Divine Foreknowledge and the “Lie” in 2 Kings 8:10


This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to questions@holyjoys.org.

Question: In 2 Kings 8:10, why did Elijah instruct the king of Syria’s servant to lie to the king about his recovery?

2 Kings 8:10 reads, “Then Elisha said to [Hazael], “Go, say to [Ben-Hadad], ‘You will surely recover,’ but the LORD has shown me that he will certainly die.” On the surface, this does appear to be a lie. However, when you read the context, you will see that this is an example of God’s foreknowledge of both actual future and potential future events.

God knew that Ben-Hadad, the King of Aram, would recover from his sickness (potential future). However, God also knew that Hazael was going to murder Ben-Hadad (actual future). So, yes, he will recover—if he’s allowed to live; but no, he’s going to die, because you, Hazael, are going to murder him.

This text highlights the fact that God knows not only exactly what will happen in what we call the future, but God also knows what might happen in the future but will not. This passage, I believe, contributes to a strong argument against Open Theism. Open Theism contends that, in most cases, God does not know what a person will do until that person actually decides and acts.

However, texts such as 2 Kings 8:10 as well as 1 Samuel 23:11-13, where God tells David that the men of Keilah will hand him over to Saul if he stays, so David leaves and is not handed over, indicate that God knows not only what could happen but also what would happen in a certain set of circumstances and what will actually happen in the future. For more on this topic, see Millard Erickson’s book What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?

A natural follow-up question is how does God know both the potential and the actual future. Calvinists and Arminians answer the question differently.

Calvinists understand the Bible to teach that God “hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time” (Westminster Catechism). God’s foreknowledge is therefore the logical consequence of his foreordination of all things. In other words, the reason God know what will happen as opposed to what might happen is because God has planned everything, and he knows his own plan. Bottom line, the ultimate reason Hazael was going to murder Ben-Hadad was because God foreordained Hazael to commit that murder.

Many Arminians, myself included, understand the Bible to teach that God’s foreknowledge is his innate, comprehensive, cognitive awareness of all future events, both potential and actual. “Innate” means that God’s knowledge of everything, including the future, is a natural part of who he is. In other words, God’s omniscience necessarily includes the future and is not the result of his foreordination.  “Cognitive” distinguishes mental awareness from experiential awareness. There are things that God knows about, but he has not and never will experience.

God’s foreknowledge is his innate, comprehensive, cognitive awareness of all future events, both potential and actual.

For example, God has no experiential knowledge of what it is like to sin or to have guilt, for none of the Triune Persons has ever sinned or incurred guilt for his own wrongdoing. On this view, the ultimate reason Hazael was going to murder Ben-Hadad was because he chose to do it. God’s foreknowledge of his choice did not cause it. (See William Lane Craig’s essay in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, for a Molinist-Arminian understanding of God’s foreknowledge.)

The question often posed to Arminians is how can God know certainly what he has not determined? Consider this illustration: If I were to go back in time to April 14, 1865, and stand outside Ford Theater around 9 p.m., I would know for certain that President Abraham Lincoln would be fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth in a few moments. My knowledge of the assassination would in no way cause the event to happen.

In the same way, God’s knowledge of Hazael’s choices did not cause the choices nor rob him of his freedom to choose otherwise. In philosophical terms, we supply the grounds for the accurateness and certainty of divine foreknowledge by our choices, but our choices do not cause God to know them. The cause of His knowledge of them is His nature. He, by virtue of being divine, is omniscient.



Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).