What Did God Mean When He Said 'Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You'?
- Jessica Udall Contributing Writer
- 2021 6 Apr
Before a baby is born, they are such a wonderful mystery. Though we can get a “peek” at them through ultrasound images, hear their heartbeat with a doppler, and speculate about what they might look like by forming a composite in our imaginations of their mom and dad’s features, we can’t really know them until they are born. And even then, though we may have dreams about what they could do and who they could be, we can’t accurately predict their futures.
As with so many things, God is not like us, however. Scripture tells us that the God who knows the end from the beginning also knows people even before they are born--he sees every aspect of their lives before they’ve even lived one moment in the world.
What Does 'I Knew You Before You Were Born' Mean?
"I knew you before you were born."
In Jeremiah 1:5, “the word of the Lord” came to the prophet Jeremiah, who was a young man at the time. God said to him: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (1:5). Jeremiah lacked confidence at first because of his youth, but God encouraged him to “not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (1:8). In the coming years, Jeremiah would faithfully prophesy the Lord’s words to the people in the power of God, fulfilling the purpose for which God had called him.
Other Bible translations phrase it this way:
"Before I created you in the womb I knew you" -Common English Bible
"Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you." -The MEssage
"I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you" - Good News Translation
John's Gills Commentary on Jeremiah 1:5 puts it this way: "Not merely by his omniscience, so he knows all men before their conception and birth; but with such a knowledge as had special love and affection joined with it; in which sense the Lord knows them that are his, as he does not others, and predestinates them unto eternal life; and which is not only before their formation in the womb, but before the foundation of the world, even from all eternity. The forming of the human fetus is God's act, and a curious piece of workmanship it is"
Where Else Does the Bible Talk about God Knowing Us Before Birth?
Scripture also records several people describing God’s personal knowledge of them from an early, often pre-birth, stage: The Psalmist says:
“Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you” (Psalm 71:6).
The prophet Isaiah seems to have experienced--like Jeremiah--a similar experience of an early calling from God. He says:
“Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The LORD called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name…
And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD,
and my God has become my strength—” (Isaiah 49:1, 5).
Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit right after his son, John the Baptist, was born, and he said to him:
“‘And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace’” (Luke 1:76-79).
Paul also refers to God’s pre-birth calling, when he says: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born,[fn] and who called me by his grace…” (Galatians 1:15).
What Does the Bible Tell Us about God as the Creator of Life?
The Bible teaches that God is the Creator of all that is and all that has been. The first verse of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, tells us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Colossians 1:16 says: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
On the sixth day, God created humans: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
Psalm 139:13-16 goes into more detail about how God creates each and every one of us and continues to do so:
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Why Is It Important to Understand that God Knew Us Before We Were Born
The fact that God created each of us and knows us before our births has great significance for our lives. It means:
1. God made us fearfully and wonderfully.
The Hebrew word used to say “fearfully” is the same root word to talk about how believers should “fear God.” Rather than a terror that creates distance, it refers to reverent awe that leads to honor and respect. When we look at ourselves, we should stand in awe of God and his handiwork, not denigrating the way he made us but being grateful for the embodied way we get to be in relationship with him.
2. God knew us before we knew him.
It is comforting and perspective-giving to recognize that our short, little lives are held and known by a God who is infinitely vast and eternal. He knows the end from the beginning in a cosmic sense, and our end from our beginning in an individual sense:
“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done...
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
God has a purpose for our lives, and we can trust that that purpose will be fulfilled as we listen for his calling with soft hearts (Hebrews 3:15) and pray these words from the same psalm that called us “fearfully and wonderfully made”:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
God is the Creator of all life, including our own lives. He knew us before we were born, weaving our cells together in our mother’s womb and fully knowing the entirety of our lives in the power of his omniscience. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we, along with all existence, are held in the all-encompassing, world-upholding embrace of his creative love.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/PeopleImages
Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.
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