17. But what about the Bible verse that says that God can’t change His mind?
1 Samuel 15:29 says, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” I grew up believing this as a simple fact about the nature of God: He is incapable of changing His mind. It made sense. I mean, if He knows all things and knows what’s best for all things and always does what’s best in all things, then, of course, we can’t change His mind. How could we talk Him into something other than what He’s going to do?
But then, I didn’t know how to think of all the Bible passages that talk about how God changed His mind when dealing with the Israelites. He said that He’d bring them to the Promised Land, and then He had them die in the desert. He said that He’d destroy them in His righteous anger, and then someone prayed and so He didn’t. It sure looked like He changed His mind to me. So how could I understand that verse? And what is God’s real nature, then?
This is where an older version of the Bible comes in handy. Older versions do not say that God does not change His mind; they say that He will not “relent.” It’s not that He “does not change His mind ever,” as though He is incapable of doing it. It’s that, in this passage, He had determined a punishment for the continued disobedience of the Israelites and He would not relent (go back on the punishment) this time. And, given their hard hearts and continued false repentance, He shouldn’t have to. This, for me, totally changes the meaning of the verse and my understanding of God.
And then there’s Numbers 23:19 that says, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” In this chapter, Balaam’s second oracle, Balaam was asked by Balak to curse the people of Israel. But God commanded Balaam to pronounce a blessing on them, instead.
If you look at Numbers 23:19-20 it says this: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.”
Again, I do not think this is saying that He is incapable of changing His mind. I think that, in this context and instance, it means that He will not fail to do what He says He would do. Even though Balak had summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites, God had pronounced blessings and would not change His mind. And He can be trusted to follow through with His promises.
It’s a neat fact to me that God can be talked into changing His mind when someone prays for His mercy, but that He doesn’t really change His mind when He’s decided to bless. (As long as we do our parts! Our disobedience can delay or alter the fulfillment of promises, such as the Israelites’ trip to Canaan.) He’s so much more willing to be generous and merciful than punishing and hard-nosed.
This is so different from humans. We are usually so quick to make offers or promises that sound good (with good intentions, of course), but then we change our minds and don’t follow through. And we are so good at holding grudges against people for the things they’ve done to us, refusing to extend the kind of abundant mercy that God shows us. Just goes to show what a merciful, loving God we have.