Stories like this one fascinate me. In Genesis 25:23, the Lord informs Rebekah that the older of her two sons would "serve the younger." Of course, this wasn’t the normal course of events in Rebekah’s culture. The firstborn son was the heir to everything, the one responsible to carry on the family. Thus, it was customary for all the younger children to "serve" the oldest.
As the story unfolds, of course, we see that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal. Why did he do that? Did God say what He did to Rebekah because He knew that Esau would eventually sell his birthright? (Is that even what God meant by saying that the "older will serve the younger"?) Or had the story of what God said been repeated through the years, so that when Jacob saw an opportunity to take over the birthright, he took advantage of it? Perhaps he had tried to interpret what God meant and "make it happen."
No matter what category this particular story falls into, there are many stories in the Bible that describe God’s uncanny ability to know what’s going to happen before it happens. There are mixed reactions to this. For many people, the fact that "God knows everything before it happens" gives them comfort that God will never be caught off guard or surprised by anything. On the other hand, some argue that if we are truly free, God couldn’t know beforehand what we will choose.
Both are interesting perspectives. I’ve oscillated back and forth between them both. Certainly, there are things in the Bible that seem to support them both. But as I’ve come to learn more about the realities of time and space, I’m wondering if discussing God’s foreknowledge is something we are equipped to do.
If you haven’t seen it already, check out the first six minutes of this 1977 film called Powers of Ten.
Though it’s not shown on this particular version, at home, I have a version that includes two clocks. One of the clocks shows time as it passes on earth. The other clock shows time as it is experienced by the "space" traveler. To try to make a complicated story uncomplicated, as the "space" traveler goes faster and faster (approaching the speed of light), all of a sudden, the earth clock starts to speed up. Eventually, for every 10 seconds of time the "space" traveler experiences, 100,000 years go by on Earth!
How can this be? We can't even imagine time "flexing" like that. Now, think of God, who describes Himself as light. At what "speed" does He travel? And how does this affect His relationship to "time"?
There are a lot of questions—more, I’m sure, than we’ll ever answer in this lifetime. But what is comforting, to me at least, is to know that God knows. While maintaining our personal freedom, He is definitely not surprised or caught off guard at what happens in our lives. He knows and sees what happens to us and, even before it comes, He is already prepared to help us deal with it.