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Don Stewart :: Does the Bible Say God Changed His Mind?

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Don Stewart

If we accept the fact that God is perfection, and that He cannot change how do we account for certain parts of the Bible that seem to indicate that God changed His mind? There are several instances in the Scripture where God seems to relent, or change His mind, about something that He was going to do.

Moses And The People

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 32) he found that the people had fallen into sin. They had made for themselves a golden calf and were worshipping it. God then told Moses that He was ready to destroy the nation. Moses pleaded for the people and the Scripture says,

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people (Exodus 32:14).

Is this not a clear example of God changing His mind?

He Regretted He Made Saul King

Scripture seems to say that God had second thoughts about making Saul the king of Israel.

I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands." Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the LORD all night (1 Samuel 15:11).

God Changed Toward The Nineveh

In the Book of Jonah we have a similar situation. God was going to destroy the people of Nineveh. They repented of their sins and God had mercy on them.

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).

This Is From The Viewpoint Of Humanity

The seeming changing of God's mind in these and in other situations makes people wonder if God is wavering in His word. But this is not the case. In the situation with Moses God was angry because the people had rejected Him in favor of an idol. His desire to destroy them was not unalterable. Moses' intercession on behalf of the people kept them from being destroyed. From humanity's point of view God's mind was changed but God had known all along what would happen. Moses prayed for mercy and God answered his prayer.

God Did Not Change What He Had Planned To Do

The same is true in the case of Jonah and Nineveh. The people of Nineveh prayed to God and asked His forgiveness. God heard their prayer and granted mercy to them. He did not change His mind for He knew all along they would repent of their sins. Yet from a human point of view this was unknown. The people had not been assured that God would stop judgment if they repented but Jonah had an idea that this might happen. When the prophet realized that Nineveh would not be destroyed he prayed to God and said:

Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm (Jonah 4:2).

The Change Was With Humanity

We see in both these instances that a prayer of repentance changed the outcome of the situation. The change was not with God but with humanity. When the conduct of humanity changed towards God, the conduct of God appeared to change toward humankind. Yet God was consistent in His behavior all along.

The Change Is Always God Stopping Punishment

When Scripture tells us about God relenting, or repenting, of what He said He would do, each instance is in regard to punishment. It is never a case of God promising to do something good and then changing His mind. His promises to His people will not be broken.

For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 8:29).

The Word Could Mean God Was Sorry Or Grieved

There is also the possibility that the word translated "repent" has the idea of being grieved or sorry, with no idea of the concept of change. If this is the case, then Scripture does not even suggest a change in God's dealings.

Summary

The Bible assures us of the following things about God's nature. God will not change toward us with His promises. Any seeming change in God's dealings is from humanity's point of view not God's. Every time God changed His mind it was in favor of humanity rather than against. There is also the possibility that the word translated "repent" has more the idea of being grieved or sorry. If this is the correct translation then there is no issue here with respect to God's dealings with humanity.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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