A Question I Was Asked:

Can You Explain Joel 2:13-14?

Can you explain Joel 2:13-14? If this is inspired by the Holy Spirit (as we all believe) it could seem to be saying that God does not know the outcome of some situation.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, we will look at this:

13. "And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, 14. And leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a libation for the Lord your God?" (Joel 2:13-14).

The question which is presumably being asked is why would Joel write, "who knows whether He will not turn and relent...?" God, of course, knows, but people can never be sure of the outcome of any situation. Joel was speaking as a man (which, of course, is what he was). Joel was a prophet but that did not mean he knew the entirety of God's will - he certainly did not. None of the Old Testament prophets knew everything within God's will, only the parts which God granted them to know.

But the question could also be framed like this: 'Okay, I accept that Joel the prophet did not know everything but these words were inspired by the Spirit of God otherwise they would not be in Scripture. The Spirit of God knew the outcome. The answer to this is that to use a rhetorical question in Scripture is a good teaching device for all of us.

So - within Spirit-inspired Scripture - God can ask questions but they are, of course, rhetorical questions (questions not expecting a direct answer but framed to get people thinking). He himself already knows the answer to the question but He poses the question to challenge, and get people to use their own reasoning. So God asking "Who knows whether He will not turn and relent?" does not mean He didn't know the answer. A New Testament example of this might be Jesus asking who the Jews had come for in the Garden of Gethsemane when the text clearly states that Jesus knew all things. See John 18:3-5.

Such questions are not then asked for God's benefit, but for the benefit of the hearers since it brings them to answer the question for themselves and thereby learn as they are faced with the truth. In this case, the answer is obvious. God knows who will turn and who will repent and when they will do it because God knows all things (1 John 3:20) and no one is hidden from His sight (Hebrews 4:13).

9. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.' (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Robin A. Brace. July 31st, 2016.