what their final destiny would be. Rather, on the basis of such foreknowledge, Jehovah foreordained that Samson should live according to the Nazirite vow and should initiate the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines, that Jeremiah should serve as a prophet, and that John the Baptist should do a preparatory work as a forerunner of the Messiah. (Judg. 13:3-5; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:13-17) While they were highly favored by such privileges, this did not guarantee their gaining eternal salvation or even that they would remain faithful until death (although all three did). Thus, Jehovah foretold that one of David’s many sons would be named Solomon and he foreordained that Solomon would be used to build the temple. (2 Sam. 7:12, 13; 1 Ki. 6:12; 1 Chron. 22:6-19) However, though favored in this way and even privileged to write certain books of the Holy Scriptures, Solomon nevertheless fell into apostasy in his later years.—1 Ki. 11:4, 9-11.
Likewise with Esau and Jacob, God’s foreknowledge did not fix their eternal destinies but, rather, determined or foreordained which of the national groups descending from the two sons would gain a dominant position over the other. (Gen. 25:23-26) This foreseen dominance also pointed to the gaining of the right of the firstborn by Jacob, a right that brought along with it the privilege of being of the line of descent through which the Abrahamic “seed” would come. (Gen. 27:29; 28:13, 14) By this means Jehovah God made clear that his choice of individuals for certain uses is not bound by the usual customs or procedures conforming to men’s expectations. Nor are divinely assigned privileges to be dispensed solely on the basis of works, so that a person may feel he has ‘earned the right’ to such privileges and that they are ‘owed to him.’ This point the apostle Paul stressed in showing why God, by undeserved kindness, could grant to the Gentile nations privileges once seemingly reserved for Israel.—Rom. 9:1-6, 10-13, 30-32.
Paul’s quotation concerning Jehovah’s ‘love for Jacob [Israel] and his hatred for Esau [Edom]’ comes from Malachi 1:2, 3, written long after Jacob and Esau’s time. So the Bible does not necessarily say that Jehovah held such opinion of the twins before their birth. It is a scientifically established fact that much of a child’s general disposition and temperament are determined at the time of conception, due to the genetic factors contributed by each parent. That God can see such factors is self-evident; David speaks of Jehovah as seeing “even the embryo of me.” (Ps. 139:14-16; see also Ecclesiastes 11:5.) To what extent such divine insight affected Jehovah’s foreordination concerning the two boys cannot be said, but, at any rate, his choice of Jacob over Esau did not of itself doom Esau or his descendants, the Edomites, to destruction. The “change of mind” that Esau earnestly sought with tears, however, was only an unsuccessful attempt to change his father Isaac’s decision that the firstborn’s special blessing should remain entirely with Jacob. Hence, this indicated no repentance before God on Esau’s part as to his materialistic attitude.—Gen. 27:32-34; Heb. 12:16, 17.
These cases of foreknowledge prior to the individual’s birth thus do not conflict with God’s revealed qualities and announced standards. Nor is there any indication that God coerced the individuals to act against their own will. In the cases of Pharaoh, Judas Iscariot, and God’s own Son, there is no evidence that Jehovah’s foreknowledge was exercised prior to the person’s coming into existence. Within these individual cases certain principles are illustrated, bearing on God’s foreknowledge and foreordination.
One such principle is God’s testing of individuals by causing or allowing certain circumstances or events, or by causing such individuals to hear his inspired messages, the result being that they are obliged to exercise their free choice to make a decision and thus reveal a definite heart attitude, read by Jehovah. (Prov. 15:11; 1 Pet. 1:6, 7; Heb. 4:12, 13) According to the way the individuals respond, God can also mold them in the course they have selected of their own volition. (1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 33:13-15; 139:1-4, 23, 24) Thus, the “heart of earthling man” first inclines toward a certain way before Jehovah does the directing of such one’s steps. (Prov. 16:9; Ps. 51:10) Under testing, one’s heart condition can become fixed, either hardened in unrighteousness and rebellion as was the heart of the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus, or made firm in unbreakable devotion to Jehovah God and the doing of his will. (Ex. 4:21; 8:15, 32) Having reached such point of his own choice, the end result of the individual’s course can now be foreknown and foretold with no injustice and no violation to man’s free moral agency.—Compare Job 34:10-12.
The traitorous course of Judas Iscariot fulfilled divine prophecy and demonstrated Jehovah’s foreknowledge, and also that of his Son. (Ps. 41:9; 55:12, 13; 109:8; Acts 1:16-20) Yet it cannot be said that God foreordained or predestinated Judas himself to such a course. The prophecies foretold that some intimate acquaintance of Jesus would be his betrayer, but did not specify which of those sharing such acquaintance it would be. Again, Bible principles rule against God’s having foreordained Judas’ actions. The divine standard stated by the apostle is: “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man; neither be a sharer in the sins of others; preserve yourself chaste.” (1 Tim. 5:22) Evidencing his concern that the selection of his twelve apostles be wisely and properly made, Jesus spent the night in prayer to his Father before making known his decision. (Luke 6:12-16) If Judas were already divinely foreordained to be a traitor, this would result in inconsistency in God’s direction and guidance and, according to the rule, would make him a sharer in the sins that such one committed.
Thus, it seems evident that at the time of his being selected as an apostle, Judas’ heart presented no definite evidence of a treasonous attitude. He allowed a ‘poisonous root to spring up’ and defile him, resulting in his deviation and in his accepting, not God’s direction, but the Devil’s leading in a course of thievery and treachery. (Heb. 12:14, 15; John 13:2; Acts 1:24, 25; Jas. 1:14, 15) By the time such deviation reached a certain point, Jesus himself could read Judas’ heart and foretell his betrayal.—John 13:10, 11.
True, in the account at John 6:64, on the occasion of some disciples stumbling over certain teachings of Jesus, we read that “from the beginning [“from the outset,” Jerusalem Bible] Jesus knew who were the ones not believing and who was the one that would betray him.” While the word “beginning” is used at 2 Peter 3:4 to refer to the start of creation, it can also refer to other times. (Luke 1:2; John 15:27) For example, when the apostle Peter spoke of the holy spirit falling on Gentiles “just as it did also upon us in the beginning,” he was referring to the day of Pentecost, 33 C.E., the “beginning” of the outpouring of the holy spirit for a certain purpose. (Acts 11:15; 2:1-4) It is therefore interesting to note this comment on John 6:64 in the Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical Commentary by Schaff-Lange: “[‘Beginning’] means, not metaphysically from the beginning of all things . . . , nor from the beginning of His [Jesus’] acquaintance with each one . . . , nor from the beginning of His collecting of the disciples around Him, or the beginning of His Messianic ministry . . . , but from the first secret germs of unbelief [that produced the stumbling of some disciples]. So also He knew His betrayer from the beginning.”—Compare 1 John 3:8, 11, 12.
Jehovah God foreknew and foretold the Messiah’s sufferings, the death he would undergo and his subsequent resurrection. (Acts 2:22, 23, 30, 31; 3:18; 1 Pet. 1:10, 11) The realization of things determined by God’s exercise of such foreknowledge depended in part upon God’s own exercise of power and in part upon the actions of men. (Acts 4:27, 28) Such men, however, willingly allowed themselves to be overreached by God’s adversary, Satan the Devil. (John 8:42-44; Acts 7:51-54) Hence, even as Christians in Paul’s day were “not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs,” God foresaw the wicked desires and methods his adversary would devise against his Anointed One. (2 Cor. 2:11) Obviously, God’s power could also thwart or even block any attacks or attempts upon the Messiah that did not conform to the manner or time prophesied.
The apostle Peter’s statement that Christ, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, was “foreknown before the founding [form of Greek ka·ta·bo·leʹ] of the world [koʹsmou]” is construed by advocates of predestinarianism to mean that God exercised such foreknowledge before mankind’s creation. (1 Pet. 1:19, 20) The Greek word ka·ta·bo·leʹ, translated “founding,” literally means “a casting or laying down” and can refer to the ‘conceiving’ of seed, as at Hebrews 11:11, which refers to Abraham’s throwing down human seed for the begetting of a son and Sarah’s receiving this seed so as to be fertilized. While there was the “founding” of a world of mankind when God created the first human pair, as is shown at Hebrews 4:3, 4, that pair thereafter forfeited their position as children of God. (Gen. 3:22-24; Rom. 5:12) Yet, by God’s undeserved kindness, they were allowed to throw down (sow) and conceive seed and produce offspring, one of whom is specifically shown in the Bible as having gained God’s favor and placed himself in position for redemption and salvation, namely, Abel. (Gen. 4:1, 2; Heb. 11:4) It is noteworthy that at Luke 11:49-51 Jesus refers to “the blood of all the prophets spilled from the founding of the world,” and parallels this with the words, “from the blood of Abel down to the blood of Zechariah.” Thus Abel is connected by Jesus with the “founding of the world,” with that general time period.
The Messiah or Christ was to be the promised Seed through whom all righteous persons of all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gal. 3:8, 14) The first mention of such “seed” came after the rebellion in Eden had already been initiated, but prior to the birth of Abel. (Gen. 3:15) This was over four thousand years before the revelation was made of the “sacred secret” of the administration to come through the Messiah; hence, it was, indeed, “kept in silence for long-lasting times.”—Rom. 16:25-27; Eph. 1:8-10; 3:4-11.
In his due time Jehovah God assigned his own firstborn Son to fulfill the prophesied role of the “seed” and become the Messiah. There is nothing to show that that Son was “predestined” to such a role even before his creation or before rebellion broke out in Eden. God’s eventual selection of him as the one charged with fulfilling the prophecies likewise was not made without prior basis. The period of intimate association between God and his Son previous to the Son’s being sent to earth undoubtedly resulted in Jehovah’s ‘knowing’ his Son to an extent that He could be certain of his Son’s faithful fulfillment of the prophetic promises and pictures.—Compare Romans 15:5; Philippians 2:5-8; Matthew 11:27; John 10:14, 15.
THE ‘CALLED AND CHOSEN ONES’
There remain those texts that deal with the Christian “called ones” or “chosen ones.” (Jude 1; Matt. 24:24) They are described as “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 1:1, 2), ‘chosen before the founding of the world,’ ‘foreordained to the adoption as sons of God’ (Eph. 1:3-5, 11), ‘selected from the beginning for salvation and called to this very destiny.’ (2 Thess. 2:13, 14) The understanding of these texts depends upon whether they refer to the foreordination of certain individual persons, or whether they describe the foreordination of a class of persons, namely, the Christian congregation, the “one body” (1 Cor. 10:17) of those who will be joint heirs with Christ Jesus in his heavenly kingdom.—Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:19-22; Heb. 3:1, 5, 6.
If these words apply to specific individuals as foreordained to eternal salvation, then it follows that those individuals could never prove unfaithful or fail in their calling, for God’s foreknowledge of them could not prove inaccurate and his foreordination of them to a certain destiny could never miscarry or be thwarted. Yet the same apostles who were inspired to write the foregoing words showed that some who were “bought” and “sanctified” by the blood of Christ’s ransom sacrifice and who had “tasted the heavenly free gift” and “become partakers of holy spirit . . . and powers of the coming system of things” would fall away beyond repentance and bring destruction upon themselves.—2 Pet. 2:1, 2, 20-22; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-29.
On the other hand, viewed as applying to a class, to the Christian congregation or “holy nation” of called ones as a whole (1 Pet. 2:9), the texts previously cited would mean that God foreknew and foreordained that such a class (but not the specific individuals forming it) would be produced. Also, these scriptures would mean that he prescribed or foreordained the ‘pattern’ to which all those in due time called to be members thereof would have to conform, all this according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-12; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10) He also foreordained the works such ones would be expected to carry out and their being tested due to the sufferings the world would bring upon them.—Eph. 2:10; 1 Thess. 3:3, 4.
Thus the exercise of God’s foreknowledge does not relieve us of the responsibility to exert ourselves to conform to his righteous will.