2-2 God Changing His Mind
And God does change His mind. Remember how He told Moses that He was going to destroy Israel and make of Moses a great nation. And Moses pleaded with God. And God changed His mind. Just like He " repented" , changed His mind, that He had made man at the time of the flood. Moses was specifically told to go away from the congregation, and yet he ran towards them in order to make atonement for them (Num. 16:45,47). Moses was so close to God that he could apparently 'disobey' Him because Moses knew there was a chance of changing God's intentions. He was so close to God- and in this case, God did indeed change His intentions. He had only just changed them over another matter, in relenting from destroying all Israel due to Korah's rebellion- because Moses prayed for the people (Num. 16:21,22). And there are so many other examples:
- God told Israel straight in Jud. 10:13: " Ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more" . But they begged Him, and He did. And likewise in Hosea, He said He would give them up completely, but just couldn't bring Himself to do it. God changing His mind is a theme that runs through Hosea.
- He had promised to bring Israel in to the promised land. But He destroyed that generation- " and ye shall know my breach of promise" , or, " the altering of my purpose" (Num. 14:34). God's purpose can change. Because God can change His mind. He says so Himself.
- Amos preached the message of coming judgment upon Israel and then due to his prayer, averted it. Days / months later perhaps, he added to the record of his prophecies: " The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord" (Am. 7:1 cp. 3; 7:4 cp. 6). The prophesied sending of fire and grasshoppers upon Israel was recorded, but then averted by Amos' prayer.
- Jeremiah chose to live with those whom he had been told were the “evil figs”who wouldn’t repent- in the hope that they would (Jer. 40:6), just as Isaiah and Ezekiel still seem to have held out hope that Israel would repent despite having been told at the start of their ministry that they would not be listened to. This hoping against hope that God will change His stated predictions about human lack of response is surely not defiance of God, but rather a recognition of His great sensitivity to human repentance, and that God changing His mind is a common Bible phenomena.
- Some prophecies are dependent on prayer for their fulfillment. Take Is. 62:1: " For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness" . But this is dependent upon prayer: " I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem…ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (:6,7). The prophecy that " I will not rest" was dependent for fulfillment upon the faithful continuing to pray and thereby not giving Him rest. Of course, they pray from their own freewill; there is the possibility they won't pray, and thereby, surely, there's the possibility the statement " I will not rest" is purely conditional on our prayers…?
- When Hezekiah studied the words of Micah, " did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evilwhich he had pronounced against him" (Jer. 26:19). Those words of prophecy had their fulfillment annulled or delayed thanks to Hezekiah's prayer and repentance. Likewise Jonah's prophecy that in 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed, unconditionally, was nullified by their repentance.
- God does not “repent” as men do, but He can still change His mind. Samuel therefore wept to God for Saul to change his mind, and therefore for God to relent on His stated purpose concerning him (1 Sam. 15:11). Yet despite telling Saul that “the strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent”, Samuel appears to have continued praying for a change of mind from God and Saul (1 Sam. 15:29); we can conclude this from the way God had to keep tellingSamuel to stop (1 Sam. 15:25; 16:1). This is very similar to how God told Ezekiel that He would not spare nor repent of His attitude to Israel, and will judge them according to their ways (Ez. 24:14); yet according to His grace, it is many times recorded that He did and will spare them, and does not judge them according to the merits of their sins.
- The principle of God changing His mind is summed up in Jeremiah 18. It has been truly commented about this chapter: " Whenever a piece of pottery turned outimperfect the potter would take the clay and make it into something else. God says that this is the principle behind His actions. If He says He is going to build up a nation but the nation disobeys Him the prophecy will not be fulfilled. Equally, if He says He is going to destroy a nation and the nation repents, He will not carry out His intention" . This is why God Himself reflects that He " said surely..." , but changed His mind (Zeph. 3:7; Jer. 31:20).
If there is genuine freewill, it is apparent enough that God's purposes must be to some extent conditional. If the Lord had failed in the wilderness temptations, " there was the possibility that the purpose of God would have been circumvented" ( Frank Birch). All this explains why the fulfillment of prophecy can only be perceived at the time of fulfillment- it is impossible to know in advance how it will be fulfilled. It isn't a time-line offuture events which we are to discern. It should also be born in mind that " the teaching of Jesus [is] that the purpose of prophecy is that we shall be able to recognize the signs when they appear, not that we shall be able to predict the future" (Cyril Tennant):
" I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (Jn. 14:29).
The disciples did not expect Jesus to enter into Jerusalem " sitting on an ass's colt" in fulfillment of Zech. 9:9. But when He did, then soon afterwards, all became clear to them- that He had fulfilled this prophecy (Jn. 12:16).
Likewise with prophecies such as " the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" in Ps. 69:9, and even the Lord's own prophecies of His resurrection. When it happened, " his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture (Ps. 69:9), and the word which Jesus had said" (Jn. 2:17-22).
And the Lord Jesus, who spoke and acted the words of God, was clearly willing to change His position too, depending on human response. Remember how He initially declined to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman because, as He clearly stated, He had been sent only unto “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”; and it was not appropriate, He said, to take the food from those children and feed it to Gentile dogs (Mt. 14:24,26). He may well have had in mind the Divine principle of not throwing pearls before swine [Gk. ‘wild dogs’]. But…He changed. He healed the woman’s daughter. He was so deeply impressed with her perception and faith that He changed the operation of His principles.
The Power Of Prayer
In all the above examples, prayer and repentance can change God's stated purpose. Prayer brings about this phenomena of God changing His mind. Prayer changes things. It really does. What would otherwise have happened can be changed by prayer. We, little and tiny humans, can change the mind of Almighty God. This is the extent of His sensitivity to us. Reflect how Abraham reasoned with God over Sodom's destruction. If 40 righteous had been found there....it wouldn't have been destroyed, thanks to Abraham's prayer. And he reasons with God, down to 10 righteous. Now I ask...if Abraham had asked: " If...one righteous man be found there...??" . Would God have said 'No'? We don't know, but the impression I have is He would have agreed. The salvation of Sodom depended upon Abraham’s breadth of vision. God's mercy is upon us, and upon others, according as we hope in Him. All of the above may have sounded philosophical. But the bottom line is: prayer changes things. And seeing that it does, well then pray on your knees, fervently! Not cuddled up in bed about to fall asleep. Jacob is a symbol of us all. He became Israel, he who struggles with God. And this is a key feature of all those who comprise the true Israel. When God told Moses to leave Him alone to destroy them, and go back down to the people immediately (Dt. 9:12), Moses stayed on to plead with God not to destroy them. And God listened (Ex. 32:7-14). He repented of the evil He had thought to do. He changed His mind, because Moses stayed on. There is an element of striving with God in prayer, knowing that His mind is open to change (Rom. 15:30). This is what stimulates me to what intensity in prayer I can muster. That God is open to hearing and even changing His holy mind about something. Such is His sensitivity to us. Such is His love, that God changing His mind becomes really feasible as a concept. And such is the scary implication of the total freewill which the Father has afforded us. This is why God could reason with Moses as a man speaks to his friend and vice versa. It was a dynamic, two way relationship in thought and prayer and being. This is why Jesus likens requesting things from God to a man asking a favour of his friend at midnight (Lk. 11:5,9). We are to see God as our friend to whom like Abraham, we respectfully and rather awkwardly present ourselves. And He sees us as His friends. There's a wonderful mutuality between a man and his God.