Sunday, June 30, 2013

Did Moses Change God’s Mind?

One of the first articles I ever wrote was an attempt to answer this question: "In Exodus 32, did Moses change God's mind"? This morning we took on a similar question in our Tough Questions series. My answer today is about the same as it was in 2007:

Malachi 3:6 states, "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob are no consumed." (ESV). Numbers 23:19 "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he shouild change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" These verses make clear that God does not change His mind. Psalm 33:11, 102:25-27; and Hebrews 6:17-18 speak of God’s unchangeable purposes.

So what do we make of Exodus 32 (or even Isaiah 38:1-6 or Jonah 3:4, 10)?

While God was giving Moses the 10 Commandments the people of Israel began getting a little restless, so they did what we all do--make our own gods. In verse 10, God meets the Israelites with anger. He is ready to consume every one of them save for Moses. Then Moses prays, focusing on the honor of God’s name, appeals to God’s faithfulness, and pleads with God to continue considering Israel as His people. In verse 14 we read, “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people”.

When we read this we understand the word “relented” (KJV’s ‘repented’, NASB’s ‘changed his mind’, or NLT ‘withdrew his threat’) literally. Yet it is actually what we theologians call an anthropopathism. Which is a big word that simply means “giving God human emotions. From our perspective it appears that God ‘relents’ or ‘changes his mind’, but from God’s perspective He is appropriately dealing with changes in human behavior.

If men turn away from sin and repent God will forgive. There is little difference between God’s ‘changing’ in Exodus 32 and His ‘changing’ when a sinner turns and repents. Scripture states that one apart from Christ is “God’s enemy” and has “the wrath of God upon him”. Yet, as soon as a person “repents and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ” he is saved from the wrath to come. God’s view of a person is no longer that of enemy but of a friend. It is similar in this situation: Moses repents (as the representative head of the people), God responds to Moses’ repentance and forgives or ‘relents’.

So does God change His mind? Absolutely not. God is forever unchanging in His character and in His purposes. Yet as Wayne Grudem comments, "God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations".
That does not make God unchanging it merely makes Him living.

The real question is this, "Did Moses change God's mind (so as to catch God by surprise) or was Moses' intercessory prayer all a part of God's will and purpose to show His grace?"

Scripture clearly shows that God’s character does not change. He has the same settled disposition towards sin. When Moses prayed He did not change God’s mind. To hold to a doctrine which says, "Moses changed God's mind" is contrary to what God says in Scripture. He is unswerving in His character and purposes. Moses did not change the course of history, nor catch God off-guard by praying for the Israelites, just as the death of Christ was ordained from the foundation of world, so Moses' prayer was forever in God's plan.

Therefore, this unchanging God is mighty to save! If we had a changing God then our hope would be lost. If He can change in His affections for me (meaning: constantly in response to me--so as to say "I changed God's mind") then He can do so positively or negatively. What confidence do we have then in our salvation as well as in the God of our salvation?

Take heart, as God said in Malachi 3:6, his unchanging character and purpose is so that we are not consumed. If he could change then we would be consumed. Be comforted in the fact that God's purpose is set and He is able to save us to the uttermost. The blood of Christ is still sufficient and ALWAYS will be.


    Why do men fictionalize Scriptures rather than reading them and believing them? I will let you reach your own conclusion as to the answer. What is is purpose of water baptism according to Acts 2:38?

    1. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (New American Standard Bible)

    2. Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible New International Version 1983)

    3. Acts 2:38 The Peter said unto them,Let each of of you repent and be immersed, in the name of Jesus Christ, in order to the remission of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ) The Better Version of the New Testament by Chester Estes)

    4. Acts 2:38 Peter told them, "You must repent and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, so that you may have your sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips)


    1. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized because your sins have already been forgiven. (Fictional Account)

    2. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized as a testimony of your faith. (Invented Version)

    3. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized as an act of obedience. (Fantasy Translation)

    4. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized because you were forgiven the minute you believed. (The Version of Unfounded Truth)

    5. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized with Holy Spirit baptism; because water baptism is not a New Covenant requirement. (The Version of Spurious and Erroneous Quotes)

    6. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, for the forgiveness of sins; but water baptism is optional, because the thief on the cross was not baptized in water. (The Counterfeit Version of Truth)

    7. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Rent and be baptized in order to join denomination of your choice. (The Creed Bible By Men)

    8. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized as a symbolic jester, pointing to the fact that your sins were forgiven when you said "The Sinner's Prayer." ( The Book of Stuff Men made-up)

    9. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized to indicate the outward sign of the forgiveness you received the very minute you believed. ( The Fabricated Book of Fantasy Verses)

    10. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent and have your committed sins forgiven by faith only. And then be baptized to be forgiven of the sin Adam committed. (The Denominational Revision of Fictional Truth)



    Posted by Steve Finnell at 1:45 PM

    1. Remind me again what this has to do with whether or not prayer changes God's mind? I'd be happy to interact with you on Acts 2:38 if I knew this were more than just a drive-by comment. As it stands this is nothing more than spam and a rude example of not interacting with the actual content of a post.

  2. Hi MIKE,
    I have thought about it, and I think the answer is 'NO' . . .

    the reason?

    what we know about Our Lord Christ is reflective of God,
    in that Our Lord formed His disciples according to His own Mind before He sent them forth into the world

    we know that God chose Moses also to do important work, so Moses was used to illustrate something about the power of God's mercy . . . if you will, a fore-shadowing of Christ . . .

    When Moses comes to plead for mercy for his people, we know that 'the change' in God's wrath was just a very limited fore-shadowing of the fullness to come of God's Mercy in the Person of Jesus Christ, but a fore-shadowing none-the-less.

    It was St. Augustine who said that the New Testament was hidden in the Old,
    and the Old Testament was unveiled in the New . . .

    you find that your answer is 'no' when you examine the account in Exodus in the light of Christ in order to understand it fully.

  3. I remember going through this with my kids a few years ago. As we read through Exodus and came to these passages, I set out to reason through this with them. I planned to ask them if God ultimately knew what his final action would be. So I started out, "Did God know...?"

    My oldest son interrupted, "Yes."

    "But I didn't finish the question," I responded.

    He said, "Any question that starts with 'Did God know...', the answer is always, 'Yes.'"

    God never said he was going to one thing that he apparently changed his mind on without knowing what he was ultimately going to do. Therefore, we can conclude that the goal with saying he was going to one thing was to achieve the change in the person he was talking to that apparently resulted in God's final action. God's goal was to change Moses.

  4. Mike-
    Quick question as I have thought over these things before: why did you start with the verses that affirm God's unchangeable nature then move to the instances where He seemed to have changed His mind, rather than starting with the verses where He changed His mind and moving to those where concerning His nature?

    To ask it another way, does it not reveal a certain predisposition to choose one set of verses as foundational over another? Thx.

    1. Great question, Marty.

      Exodus 32, Jonah 3, and Isaiah 38 are all historical narratives--describing what happened. Whereas the other verses like Malachi 3 and Numbers 23 are statements about the nature of God. I think when God says "this is who I am" thought ought to be foundational.

      It's similar to something that Plummer says in his book on biblical interp. When discussing the Proverbs Plummer says, "Some proverbs are essentially promises. These proverbs deal with the nature of God. Insofar as a proverb describes a quality of God (holiness, knowledge, etc.) that proverb is true without exception, for God is not subject to human vicissitudes."

      In the same way I believe we can say that Malachi 3:6 is true without exception because it is describing a quality of God. Exodus 32 is a historical narrative and by its very nature it makes us ask "is this descriptive or prescriptive".

      Does that make sense?

    2. I understand the explanation (because I've used it a dozen times myself, lol).

      Here's my dilemma: where does the Bible tell us how/when/why to separate who God is from what God does? That seems a false dichotomy. If God never acts different than His nature, then it seem both scriptures are foundational.

      One example would be how Paul utilizes the OT in 1 Corinthians 10. Everything given there for our example (ie, teaching us how to live) comes from the narrative. None of it comes from what we would generally consider propositional truth.

      Understand, I'm not throwing stones. I do think, more than we realize, our larger theological grid can affect the way we approach the text. I'm concerned lest I put upon the scripture an interpretation framework (a hermeneutic, if you will) it neither demands nor suggests.

      Now, does that make any sense?

    3. I'm not advocating separating who God is from what God does. I'm simply saying that when God says "Here is what I am doing" or "Here is who I am" that is more clear than a historical narrative describing something that God does.

      Let's say that I'm new to reading the Scriptures. I read Exodus 32 (a historical narrative) and I conclude from this story that God is one that changes his plan based upon our prayers. I even go so far as to saying that my prayers can change God's mind.

      Then I start reading the Scriptures some more and come to a place like Malachi 3:6. Here clearly God says, "I don't change". These two passages seem to contradict each other. So I need to look at both of these passages and be sure that I'm seeing everything correctly.

      The first place I'm going to suspect is my reading of a historical narrative. Did I glean the right lesson from that text? Propositional statements like Malachi 3:6 are pretty straight forward. Fleshing that out into real life (Exodus 32) is a little more difficult. That's why I started with Malachi 3:6 instead of Exodus 32.

      Thanks for the discussion.



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