How does Jeremiah 18 teach that God allows for human contingencies to alter the outcomes of prophetic predictions?

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Jeremiah chapter 18 is a very important chapter for understanding how God gives prophecies and then fulfills them, but it's not unique. There are many, many passages in the Bible that reveal the same basic principles about how prophecy is fulfilled. And one of the first things we have to say about the way that prophecies are fulfilled is this: God knows everything, and God is never surprised by any reaction anyone ever has to any prophecy that his prophets give. So, God is not making predictions through his prophets and then going, "Whoops, can't do that. I didn't realize they would react in that way." So don't ever think that Jeremiah 18 is teaching that the contingencies that are associated with a prophecy surprise God. They don't surprise him at all. On the contrary, when God gives prophecies through his prophets, he gives them within a context, a framework of understanding, and this framework surrounds every prophetic word. And the framework that surrounds every prophetic word is his covenants. God's covenants give the theological framework that holds up every single prediction that is given to us in the Scriptures. And we know that all of God's covenants have certain elements or certain dynamics to them of God's mercy or God's benevolences and the requirement of loyalty, and that there will be consequences as God wants to give those consequences of blessings and curses for people when they're loyal and when they're disloyal to him. And knowing that that's the basic framework that surrounds every single prediction that's ever given in the Bible, it should not surprise us at all that there are contingencies that are associated with predictions. God does not always have to say those conditions, those contingencies, because they've already been said in his covenants. And it would be as if you would expect a parent to tell a child every single time they said, "I'm going to do something," to list off all the contingencies that might avert what they're going to do. I mean, you can imagine, can't you, a four-year-old child who's told Sunday coming out of church, "We're going to get some ice cream and go to the park." Well, on the way out of church maybe the mother falls down and breaks her legs breaks her leg, and so they have to run off to the hospital. And that evening when they get home the four-year-old looks at her Daddy and says, "Daddy, we didn't get ice cream today." And he says, "Well, of course not. We took your mother to the hospital." And the little girl looks at him and says, "But you promised." Well, what's the problem with the little girl? It's not that Daddy was lying to her because Daddy knew this long list of things that could happen, and we wouldn't go get ice cream and go to the park if these long lists of things happened, and one of those was if your mother falls down and breaks her leg. But the four-year-old didn't know that yet. She wasn't mature enough to understand that. And in some respects, when Christians read prophecies they forget the lesson that the understanding that an adult has when words like those are given. There are always implicit conditions that are associated with predictions in the Bible. And those implicit conditions are given to us by other parts of the Bible. When Jonah spoke to Nineveh, and he said, "Forty days hence and Nineveh will be destroyed," he did not list off all the conditions that might turn that around. But in chapter 4, when Jonah is confronted by God, and he says, "Why are you upset?" he says to God, "I knew you would do this because you're the kind of God who threatens to destroy a city, and if they repent then you don't do it." And that's why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he did not want the possibility of Nineveh repenting. Well, see, everybody in biblical days understood that the covenant surrounds every single prediction that a prophet makes, and that means that, in one way or another, the way people respond to a prophecy can affect, if God wants it to, can affect the way the prophecy will be fulfilled.

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.