Jeremiah 1:4-5 – Now the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
When Jeremiah was called by God, it was revealed to him that his role as a prophet was something that had been in the mind of God prior even to his being conceived or born. From this, many great Bible thinkers over the millennia have ascertained this an indication of a universal principle for all men; that God predetermines the lives of all: some for holiness and righteousness, and others for corruption.
John Gill (ca. early 1700’s) writes:
“‘I knew thee’…. Not merely by his omniscience, so he knows all men before their conception and birth; but with such a knowledge as had special love and affection joined with it; in which sense the Lord knows them that are his, as he does not others, and predestinates them unto eternal life; and which is not only before their formation in the womb, but before the foundation of the world, even from all eternity.”
The Keil and Delitsch commentary (ca. 1800’s) states:
“God in His counsel has not only foreordained our life and being, but has predetermined before our birth what is to be our calling upon this earth; and He has accordingly so influenced our origin and our growth in the womb, as to prepare us for what we are to become, and for what we are to accomplish on behalf of His kingdom. This is true of all men…”
With all due respect to these great theological minds, I believe that drawing a universal principal from this verse oversteps the intent of the text and brings us within the halls of Calvinism: the idea of predestination of all people.
I believe Scripture reveals that God can and does select some individuals for specific purposes within the outworking of his kingdom. Some other expressed examples of this besides Jeremiah include Samson, John the baptizer, and even Paul the apostle.
Judges 13:3-5 – And the angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. … No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Luke 1:13-15 – But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Galatians 1:15-16 – But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone…
The Geneva Study Bible states it very simply and concisely:
(g) The scripture uses this manner of speech to declare that God has appointed his minsters to their offices before they were born, as in Isa 49:1, Ga 1:15.
This clarifies this principle to demonstrate that God works his purpose as he sees fit and raises up individuals to accomplish his will as needed in specific instances and specific roles. As an example of this, Scripture tells us that God even had a specific purpose for the Pharaoh of Egypt who contended with Moses:
Exodus 9:16 – But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
However, to draw from this that everyone is pre-destined to holiness or condemnation is over-stepping the bounds of what is being conveyed through the use of this type of language and imagery. Yeshua states it this way:
Luke 14:8, 10-11 – “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, … But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Through this, Yeshua teaches us that our role as believers is simply to remain humble and faithful to God through his word in all things. And if God so chooses to call us up to a higher station, that is certainly his prerogative. Of that honored individual, it could be said that God has set them apart for that specific purpose in that place and time. But to draw from this that everyone else at the table was pre-determined for dishonor goes beyond the overall context of Scripture.
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