Does God Repent?
“And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” —Exodus 32:14
I was recently reading a great old book by R. A. Torrey titled, DIFFICULTIES IN THE BIBLE, in which he address the question: Does God repent? . . .
“Another 'apparent' contradiction of the Scriptures of which much is made and which has puzzled a great many believers is this:
We read in Malachi 3:6, 'For I am the Lord, I change not'; and in James 1:17, 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning'; and 1st Samuel 15:29, 'And also the strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man that he should repent.' But in apparently flat contradiction of these we read in Jonah 3:10, 'And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them, and He did it not'; and in Genesis 6:6, 'And it repented the Lord, that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.' Here it not only says, 'it repented God,' but 'it grieved Him at His heart.' Now this appears like a flat contradiction. What is the explanation?
The explanation is that what the first set of passages says is absolutely true, that God is absolutely unchangeable, He is 'the same yesterday, and today and forever' (Hebrews 13:8). But the second class of passages is also true, for if God does remain the same in character, infinitely hating sin and absolutely unchangeable in His purpose to visit sin with judgment, then if any city or any person changes in attitude toward sin, God must necessarily change in His attitude toward that person or city. If God remains the same, if His attitude toward sin and righteousness is unchanging, then must His dealings with men change as they turn from sin to repentance. His character remains ever the same, but His dealings with men change as they change from the position that is hateful to His unchanging hatred of sin to one that is pleasing to His unchanging love of righteousness.”
SOURCE: R.A. Torrey, DIFFICULTIES IN THE BIBLE, pgs. 86,87; copyright 1907, Fleming H. Revell Company, Moody Press.
It is wonderful to know that God's mind and heart can be changed. Here is another insight into the Scriptures by Dr. Jack Hyles, from his excellent book titled, EXPLORING PRAYER WITH JACK HYLES . . .
Exploring Prayer With Jack Hyles
By Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)
Chapter 1 — God's Mind Can Be Changed
Genesis 6:6-7, "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them."
Jonah 3:10, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
Joel 2:12-14, "Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?"
The wickedness of man became great upon the earth until every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. This is not the purpose that God had for His creation. He created us for His glory and that He may enjoy fellowship with us, wanting us to offer Him voluntarily love. He equipped us with a will so we could choose to love and fellowship with Him. Now man has failed and failed miserably. His thoughts are wicked, his deeds are wicked, and God is grieved, for God CAN be grieved. Ephesians 4:30-32, "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Here we find that bitterness grieves God, wrath grieves God, anger grieves God, clamour grieves God, evil speaking grieves God, malice grieves God. As God looked at the race He had made, He was so grieved that He changed His mind and wished that He had not made man. Genesis 6:6-7, "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them." Notice the word "repented" in verse 6 and the word "repenteth" in verse 7. This word means "a change of mind." This is not a doctrinal dissertation about the flood; it is simply an effort to establish the fact that God does, on occasion, change His mind, and that mind can be changed by man's behavior and, thank God, by man's requests and prayers.
There is a wonderful story in Exodus 32. Moses had been to Mount Sinai. As he returned from the mount, he found the people had made a golden calf and were worshipping it. God was displeased and wanted to destroy them. Exodus 32:7-10, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." Notice the words that God spoke to Moses in verse 10, "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them." Here is the omnipotent God talking to Moses, one of His creatures, and saying, "Let Me alone, so I can punish My people." God wanted to do it, but interestingly enough He had made it so that Moses had veto power and actually could prevent God from consuming His people.
God did change His mind concerning consuming His people. Exodus 32:11-14, "And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." In verse 11 Moses explains to God that it was He Who had brought the people out of Egypt with a great power and mighty hand. Then in verse 12 he beseeches God to change His mind. He uses the words, "Repent of this evil against Thy people." Now Moses was not telling God to repent of a sin. The word "evil" there means that God was about to inflict punishment or consummation upon His people and Moses was asking Him to turn from His fierce wrath and change His mind.
Then in verse 13 he tells God of the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning multiplying their seed and making of them a great nation.
These are arguments that Moses used in his appeal to God to change His mind. In other words, he is saying, "Lord, You brought the people out, and the Egyptian people are going to speak evil of You if you consume the people." Then he said, "Don't forget the promises You made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." With these arguments he appealed to God not to go through with His consuming of Israel.
In verse 14 we read, "And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." Once again, God changed His mind. It is very important that this truth be emphasized, for it was through prayer to God that Moses interceded for the people, and God changed His mind concerning their destruction.
God changed His mind concerning the destruction of Ninevah. The Word of the Lord had come unto Jonah the second time, telling him to go to Ninevah and preach. Jonah 3:1-2, "And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." Jonah had learned his lesson and he did go to Ninevah to preach. A great revival followed and the entire city repented. Jonah 3:5-8, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands."
The people were led to believe that though Jonah had preached that God was going to destroy the city in forty days, perhaps God would change His mind, and not destroy the city. They felt that their repentance and their putting on of sackcloth and sitting in ashes might convince God to change His mind. This possibility is mentioned in Jonah 3:9, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" God did see their works and God did change His mind. In Jonah 3:10, notice especially the words, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
Jonah had come to Ninevah preaching the message that God gave him, that God was going to overthrow Ninevah in forty days, but because the people got right with God, God changed His mind and did not destroy Ninevah as Jonah had preached. This changing of God's mind is so evident, for the Scripture tells us that Jonah was not happy with God's decision to change His mind. Had not Jonah preached that God was going to destroy the city in forty days? Now God is not going to destroy the city, and Jonah is upset about it! Jonah 4:1, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry."
Now the secret to this entire story is found in Jonah 3:8, "But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God." There is the prayer. God changed His mind concerning Ninevah because of the prayers of Ninevah. Once again we come back to the main point of this chapter. Prayer can change the mind of God!
God changed His mind concerning Judah in the days of Joel. Joel 2:12-14, "Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?" The judgment of God had been pronounced upon the people. However, the message came that God was a merciful God and that if the people would repent and turn to Him, He would change His mind and bless them. In fact, in verse 14 the word "repent" is used which means "to change one's mind." Of course, over and over again in the Scriptures God withholds His judgment upon His people because of repentance, prayer, fasting and revival.
God changed His mind concerning Ephraim, but Ephraim got so far from God and so idolatrous that God decided just to leave him alone! Hosea 4:17, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Later on in Hosea God begins to muse and meditate about Ephraim. Hosea 11:1-4, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them." Here God remembers Ephraim's childhood; that is, when Ephraim was a young tribe. He remembers how He helped Ephraim struggle in the early days. He likens that to teaching Ephraim to walk. He remembers how He healed them, how He loved them, how He protected them. Bear in mind that in Hosea 4:17 He had said, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." But after thinking, meditating and remembering, God comes to the place where He feels He simply cannot give Ephraim up. Hosea 11:8, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." How beautiful are those words, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" God is saying that He lost His patience with Ephraim and then He got to thinking about it and changed His mind. He will not give Ephraim up after all. The last line of verse 8 explains this when God says, "My repentings are kindled together." God is saying once again, "I am changing My mind."
God repented often concerning His people. Jeremiah 15:6, "Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting." That means that God had changed His mind so much about His people that He is getting a little weary of it. Again the point is stressed. God can, does and will change His mind in response to repentance and sincere prayer from His people.
In the third miracle in the second judgment of God upon Pharaoh, when God was using His wrath to unpry the hands of Pharaoh from His people that they might leave the land and be free, God had sent the frogs on the land. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and asked them if they could persuade God to take the frogs away. Exodus 8:8, "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD." Moses did come to God with Aaron and ask God to remove the frogs. Exodus 8:12-13, " And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the LORD because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields." The key statement here is in verse 13, "And the LORD did according to the word of Moses." Notice the power of prayer. Notice how God is influenced by the prayers of Moses.
This same thing is repeated concerning the thunderings and hail. Exodus 9:27,28,33, "And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Intreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer. And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread abroad his hands unto the LORD: and the thunders and hail ceased, and the rain was not poured upon the earth."
The same thing is done concerning the locusts in Exodus 10:16-19, " Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only. And he went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the LORD. And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt." On each of these occasions Moses came to God and persuaded God to take certain action. In response to Moses' request, God did take this action.
In the case of Abimelech and his family, God healed them that they might bear children because Abraham prayed to God. Genesis 20:17-18, "So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children. For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife." God had closed up all the wombs of the ladies of the house of Abimelech. Abraham prayed to God and God responded to Abraham's prayer and healed the house of Abimelech.
In the life of Job God became angry with Eliphaz and Job's other false friends and pronounced His judgment upon them. Because of Job's prayers and their repentance God changed His mind and did not pour out His wrath. Job 42:7-10, "And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job. So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did according as the LORD commanded them: the LORD also accepted Job. And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before."
In any study of the subject of prayer it is fundamental and basic when we understand that if a man will meet the conditions of God and pray, God will respond to his prayer and perhaps even change the course of His direction. Naturally, such a teaching is distasteful to those who advance the heresy of hyper-Calvinism, limited atonement, irresistible grace, etc. These misguided students of the Bible are often sincere but somehow have never learned how to enter into the great heart of God to know His compassion, His love, His mercy, His longsuffering. Hence, we must establish once and for all that God is touchable, reachable and He will respond to the prayers of His people. This does not mean that an immature Christian can frivolously approach the throne of grace and change God's mind. It does mean that the great omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah God leans towards His children to hear what they say and longs to have them present their petitions to Him that He may give consideration to their requests.
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