Through the letter to the Romans – Part 12. God knows

In one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Princess bride”, Vizzini, the Sicilian, keeps using the exclamation, “inconceivable”, over and over again.  And finally, Iñigo Montoya, the swordsman, tells him: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Any time we take a verse of the Bible out of its context, we are in danger of missing the original point. Worse yet, we may invent a point that wasn’t there in the first place and end up creating an illogical or unsubstantiated argument. Context matters.

If you ask someone, what did Jesus mean when he said a lamp wasn’t made to be put under a bushel. Before answering, that person should ask you, in what passage? Because Jesus used that figure of speech in at least two occasions. In one, he was talking about our life being meant to be a witness to the world. But in another occasion, the telling of the Parable of the sower and the soils, as recorded in Mark chapter 4, what Jesus means by that statement is that everything He says is meant for our ears (and our hearts) to listen. Why else would he speak to us? It would be like lighting a lamp and then putting it under a bushel or under the couch. 

Context matters. Having told the believers that they are now living a Spirit-enabled life, Paul continues with one of the most beloved verses of the New testament:

Romans 8:28 But we *do* know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose.

This is in agreement with what Jesus said about our lives being in the Father’s hands. And also in agreement with another famous set of verses in Isaiah that comes just after God has assured His people that their redemption is secure in His hands:

Isaiah 54:13 And all thy children [shall be] taught of Jehovah, and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee.

God follows this with something interesting:

Isaiah 54:15 Behold, they shall surely gather together, [but] not by me: whosoever gathereth together against thee shall fall because of thee.

He just told them not to fear. But then He tells them that that doesn’t mean they are not out of the woods. They will still have enemies. It is in the same vein that Jesus told his disciples that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). We are not of this world; therefore, the world will persecute us. (As Jesus also said in the beatitudes.) But God wants us to know that when that happens it is not coming from Him. It is not a punishment or a cruel trial He is sending our way. That’s why He says it is not by me. We need to remember that He is in control:

blacksmith working on ax

Isaiah 54:16-17 Behold, it is I who have created the smith that bloweth in the fire of coal, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the destroyer to ravage. No weapon that is prepared against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that riseth against thee in judgment, thou shalt condemn. This is the inheritance of the servants of Jehovah; and their righteousness is of me, saith Jehovah.

In the same way, Paul tells us, God will work anything that happens in our lives for His good, to accomplish His purpose. And then Paul tells us why God is doing this:

Romans 8:29 Because whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, so that he should be [the] firstborn among many brethren.

God’s ultimate purpose is to make us His children, and that means transforming us closer and closer to the image of His Son. Therefore, God will use anything and everything that happens in our lives to make that a reality. (That word, image, is eikonos, that is, icon. It means the representation of something with the closest possible resemblance (even to mirror-likeness) that the materials used will allow.)

And this is why we say that we are called to be Jesus to the world: John 20:21-23 [Jesus] said therefore again to them, Peace [be] to you: as the Father sent me forth, I also send you. And having said this, he breathed into [them], and says to them, Receive [the] Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained.

Not only has He sent us to proclaim His Word, and to do the kinds of works of love He did while He walked among us, this passage in John implies that with the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we can also pass on the salvation we have received. Remember, the key to the plan of salvation, the reason we have eternal life is because our sins have been forgiven. Jesus is telling us, we have the power to bring that forgiveness to the rest of the world.

No, I am not saying that we have the power to forgive sins. But what we have is the power to speak the Word of the Father, just like Jesus did. And just as with Jesus, that speaking caused a response in those who were willing to be taught by the Father so that they came and followed His voice, that same way it will be with us. After all, Jesus prayed to the Father: John 17: 17-21 Sanctify them by the truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world; and I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified by truth. And I do not demand for these only, but also for those who believe on me through their word; that they may be all one, as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

As I said at the beginning of this study, Paul is not discovering any “new theology”. He is just reminding us of all that the Gospel is and does in our lives. It is the power of God unto salvation for all that believe.

But now we have here an unusual word: “predestinated.”

We have been pre-horizoned

What does this word mean? If it really means that God has chosen our destiny in advance, every comment we have made in this series about free will and about us being called to repent is nonsense.

Is this the first time Paul uses this word? Actually, it isn’t. The word can be transliterated as “pre-horizoned”. That word horizo means in Greek a boundary of demarcation. Paul used the word horizo way back in Chapter 1 verse 4 when he said that Jesus was “… marked out {horizo} Son of God in power, according to [the] Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of [the] dead…

There is nothing in that word with the sense of fate or destiny. Rather than think of it as meaning predetermined, to be consistent with the use in Romans 1:4, we should really say marked in advance. For, surely, the sense in Romans 1:4 is not that Jesus was determined (as in forced) to be Son of God by the power of the Spirit, rather He was proven to already be the Son of God by the power of the resurrection.

How can we understand this word?

First thing to ask is: Is the word horizo used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Scriptures that we know was used at the time of Jesus and Paul? Yes.

This whole section of Numbers 30 uses the word: Numbers  30:1-ff And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying, This is what Jehovah hath commanded. If a man vow a vow to Jehovah, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; according to all that hath gone out of his mouth shall he do. If a woman also vow a vow to Jehovah, and bind herself by a bond, in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall be silent at her, then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.

How is the word used? In this passage, the Septuagint repeatedly uses the word horizo to describe a person’s pledge as that person setting certain limits on his or her life.  Here is verse 1 transliterated:

And Moses spoke to the rulers of the tribes of [the] sons of Israel, saying, This is the saying which  [the] LORD ordered. A man, a man who ever should vow a vow [to the] LORD, or should swear by an oath, or should confirm a set of limits upon his life…

In Joshua, horizo is used in the sense of the physical boundaries of the land as assigned to each tribe. The word doesn’t show up again until Proverbs 16:30 where it is used in the sense of confirming with the lips what a (wicked) man has planned in his heart. In Proverbs 18:18 it is used when it says that a decision by lots even settles a dispute between monarchs. Again, in the sense of a determination of boundaries (what is yours vs. what is mine). Finally, it shows up in Ezekiel 47 defining the boundaries of the re-allotment of the land to Israel.

The word is therefore used both literally and figuratively to denote a “set limit”, a decision made that describes the limits or bounds of a choice. Thus, in Luke 22:22, Jesus says that the Son of Man is going to be delivered up (to the mob) as it is determined. Exactly as in Peter’s speech in Acts 2. Acts 2:22-23 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus the Nazaraean, a man borne witness to by God to you by works of power and wonders and signs, which God wrought by him in your midst, as yourselves know —him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by [the] hand of lawless [men], have crucified and slain.

Note how in Peter’s speech, the word horizo appears accompanied by the foreknowledge of God just as it does in Romans 8:29. Are we to understand in Peter’s comment and Jesus’ own words that the arrest of Jesus and death on the cross were determined by God ahead of time (foreknowledge) in such a way that Jesus had no choice in the matter? After all, God foreknew it and God determined it.

If that were so, the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is asking His Father to take away the cup, and then Jesus concluding with the choice to let the Father’s will be done, would make no sense. Especially in light of John 10:

John 10:11-18 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep…  On this account the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it again. I have received this commandment of my Father.

Clearly, Jesus is declaring that it is by his own free will that He lays down His life. And the Father loves Him for making that decision. This is important because I claim that without free will, love is impossible. Without free will, we would all be little robots doing and saying just what our manufacturer decides ahead of time. Jesus’ words indicate that that is not true of Him and His relationship with the Father.

Then, shouldn’t it be the same with us, called to be co-heirs with Him?

Peter’s speech in Acts 10:42 at Cornelius’ home, uses horizo the same way: Jesus was determinately appointed by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. In Acts 11:29 it is used to say how it was determined according to each person’s ability what to send as the gift to the brethren in Jerusalem (because of the famine).

In Acts 17, at the Areopagus, Paul uses horizo in the sense of the boundaries in time and space that God assigned to the various nations of the world. And then in verse 31, referring to Jesus, he says that God  has set a day in which he is going to judge the habitable earth in righteousness by [the] man whom he has appointed, giving the proof [of it] to all [in] having raised him from among [the] dead.

And then we get to Romans.

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