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It is written:
Genesis 22:12-And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
In this passage, the Angel of the Lord (an Old Testament designation for the preincarnate Christ) declares that He “now” knows that Abraham fears God.
Does this imply that God did not know before this event that Abraham feared God?
First, from beginning to end, we are assured from the Bible that God is indeed omniscient (i.e., all-knowing).
Psalm 139:1-4-O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
Jeremiah 23:24-Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.
John 2:24-25-But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
Hebrews 4:13-And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
1 John 3:20-For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
This is, of course, in harmony with the Character of God as revealed through nature and logic itself. By His very Nature, God must be non-contingent (meaning that He depends upon nothing outside of Himself for existence). If God WERE dependent upon something other than Himself, then He would just be another part of the created universe and hence not the eternal Creator. Being thus non-continent, God must be perfect in all of His attributes (since an imperfection is that which is lacking, and something cannot be fully self-sufficient and lacking in some area). Therefore, God must be perfect in all of His attributes (including knowledge).
In our day and age, there has been a revival of an ancient pagan religious doctrine known (popularly) as “process theology.” It is the belief that God is continually learning and changing through the experiences of the created universe. In the religions of the world, this is commonly known as panentheism.
Norman Geisler expresses several problems with this philosophy:
“God Is Not the God of Panentheism. Panentheism, also known as dipolar theism or process theology, asserts that God has two poles: an actual pole (which is identified with the changing temporal world) and a potential pole (which is eternal and unchanging). Such a conception of God must be rejected. The conclusion of the cosmological argument demonstrates the need for a God of pure Actuality with no potentiality (pole) at all. Further, God cannot be subject to limitations, composition, or spatiotemporality as an unlimited being. Moreover, the theistic God cannot have poles or aspects, since he is absolutely simple (i.e., uncomposed) with no duality at all (premise 5). A partly limited unlimited existence is a contradiction. Nor can God be subject to change. For anything that changes must be composed of actuality and potentiality for change. Change is a passing from potentiality to actuality; from what can be to what has actually become. But since existence as such has no potentiality, it cannot change. Anything that changes proves thereby that it possessed some potentiality for the change it underwent. A pure and unlimited actuality cannot change. Finally, the God of panentheism is a confusion of the world process with the God who grounds that process. God is in the process as the unchanging basis for change, but God is not of the process. God is the cause of all finite, changing existence, but he is beyond all finitude and change. God changes relationally (by entering changing relationships with the world), but he does not change essentially. When the person moves from one side of the pillar to the other, there is a real change in relationship, but there is no change in the pillar.” (Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library), 291-292 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books)
Second, it is possible that the idea of this passage is not that God would know that Abraham feared God, but that Abraham (and others) would know of the genuineness of Abraham’s faith through what he was willing to sacrifice. In other words, the idea is not so much that God now knows that Abraham fears Him: but rather, now God has made known (to Abraham and others) that Abraham’s faith is real and genuine.
In this interpretation, the idea is not so much:
“Now I know…”
“Now I have made known…”
Genesis 22:12 (ISV)- “Don’t lay your hand on the youth!” he said. “Don’t do anything to him, because I’ve just demonstrated that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only unique one, from me.”
Grammatically, this is a possible interpretation of the passage.
“Or, “now it is known.” Your willingness to bind and sacrifice Isaac will become one of the world’s foundational stories, inspiring countless generations to a willingness to sacrifice for their highest ideals.” (Artson, DHL, Rabbi Bradley Shavit, Passing Life’s Tests: Spiritual Reflections on the Trial of Abraham, the Binding of Isaac, 27 (Kindle Edition); Woodstock, Vermont; Jewish Lights Publishing)
Gill points out that this interpretation was well known and accepted among some of the ancient Jewish commentators:
“Saadiah Gaon (i) interprets it, “I have made known”, that is, to others; God by trying Abraham made it manifest to others, to all the world, to all that should hear of or read this account of things, that he was a man that feared God, loved him, believed in him, and obeyed him, of which this instance is a full and convincing proof:”. (John Gill, Gill’s Bible Commentary, 7787-7790 (Kindle Edition); Washington, DC: OSNOVA; OSNOVA)
Another author details:
“Augustine’s brief comment on Genesis 22:12-‘Now I have caused you to know’49-is typical, as is his fuller comment on the related material in Judges 3:4: `Not so that God, who knows all things, even the future, should know, but so that they themselves should know, and in their own self-knowledge should either boast or be confounded: 50 Likewise the discussion cussion of Maimonides: The sole object of all the trials mentioned in Scripture is to teach man what he ought to do or believe; so that the event which forms the actual trial is not the end desired; it is but an example for our instruction and guidance. Hence the words `to know (la-da at) whether ye love’, etc., do not mean that God desires to know whether they loved God; for He already knows it; but la-da at, `to know’, has here the same meaning as in the phrase `to know (la-da at) that I am the Lord that sanctifieth you’ (Exod. xxxi.13), i.e., that all nations shall know that I am the Lord who sanctifieth you. (1956: 304) On the basis that `to know’ means `that all people may know’ Maimonides interprets Genesis 22:12 accordingly: `The angel, therefore, says to him, “For now I know”, etc., that is, from this action, for which you deserve to be truly called a God-fearing man, all people shall learn how far we must go in the fear of God’ (p. 306).” (R. W. L. Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine Book 5), 1387-1394 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Cambridge University Press)
Sometimes in the Bible, God asks questions to man fully knowing the answers already-in order to help teach and educate humanity. We read of the woman who touched Jesus and was healed (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus asked, “Who touched Me?” (Luke 8:45), yet the text goes on to tell us that Jesus already knew who she was (Luke 8:47; cf. Mark 5:32). However, His question was designed to draw attention to the woman’s faith (Mark 5:34).
In the same way, it is possible that the LORD’s statement, “now I know” was designed to teach Abraham (and others) about the genuineness of Abraham’s faith.
Prager points out:
“If we take the latter view—that God knew what Abraham would do—the test was clearly not performed for God’s benefit. Indeed, it may not have even been performed for Abraham’s benefit. It does not seem to have benefitted him—and may well have cost him his marriage, as we shall see, and perhaps his son’s trust. When any religious person says, “I am depriving myself of something because of a demand from God”—and that demand conforms with God’s notions of the good and the just—that individual is demonstrating the nature of serious faith. Rather, the test was performed to teach the rest of us about the nature of faith—that it requires something of us; and to teach us that God does not want human sacrifice. But short of that, true religion does demand some sacrifice. When Catholics deprive themselves of some joy during Lent; when Mormons abstain from coffee and alcohol and fast once a month; when Jews make a professional and monetary sacrifice in order to observe the Sabbath; when any religious person says, “I am depriving myself of something because of a demand from God”—and that demand conforms with God’s notions of the good and the just—that individual is demonstrating the nature of serious faith.” (Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Genesis, 350-351 (Kindle Edition); Washington, DC; Regnery Faith)
Third, we must consider that this passage of Scripture might be what is known as an anthropomorphism. This is a figure of speech where a human like quality is attributed to something non-human for the purpose of communicating something. We use anthropomorphisms all the time.
Do dogs really “speak” when they bark?
Does the caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland actually “sit” with its’ “arms”folded while smoking a hookah?
Does an eagle really look “angry” when attacking prey?
Do people really “listen to their heart” when making a difficult decision?
Does the wind “whisper in the breeze?”
Does the storm “howl” as it rains?
In the same way we attach human characteristics to nonhuman beings, the Bible sometimes describes God in anthropomorphic terms. He communicates to us in ways that we will better understand Him. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Yet we are told that God at times has an arm (Exodus 6:6; Psalm 89:10), a hand (Exodus 7:5; Isaiah 23:11), a face (Leviticus 20:6; Numbers 16:25), eyes (Deuteronomy 11:12; Psalm 34:15), and feet (Isaiah 66:1). None of these physical attributes are understood literally in the Bible: they are simply figures of speech used by God to convey different aspects of His Person in ways that mankind will better be able to comprehend.
On this basis, some have suggested that Genesis 22:12 is an anthropomorphism.
Finally, it is possible that this text of God’s Word is discussing a different “type” of knowledge than intellectual knowledge.
“When God says, “Now I know” (yadháti), that does not imply that at this earlier stage of development, though God’s omniscience was granted, yet in cases where human freedom was involved, it was not always understood that God’s knowing could cover them also (K. C.). Here yadháti is used in the sense of “know by experience,” and so we have here not even an anthropomorphism.” (H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Volume 1 & 2, 791-792 (Kindle Edition); Ephesians Four Group)
Eric Lyons well points out:
“Second, the term “know” (Hebrew yada, Greek ginosko) or one of its derivatives (i.e., knew, known, etc.) is used in Scripture in a variety of ways. Several times it is used in reference to a man and woman having sexual intercourse (Genesis 4: 1,17,25; Judges 11: 39; 19: 25). Jesus used the term to refer to His regard for His sheep (i.e., people—John 10: 27). In contrast to the way of the wicked that will perish, the psalmist wrote that God “knows” (i.e., approves, takes delight in, etc.) the way of the righteous (Psalm 1: 6). Paul used the term “know” in Ephesians 3: 19 in the sense of knowing “experimentally what intellectually is beyond our powers of knowing”—the love of Christ (Jamieson, et al., 1997). The fact is, like so many words in Scripture (and in modern times) the word “know” has a variety of meanings. What’s more, neither Dan Barker nor any Bible critic can prove that the term “know” in Genesis 22: 12 directly contradicts God’s omniscience.” (Eric Lyons, “Does God Really Know Everything?” In Kyle Butt, A Christians Guide to Modern Atheism, 2893-2901 (Kindle Edition); Montgomery, AL; Apologetics Press)
Genesis 22:12 is a powerful teacher of the loving God that reaches down and communicates to sinful man. Indeed, the entire account of Genesis 22:1-13 is a prophecy of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who willingly and lovingly allowed Himself to be slain to pay for the sins of mankind (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.