12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Gen 22:12)
The context for this verse is a familiar one. God had called Abraham to take his son Isaac to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him on one of the mountains there (Gen 22: 2). This was a test for Abraham (vs.1). Abraham had waited many years for his son, the son that was the child of promise (see Heb 11:17-18), and now God tested him by telling him to give up that son as a burnt offering. As the narrative unfolds, God would not have Abraham go through with the sacrifice. Though God would be so gracious as to offer up His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16), He would never have any human being offer their son or daughter as a sacrifice. Nonetheless, Abraham was willing to do what God had asked. According to the writer of Hebrews it appears that Abraham reckoned that God could, and would, raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill the promises that He had made (Gen 22:5; Heb 11:19).
Now with that being said, let us address the statement of the Angel of the LORD in Genesis 22:12. When the Angel of the LORD said, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me”, does that mean that God did not know that Abraham feared Him before that moment? Was that piece of information lacking from the divine mind, and then, in light of Abraham’s obedience, made manifest? I don’t think so. Here’s why:
First, First, although open theists fail to acknowledge that God knows the future perfectly, they typically acknowledge that He knows the present comprehensively. That much we would agree on – God does know the present perfectly. And specifically applicable to the passage above, there are many places in Scripture where we are told that God knows the heart and minds of men (Jer 17:10; 1 Ki 8:39; 1 Chron 28:9; Ps 44:21; 139:23; Acts 1:24; Rev 2:23). So then, even from a typical Open Theist posture, this text should not be used to show God’s lack of knowledge because God would know the intention of Abraham’s heart even without seeing him lift up the knife to slay Isaac.
Second, the fear of God is typically understood as being a grace that comes from God. Of the natural man it is said, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Ps 36:1; Rom 3:18), his mind is not subject to the laws of God and cannot be apart from the Spirit of God (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14). Yet, when the Spirit of the fear of the LORD (Is 11:2) comes upon an individual, they experience an immediate change like the thief on the cross, who at one moment was blaspheming (Mt 27:44), and then, shortly after, asked the other thief, “Do you not fear God?” (Lk 23:40). Seeing then that the fear of God is a grace from God that comes from God, it would not make sense to think that God did not know that Abraham feared Him.
Third, we must answer the question: What, then, is meant by the language found in Genesis 22:12? When the Angel of the LORD said, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me”, is there something that God had not known? Again, in light of the texts above, there is no question that God not only knew the future ‘backward and forward’, but He knew Abraham ‘inside-and-out’. Because He comprehensively knew the thoughts and intents of Abraham’s heart we can rule out divine ignorance as an option. John Frame suggests that typically a passage where God “finds out” something occurs in a judicial context. For example, in Genesis 3:9, when God asked Adam, “where are you?” that question was not a request for information, rather, it was the beginning of His cross-examination. Frame goes on to say, “When God draws near, he draws near as the judge. He conducts a ‘finding of fact’ by personal observation and interrogation, then renders his verdict and sentence (often, of course, mitigated by his mercy).” I think that interpretative suggestion is a good one. It’s as though God rendered the public announcement/ verdict that Abraham’s inward faith was now being exhibited with this incredible act of obedience (cf. Jas 2:21-23). You could say – God announced in time what He knew from all of eternity when He saw Abraham demonstrate the depths of his faith outwardly.