Does God change his mind, if He does is that a good thing?
Surely if He changes direction that can be seen as God being taken by surprise and having to change His actions and that would make Him not perfect.
If God does not change then that could make Him seem quite legalistic.
Can God change his plans for you?
How many times did God change his mind in the bible, if at all?
Are there examples of God changing his mind because of prayer?
Looking at Noah’s life we can see some interesting situations that can also occur in our lives:
1. God’s dependability in nature – He does not change
Can you imagine what the world would be like if there was a fickle God, one who was erratic in his behaviour?
The natural laws would then be variable, and unstable, depending upon God’s mood!
But here is the ‘God does not change his mind’ Bible verse:
He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”1 Samuel 15:29 NIV
God is consistent and reliable.
If He was not, the force of gravity could be extreme one day, making it difficult to move about, then insignificant on another day, making it impossible to keep things down in the same position.
Our coffee could float out of its mug. It would be chaotic.
Paul tells us that:
..in Christ all things hold together.”Colossians 1:17 NIV
I believe that all molecular structures are held together by Christ’s unchangeable power. It is He who gives this creation its stability.
But that is not all.
2. God is unchanging and trustworthy in relationships
If God was erratic, can you imagine what it would be like to come into a relationship with Him?
Where would you stand with Him?
The Bible contains many, many promises, but if God was changeable, these promises would become useless.
But thankfully we have a God Who is unchangeable.
And this dependable God said to Noah:
I will establish My Covenant with you.”Genesis 6:18 NIV
What does the word ‘Covenant’ mean? A dictionary would say something like:
‘A formal agreement between two parties’.
Because God is one of the parties, He will establish it.
He makes it sure, and He makes it everlasting.
When you stop to think about God making a Covenant, how incredible that circumstance was!
Here we have Almighty God, stooping to make an agreement with Noah.
But we’re not just looking at Noah. If we believe in Jesus Christ, God says to us:
I will establish My Covenant with you.”
Jesus said to His disciples, prior to His death:
This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”Luke 22:20 NIV
The thought of the Sovereign, Immortal, Majestic, All Sufficient God, coming to make an agreement, that would be binding upon Himself, and that could limit His workings is amazing!
And because that agreement is with mortal men and women, who came from the dust of the earth is even more extraordinary!
God is perfect in all His ways, He’s faithful and truthful, and yet He makes a binding agreement on Himself, with changeable, volatile mankind.
He is pleased to do that.
What security we can gain from this revelation!
Why? Because He is trustworthy!
I expect we’ve all known someone whose words cannot be trusted.
Perhaps they’ve got a colourful imagination, or they twist things.
So you end up never entirely trusting what they’ve said. But God isn’t like that.
When God makes a promise, a covenant, then that is firmer than the earth itself.
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”Matthew 5:18 NIV
Every word that He speaks is rock solid and is trustworthy.
How many of us have experienced a temperamental boss?
It isn’t easy to know where you stand with them. One day, you may be able to tease them, but on another, you are shouted at for no apparent reason.
But God isn’t like that.
Remember, in Samuel, it is written of the Lord that ‘He does not lie or change His mind.’
We know where we stand with the Lord because He has revealed His will, and His purposes through His Word, so we can have confidence before Him.
3. God took pleasure in Noah’s life
In Genesis, it says:
But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.Genesis 6:8 ESV
These are the generations of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man blameless in his generation.
Noah walked with God.
And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”
What did you notice from that reading?
What was repeated over, and over again?
Noah’s name is mentioned five times in five sentences. (The N.I.V. Bible misses one out and so puts Noah’s name four times).
Why say it five times, when once would have been enough?
Because the Holy Spirit took pleasure in the remembrance of Noah’s name.
If we have got a special, close friend, then their name is special.
When we come into covenant with the Lord, we come into friendship with the Living God.
God said to Noah:
I am going to bring flood waters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it.Genesis 6:17-18 NIV
Everything on earth will perish.
But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark..”
4. Is God unchangeable or does He change his mind in the bible?
Before we look at the possibility of God changing His mind we need to say that God is unchangeable in His:
- Essence. He does not age, He is Spirit. His goodness remains the same.
- Knowledge. He has always known everything there is to know.
- Will and purpose. His perfect mind makes perfect decisions.
- Dwelling place. God is everywhere all of the time. When we are aware of His Presence in greater measure, it does not mean that God has moved, just that spiritually we are more aware of His Presence. 2
So, here are two verses from the Bible that tell us that God does not change:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”James 1:17 NIV
Here we are told that God remains the same throughout all time, forever and ever:
your years go on through all generations.Psalm 102:24-27 NIV
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
But there are several verses that suggest that God does change His mind:
5. Does the potter in Jeremiah change his mind?
The Lord told Jeremiah, the prophet, to go to watch the potter making a pot on the wheel:
And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.Jeremiah 18:4-6 ESV
Then the word of the Lord came to me:
‘O house of Israel can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’ “
Within the context of the passage these verses are not talking about the sovereignty of God as in Romans, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use?” [Romans 9:21]
In Jeremiah, the ‘clay was spoiled**’.
The word ‘spoiled**’ is שָׁחַת (sha.chat) and part of the meaning of this word is ‘corrupted’.
The fault lies not with the potter, God did not make a mistake in trying to form a pot.
The fault is in the quality of the clay and the potter had to mould it ‘into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter’ – perhaps the quality of the clay would only allow a lower, more chunky vessel to be made.
So it could be said that the responsiveness of the clay to the plans of the potter can alter the potter’s plans.
So if individuals, or nations, turn from their wickedness then God can stop any judgment upon them:
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.’ “Jeremiah 18:7-10 ESV
God says in this situation, ‘I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it’.
Which sounds like He is changing His mind.
But it is not like God is saying, ‘Oh I don’t know what to do here, perhaps I had better do something different.’
No, God is just responding to the quality of the clay. The clay is no longer corrupted and the people have turned to God, therefore He responds to that by withdrawing His judgments.
He has not changed His mind in the sense that He has always responded to how humanity has behaved.
God is not promising to change his course of action towards a nation just
because he feels like it; he is promising change for change and simply doing what he promised to do. 3
6. Did God change His mind over King Saul?
The word of the Lord came to Samuel:1 Samuel 15:10-12, 28-29 & 35 ESV
‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’
And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning…
And Samuel said to him [Saul],
‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbour of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret‘…
And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death but Samuel grieved over Saul.
And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”
In these verses, all from the same chapter, there appears to be a contradiction:
- Verse 10 God says, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king…’
- Verse 29 Samuel says about God that He, ‘will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret‘
- Verse 35 the narrator says, ‘the Lord regretted‘
All these are the same word which is נָחַם (na.cham) ‘nicham’.
The English words ‘regret’ and ‘relent’ work for the translation.
One thought is that God, as God, cannot feel “regret” because He can do no wrong and therefore cannot feel regret.
But that is based solely on the regret of Himself doing something wrong.
God’s “regret” was not due to God making a mistake but by Saul doing wrong and continuing to do wrong, to make excuses and to blame other people.
Also, how can we say what emotions God can and cannot feel?
In the Bible, God reveals himself to us as One who feels pain does grieve, does get angry and has other emotions.
So this is how God expects us to view him and to relate to him.
In reading the Bible, which is a mixture of humanity’s good and bad actions, it is helpful to look out for two voices that are always right: God and the narrator.
To understand what is going on in the 1 Samuel 15 passage we need to look at the context:
By this point, God had already decided to cut short Saul’s dynasty because he had performed a sacrifice when Samuel should have done it:
And Samuel said to Saul,1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV
‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you.
For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.
But now your kingdom shall not continue.
The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
So the Lord was allowing Saul to carry on as king for the time being, depending on how Saul behaved.
It would seem that God gave Saul a test at this point.
Samuel told Saul to go and eliminate the Amalekites whom God promised to destroy once Israel was settled in the Promised Land [Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 25:19].
But Saul did not do what was required, he kept the defeated king Agag as a trophy to ‘show off’ his triumph and he set up a monument to himself.
Unsurprisingly, this grieves the Lord and he tells Samuel that he regrets that He made Saul king, bearing in mind that Saul does not turn and do right, but continues on a downward spiral of rebellion.
Samuel catches up with Saul, who then brags to Samuel how he has obeyed God’s command and makes a complete mockery of the situation.
So Samuel responds by saying:
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king…
As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore.
And Samuel said to him,
‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.
And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
So in context, Saul was given chances to repent but he refused to do so and continued to go deeper into rebellion against God.
So by this time, all opportunities to repent were finished and God had now taken the kingdom away from him and was not going to give it back.
Saul has treated God like a man who can be hoodwinked and deceived, but God is not a man, so God has decided to give Saul no more chances and He will not regret that decision.
Within the flow of the events, there is no contradiction.
God does not change and is not erratic.
But He does respond to people who change their ways and turn to God.
He also responds to people who rebel against Him, He gives them chances to repent, but at some point, He will reject them if they stubbornly refuse.
7. So does God change his mind when we pray?
And the Lord said to Moses,Exodus 32:7-14 ESV
‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.
They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.
They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”
And the Lord said to Moses,
‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.’
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said,
‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?
Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ‘
And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
Here God stops pouring out judgment upon the people of Israel, but not because they have repented, for they are blissfully unaware of their predicament and are continuing in their sin.
The Lord has responded to Moses’ prayer and is willing to give the people a second chance.
God is completely sovereign and yet He is willing to let someone, through prayer, change the course of history.
It is not known why Mosses’ intercession for Israel was successful at this time, while other examples in the Bible were not.
God was going to destroy the people at that point for worshipping the golden calf and this is confirmed in Psalms:
Therefore he [God] said he would destroy them – had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.Psalm 106:23-27 ESV
Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord.
Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness, and would make their offspring fall among the nations, scattering them among the lands.”
Even though they were spared at that point, they still sinned and because of their unwillingness to turn to God they were destined to die in the wilderness and they never entered the Promised Land.
Abraham interceded for Sodom, Lot was saved but Sodom was still destroyed.
Both Moses’ and Abraham’s prayers seem to show God inviting input into a sinful situation.
People’s prayers cannot change God’s mind through manipulation.
Moses is not attempting to raise himself up, he is doing quite the
Moses is selflessly asking God and relying upon God’s faithfulness to have mercy.
The Lord does take our prayers into consideration when he acts in the world.
The word ‘nicham-ing’ is used in the quote below and is the word translated as ‘change his mind’ ‘relent’ ‘regret’ or ‘repent’.
The approach advocated here is to understand God as he reveals himself, not as our theological constructs reveal him.Sims, Colton, ‘Does God Change His Mind? An Old Testament View’ 6
We must let our reading of scripture change our view of God; not let our view of God change our reading of scripture.
Even if it is confusing to us, we must accept that God has revealed himself to us in scripture the way he wants to be understood.
This means he is not truly the transcendent [going beyond ordinary limits, the universe, time, etc,4 ] God, and he is not truly the immanent [the state or quality of a Deity exclusively existing within the universe, time, etc5 ] God, but he is both the transcendent and immanent God.
He is both at all times and in all circumstances, though some passages may emphasize one aspect of his nature more than the other he is always both.
If we overemphasize one over the other, then we will misunderstand God and misunderstand his word.
The truth of God’s immanence and transcendence often creates theological tension.
However, this is a tension that the Biblical authors seemed to be willing to live with.
If they were willing to live with it, maybe we should be too.
There will always be some mystery to God…
So as we move forward, we do so humbly acknowledging our inability to fully comprehend the divine mystery…
The passages where God seems to change his mind or plans, are seen as anthropomorphic [Anthropomorphic language is the recognition of human qualities in God.] including passages where God experiences pain or regret, they are just the next stage in God’s unfolding plan, or are just a change of orientation due to mankind’s sin or repentance…”
References – open in new tabs:
‘4 Distinct Ways That God Is Unchangeable’ by Stephen Charnock. 23rd October 2022. This article is adapted from The Existence and Attributes of God: Updated and Unabridged. Edited by Mark Jones. Crossway. ↩