Genesis 22:12, "For now I know that you fear God" and Open Theism

by Matt Slick
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"And he said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me,'" (Gen. 22:12).

Open Theists say that we should look at the Bible and take verses like Gen. 22:12 strictly for what they say.  Of course, there are times when we should do that and others when we should not.  Nevertheless, the Open Theists conclude that God had to learn what Abraham would do; God had to learn.  But if we just assume that God had to learn, then other problems arise when we examine this text in that light.  Let's take a look.

If God did not know that Abraham was going to slay Isaac or not, then did God know if Abraham was going to take Isaac to the hill, tell Isaac to carry the wood, and a host of other decisions that had to be made in order for it all to work out. That is a lot of hopeful desires of God, hoping that Abraham will do what God ultimately wants him to do.

Furthermore, how did God know that once Abraham lifted the knife that at the last possible part of a second, Abraham wouldn't deflect the knife and not kill his son?  According to open theism, God did not actually know because there was another second in which Abraham could have changed his mind.

The words of God in Gen. 22:12 are spoken after Abraham was about to sacrifice his Son Isaac on the altar.  Abraham raised the knife by which he would have slain Isaac, and that is when God told Abraham to stop.  God said, "...for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."  Does this mean that God did not know for sure what Abraham would do until He saw the raised knife?  Does it also mean that God did not know whether or not Abraham feared Him as the verse states?  The Open Theist is presented with a problem because in Openness God knows all the present completely and totally.  If God knows all present things exhaustively, then did God not know the state of Abraham's heart regarding Abraham's reverent fear for God?  How could He not?  1 Chron. 28:9 says, "...for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts..."  Since God knows even the intent of the heart, then He knew what the intent of Abraham's heart was during the three-day journey to the place of sacrifice, as well as whether or not Abraham feared Him.  Again, He would have known that Abraham feared Him, and the test was unnecessary to establish this fact.

We might note that Gen. 22:5 says, "And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you.'" Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, and he expected the Lord to resurrect Isaac.  This is what it says in Heb. 11:19, "He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type."  So, God knew that Abraham was completely trusting in the Lord.  Why then did God still need to test Abraham?  It doesn't make any sense from the Openness position.

Then what does it mean?

Since we can see that it is not consistent with scripture and logic to say that God did not know what was in Abraham's heart and that God did not know what Abraham would do, we can conclude that God was speaking to Abraham in terms that Abraham was familiar with.  This is not at all foreign to scripture.  In Gen. 3:9, after Adam's sin, God calls to Adam and asks, "Where are you?"  Are we to say that God did not know where Adam was in the garden?  Of course not.  God makes statements often designed to reveal to us a truth that needs to be presented.  In fact, God often asks questions He already knows the answer to.  In Adam's case, the "where" was dealing with spiritual condition, not physical location.  In Abraham's case, God was simply relating to Abraham in terms consistent with what Abraham would understand, particularly after the actual event with Isaac on the altar.

Also, Gen. 22 is full of types and representations of the gospel.  The Son, Isaac, is offered on wood, on a hill after a three-day journey.  Jesus, the Son, was offered on wood, on a hill, and was in the grave for three days.  In fact, Jesus said in John 8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."  The day that Jesus is speaking of is the day of Christ's sacrificial death.  God ordained that the gospel be revealed in the Old Testament just as it says in Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets."

God was doing two things.  First, God revealed the gospel in hidden form.  Second, God was speaking for Abraham's benefit; that is, it was Abraham who needed to hear that God was acknowledging that Abraham feared Him.  The test was not for God, but for Abraham, and the words "Now I know" were not for God, but for the man who needed to hear God affirm his faithfulness.  Abraham is a man locked in time.  The act of sacrificing Isaac was important prophetically, but it is also important to us as a testimony of faithfulness to God.


The Open Theist position on Gen. 22:12 raises more questions than it answers.

  1. Did God not know the present condition of Abraham's heart, since God knows all present things exhaustively?
  2. Did God not already know that Abraham feared Him?
  3. God already knew, according to Gen. 22:5, that Abraham expected that God would resurrect Isaac.  Did God forget this as He tested Abraham?
  4. Since the Open Theist states that people have free will, then what guarantee does God have that Abraham will not become unfaithful in the future?
  5. If God doesn't know for sure that Abraham will be faithful in the future, then it means if Abraham becomes unfaithful God would have made a mistake.  Can we trust a God that makes mistakes?





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.