10 Minute Read

TODAY’S BIBLE READING:

Numbers 22:21–23:30
Luke 1:57-80
Psalm 58:1-11
Proverbs 11:12-13

TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE(S):

Numbers 23:19 (CSB): “God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind. Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?”

REFLECTIONS ON TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE(S):

I change my mind quite frequently. I bet you do, too.

Sometimes, I change my mind because I didn’t realize how circumstances would change. Or, I eventually get more information that helps me to see things differently. Or, I receive better counsel.

The possibilities are endless as to why we change our minds. But, the fact remains for all of us … we all change our minds from time to time.

That brings up a fantastic question: “Does God ever change His mind?”

Well, let’s allow Scripture to answer that question and then I’ll share my understanding of how we are to think about our God.

Numbers 23:19 (CSB): “God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind. Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?”

1 Samuel 15:29 (CSB): “Furthermore, the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not man who changes his mind.”

Malachi 3:6 (CSB): “Because I, the LORD, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.”

James 1:17 (CSB): “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Clearly, God does not change His mind.

We could stop there … but there are some serious questions that the previous verses bring up.

Let me ask one of them for us: “What about those places in Scripture where it appears that God changed His mind?”

What about verses like Exodus 32:14?

Exodus 32:14 (CSB): “So the LORD relented concerning the disaster he had said he would bring on his people.”

Wow! It certainly seems as if God had a change of mind. What’s the context?

The Golden Calf!

Moses was up on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments. When he came down the mountain, he realized that Aaron had led the people in forming a golden calf that they were worshiping.

In fact, Exodus 32:6 describes their activity as “and got up to party.” Listen to what that means…

“The Heb. word allows for the inclusion of drunken and immoral activities so common to idolatrous fertility cults in their revelry.” – note from Exodus 32:6, “MacArthur Study Bible”

God’s people, that He had redeemed for himself, that He was prepared to use to bring divine judgment upon the wicked people of Canaan, that He was going to bring the Messiah through, had revealed that they could quickly revert and engage in utterly sinful, immoral activity in which they would lose all of their moral integrity. They were tarnishing Him name!

It is at this point that we read…

Exodus 32:9-10 (CSB): “The LORD also said to Moses: ‘I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.'”

Clearly, God told Moses to step aside and leave Him alone. He wanted His anger at the people to grow so that He could wipe them out and create another nation.

But, four verses later, we read what appears to be a divine change of mind…

Exodus 32:14 (CSB): “So the LORD relented concerning the disaster he had said he would bring on his people.”

How can we understand this if it is true that God cannot change His mind? Let me share a few points that help me to make sense of it.

1. We understand God through the language of anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism: “the showing or treating of animals, gods, and objects as if they are human in appearance, character, or behavior.”

As we read of how God describes Himself in Scripture, we cannot help but think that He is far beyond those descriptors. But, if God describes Himself as He really is, then there would be absolutely no way to understanding anything about Him. So, He describes Himself in terms that we can understand.

For instance, in Isaiah 59:1-2, He says that He has arms and ears. We don’t really believe that God has arms and ears since He is “spirit” (John 4:24). Yet, He describes Himself in terms that we are familiar with so that we can understand.

It would seem that terms like “repent” and “relent” also are to be taken the same way when applied to God. If we were to say that we repent, we mean that we have had a change of mind. Yet, when that word is used of God, we must understand it to mean something far above our comprehension … yet, God uses that word to at least help us to understand a little bit of what He has done and has felt.

2. God’s emotions and attributes are constants.

Simply put, God is not an emotional roller coaster. He’s not happy today and sad tomorrow. He isn’t calm one day and angry the next.

Instead, we understand God’s emotions and attributes to be constants.

For instance, God is always love. He is always loving. He doesn’t love you less or love you more as the days come and go. Instead, His love is perfect, infinite, and constant.

It is also true that His anger is perfect, infinite, and constant. It is always brewing. It is like a wall of fire that is at the end of every sin. As long as someone remains in their sin and is unrepentant, they are headed straight for the wall of God’s wrath. But, if that sinner repents, they have a change of mind and heart, and turn from their sin, they will no longer be aimed at God’s wall of wrath. God didn’t change. It was the repentant sinner who changed.

I believe it is in this way that we are to understand how God “repents” or “relents.” He did not change. It was the people of Israel who changed. In their debauchery, they were headed straight for the wall of God’s wrath which would mean He would have to destroy them. But, when Moses offered up his priestly repentance on their behalf (read Exodus 32:11-13), God “relented.” But, in actuality, it wasn’t God who changed. It was the people.

Which leads us to this final point…

3. God reacts differently to different sets of circumstances.

If it is true that God responds differently than He said He would respond, then someone may say, “God DID change. He said He was going to do something and then He didn’t. You can say that the Israelites changed all you want but it is also true that God DID change.”

So, how can we try to understand our infinite God in what certainly appears to be a change.

After all, in Exodus 32:10, He said He was going to destroy the Israelites … but He didn’t.

Simply put, if the Israelites had not changed (repented) or if Moses hadn’t offered up a priestly pray of repentance on their behalf (Exodus 32:11-13), God would have carried out His Word. His word was based upon the current set of circumstances. The people of Israel had rejected God, rejected Moses, rejected morality, and were worthy of death.

But, God always responds to repentance. It changes the circumstances entirely.

And that’s what happened. Moses, acting as a priest for the people of Israel, offered up a prayer of repentance (Exodus 32:11-13).

That prayer changed the circumstances … entirely. All of a sudden, the sin was wiped clean. God would have been unjust to destroy a people who had repented. So, He didn’t carry out His threats.

He appears to have changed His mind. Yet, all that happened was that He responded to a different set of circumstances in an appropriate way.

Conclusion

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, feel free to e-mail me or post them below in the “Leave a Reply” box.

And thank you so much for being a faithful reader of my blog. If you have any ideas on how I can make it better, please feel free to drop me a line with your ideas.