Predestination in the Bible: A (Possible) Counter Example


Christians believe that God knows everything. But does that mean that he predetermines everything?

Dr. Michael Heiser says no.

In The Unseen Realm, Heiser explores a biblical account of David which suggests that while God has divine foreknowledge of the future, not every event is predestined.

Related post: 5 Questions to Ask When You Encounter New Ideas in Bible Scholarship

God revealed the future to David

In 1 Samuel 23:1–13, David repeatedly asks God to tell him what’s going to happen next. As 1 Samuel 23 begins, David and his men are hiding from Saul in the cave of Adullam, and they are faced with a difficult decision.

“Now they told David, ‘Look, the Philistines are fighting in Keilah and they are raiding the threshing floors.’ So David inquired of Yahweh, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’ And Yahweh said to David, ‘Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah’” (1 Samuel 23:1–2)

Related post: Old Testament Violence, Israel’s Holy War, and the Genocide of Giants

God simply tells David to go, with no indication of what will happen when he does. Removed from the world and in the comfort of their hiding place, that might have been enough for David, but it wasn’t enough for his men.

“But David’s men said to him, ‘Look, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more if we go to Keilah to the battle lines of the Philistines?’ So David again inquired of Yahweh, and Yahweh answered him and said, ‘Get up, go down to Keilah, for I am giving the Philistines into your hand.’ So David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines. They drove off their livestock and dealt them a heavy blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah” (1 Samuel 23:3–5).

Here, God told David what would happen if he and his men attacked the Philistines—and it gave David’s men the confidence they needed to overcome their fear.

Did David and his men still have the free will to decide not to do as God instructed, if God said that they would succeed? The next few verses seem to indicate that at least in some instances, God’s foresight can be based on potential choices and circumstances—if this, then that scenarios.

“Now when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, he went down with an ephod in his hand. When it was told to Saul that David had gone to Keilah, Saul said, ‘God has given him into my hand, because he has shut himself in by going into a city with two barred gates. Saul then summoned all of the army for the battle, to go down to Keilah to lay a siege against David and his men. When David learned that Saul was plotting evil against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod here.’ And David said, ‘O Yahweh, God of Israel, your servant has clearly heard that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city because of me. Will the rulers of Keilah deliever me into his hand? Will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O Yahweh, God of Israel, please tell your servant!’ And Yahweh said, ‘He will come down.’ Then David said, ‘Will the rulers of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?’ And Yahweh said, ‘They will deliver you.’ So David and his men got up, about six hundred men, and went out from Keilah and wandered wherever they could go. When it was told to Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he stopped his pursuit” (1 Samuel 23:6–13).

“David asks the Lord two questions,” Dr. Heiser says. “(1) Will his nemesis Saul come to Keilah and threaten the city on account of David’s presence? And (2) will the people of Keilah turn him over to Saul to avoid Saul’s wrath? Again, God answers both affirmatively: ‘He will come down,’ and ‘They will deliver you.'”

Here’s where things get really interesting.

Neither of these events that God foresaw ever actually happened. Once David hears God’s answers, he and his men leave the city. When Saul discovers this fact (1 Samuel 23:13), he abandons his trip to Keilah. Saul never made it to the city. The men of Keilah never turned David over to Saul.”

God’s omniscience doesn’t mean everything is predetermined

“Why is this [passage] significant?” Heiser asks. “This passage clearly establishes that divine foreknowledge does not necessitate divine predestination. God foreknew what Saul would do and what the people of Keilah would do given a set of circumstances. In other words, God foreknew a possibility—but this foreknowledge did not mandate that the possibility was actually predestined to happen. The events never happened, so by definition they could not have been predestined. And yet the omniscient God did indeed foresee them. Predestination and foreknowledge are separable.”

predestination and foreknowledgetwitterfacebook

David used God’s divine foreknowledge to make a decision that altered the chain of events God predicted. God revealed what would happen if David stayed. And David was clearly not predestined to stay.

Heiser summarizes the point this way:

That which never happens can be foreknown by God, but it is not predestined, since it never happened.

So what about when God predicts something, and it does happen? As we saw in that same passage, God foresaw that David and his men would save Keilah, and it happened—so was it predetermined?

“Since we have seen above that foreknowledge in itself does not necessitate predestination,” Heiser says, “all that foreknowledge truly guarantees is that something is foreknown. If God foreknows some event that happens, then he may have predestined that event. But the fact that he foreknew an event does not require its predestination if it happens. The only guarantee is that God foreknew it correctly, whether it turns out to be an actual event or a merely possible event.”

How do we balance free will and predestination?

Dr. Heiser suggests that the difference predestination and foreknowledge have powerful implications for how we understand evil.

“This has significant implications for not only the Fall, but the presence of evil in our world in general. God is not evil. There is no biblical reason to argue that God predestined the Fall, though he foreknew it. There is no biblical reason to assert that God predestined all the evil events throughout human history simply because he foreknew them.”

There are certainly instances in the Bible where God influenced someone to make a particular decision (such as hardening Pharoah’s heart in Exodus), but free will is what offers the constant potential for evil, not God’s master plan for the future.

“There is also no biblical coherence to the idea that God factored all evil acts into his grand plan for the ages,” Heiser says. This is a common, but flawed, softer perspective, adopted to avoid the previous notion that God directly predestines evil events. It unknowingly implies that God’s ‘perfect’ plan needed to incorporate evil acts because—well because we see them every day, and surely they can’t just happen, since God foreknows everything. Therefore (says this flawed perspective) they must just be part of how God decided best to direct history.”

This line of reasoning can often get Christians into dangerous discussions of the purpose of evil. If Romans 8:28 promises us that all things work together for good for those who love God, doesn’t that suggest God uses evil for good?

Evil could certainly fall under “all things,” but God isn’t twiddling his thumbs, waiting for something evil to use for good.

“God doesn’t need the rape of a child to happen so that good may come. His foreknowledge didn’t require the holocaust as part of a plan that would give us the kingdom on earth. God does not need evil as a means to accomplish anything.

God doesn't need eviltwitterfacebook

Reformed systematic theologians will, no doubt, have a different perspective on this passage and its implications, and I’d encourage you to share your thoughts on free will, predestination, and 1 Samuel 23:1–13 in the comments below.

For more fascinating insights from Dr. Heiser, get your a copy of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.


  1. Antony Rei says

    Agree the point to a certain extent, but it seems a bit Procrustean. Because foreknowledge and predestination can and indeed are sometimes separated, it does not follow they always are. If David had chosen to stay, it is certain that he would have been handed over: it would not have been one of a number of options dependent on the will of others. It was determined. That is why David could bank on it. God was not saying “I see that they do… but that is up to them.” The only choice expressed here is trust God’s revelation, or don’t: it is that factor that “changes” the future, faith in His word, which is a gift from God.

    The whole argument, whilst raising some interesting details of God’s interaction with man, seems selective and philosophically flawed: the “choices” that make the difference are drawn selectively from the text. Could Saul have turned aside? Could the people have decided against handing Him over? So when does this superposition of states collapse into predestination?

    And the point about the fall leaves God running to catch up with redemptive history: they may, sin, they may not, let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Also it requires His solution to “those pesky humans” and their problems one that leaves them in a significantly improved state than before: they move from a little lower than the angels to their judges, they move from creature to co-heir, from mortal beings who must eat from the tree of life, to people swallowed up in immortality. Some plan B!

    Further more, how much of this foreknowledge is dependent on human choices for it’s result? what of Christ and all His talk of “according to the scriptures”? was God gambling on the choices of every individual on the playing field, or did He settle the result “before the foundation of the world”? What if Pilate’s wife was convincing enough that Pilate didn’t crucify Him? The examples for which foreknowledge could have missed it’s chance to become pre-destination are manifold, if they are as separate as Heiser seems to be arguing.

    Perhaps there are a bewildering number of alternate universes where all these decisions weren’t made, and we happen to be in the one where they were?

    As much as I respect MH, and I do love his work, it is an unworthy overstatement to say “There is also no biblical coherence to the idea that God factored all evil acts into his grand plan for the ages,”. If this over simple reduction were right then there would be no possible systematic theology that would be able to weave this into the narrative.
    Nor does His use of the wicked flow naturally into Him “twiddling His thumbs” waiting for evil to sort out His problems. That is not logically coherent. If He uses evil, it is because He chooses to without justifying or approving of it, and at all points it is for the repentance and correction of His people or His ultimate glory.

    A question from this: not could God, because He is God, have brought about Joseph’s rise to power by any other means? If He was either “wringing His hands” on one side, or cackling gleefully at evil on the other, sure, we have an evil and/or powerless God. But if He would have, given the right decisions from the brothers or the right (less annoying) character in Joseph, the point remains: why didn’t He? When did His foreknowledge “become” pre-destination?
    Why do these things always seem to turn into an either/or argument? Yes He foreknows. Yes He predestines (at least as much as He will conform those He foreknew to the image of His Son). Yes we choose. No He doesn’t change His mind, but yes He arranges events to put people in the center of His decisions.

    It seems at both ends of the spectrum that is briefly painted above we are left with an open deism: God watches us to see what we will do. Hoping for evil to come along and sort things out on one hand, or hoping we will make the right decisions on the other, otherwise His foreknowledge will let Him down, once again. Poor God, being able to see everything, yet powerless to be sure it will happen.

    • kevin says

      Yes Anthony.
      I like and respect MH as you do, however it does sound like he is suggesting open deism. I had the same observations/questions as you wrote in your comment.

    • Wayne Baker says

      I disagree. The example shows that God is willing to help us, if we listen. He warned David, when asked. It seems the Bible tells us God often waits for man to seek His help and accept their dependance on Him. When we choose to act on our own, without his help we hit problems, often called evil.
      A question is raised in another post about the Crucifixion. Yes that is evil. Interesting Isaac Assimov enters the fray in his foundation series. He creates a science that predicts what will happen, not individually but upon the actgions of masses of people. His predictions can be thrown off if one person can intervene to change the course of the masses. This example is the one person, God. He can intervene and change the course by directing people to take actions that affect the actions of others. IE David get out of Dodge, or die. David gets out of Dodge, and the evilpeople chasing him no longer know where he is, and cannot take him and kill him. The numerous people have their actions changed. Missed in your options is what would have happened if the Philistines attacked then, from another point. Saul would have had to change his plans. By the way, why did Saul come come to the rescue of Keilah??

    • Steve Birch says

      Thank you for coherently laying out a response to the “either / or” argument presented in the above discussion of foreknowledge and predestination. I cannot understand the incessant need to “free” man from God’s sovereignty. It’s okay to believe in God being “all-knowing,” until that knowledge somehow pushes against the human-centric doctrine of Free-will. I am grateful for your putting into words what my heart was screaming while reading the above article.

    • Deborah (Debbie) says

      Antony, I appreciate your response. I think MH’s article has some very important points (and it gave me an “ahha” or two) , but I also believe that you have addressed some concerns in a very articulate and helpful way. I think we want things neat and explainable and sometimes it just isn’t possible. There is so much that God in His infinite wisdom has hidden from us for now…and by faith (but not a “stupid faith by any means”) we must accept that it is so. His Word provides what we need to live by that faith…we know He is sovereign, we know He is all powerful, we know that nothing is beyond His knowing or doing, we know that He has understanding without limit…we also know that He has given us the ability to make real and meaningful choices that have consequences and effects and that we are accountable and responsible for them — but we also know that God’s hands are not tied, nor is He limited in anyway by this fact…He always rules without us being robots…How is this so??? Only God in His infinite knowledge can know and understand this. I am called to walk according to the truth that is clear and trust Him with that and all else. I think this sounds simplistic maybe? But I think we cannot come to an “this is the way it is, black and white, either or, I’ve got it all figured out with a makes sense to my human logic” answer. Some things are God’s and I’m learning to trust Him with that.

    • Chris says

      Excellent reply Antony. The fact remains, natural man hates the sovereignty of God, that God does what He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants and for whatever purpose He wants. Satan fell because He said, I will, and all of His children have been saying I will ever since. One more thing, God did not save me because He knew that I would accept Him. He knew that I wouldn’t and His power over my will has gotten Him the victory and the glory.

  2. says

    Interesting article, but it seems to be concerned with Free Will or Predestination as they relate to events outside of salvation. Scripture such as Ephesians 1:11-12, "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.", speaks very strongly of predestined and inherited salvation. So, I have no issues with the article from a Predestination vs Free Will argument. Salvation is predestined.

    • Wayne Baker says

      His foreknowledge knows who will decide to accept His Salvation. I do not believe He chooses for any to perish in Hell. See 2 Peter 3:9 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
      This clearly state he does not want any to perish but waits for the repentance of many. However, it seems there will be a time when he Does Act. Does this mean some He know will decide in the future perish. I cannot say. But it does provide a suggestion that He does not desire any to enter Hell.
      The New International Version. (2011). (2 Pe 3:8–9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

      • Richard Taillefer says

        If God saves through Foreknowledge rather than Predestination, did God create those He foreknew that would never choose Him? No matter which view you take, God created people He knew would go to hell.

  3. says

    If God does not need evil to accomplish anything, then what of the crucifixion? How could God have accomplished the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would be "pierced for our transgressions" and be a "man acquainted with sorrow" without evil acts?

    • Antony Rei says

      We don’t want to confuse “need” with His choice. choosing something does not mean He needed to choose that thing. he is not bounded by any constraints other than those He imposes upon Himself.

  4. BrianK says

    This is just a repackaging of one the same tired old arguments used by Arminians to attempt to debunk the Calvinist view, that have proven so ineffective over the last 400 years. Dr. Heiser’s view is nothing new or innovative.

    God is totally sovereign, “freely ordaining whatsoever comes to pass” (Ps. 115:3 / Prov. 16:9 / Dan. 4:34,35 / Rom. 9 / Eph. 1:11 – passages could be multiplied). Man’s will is only free in a certain sense.

  5. Rick Taillefer says

    Foreknowledge is God determining something ahead of time, it isn’t just God knowing something will happen.

    We cannot limit God to human understanding. When we say we know something, it is only because we have learned it and researched it and now we know it. This doesn’t apply to God. When God knows something, it is because He has planned and predetermined it.

    God does all that He has purposed and planned. Ephesians 1 Things don’t happen outside of His predetermined will. Adam and Eve’s sin was not a surprise to God. It was part of His plan, because He had predestined that His Son would die for those whom He predestined to save. Acts 2, Ephesians 1

    Man has free will up to the point that he will follow his heart, however, even there, it is God who directs the heart to whatever He has purposed, without being guilty of sin. Will someone “choose” God if God is not working in their heart? The Biblical answer is no. Why does someone “choose” God? It is because they have been born of the Spirit, and God is working in their heart to will and do of His good pleasure. John 3, Philippians 2

    The answer always goes back to God who not only knows but is the cause of all things taking place, to the praise of His glory.

    Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

    So, how do we then consider “conditional” passages? If someone sins, then this will happen, if someone repents, then this will happen…

    God gives His commands and pronounces what will take place as a result of disobedience. Since it is God who gives repentance and faith, does God know how sinners will respond to His commands? Yes. Does God know how those granted repentance and faith will respond? Yes.

    So, what is conditional to the human is already known to God, because God knows whether He will grant or withhold repentance & faith, and therefore, knows what the response will be based upon His Sovereign plan. Does that make the Potter evil and the sinner inculpable for his sin? Paul’s answer in Romans 9 is a definite “NO.”

    Does that mean God didn’t plan and predestine? Absolutely not!

    • Wayne Baker says

      There is a logical contradiction in your arguement. ” Adam and Eve’s sin was not a surprise to God. It was part of His plan, because He had predestined that His Son would die for those whom He predestined to save. Acts 2, Ephesians 1″ if Adam and Eve’s sin was planned or willed by God, then by definition, it could not be sin, it would be obedience to God. Now if we say there is God’s Perfect will and his Permissive will, then we say that He has a perfect plan, which ofter fails because he Permits our rebellion. This permission does not mean He willed it. This scripture 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

      The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 19:8–9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. suggests that man’s evil, “hardness of heart I believe to be an euphenmism for man’s evil) brings a response from God. However, God will limit the evil of man. I am so old I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, God would not allow a nuclear war that destroys all the world. He might allow one destroying part of the workd. The total destruction of the whole world by man would prevent the second coming of Christ and the end times prophecies. Either they are true or they are false. If man can totally destroy the world it prevents fulfilment of scripture unless I misunderstand it. Sp I believe God does not will evrything to happen, He wills to allow things to happen, or we have no free will. His knowledge knows what our choices will be. This article also suggests he knows what will happen if certain conditions are met. I also believe that there are some things he prevents and will not let occur. These would have catastrophic consequences as in the Tower of Babel. But does it mean the actions of man up to then in preparing and beginning the building of the Tower was man being obedient to God’s perfect will?? I do not think so.

      • Richard Taillefer says

        God’s will is taking place in all things…even though it may be against His commanded will. God didn’t will that Abimelech would sleep with Sarah, so He stopped him. God willed that the king of Israel would be deceived, so He sent an evil spirit to deceive him. Does God rejoice in deceit? No, He hates it, even though He willed it.

        So, did God will Adam & Eve’s disobedience in the Garden? Yes, even though it was against His commanded will, He could have put it in Adam’s heart to do what was right. Proverbs 21:1

        God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh would not let God’s people go, so that God could show His power against sin. Exodus along with Romans 9.

        Yet, though God willed these things, He is not the author of sin and is perfectly holy and righteous.

  6. Arthur Mack says

    This does not provide any counter example to predestination. Common sense dictates that David was seeking God’s wisdom as to whether he should stay. Given that God is omniscient, He knew that the people that David had saved would betray David; and, God warned Davd of that betrayal.

  7. says

    Brother Ryan, I kinda agree with you but not. Scriptures such as Ephesians 1:11-12 tell us God predestined us. But again I think Paul ment that God knew since we would choose him, therefore he chose us. And I believe that if God really predestined everything it realy wouldn’t be love… Instead God would be a God of force… But again I still kinda disagree with you in what I just said

  8. says

    Very good ideas pur forth.I agree,, foreknowledge does not mean he intended it. For example in Matthew Jesus says the law of Divorce was given to protect women from the evil of man. The suggestion that He knows what will happen if this is done, but then you do suggest that His knowledge knows what will happen if actual fact, but the alternatives if we do different actions. That is interesting. Jonah gives a man's perspective. "If I warn these evil men they will repent and you will forgive."" Jonah was right. But his knowledge and accuracy was based on his knowledge of God. The fact God knows what would happen if I did a but I chose B causes great sonsideration. I wonder what rewards I have missed from the less then God's best choices.
    Your example however does have one flaw. God knew what was happening, Saul was coming, He knew what David would do if given the warning and so gave him the warning. With David's action the need for Saul's trip was eliminated so he returned home. The leaders of the city had no oppurtunity to betray their saviour.

  9. says

    Wow… This is the best explaination of something that I always knew intuitively. I could never clearly articulate it when faced with an opposing basically a fatalistic perspective. I remember debating this with one of my Seminary professors. All I could answer to his presupposition was "I don't believe that" even though theologically and logically I didn't have the ammo to articulate what I believed. Ultimately it relates to what you believe about God's character, which God if he is greater than humans, must have a different and greater character than humans, fatalism which is found in many human constructed religions views God's character the same way. Predestination has too many data points similar to fatalism, if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, looks like a duck…it is a duck regardless of the label you give it. We cannot just slap a "Christian" label on it and makes everything work out.

    This is a core belief and like all core beliefs has some serious consequences on descision making and behaviour. My youngest daughter was about 7 years old when she reasoned that based upon Predestination you have God being the author of evil. Now she is a 18 year in College I excitedly sent her Dr. Heiser's article which gives her a better answer than dad could come up with. I'm very thankful for this article by Dr. Heiser.

  10. Jacob Hantla says

    “It may be asked, ‘How can knowledge be infinite, if knowledge has an object, for objects are limited?’ It is because God knows possibilities as well as actualities. Thus God’s knowledge is co-extensive with reality—not only actual reality, but all possible reality, which is infinite, so that he is of infinite knowledge. He knows all the actuality of reality as well as the infinity of its possibilities. This means that he knows how human wills will react to the circumstances in which they find themselves and which he himself controls. Therefore nothing takes God by surprise. He knows the end from the beginning.80

    Knox, Broughton (2012-10-29). The Everlasting God (Kindle Locations 565-569). Matthias Media. Kindle Edition. “

  11. says

    …whew…glad we got that figured out…thanks doc…it's been weighing on my mind…now that we got this thing all figured out…I can rest at ease…oh…since that question has been answered..
    we can now move on to other questions and put those to rest as well… please define free will….and also define free and define the will…how does it function in creation…and is God constrained by my "free will" which I exert upon Him…how do I know if I am free to choose…does freedom of will require knowledge, total knowledge, power, or total power, do I have total free will…or partial…or am I just free to choose my own reality and think I can choose whatever I want

  12. says

    I wish everyone read the Scriptures as carefully and thoughtfully as you MH. Your observations are right on! Doctrines must account for ALL of revelation in the Word. And as regards evil, lets not forget that Satan is alive and on duty 24/7.

  13. P. Keith Larson says

    Dr. Heiser proved nothing. No Reformed theologian claims that God’s predestination is based on His foreknowledge, rather it is based on his sovereignty. God in his sovereignty could have so worked that Saul would have freely chose not to come to Keilah or by his sovereignty he could have so worked that Saul was unable to come to Keilah. The same goes for the people of Keilah, for Satan’s original fall and for the fall of Adam and Eve.

    To look at it another way, because God has foreknowledge of all possibilities, He could have chosen to not create any individual who would have freely sinned. There is no reason God was compelled to create any of the angles that chose to rebel. The is no reason that God could not have chosen to create someone other than Adam or Eve. There is no reason why God could not have every rapist he foresees dying in his mother’s womb. Foreknowledge of possible events is worthless “evidence.”

  14. says

    I'm gonna weigh in :-) Of course a holy God does not NEED evil. As stated in the article above with the "if x happens, then y will happen", if man practices evil then the crucifiction of Jesus (God's remedy for evil) would be necassary for our salvation as decreed by God because that is what He decided would be sufficient as payment. God simply foreknew that if man exercised his free will to committ evil then Jesus would have to be pierced for that transgression. If man had not transgressed then Jesus would not have been pierced.

  15. says

    A very helpful rule in Bible interpretation is that the implicit should be interpreted in light of the explicit, the clear in light of the unclear, and narratives in light of the didactic portions of scripture. It seems to me that a lot of theology has been read into this narrative (which can, and historically has, been interpreted in another way) while ignoring that which the scriptures explicitly and clearly teach elsewhere. When Jesus spoke of God’s control over the events of human history did he not say, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered”? (Matthew 10:29–30, ESV) Did not Paul clearly teach that “In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV) Listen again to Paul’s words as he speaks to the issue of God’s relation to the sin of man: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:32–36, ESV) I personally find the classic and Reformed treatment of the decree and providence of God to be more faithful to the Bible’s teaching on this issue. (see

  16. says

    Free will and predestination are not opposed. God determines and man acts freely, but that only means that he is not under compulsion. Man acts in accordance with his own nature which is determined.

  17. Eddie Beal says

    A teacher once told me (I believe it was Dr. Curt Daniel) that God knows all contingencies but He knows nothing contingently. That is, God knows the results if different actions had been taken, but His knowledge is not dependent on which action is taken. A good example of this is in Matthew 11:21 where Jesus says, ““Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Jesus knows that if His work had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented.

    In 1 Samuel, God knows what would happen if David stays but this does not mean that God didn’t know that David would leave after being told what would happen. This is not to argue that God is the responsible cause for every event.

    This is deep water and the currents under the surface are hard to discern. I believe the Bible teaches that we all make choices and we responsible for those choices. I also believe that the Bible teaches from the foundation of the world that God knew everything that would occur. I can’t fully reconcile those two things but I believe both to be true.

    So God does not do evil. God does not need evil to do good. But God does bring good out of the evil intent of man. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph states that his brother took action that they intended (meant in many translations) for evil. But the same word is described to say that God intended the same action for good. I’m not a Hebrew scholar but I understand that the word carries the idea of planning or devising.

    How does God allow man to plan and devise while at the same time planning for things to work out exactly as He intends? I don’t know. At some point we have to admit that some things are too high for us to grasp.

    • says

      The idea is that God knows not man. Consider how He is able to transcend time and space, God has seen the conclusion of every mater. Its not that you don’t have choices to make, its that God knows what they will be before you make them. You see for him the outcome has been determined so that for us and the rest of the heavenly realm our only objective is to remain a willing vessel that we may testify to his glory.

  18. Chip Fields says

    From before the foundation of the world, God had already woven our decisions into the fabric of His plan for our life.

  19. Tim Skinner says

    While I appreciate Dr. Heiser’s perspective, I question some of his conclusions.
    First of all, there are many examples of God’s absolute authority. (The final chapters of Isaiah come to mind.) These need to be weighed into the equation to keep the proper balance.
    Also, I think that he may be reading too much into the text. What is implied here is that David is asking “If I stay will the following happen?” The same could be said of Jonah in Ninevah. “In three days Ninevah will be overthrown.” Was Jonah a false prophet? No! A conditional is implied.
    Also, the Hebrew language does not have the conditional or subjunctive tenses that Greek-derived languages (i.e. Western languages do). God’s answer could be translated : “Yes they WOULD do these things.”
    Although, I see Dr. Heiser’s perspective and think that it is healthy to consider, I question the strength of his conclusions in light of many other Biblical examples and other perspectives that need to be considered.

    • Ryan Nelson says

      Delwyn, you are more than welcome to share the Lutheran perspective on this passage, or any of these concepts, as is anyone else who has a perspective not discussed in The Unseen Realm or this post based on the book.

  20. says

    I love this persepctive. While not fully endorsing Greg Boyd Dr. Heiser is stepping out on to the limb of Open Theism but more in the line of a Greg Boyd. I appreciate this theological stream because it truly wretles with the revealed nature of God. While this stream of thought may in the end prove to be futile it is at least a move in the right direction.
    The Dogma of Reformed theology and the failures of Arminian Theology brought us this far and this new stream is trying to reconcile the truths found in both while running from the contradictions found in both.

  21. says

    What did God predistine? For Saul to capture David? Or for David to escape?

    As a leader, there are times you SAY ONLY the the things they NEED TO HEAR for them TO DO the things they need to do. God did the same. For example, the Jewish had a wrong idea as to what a Messiah should be, did God correct them? NO, He didn't. Or else they would not have crucified Jesus.

    I believe, the same thing happened here with David. God informed David what will happen if David stays, inorder for David to make a decision in accordance to God's predistination.

  22. says

    The example that Heiser gives is absurd. He uses this same example in an article about Open Theism as well, but the thing is that normal people are able to predict similar things. This does not make those people "omniscient" and coming to that conclusion is the exact opposite of what the text warrants. All that is required is present knowledge to make these determinations. "Omniscience" of all possible futures is an unwarranted and absurd conclusion.

  23. says

    What God knew about Saul was his thinking and planning to go after David that did NOT require seeing the future some how. Nor did He have to have foreknowledge to know what was in the hearts of the villagers.

  24. says

    The crucifiion was NOT evil as for why God required it, it was to provide for Him to be just while justifying sinners, Jesus made it clear that His suffering was voluntary.

  25. says

    This is interesting, but it sounds like the heretical doctrine of Luis De Molina known as Molinism.

    Nelson states, "In other words, God foreknew a possibility—but this foreknowledge did not mandate that the possibility was actually predestined to happen. The events never happened, so by definition they could not have been predestined. " Using the same logic, if an event didn't happen then it could not have been foreknown because, just as you cannot predestine something that will not happen, you cannot foreknow something that will not happen.

    Try again?

  26. says

    Hi Ryan – Thank you for your reply. In my comment, I didn't mean to say that placing a condition would necessarily restrict foreknowledge. I think that the "if" would work great in those verses. What I have a problem with is the restriction that the same rules do not apply to predestination or the use of those verses to "prove" that foreknowledge is true and presestination is not.

    Even if God predestined David to leave the city, His answers to David are accurate. “If you stay, he will come, and they will deliver you” would still be accurate if David was predestined to leave the city. It may have been part of the process of his leaving the city or something David needed to know before making his decision do what was already predestined to do.

  27. says

    Hi Jeffrey. Thanks for your comment. I certainly can’t speak for Dr. Heiser, or share his thoughts on this subject beyond how he discusses this passage in The Unseen Realm.

    Chapter nine of The Unseen Realm (and the post I wrote based on it) does dance on the edge of middle knowledge, but I invited people to share other interpretations and recommend resources that present other positions for that very reason.

    I would ask though, how does placing conditions on future events disqualify them from the realm of foreknowledge?

    If I say, “if it rains, then I will get wet,” and the condition (rain) which triggers the predicted event (me getting wet) does not happen, does that mean I don’t really foreknow that if it rains I will get wet? The scenario doesn’t directly translate to the interaction between David and God (God didn’t say, “If you stay, he will come, and they will deliver you”), but your statement about the flawed logic had broader implications as well, so that’s why I ask.

    More importantly though, how do you understand God’s answer to David?

  28. says

    I see what you're saying. I think that since the terms aren't clearly defined in the post, semantics make this messy. These are good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

  29. says

    This is coming from a scholar who takes the eastern orthodox veiw on the nature of man and sin. I don't make it a practice to value what heretics have to say.

  30. says

    The movie "War Games" is an interesting analogy. The super computer ran all possible scenarios of nuclear war. The stars were able to get the computer to shut down 'cause there would have been no winner in a nuclear exchange. God is not a limited computer made in man's image, who was made in God's image. The difference is at least that God not only sees the future but has designed it to His purposes & has the power to make sure it is carried out, e.g., Rom. 8:28-31.

  31. Job says

    The conclusion has gone too far from what the passage clearly and simply says. From what I see from the passage, God has perfect foreknowledge of everything, even that which never will happen. In another part of the scripture (Matthew 11: 20-24), Jesus knew what will happen had certain things been done differently. But to say that the passage suggests that there are things that actually happened which are ” not predestined ” by God is going beyond what is written in the passage. Proverbs 16:4 “The Lord works out everything to its proper end – even the wicked for a day of disaster”, clearly refutes this whole blog.

  32. says

    Good points. I never thought to look for examples when God foreknew something that never happened. I recently wrote about all the biblical support I could find to show it is not predestination, as in ‘God predetermines certain people to go to hell.’ It is at, in Feb 2016.

  33. Tim says

    I agree with Dr. Heiser that foreknowledge does not necessitate predestination. God did say what Samuel would do, in that particular circumstance. God knows all possibilities and in that instance Saul was preparing to go to Keilah. We know that to be true because God said it. But God does allow our decisions as free agent beings to redirect certain circumstances in history. But what it is not saying is that the redirecting isn’t already predetermined. All possibilities are known by God, but only one has been predetermined. So foreknowledge does not necessitate predestination, but predestination is a predetermined act of God. Can anything on this earth happen without God predetermining it? I think not. So the fall for example had to be predetermined or predestined because the cross of Christ was planned from the foundation of the world. And it wasn’t a plan B.

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