Does God Change His Mind?

Some Scriptures seem to say God changes His mind:

And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart (Gen. 6:6).

So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people (Ex. 32:14).

God said to Samuel, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands” (1 Sam. 15:11).

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.  Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.  So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you.  Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds”’ (Jer. 18:7-11).

And rend your heart and not your garments.  Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil (Joel 2:13).

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it (Jonah 3:10).

But others seem to contradict:

And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind (1 Sam. 15:29).

For I, the LORD, do not change (Mal. 3:6).

These seemingly conflicting statements often create questions in the minds of Christians. If God is immutable (unchanging) and omniscient (knowing all), how can He change His mind? Doesn’t that cast doubt on the consistency of His nature and the integrity of His character? In answering these questions, two foundational truths must be stated.

  • The immutability of God applies to His nature, essence, attributes, and preordained purpose. The Bible makes it clear that the character of God does not change (Ps. 102:26ff; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 1:12), and there is no variation in Him (James 1:17). His counsel and purpose stand forever (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:10; Heb. 6:17); His unconditional promises are sure (1 Kings 8:56; 2 Cor. 1:20); and His lovingkindness, righteousness, and justice will remain for eternity (Ps. 103:17; Isa. 28:17). So it is clear when the Scriptures refer to God as changing His mind, it does not mean that God Himself changes.
  • The immutability of God does not prevent Him from changing his dealings with changing men. Though some of God’s promises are unconditional, that is, He will fulfill them regardless of man’s actions (Gen. 9:8-11; 15:12-21), many of the blessings and promises of God are designed to be dependent upon man’s obedience or disobedience. However, this in no way makes man sovereign or God dependent upon him. It is simply God allowing man to operate as a responsible moral agent as he was created.

Therefore, the statements that seem to indicate God changes His mind are expressions of the conditional nature of some of His commands or threats of judgment. In other words, His threats of future judgment upon His disobedient people or His promises of blessing upon His obedient people were tests of the heart intent of man. Under these circumstances, when man changed for the good or the bad, God dealt with him accordingly. Walter Kaiser explains it well, “whenever God does not fulfill a promise or execute a threat that he has made, the explanation is obvious: in all these cases, the change has not come in God, but in the individual or nation…Repentance in God is not, as it is in us, an evidence of indecisiveness. It is rather a change in his method of responding to another person based on some change in the other individual” [Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, pp. 114-115]. Repentance is for man not God.

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