Does God Repent?

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by Mark Osgatharp, Mar 19, 2003.

  1. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    Does God repent?

    When Moses begged the Lord not to repent of His intention to destroy the people of Israel for their idolatry, the Scripture says, without equivocation,

    "the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto them."

    The clarity and import of this statement is so clear that the gainsayers must resort to vain philosophy about "anthropomorphisms" to cloud the issue. All of the rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, the passage still says what it says and there are numerous others that say the same:

    "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul."

    "The Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, it is enough."

    "Nevertheless he regarded their affliction when he heard their cry; and he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the mulitutde of his mercies."

    "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."

    Ironically, those who maintain, against these and many other passages, that God does not repent, do so on the pretence of defending His sovereignty. By so reasoning, they actually deny God one of the most basic rights of a sovereign - the right to change his mind!

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  2. Matt Black

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    Good OP, Mark! I've always struggled with those passages and also the pre- and post-Flood passages (Gen 6:6 and 8:21-9:17) which appear to suggest that God does change His mind and regrets His actions. I'm afraid I don't have any easy answers though!

    Any ideas?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  3. BWSmith

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    Your argument assumes, of course, that the human authors of those passages were not projecting their own theories of God onto history.

    Why do enterprises that God sponsored (creation of man, coronation of Saul) go awry and need to be undone? It can't be because the all-powerful God "loses" or "screws up". Apparently, according to the authors of those passages in Genesis and Samuel (both written just before or during the Judean Exile, lacking the hindsight of the Persian Restoration) it is because God "changes his mind" every now and then, and has to redo things with Noah and David.

    In response, I'm not so sure that God "changes his mind" as much as God operates in ways that are beyond human comprehension, giving the appearance that He changed His mind, but really staying the course on the way things have to be, as bewildering as the path may be. God didn't "change his mind" on the kingdom of Judah, but from the point of view of the exiles, it appeared that He did.

    Maybe God's intent was to have Jesus be the earthly king of the Jews and He "changed His mind" and decided to have Him crucified instead, (hence the "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?"). I hope he doesn't change his mind about our plan of salvation and decide to redo things through Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Sun Myung Moon.

    In short, if God changes His mind, we can't be sure that the truth of the Bible will last forever.

    I do agree with Moz that God "changing his mind" is exactly what the Bible says and plainly means, to the chagrin of the inerrantist Calvinists. I just think that it is theologically "incomplete" at best and "incorrect" at worst. You can see in the "priestly" side of the flood that no such assertions are made. God is completely in control of all events from start to finish. You also see in the larger picture of Joshua-Kings that loss of political power is the result of sin of the leader, not a divine mistake in the choice of kings. That "whole truth" is the theological message that God wants us to have.
     
  4. Helen

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    Hey all you scholars! Check the word that is used! The word the KJV translates as 'repent' is not the word as we think of it in terms of changing one's mind. The word is "nacham", meaning 'to sigh; to breathe strongly.'

    It therefore indicates a great sadness over something. For people it would be an impetus to change one's mind concerning one's own actions, which is the meaning we see in 'repent.' However that is much too narrow a meaning for the Hebrew word and, in fact, that meaning contradicts what God Himself says in Isaiah, that He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10, etc.) and that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

    Thus, in line with the character of God as revealed in the Bible, the use of the word "nacham" there does not mean God has changed his mind at all; it means, rather, that He is feeling a great sadness over what He knows will now take place. What must take place.

    This is why the modern versions have changed the translations to lines along "The Lord was grieved...and his heart was filled with pain." which we see in Genesis 6:6, right before the Flood. God does not take pleasure in evil or its devastation. He knows what will happen, but that does not stop His grief when the time comes for it to happen.

    Please don't go running off on theological rabbit chases until you know it is a rabbit you are chasing. You have got the wrong word and thus the wrong argument here.
     
  5. Baptist Believer

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    Absolutely. You gave clear biblical evidence for it too. [​IMG]

    Other people, like BWSmith, have raised good points that God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are far above our thoughts, but it certainly seems that God does change His mind. The thought that God could change His mind does not reflect badly on the character or attributes of God, but it does devastate many of the modern theological constructs we have built to try to explain God. Changing one's mind or changing strategy does not necessarily indicate a lack of knowledge or a mistake. If human beings truly have free will (within the context in which they live) and God has determined to be in relationship with them, then the choices we make help determine how God will respond. If we repent, perhaps God will relent of His intended destruction of us (Jonah). If we obey His calling and offer our son in faith, God will know we are devoted to Him alone (Abraham).

    Good post!
     
  6. Baptist Believer

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    While I appreciate your sentiment, the scriptures are clear that God does change His mind as Mark has correctly pointed out. The book of Jonah is the classic example.

    Thanks! :D
     
  7. Mark Osgatharp

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    To Helen and BWSmith:

    Helen,

    Your definition of "repent" just won't fit the context. Every passage I cited has God doing one thing and then changing His mind and doing another.

    Quite apart from being an abridgement of God's character, repenting in response to man's deeds is expicitly stated to be an essential part of His character. Joel put it this way:

    "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn utno the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repeneth him of the evil."

    This aspect of God's character was so consistent that Jonah didn't want to preach to the Ninevites, because he knew that if they repented God would repent and stay His destruction. Jonah used the same terms as Joel when he complained to God for not destroying the Ninevites:

    "I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil."

    Neither does the fact of God's repentance imply, as BWSmith asserts, that God made some error to start with. It simply tells us that God has given man a will and that He responds to our obedience or disobedience with reward or punishment. When we change our course of behavior He changes His intentions toward us.

    BWSmith:

    You said,

    "I do agree with Moz that God 'changing his mind' is exactly what the Bible says and plainly means, to the chagrin of the inerrantist Calvinists. I just think that it is theologically 'incomplete at best and 'incorrect' at worst."

    In other words, you think that "holy men of God spake as they were moved by their own misunderstanding and misrepresentation of God" rather than "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" as Peter asserts.

    You prove all that the Bible believing Baptists ever said about the moderninst infidel Baptists - you don't believe in the Bible!

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  8. Mark Osgatharp

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    Matt,

    The passages which tell us God repents have nothing to do with God regretting His actions. It has simply to do with Him changing His previous course of action toward man in response to man's behavior.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  9. BWSmith

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    I think Helen and I actually agree that God does not really change his mind. What we disagree on is whether the Bible really does say it.

    The crosswalk.com Hebrew lexicon gives the following definition to nacham:

    nacham: to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted
    A. (Niphal)
    1) to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion
    2) to be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent
    3) to comfort oneself, be comforted
    4) to comfort oneself, ease oneself
    B. (Piel) to comfort, console
    C. (Pual) to be comforted, be consoled
    D. (Hithpael)
    1) to be sorry, have compassion
    2) to rue, repent of
    3) to comfort oneself, be comforted
    4) to ease oneself

    As such, it really means "regret", which is somewhere between "repent" and "sigh". It is probably closer to "repent" in light of 1 Sam 15:19: (NASB renders nacham as "change his mind")

    "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)."

    I wouldn't say that I have the "wrong" word. According to the lexicon, the reference above to 1 Sam 15 is one of eleven places where the NASB chooses to render it as "change(d) mind(s)". I don't think it's out of place to consider that when the same word is applied to God's decisions on mankind and kings.
     
  10. BWSmith

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    Don't you read my posts, Mark? You should know by now that Peter didn't write 2 Peter...
    :D

    Or rather, I believe the whole Bible, taken in its historical-critical, humanity-limited context, and not as a divine oracle from God Himself.
     
  11. Mark Osgatharp

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    BWSmith,

    I've read enough of your posts to know you aren't a 42nd cousin to a Baptist and that you put no more stock in the teachings of the Scripture than you do in Aesop's Fables.

    It is nothing other than highminded and humanistic pride that stops infidels from accepting God as He is and His word as it is. Someday all infidels will face God and then it will be too late for Him to repent and have mercy. In that day he will say to such,

    "Depart from me ye that work iniquity, I never knew you."

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  12. Helen

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    I got a PM this morning from one of the members here asking me a little more about this. I was rather in a hurry but got the following for her and PM'd it back. I looked at it this evening and thought it would be good to post it. I changed poor wording in one part and have added the cross referencing I asked that person to check since I was running late. At any rate, here is the material -- the summary of which is that God does NOT change his mind!

    ============

    The word 'nacham' or 'naham' (depending on who is spelling it!) is used 108 times in the Old Testament. It is translated "comfort" more often than anything else in the NIV. Here are the various translations, just so you know -- the parentheses are the number of times it is translated that way:

    (23) comfort
    (5) comforted
    (5) express sympathy
    (5) relent
    (4) be comforted
    (4) change mind
    (4) comforts
    (4) was grieved
    (3) console
    (3) grieved
    (3) have cmpassion
    (3) relented
    (2) am grieved
    (2) be consoled
    (2) comforter
    (2) comforters
    (2) compassion
    (2) consoled
    (2) give comfort
    (2) relents
    and a variety of related meanings only done once.

    So, first of all, you can see it is according to context! Secondly, we have to consider God's character as shown by the rest of the Bible. One of the things that is interesting to note is something Barry and I realized in Numbers 14 -- go into the Bible study section and pick it up in ours and see what you think of what we were seeing that time God "changed His mind" ..

    I did do some cross-checking to see what the KJ had done with it some of the other times. Here are some examples (the word translated from 'nacham' is in bold):

    Genesis 5:29: "And he called his name Noah, saying This [same] shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.

    Genesis 37:35: "And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him."

    Ruth 2:13: "Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou has comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens."

    In the following verses, the KJ uses 'repent' or a form of it and the NIV uses 'grieve' or a form of it: look for yourself which fits the text best:

    Gen 6:6
    Gen 6:7
    Judges 21:6
    Judges 21:15
    1 Sam 15:11
    1 Sam 15:35
    2 Sam 24:16
    1 Chron 21:15

    Now, the Lord is doing an awful lot of repenting, -- unless, of course, He is feeling grieved.

    A sermon I heard once dealt with this and the pastor smiled at us and said, "let's even substitute 'comfort' in those passages" -- and when you do, you have the incredible understanding that the Lord is looking past the grief to the glory ahead!

    Now, about the last part of your question -- the same word is used for repent for people. It is assumed that when one grieves for one's actions, one is going to at least try to change them! But, then, we don't know the end from the beginning -- at least not more than God has revealed!

    There is another word which definitely means "turn back" or "repent" and that is "shuwb", or "sub", which is used 1069 times in the OT and means "return, turn back, go back, restore, repent" etc.

    I have to leave in five minutes for an appointment, but here are the verses where you will find it used as repent in the NIV -- check them in the KJ and see how they are used there:

    1 Kings 8:47 (KJ, yes, translated as 'repent')
    2 Chron 6:37 (KJ,translation is "and turn")
    Job 36:10 (KJ, translation is "and return" [from iniquity])

    Jeremiah 5:3 (translation is [refused] "to return)

    Isaiah 59:20 (KJ translation is "turn from" [transgression])

    Jeremiah 15:19 (KJ translation is [if you] "return")

    Eze 14:6 (KJ yes, it is translated "repent")
    Ez 18:30,32 (KJ 30 is 'repent' and 32 is 'turn')
    Hosea 11:5 (KJ [refused] "to return")

    I DO NOT prefer one translation over the other. They all have their strong points and weak points. I truly love the KJ for a number of reasons. But I love some of the modern translations, too. So I am not trying to put down the KJV at all. I do think they may have been using a much older and 'broader' meaning of 'repent' in some of their verses, though. I don't know about that part. I can't imagine those fine men actually thought God could change His mind or be sorry for something He had done, as though He could do wrong!

    =====

    Evening: I just did the KJ cross-referencing for the second list and I began to see what the difference between 'nacham' and 'schuwb'. The first is an emotional reaction of sadness/grief and/or the comfort that is needed or comes after. The second is an action -- a turning from iniquity and sin. This seems to be involved consistently in the use of these two words.

    So no, there is NO indication by the use of the word nacham, regardless of what the KJ translators chose to translate it as, that the Lord turned in His mind, or changed His mind. The clear meaning in Hebrew is the emotional response of grief and, possibly, the comfort that would follow with the final, glorious ending.
     
  13. rlvaughn

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    First, to answer Mark's question - yes, God does repent. The Bible says so. There has to be understanding of the words and the context, but the idea must also be understood in harmony with the Bible's presentation of the nature of God. So I come to a closer conclusion to Helen's than what I feel Brother Osgatharp is getting at. Nevertheless, Helen, I think you run into some problems with the your ideas based on the words "shuwb" and "nacham". For example, Jonah 3:9 - "Who can tell if God will turn/shuwb and repent/nacham, and turn away/shuwb from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" You can see that BOTH words are used to describe the actions of God. It is interesting that both God and the Ninevites repented of evil. From that an immediate flag goes up for me, indicating that these are not the same kinds of repentance. Jeremiah is clear that God had a principal in place for circumstances such as Nineveh - Jer. 18:7,8 "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 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." [shuwb & nacham are both used there as well, though in this case "shuwb" is used of the nation and "nacham" is used of God.]Whatever the details, surely the case of Nineveh doesn't mean God didn't know what was going to happen and He had to change His plan, for even Jonah was sure what was going to take place (that's why He didn't like it).
     
  14. BWSmith

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    All right, you can say all you want that I'm not a Christian, but to say I'm not a Baptist?? Them's fightin words!!!
    ;)

    Wait a minute. Are you suggesting that Aesop's fables aren't true? (Sounds like sour grapes.)
    [​IMG]

    Education might play a part in that as well...

    Infidel literally means "without faith", which I would say applies to the inerrantists more than me. If you have an inerrant Bible, you don't need a Holy Spirit...
     
  15. Mark Osgatharp

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    Brother Vaughn,

    You said,

    "There has to be understanding of the words and the context, but the idea [of God repenting] must also be understood in harmony with the Bible's presentation of the nature of God."

    Joel and Jonah both made similar statements about God's propensity to repent:

    Joel said, "Rend your heart, and not your garment, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil."

    Jonah said, "I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentst thee of the evil."

    These statement are monumental in that they not only assert that God did repent, but that repenting in response to man's repentance is an essential part of God's character.

    I also note that Joel made no effort to exonorate God's omniscience in the matter, but simply called on men to repent, assuring them that God would repent of the evil He had determined on them if they would turn from their wicked ways.

    Likewise, none of the inspired men who assert that God repented on specific occasions hedged their words, but rather made bold assertions that God repented of His previous course of action.

    As a matter of fact, the Lord Himself speaks in the first person through Jeremiah and says,

    "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."

    So here is my question for all: Did God genuinely think to destroy such nations or did He lie when He said "I will repent of the evil that I THOUGHT to do unto them"? Did God really have a "thought to do" something that He knew full well He would never really do? Or did He think to do it and then change His mind when they repented?

    And before you answer reflect on the words of Moses in describing God's behavior when He suggested to Moses that He would destroy the idolaters of Israel:

    "And the Lord repented of the evil which HE THOUGHT TO DO UNTO HIS PEOPLE."

    I ask again, did God have a "THOUGHT TO DO" something that He never had any intention of doing?

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  16. rlvaughn

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    No, but if He has eternal omniscience, He would have known all the outcome before any of it came to pass. Judging from our difference of opinion on omniscience and foreknowledge as brought out in the Providence thread, we have many underlying issues to work through before having much of a profitable discussion on a topic like this.
     
  17. Artimaeus

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    God repents, therefore, God changes his mind. Illogical statements are irritating, illogical statements taken seriously are infuriating. :mad:
    Have you ever head the song that says, "Did it ever occur to you that it never occured to God." An omniscient God cannot change His mind. God said that He repented, therefore, repentance must mean something else.

    REPENTANCE
    The concept of repentance in the OT is derived primarily from two Hebrew words. The first signifies repentance in the sense of a change of action or purpose. It is mostly used in relation to God and His dealings with people (e.g., 1 Sa 15:11, 29; Ps 110:4), with only a few instances referring to human repentance or relenting (e.g., Job 42:6; Je 8:6; 18:19). Repentance on the part of humans is expressed primarily by a word meaning to “turn” or “return.” The same word is used for the concept of conversion, indicating that these two ideas are essentially synonymous in the OT.
    NASB Topical Index, (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation) 1999, c1992.
     
  18. Mark Osgatharp

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    No, but if He has eternal omniscience, He would have known all the outcome before any of it came to pass.</font>[/QUOTE]Brother Vaughn,

    Perhaps you could explain to me how God could have a "thought to do" something that about which He knew He would change His own mind. ;0)

    Until you can do that, I'll just take the Scripture as it stands, that God "thought to" bring judgment but then repented when the people repented.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  19. Mark Osgatharp

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    Artimaeus,

    You said,

    "An omniscient God cannot change His mind. God said that He repented, therefore, repentance must mean something else."

    To which I reply, a repenting God cannot have already decided everything He will ever do. God said He is omniscient, therefore, omniscient must mean something other than your preconceived Calvinistic philosphy says it means.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  20. Artimaeus

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    Omniscience is pretty much a clear concept. God knows EVERYTHING. I have never even considered learning the specifics of Calvinism. If it weasn't for your comment I wouldn't have the slightest idea on which side of this discussion John Calvin would fall on. So, I am pretty sure I have no preconceived Calvinistic philosophy. The Bible never says that God changes his mind. that is your and others slant on the meaning of the word. I am not putting a slant on omniscience. The Bible says God repented and that means He turned from doing things one way to doing things another way. Admittedly that sounds like changing His mind but in reality it isn't. If I am an unsaved person God is going to send me to Hell when I die but if I get saved He sends me to Heaven. He didn't change His mind but my actions were significant enough with Him so that He changed what he would have done had I not did what I did. We humans are significant to God
     

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