God repents

Does God change his mind? I want to start with two stories.

1. Hezekiah

The first, found in the bible in 2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 38, tells of King Hezekiah falling ill, and the prophet Isiah bringing news to get his house in order because he will die. So Hezekiah prays and God sends word, through Isaiah again, that Hezekiah will be well in three days and will live for a further 15 years.

I have heard a couple of things about this,

  • that Hezekiah was wrong, disobeying God and that if he had obeyed God then his son Manasseh, born in that 15 year period would never have been King, Manasseh was the worst King Judah had.
  • that God wanted Hezekiah to die and changed his mind due to Hezekiah’s prayer

I see no evidence in the text for either of those views. It does not say that God had sent the illness or that God wanted Hezekiah to die at this point. Reminding God of his promises is part of how peopled prayed before they asked God for things, it is all through the Old Testament. That God had Hezekiah’s death planned out and Hezekiah prayed against it does not fit how I read the passage, and it sounds all to fatalistic to me.

God is not a micromanager. Rather God wants a relationship with us, a relationship between a parent and a child, not between a slave and a slave owner. When a child asks a parent for something then the parent makes a decision because they love the child. Prayer can make God change his mind.

2. Moses

In Exodus 32:14 there is a difference in translation between different English versions in the Bible. The story up to this: Moses has gone up a mountain to get the commandments but it is taking a lot of time. So the people waiting in the camp ask Aaron to take things into his own hands. He tells the people to bring their earrings and out of that gold makes a statue of a calf. The people worship the calf.

God is not pleased.

So God sends Moses back down the mountain, and tells him that he will destroy the Israelites before and raise up a people from Moses. Moses disagrees and prays for the people. And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. Exodus 32:14 Authorized Version.

God repented.

What does repentance mean – this is not the same as what we mean in English. The word repent, nacham in Hebrew can mean to repent of having done something wrong, which is what we rake it to mean; it literally means “to change your mind.” But it can also mean to relent or have compassion.

Out of 27 versions of the Bible nacham in Exodus 32:14 is translated in various ways:
9 times it it is translated repented
7 times relented
7 times changed his mind
Once reconsidered
Once turned from
Once was prevailed upon
Once was appeased

So many different ways of translating the passage shows that the word is difficult to translate. There is no direct English equivalent.

But we are in a relationship with God, and relationships go both ways. We have to listen to God, but passages like this shows us that God listens to us too.

Tell me what you think

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