In today’s installment of our inquiry into the manner in which Jews understood the elusive term ‘preexistence,’ we will examine a passage from 2 Kings. This passage appears in the midst of the episode where the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s utters a threat toward the kingdom ruled by Hezekiah. The Judean king, however, sincerely prays to the God of Israel for deliverance. The God of Israel hears the plea from King Hezekiah and sends word through the prophet Isaiah.
Yahweh’s response spoken through Isaiah is quite long, but within the reply comes these words:
“Have you not heard? Long ago I did it.
From ancient times I planned it.
Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into heaps of ruin.” (2 Kgs 19:25)
It is important to take note of the verb tenses in this passage. The action in question is spoken of as having already occurred “long ago,” using the qal perfect of the Hebrew verb asa. In the next line, the parallelism unpacks the former statement with another completed action, “I planned it,” also in the qal perfect. This Hebrew verb, however, is yatsar, which means ‘to form or create.’ I have translated it here as “planned” because these actions of God, having already accomplished and created the act (and choosing this very moment in the narrative to bring them to pass), strongly suggest that we are talking about Jewish preexistence. As we have observed in my previous case studies, Jewish preexistence speaks of things stored up in God’s plans and purposes, often speaking of them as having already occurred. The same phenomenon, I suggest, is occurring here in 2 Kings 19:25.
God reveals that he has planned from a long time ago to demolish Sennacherib’s cities. These plans are so sure to come to pass that they can be spoken of having already occurred in the past. Even the Septuagint translates the two primary verbs in the aorist. This is textbook Jewish preexistence, my friends. Imagine coming to this text without any understanding of how Jewish writers portrayed God’s plans and purposes for the world. The sincere (but uninformed) reader would instinctively read this passage literally, immediately becoming confused.
This manner of preexistence is notional, rather than literal preexistence, further strengthening my case that Jewish preexistence deals with plans and concepts within God’s contemplations.
How might 2 Kings 19:25 illumine, say, a disputed christological passage like John 17:5?