The prophet Jeremiah was told by God, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). We are told here that God the Father and Jesus Christ knew Jeremiah BEFORE he was formed in his mother’s womb, though we are not told how long before his birth God knew him. Several questions need to be answered: HOW LONG before his birth did God know and sanctify Jeremiah, and what is meant with the phrase that God “formed” him in his mother’s womb?
To answer the first question, we say the following in our free booklet, “Are You Predestined to Be Saved?”, when we explain Revelation 17:8, stating, “[Those] who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are NOT written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world”:
“The Revised Standard Version says: ‘… every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.’ The New American Bible translates: ‘… all whose names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, which belongs to the Lamb who was slain.’ The New Jerusalem Bible states: ‘… whose name has not been written down since the foundation of the world in the sacrificial Lamb’s book of life.’… The Zuercher Bibel states: ‘… whose name is not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life…’… [The modern German rendition, Hoffnung fuer alle, conveys the same thought, as does the German Gute Nachricht.]
“All of those translations, quoted above, convey their understanding that the names of those who will worship the false prophet [and who will be amazed about the beast] will not have been written from the foundation of the world in the Book of Life, or ever since, while the names of those who belong to God were already, from the foundation of the world, recorded in the Book of Life…”
We explained in our booklet that God has preordained human beings from or even before the foundation of the world to be called for salvation in this day and age, prior to Christ’s Second Coming, and that He even wrote their names in the Book of Life from or before the foundation of this world. We focused on Romans 9:23, stating: “…that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called’ (verses 23-24). We continued:
“Consider this statement by Paul in Romans 8:28-30: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined, to be conformed to the image of His Son… Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.’…
“Long before God calls His people to salvation, He has already foreknown and predestined them… In Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-12, Paul elaborates on this issue: ‘…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons [better: sonship] by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will… In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ [i.e., the firstfruits; compare James 1:18; Revelation 14:4] should be to the praise of His glory.’…
“Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:8-9: ‘Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.’…
“Rienecker, a German commentary, writes about ‘Election’: ‘Predestination is an action of God through which he assigns certain people to the Church before their birth, in order to become equal with Christ and attain to His glory (Romans 8:28; John 17:24; Gal. 1:15).’…
“Note the following quote from Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet, ‘Predestination… Does the Bible teach it?’, copyrighted 1957, pages 14 and 15: ‘… predestination has… only to do with the TIME of your calling—whether you are called NOW, in this age, or later! Notice it in the passage in Romans 8:28-30: ‘For whom He did foreknow.’ How GREAT is God! If you are now called, God ‘foreknew’ you—Knew you thousands of years before you were born!… Predestination has to do with BEING CALLED. Not with being saved or lost. Those now being called, in this age, were foreknown, and PRE-destined to be called now—to be the FIRST to put their hope in Christ. All others have their call later! God… DID decide far in advance which ones He would call in this FIRST calling, to be a priest or a king in His Kingdom—to have part in the saving of OTHERS!’…”
God knew us individually from and even before the foundation of the world; He knew us before time began. This means that God knew Jeremiah “from and before the foundation of the word”, “before time began.”
To answer the second question raised at the beginning of this Q&A, how are we to understand God’s statement in Jeremiah 1:5 that He “formed” Jeremiah in his mother’s womb? Is this just a reference to the “normal” and “usual” act of procreation which is common to all men? Is God referring here to Jeremiah’s begettal as the more or less “accidental” act of a woman’s impregnation by the man, causing a human being’s development in the mother’s womb, or is more involved? To ask it differently, did God tell Jeremiah that he was “formed” in his mother’s womb without God’s personal intervention and guidance, or did God direct all the aspects of Jeremiah’s procreation—from his begettal to his birth? Did He, quite literally, intervene, influence and direct Jeremiah’s parents to bring Jeremiah into existence? Please remember that Paul said in Romans 9:23 that God prepared us “beforehand” for our glory.
The Hebrew word for “formed” in Jeremiah 1:5 is “yatsar” and can also be translated as “fashioned”, “framed” or “made.” Note how the word is used in other passages.
In Genesis 2:7-8, we read: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.”
We know, of course, that God “formed” the first man and the first woman by supernaturally creating Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib. He actively brought about the creation of man. This thought is repeated in the New Testament, where we read in 1 Timothy 2:13: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Here, the Greek word for “formed” is plasso and can also mean “shaped” or “molded.”
In Genesis 2:19, we read: “Out of the ground the LORD God formed (Hebrew: “yatsar”) every beast of the field and every bird of the air…” Again, a supernatural involvement of God is described; He individually created animals from the dust of the ground; these first animals after the recreation of the surface of the earth did not just come into existence by an accidental act of procreation. Of course, we do not find that subsequently, animals were individually created, formed or made by God—except for a few examples, just as the sea monster, which devoured Jonah (compare Jonah 1:17), and lice at the time of the Egyptian plagues (compare Exodus 8:16-17)—and we do not find that after Adam and Eve, God intervened individually and was directly involved in the procreation of each human being—except, as we will see, in a few examples.
For instance, speaking about Jacob and Israel, God says this in Isaiah 43:1-2: “But now, thus says the LORD who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
This is speaking of spiritual Israelites; that is, of true Christians. God is saying here that He formed them as He formed Jeremiah. The Hebrew word is “yatsar” in both cases. Continuing in verse 7: “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” The same concept is expressed in Isaiah 44:1-2: “Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, And Israel whom I have chosen. Thus says the LORD who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you: ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant; And you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.”
The contrast is vividly expressed in verse 10: “Who would form a god or mold an image That profits him nothing?” An idol would not come into existence through an accidental act, but it would be purposefully created, formed and molded by an idolater. God says in that sense that He formed, created, made and molded His foreknown and preordained servants from their mother’s womb.
Again, reading in verses 21 and 24: “Remember these, O Jacob, And Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!… Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, And He who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who makes all things…’”
It becomes abundantly clear that the concept of God’s creating or forming certain preordained individuals is not based on time and chance or an accidental begettal when considering the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. In referring to Christ’s coming into the world as a human being, we read in Isaiah 49:5-6:
“And now the LORD says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, And My God shall be My strength), Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
Jesus Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world to be revealed or manifested as a human being in His due time (1 Peter 1:20; Galatians 4:2,4). From everything that we know, we conclude that God the Father changed Christ, the immortal God being, into a human sperm to initiate the impregnation of Mary and that He carefully supervised and intervened, if need be, in Christ’s development in Mary’s womb. In that sense, God the Father formed Jesus Christ through the power of His Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. God did not leave ANYTHING to time and chance; every aspect of Jesus’ begettal was carefully planned and carried out. As we will see, this was unique which did not, does not and will not mirror any other human procreation.
Still, an interesting concept is conveyed in Zechariah 12:1, explaining that every human being has a spirit in man, distinguishing him from the animals, and that the spirit is “formed” by God and given to man at the time of conception. We do not know exactly how that is being done; but it shows that God must be actively involved somehow in the creation of that particular individual spirit which is conveyed to each human being: “The burden of the word of the LORD against Israel. Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him…”
Another interesting concept is conveyed in Psalm 33:14-15, where the Hebrew word, “yatsar,” translated there as “fashioned,” is the same word translated as “formed” in other places: “From the place of His dwelling He looks On all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.” God can change the hearts of man as He originally created Adam and Eve’s hearts. In the same way, He can help man to use his mouth in the right way, as He originally created Adam and Eve’s mouths (compare Exodus 4:11).
We even read that in some cases, God “forms” a human being for a purpose other than being called to salvation in this day and age; rather, that purpose might include an important role in the fulfillment of prophecy. We read in Romans 9:17-21: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” Again, the Greek word for “formed” is “plasso,” which is also used in 1 Timothy 2:13 (quoted above), stating that God “formed” Adam and Eve.
This statement in Romans 9 mirrors what we read in Isaiah 45:9: “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?” Many additional passages show us that God might be involved in “forming” a person for a particular purpose. We might think of the prophesied beast and the false prophet. We read that God makes all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of judgment (compare Proverbs 16:4).
In Exodus 4:11 (mentioned above), we also read, “So the LORD said to [Moses], ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?” This does not mean that God was actively involved in causing a person to be born blind or deaf. God just says here that if someone is blind, He can give him eyes to see, and vice versa; and if someone is deaf, He can give him ears to hear. Christ said in John 9:39 that He came so that those who see become blind (spiritually). On the other hand, there might be some occasions when someone is born with an illness pursuant to God’s purpose, so that later, for instance, God’s mighty and miraculous intervention can be manifested for His glory (compare John 9:2-3).
Having said this, we must be careful not to carry this concept too far. We may read certain passages which convey that God “formed” entire nations and conclude that God is directly and individually involved with the conception of every human being. That is not so, and it is important to note important distinctions. We read in Deuteronomy 32:18, in the Authorized Version, talking about the ancient people of Israel: “Of the Rock that beget thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.”
However, the Hebrew word for “formed” here is a different word (“chil”) and means, bringing forth in pain. It describes the establishment of the nation of Israel; not necessarily the individual act of bringing forth or forming each member of that nation. Something similar is expressed in Deuteronomy 32:6 where it is stated that God “bought,” “made” and “established” the nation.
But reviewing Psalm 139:13-16, we read that David is talking about himself, stating: “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed…”
David expressed his conviction that God formed and made him in his mother’s womb; that is, God was actively involved in and initiated David’s begettal, and He supervised and directed his development and growth in his mother’s womb. It did not occur in the way which brought forth Jesus, in that God changed His divinity into a human sperm—as no other human being had existed previously in any way; nor did He repeat what He did in the case of Adam and Eve when He actually created Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib. But since David was foreknown and predestined to be called to salvation, God made sure that David would come into existence in due time, and He actively “formed” David by initiating and supervising and intervening, whenever necessary, the impregnation of David’s mother through David’s father, causing fertilization of the mother’s ovum by the father’s sperm; as well as David’s development and growth in his mother’s womb during pregnancy. The same was true for Jeremiah; and it is also true for everyone who was predetermined by God before time began to be called for salvation in this day and age.
It would make no sense otherwise. If God foreknew us long before our conception and birth, He most certainly would have made sure that our actual conception and birth would occur according to His preordained purpose and plan. We are distinctly NOT the product of time and chance or the result of an accidental act of procreation, but we are God’s predetermined and designed “products.” Whatever we are today, God had prepared us individually beforehand, forming us in our mother’s womb, as described, to be born and to grow into adulthood; and to become God’s firstfruits in this day and age, with the potential of being born, as immortal sons and daughters, into His very Family at the time of Christ’s Return.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link