In his omniscience God knows what the future holds both for individuals and for nations. He knows and sees everything in advance and his will is carried out in accord with his plans and purposes. In the Old Testament God's foreknowledge is usually represented by the verb yada [[;d"y], which is the normal verb for "know." In the New Testament the main verbs are proginosko [proginwvskw], "to know in advance, " and proorao, "to see what is ahead." Foreknowledge is closely connected to election and predestination and to God's sovereign rule of his universe.
As the all-knowing One, God knows everything about us, including "all the days ordained for me before one of them came to be" ( Psalm 139:16 ). He knows our thoughts and words even before they are expressed ( Psalm 139:4 ; Matt 26:34 ), and he can determine our life's work before we are born. Jeremiah was set apart in the womb to be a prophet, chosen to minister to the nations ( Jer 1:5 ). The idea of choice is also evident in the call of Abraham to be the founder of God's covenant nation. When Genesis 18:19 says "I have chosen him, " the verb is literally "I knew him." The same is true of Amos's description of Israel, "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth" ( 3:2a ). Compare Paul's statement in Romans 11:2: "God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew." God's sovereign choice of Israel established a unique relationship with a particular people.
Through the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, God often revealed specific information about the future. Micaiah accurately predicted that Ahab would die in an upcoming battle ( 1 Kings 22:17 ). Elisha knew that the Syrian siege of Samaria would be lifted the next day ( 2 Kings 7:1 ), and Isaiah anticipated the coming of the Persian king Cyrus, who would rescue Israel from exile ( 41:2 ; 44:28 ; 45:1 ). Isaiah also spoke of the advent of the Servant of the Lord who would come to Zion to be the Redeemer of the world ( 42:1 ; 59:20 ; 61:1 ). And Isaiah's contemporary, Micah, prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (5:2).
In accomplishing his purposes, God is able to work through the evil actions of those who have no desire to do his will. When Joseph's brothers sold him as a slave, God was in reality sending Joseph to devise a plan that would save the whole family from starvation ( Gen 45:5-7 ). The brothers intended to harm him, but God knew that many lives would be saved through Joseph's wise planning ( 50:20 ). By storing food in Egypt, Joseph partially fulfilled the promise to Abraham that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" ( Gen 12:3 ).
In the New Testament God's foreknowledge is clearly linked to the death of Christ and to the salvation of the elect. "Before the creation of the world" Christ was "chosen" or "foreknown" to be the Redeemer ( 1 Peter 1:20 ), a clear indication that God knew from the beginning that humankind would fall into sin. On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter denounced the wicked men who put Christ to death, but he acknowledged that they had acted in accord with "God's set purpose and foreknowledge" ( Acts 2:23 ). Evil rulers conspired to kill the Son of God, but yet his death was something that God "had decided beforehand should happen" ( Acts 4:28 ).
The same juxtaposition of foreknowledge, election, and predestination also applies to individual salvation. We, too, were chosen "before the creation of the world, " in accord with the foreknowledge of God ( Eph 1:4 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ). And the apostle Paul tells us that "those God foreknow" were also predestined and called to be justified by faith ( Rom 8:29-30 ). In each case foreknowledge precedes election and is intricately linked with God's will and purpose. Yet we should not think of this as some kind of fatalism or determinism. God does not force anyone to become a believer but works in a person's heart so that the individual freely chooses to receive Christ as Savior. When Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave Egypt, it appeared that he had no choice, because God would harden his heart ( Exod 4:21 ). But not until the sixth plague does the text say that the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart ( Exod 9:12 ). During the first five plagues Pharaoh hardened his own heart, refusing to listen to Moses and Aaron; after that the Lord confirmed him in his hardened condition ( Exod 7:13-14 ; Exodus 8:15 Exodus 8:19 Exodus 8:32 ). In accord with his sovereign purposes, God brings some to salvation and others to perdition.
Herbert M. Wolf
Bibliography. G. W. Bromiley, EDT, pp. 419-21; J. Murray, ZPED, 2:590-93.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Foreknowledge'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".