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Exodus 32:14, "...the Lord changed His mind..."

Exodus 32:14, "...the Lord changed His mind..."

 

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

Different Bible's translate this verse differently.  The NASB says, "the Lord changed His mind."  The NIV and NKJV say "The Lord relented."  The KJV, RSV, and the 1901 ASV say, "The Lord repented."  The Hebrew word at issue here is relent/repent is נָחַם (nacham).  There are 108 occurrences in the Old Testament.  The KJV translates it as "comfort" 57 times, "repent" 41 times, "comforter" nine times, and "ease" once. 1

The issue, of course, is whether or not God actually goes through a process of changing His mind due to learning something, as the open theists would maintain.  But, is God actually reacting to knew "Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people. 13'Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever. 14So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people," (Exodus 32:12-14, NASB).

First of all, it is apparent that Moses disobeyed God's instruction to leave Him alone (v. 10).  Instead of Moses listening to God, he pleads with God to spare Israel and God relents.  Why?  What is the significance of God allowing Himself to be swayed by the interceding work of Moses on behalf of Israel?  Why did God not ignore Moses' request and go ahead and destroy the nation?  The answer is simple:  because of Jesus.  Jesus said inJohn 5:39, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me."  Jesus says the Bible is about Him.  Certainly, such an important figure as Moses must reflect Jesus in some way, and he does.  As Moses interceded for his people, Jesus also intercedes for His.  God listened to Moses because God would listen to Jesus.

Second, we must ask if God was or was not aware of the condition of the hearts of the people of Israel.  Open theism states that God knows all of the present exhaustively, including the attitudes and thoughts of all people.  Now, didn't God know the hearts of the people?  Didn't He know they were ready for idolatry?  Are we to believe that God didn't know there were going to be a host of Jews who would most certainly fall into idolatry if Moses was up on the mount too long?  It seems so, yet God allowed them the time necessary to fall into idolatry.  Moses then ordered the Levites to kill those who opposed God, and about 3,000 fell that day (Exodus 32:28).  It is interesting to note that in Acts, when Peter preached and the Spirit of God moved on people and they were saved, 3,000 were added that day to the church (Acts 2:41).  When the Law was given, 3,000 died.  When the gospel was given, 3,000 were saved.

Third, God often waits until something happens before He "makes His move."  In the Garden of Adam and Eve, God waited to come on the scene until after Adam and Eve sinned.  God promised Abraham he would be the father of a great nation, but waited until after Ishmael was born before he allowed Abraham to have Isaac.  Jesus waited until Lazarus died before going to resurrect him.  In fact, Jesus' incarnation did not occur until the time of Roman oppression and Pharisaical legalistic apostasy.  Can we not also expect that God had Moses wait on the Mount until the people of Israel fell into idolatry so that He might desire to exterminate them, and so that Moses might intercede (as a type of Christ), so that God might show His mercy?  Notice how the intercession of Moses is an appeal to the grace of God in face of the Law of God, which had already been given.  The Law of God said not to commit idolatry (Exodus 20), yet the Israelites did just that.  It was not until after the Law was given to Moses that their sin was to be judged and the intercession of Moses occurred.  As Amos 3:7 says, "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets."  God reveals His will and plans in types and symbols in the Old Testament.  These types and symbols point ahead to Jesus, of which Moses was a type.

Conclusion

  1. We see that the Hebrew word for "repent, relent, change," etc. is nashash, which has a scope of meaning, which we see in other translations, that can infer God's change of direction and purpose towards a people.
  2. We see that Moses was a type of Christ demonstrating the intercessory work of Christ, to which God would listen.
  3. God must have known the present condition of the Jews and would have known they were going to commit idolatry, yet He kept Moses on Mt. Sinai until after their sin.  This had to be done for a purpose, both to demonstrate the Law of God for those who were destroyed and the mercy of God upon those who repented.
  4. If God changed His mind, in that He adapted to new information, then God does not know all things (1 John 3:20), did not even know the then-present condition of the Israelites, waited too long with Moses on Mt. Sinai, and was influenced by Moses who disobeyed God's command to leave Him alone.  It would make more sense to say that God waited for a reason, threatened to destroy Israel, and allowed Moses to intercede on their behalf so they would be saved.
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If we accept the fact that God is perfection,

and that He cannot change how do we account for certain parts of the Bible that seem to indicate that God changed His mind?

There are several instances in the Scripture where God seems to relent, or change His mind, about something that He was going to do.

Moses And The People

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 32) he found that the people had fallen into sin.

They had made for themselves a golden calf and were worshipping it. God then told Moses that He was ready to destroy the nation.

Moses pleaded for the people and the Scripture says,

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people (Exodus 32:14).

Is this not a clear example of God changing His mind?

He Regretted He Made Saul King

Scripture seems to say that God had second thoughts about making Saul the king of Israel.

I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands." Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the LORD all night (1 Samuel 15:11).

God Changed Toward The Nineveh

In the Book of Jonah we have a similar situation. God was going to destroy the people of Nineveh. They repented of their sins and God had mercy on them.

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).

This Is From The Viewpoint Of Humanity

The seeming changing of God's mind in these and in other situations makes people wonder if God is wavering in His word. But this is not the case. In the situation with Moses God was angry because the people had rejected Him in favor of an idol. His desire to destroy them was not unalterable. Moses' intercession on behalf of the people kept them from being destroyed. From humanity's point of view God's mind was changed but God had known all along what would happen. Moses prayed for mercy and God answered his prayer.

God Did Not Change What He Had Planned To Do

The same is true in the case of Jonah and Nineveh. The people of Nineveh prayed to God and asked His forgiveness. God heard their prayer and granted mercy to them. He did not change His mind for He knew all along they would repent of their sins. Yet from a human point of view this was unknown. The people had not been assured that God would stop judgment if they repented but Jonah had an idea that this might happen. When the prophet realized that Nineveh would not be destroyed he prayed to God and said:

Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm (Jonah 4:2).

The Change Was With Humanity

We see in both these instances that a prayer of repentance changed the outcome of the situation. The change was not with God but with humanity. When the conduct of humanity changed towards God, the conduct of God appeared to change toward humankind. Yet God was consistent in His behavior all along.

The Change Is Always God Stopping Punishment

When Scripture tells us about God relenting, or repenting, of what He said He would do, each instance is in regard to punishment. It is never a case of God promising to do something good and then changing His mind. His promises to His people will not be broken.

For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 8:29).

The Word Could Mean God Was Sorry Or Grieved

There is also the possibility that the word translated "repent" has the idea of being grieved or sorry, with no idea of the concept of change. If this is the case, then Scripture does not even suggest a change in God's dealings.

Summary

The Bible assures us of the following things about God's nature. God will not change toward us with His promises. Any seeming change in God's dealings is from humanity's point of view not God's. Every time God changed His mind it was in favor of humanity rather than against. There is also the possibility that the word translated "repent" has more the idea of being grieved or sorry. If this is the correct translation then there is no issue here with respect to God's dealings with humanity.

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