Does God Repent, or Doesn’t He? Part 3: The Point


Read Part 1 and Part 2.

If God’s omniscience and immutability rule out a change of mind, then why does the Scripture relate incidents in which he “repents”? I’ve suggested that the biblical authors are using literary devices to demonstrate important points about God—theological points. If you’ll run down the list of those incidents, you should be able to state the point that the author is making in each case—

  • Genesis 6.6: In the face of God’s grace and mercy in placing mankind into a world where everything he really needs is free, and in freely forgiving his sin, the pervasive evil and rebellion of mankind against God and against other human images of God is so grievous that the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator regrets that he ever made humans. Human evil is astonishingly wicked, and that wickedness is astonishingly hurtful to the Creator.
  • Exodus 32.14: After God has chosen a specific family to be his own, and has promised them a land in which they can live in perpetuity, and has heard their cries for deliverance from an evil taskmaster, and has brought them safely and miraculously out of bondage and rendered the taskmaster incapable of pursuing them by destroying the mightiest military force on the planet, and after they have sworn to do all that he has asked of them, they have violated their oath and turned on the very source of all the good that they have. This is the Genesis event exponentiated; human evil is astonishingly wicked, and that wickedness is astonishingly hurtful to the Creator—indeed, to their Father. But the core lesson is that in the face of all of this, intercession works. God hears the prayers of his people. He loves them as intensely as their sin grieves him.
  • Judges 2.18: God is deeply moved by the suffering of his people—so moved that he intervenes repeatedly to stop the pain, knowing that they will repeatedly defy him as soon as the pain stops. God loves his people deeply and faithfully, in ways that they do not love him.
  • 1Samuel 15.11, 35: When the people wanted a king—for all the wrong reasons (1S 8.19-22)—even though God had promised that in his time they would have one (Gn 49.10), God gave them the king they wanted. Yet the king persistently resisted the will of God and the words of his prophet. After a long pattern of disobedience and, frankly, insanity, Saul essentially refuses to lead the people who have asked for his leadership, and God rejects him—as, in fact, he always had. When God’s people insist on their will instead of his, it not only damages them, but it hurts their loving Provider.
  • 2Samuel 24.16: Even when judgment is deserved, a loving God is pained by it, and he will not let it continue beyond hope.
  • Isaiah 38.5: I think of this one as similar to Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac in Genesis 22. God is not planning for Hezekiah to die: his heir has not yet been born (2Chr 33.1), and God has promised the continuance of the line. Here God is stretching Hezekiah’s faith, giving him—and us—an opportunity for a more intimate look at the love God has for him.
  • Jonah 3.10: God unfailingly responds to repentance, no matter the intensity and depth of the sin involved—and in this case, despite the fact that he has no covenantal relationship with the ones repenting.
  • Amos 7.3, 6: See under 2Samuel 24.16. God’s love and empathy for his people is the counterbalance to his justice and the judgment that it requires.

So what do all these verses about God’s repenting teach us?

Two things.

First, he’s wise, and his plans always come to pass. He never loses. We can trust in the ultimate success of his plans. He’s great.

And second, he loves us and listens to us, and he is moved to action on our behalf. Our prayers matter; go ahead and ask. He’s good.

Great. And good.

There is none like him.

Dan Olinger Bio

Dr. Dan Olinger has taught at Bob Jones University since 2000, following 19 years as a writer, editor, and supervisor at BJU Press. He teaches courses in theology, New Testament, and Old Testament, with special interests in ecclesiology and the Pauline Epistles.