How do God’s foreknowledge and our free will work together?


by Shawn Brasseaux

“If God knew that the Amorites would not repent after 400 years [Genesis 15:16], and He knew that they would crucify Jesus Christ [Acts 2:23], and He ‘knew’ all the future misery, woes, etc., etc., why do it? If I know that something is going to end in failure, I do not continue in it… how about you? If God always ‘knew,’ then what ‘is’ free will? Why does God (the Angel of the Lord) say to Abraham on Mt. Moriah, ‘…now I KNOW that thou fearest God…?’”

Thank you for those questions. From the human perspective, these issues are difficult to fathom. We have to look at them from God’s perspective. In the end, these events really did not end in “failure” as you assert. Granted, God knew how those events would turn out, and yet, He still used those events to accomplish His will. When considered in light of the overall scheme of things, these events were not so awful, and they were not failures. Despite giving man free will, and letting man do just about anything he wanted, God still accomplished what He wanted—that is the amazing part! That is the wisdom of God outsmarting Satan’s “wisdom!” As 1 Corinthians 3:19 says, “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”


Your first question is a reference to Genesis 15:13-16: “[13] And he [that is, the Lord GOD] said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; [14] And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. [15] And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. [16] But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”

Remember, when God spoke to Abram/Abraham in the above verses, the nation Israel had not even been born yet. It was over a decade before Isaac’s birth, and many decades before the births of Jacob and his 12 sons (the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel). God gave the nation Israel a 400-year-long opportunity to grow (multiply) down in Egypt, while He let the Amorites reach their “sin limit” up in the land of Canaan. Israel started out with Jacob and about 70 other people (by the time Israel went into Egypt; Exodus 1:5), but Israel was some two million strong when she left Egypt (400 years later).

By allowing that 400-year period: (1) God proved, to the Israelites and the Amorites, and other nations, He was justified in evicting the Amorites (400 additional years of their wickedness); and (2) He gave Israel four centuries to grow so they could be greater in number to take over the land of the Amorites. That is why God put up with the Amorites for so long. They had not reached their sin limit (“the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full;” Genesis 15:16), and Israel had not reached her population explosion yet.


The best example of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will operating together is how Israel responded to Jesus Christ when He offered Himself as King/Messiah.

“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:” (Acts 2:23). No question about it—God foreknew Jesus Christ’s rejection, betrayal, and crucifixion. Before creation, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had already agreed that God the Son Jesus Christ would die for man’s sins. On the other hand, all three Persons foreknew of man’s rebellion, how Israel would conspire with Rome to kill Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:1ff.; cf. Acts 4:23-28). Note Acts 4:27-28: “[27] For a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, [28] For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” God revealed to the Old Testament prophets the information that was already determined in eternity past. “But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled” (Acts 3:18). The Old Testament prophets wrote about a suffering Messiah, centuries before Calvary (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are two of the clearest examples).

Luke 24:44-47 amplifies this: “[44] And he [Jesus Christ] said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. [45] Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, [46] And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: [47] And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

So, there is God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will operating together to bring about Calvary’s crosswork. Man wanted to rid himself of Jesus Christ and thus he conspired to murder Jesus Christ. But then, after Calvary, and especially through the writings of the Apostle Paul (Romans through Philemon), God revealed the benefits of Calvary (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-14), how it was the means whereby man’s sin debt could be paid. God did not force Jesus Christ on those who rejected Him (free will), and yet, He used the results of man’s free will—the rejected Messiah’s blood—to pay for our sins. That is the wisdom of God. He took all of that information into account, and actually outsmarted Satan. (Satan thought Christ’s death would hinder God’s program and plan for creation, but God had another design in mind!—see 1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

The Old Testament prophets also talked about the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 35:4-6; Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus Christ had to come to earth to fulfill those verses by performing miracles, and teaching the doctrine that those miracles communicated. Had Jesus Christ not come, He would not have fulfilled the verses that needed to be fulfilled in order to validate God’s Word. Those hundreds of verses needed to be fulfilled, and they were fulfilled at Christ’s First Coming/Advent.

Ultimately, Jesus Christ had to die. There was no other way to pay for Israel’s sins, and there was no other way to pay for our sins. Jesus Christ had to die, and God simply used the wickedness of man to bring it to pass (see Psalm 2). This is evident in New Testament passages such as Hebrews 10:4-14 (quoting Psalm 40:6-8):

“[4] For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. [5] Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: [6] In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. [7] Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. [8] Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; [9] Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. [10] By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

The only way that man’s sin debt could be paid is if God Himself would die (only He was sinless). God’s righteousness had been offended, and only God’s righteousness could be offered to compensate (make up) for that sin debt. That is why God became a man: He needed blood to offer and make atonement for the sins of man. Man wanted to kill righteous Jesus Christ, and so God used man’s ill intentions to bring about His will after all. Now, Jesus’ shed blood is the means whereby God will one day reconcile all of heaven and earth to Himself (Colossians 1:20)–today, Satan has corrupted heaven and earth (Job 15:15; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 6:12).

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23-28, how God in His foreknowledge gave up Jesus Christ to go Calvary’s cross to shed His sinless blood to pay for our sins: “[23] For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; [24] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: [25] Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; [26] To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. [27] Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. [28] Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

When we come by faith alone in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as sufficient payment for our sins, we can receive the righteousness of God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). We can be accepted of God, have a home in heaven, play a role in God’s restoration of creation to Himself, and many other benefits. God saw these, the end results of Calvary, and that is why He let it fall out like that. See, in the overall scheme of things, neither the Amorites extended stay nor Calvary’s crosswork were failures.


In the beginning, Adam and Eve were fully blessed of God. Sin, suffering, and death were unknown. God’s only commandment was Genesis 2:16-17: “[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: [17] But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God in His grace had given them many provisions—innumerable species of trees and plants from which to eat. They could “freely eat” of every tree, save the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is free will. God did not force Adam and Eve to do anything. He set boundaries in Eden and let them decide what they wanted to do. They could either stay within those boundaries or cross them.

When Satan attacked mankind, he singled out the woman. After craftily asking Eve if God really said not to eat of every tree, Satan observed Eve depart even further from the truth. Genesis 3:2-5 says: “[2] And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: [3] But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. [4] And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: [5] For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

Notice above that Eve neglected the abundance God gave her and Adam. She omitted “freely” from “freely eat,” ignoring the free will God gave her. Made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28), she was misled to believe that she could have a better position (“gods”). Once Adam ate, they lost that perfect identity, and all its provisions. They exercised their free will and chose wrong. God certainly did not cause them to do right (otherwise they would not have failed). He certainly did not cause them to do wrong (God does not cause anyone to sin!). It was their choice, and they chose to ignore God’s will. God did not force them to do anything.

Luke 7:29-30 is another good passage that describes free will: “[29] And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. [30] But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” According to the Holy Bible, again, God’s will can be rejected and the Pharisees and lawyers did reject it (this is free will). They did not want to be water baptized, they did not want to repent, they did not want to confess their sins like Moses instructed Israel in Leviticus 26:40-41 when under God’s fifth course of chastisement, and they did not want to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6), so God did not force them. If they wanted to die in their sins and go to hell, God valued freedom to the extent that He let them make their choice. They did not want to submit to God’s righteousness—they were content with their self-righteousness in religion (Romans 10:1-3).

What Jesus said to the Jews in John 5:39-40 is very enlightening: “[39] Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. [40] And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Did God choose these people not to have eternal life? Not at all. Contrary to the Calvinists’ claim that say that God chooses some people for heaven and others for hell, these Jews did not want Jesus Christ. They did not want salvation from their sins. They refused to have Jesus Christ. We see this amplified in His words in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!They did not want Him to gather them, so He left them alone in their spiritual ignorance and left them on their hell-bound course that they preferred!

One more clear passage about free will should suffice. We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, a description of the horrors of Daniel’s 70th week: “[10] And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. [11] And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: [12] That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Again, the Bible says these people did not want God’s love, they did not want anything to do with Him, they wanted to stay lost and on their way to everlasting hellfire, so He gave them over to the lie of the devil (the context is the Antichrist, future events, the seven-year Tribulation). Again, the God of the Bible loves freedom, and if we do not agree with Him, we can disagree with Him (there will be eternal consequences either way).


Regarding your question about Genesis 22:12, “…now I know that thou fearest God…,” The Oxford American Dictionary gives the following primary definition of the word “know:” “to be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information.” The word “know” in this verse is being used in the sense of understanding something through watching it. The angel of the LORD saw what Abraham did (he was about to offer Isaac), and it was through firsthand watching/observance that God was aware. God foreknew it, but it grabbed His attention when it actually came to pass, and He watched it.

Also see:
» What about those who have not heard?
» Why does God let Satan exist?
» What does “my kingdom is not of this world” mean?