Does God Know Everything?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: What is the meaning of the phrase, “…if not, I will know” (Gen. 18:20, 21)? It certainly can’t imply that God is anthropomorphically descending, without adequate knowledge of the situation! 

—Turk Hill

Rabbi: The full context is as follows: 

Now the Lord said [to Himself], “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right, in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.” Then the Lord said [to Abraham], “The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is heavy. I will go down to see whether if according to their cry that has reached Me I will annihilate them, or not. I know.”  (Gen. 18:17-21)

No, God is not physical so He cannot occupy space or move within space, downward or upward.  God already knew the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah; He is not ignorant of anything. But God was educating Abraham. As Abraham will teach others, certain matters about God’s justice undetectable through human reasoning, required divine revelation to Abraham. Abraham understood and agreed that wicked people should be punished and that righteous people should be protected. Nothing in nature could possibly reveal to Abraham that a wicked person should be spared. That goes against human assessment of God’s justice. But the human mind is incomparable to God’s thoughts. Therefore, God revealed to Abraham the hidden concept that in certain situations, God will spare the wicked. That situation is where there exists righteous individuals that can influence the wicked people to repent. This is the meaning of, “I will go down to see whether if according to the cry that has reached Me I will annihilate them or not.” Meaning, the cry was definitely great, and their sin was heavy; they deserved annihilation. But there still existed the possibility that God would not annihilate them, “will I annihilate them or not.” This revelation that the wicked can be spared intended to prod Abraham to consider why wicked people should be spared. This was an unknown area of God's justice that God shared with Abraham as he would be a teacher to mankind. Abraham then realized that as the merit did not exist within the wicked people, the only other place merit could exist is with righteous people. Therefore Abraham correctly concluded that if there was a certain quantity of positive influence, God would spare the wicked. That is why Abraham proceeded to ask—commencing with 50 and concluding with 10—what that number of righteous people was required to salvage the wicked through educating them.