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Insight #173 — Does God Change?

July 15, 2008.

Does God ever change His mind? Listen to the words that the Lord put into the mouth of Balaam: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: has he said, and shall he not do it?” (Num. 23:19). Does this mean that whatever God predicts is sure to happen; that all of God’s warnings and promises will be fulfilled — unconditionally?

That’s not how Jonah understood God’s nature. When God told Jonah to prophesy doom upon Nineveh, Jonah fled. Why? “I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and you repent of the evil” (4:2). And thus it happened. When Jonah did prophesy Nineveh’s destruction, Nineveh repented and God relented.

How did Jonah know that God might “repent of the evil”? I don’t know; but the book of Jonah itself is a testimony to this truth. So is the word of Jeremiah: “If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good” (Jer. 18:8-10). “Repent of the evil… repent of the good.” “Repent” means to change one’s mind. Other versions render it “relent,” “think better,” “reconsider.”

God is not obligated to state these conditions every time He predicts a blessing or a disaster. Like Jonah, we should always keep in mind that God’s mercy and justice can call for a change of plans. In Balaam’s case, there was no reason to change. God had promised to bless Israel, and he surely would not “repent of the good” simply because the Moabites didn’t like it.

In the case of Nineveh, no “if” is recorded. It may not always be easy to distinguish between a promise/warning with conditions and a prophetic prediction that has no conditions. It is essential to consider all the Scriptures that have a bearing on each prediction.

Deut. 30 foretold that if Israel returned to God, God would “turn your captivity” (v 3). He promised to bless them abundantly, “if you shall… keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law” (v 10). This “if” was predicated on their keeping the Law of Moses. However, there was another condition that was not stated at that time.

The promise in Deut. 30 is like a coupon you have in 2008 that expired in 2006. The coupon is no longer valid. So it is with the promise in Deut. 30. Israelis today cannot fulfill the “if” even if they want to. They have no temple in which to offer the prescribed sacrifices. Worse yet, if they were to demolish the Dome of the Rock and build a temple in its place, God would not recognize it. Jesus blotted “out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us… and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14). At that moment, God tore the veil of the temple from top to bottom. From that moment, the Law of Moses was no longer valid. “For the priesthood being changed [from Levi to Christ], there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12).

The promise of return with blessings based on keeping the laws in “this book of the law,” is no longer valid. The promise has expired. As Paul told the Galatians, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace” (5:4). Any promise based on keeping the Law of Moses is out-dated, expired, of no value today. The way for Jews to be blessed of God today is the same as for all of us. “There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Because of Jesus’ death, God’s requirements and conditions have changed.