Does God Repent?

In Exodus 32, God gets angry at the Israelites for making the golden calf. So angry, in fact, that he wants to wipe them off the face of the earth. We know he doesn’t do it, but verse 14 seems to say that God made a mistake because he “relented” (or “repented”) of the threat to kill his people. But what does this really mean? Does God really feel sorry for how he feels? Does God feel sorry for his actions, judgments, and thoughts on sin?

Here’s the story: The Israelites are tired of Moses being on Mount Sinai. So they decide to tell Aaron to make a statue so they can worship it. Aaron says, “Okay, give me your jewelry and we’ll see what happens.” God says to Moses, while still on the mountain, “Look at what your people are doing. They are worshiping an idol instead of me. My anger is burning. I’m going to kill them.” Moses pleads with the Lord, “Why are you angry? Don’t you remember your promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to multiply their offspring? Please relent of your anger!” Verse 14 says, “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”

What really happened here? Did God really say he would do something and then essentially say, “Yeah, Moses, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that”? Does God repent? Does he feel bad for what he says, thinks, and feels?
Numbers 23:19 gives us the answer: “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. He has said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” The New American Standard Bible says it this way: “God is not a man…that he should repent.” Repentance means we change our mind. It means we change our path of direction. Numbers (which was written by Moses, the same person who wrote Exodus) plainly says that God does not repent. The Bible cannot contradict itself. If it could, it would not be the infallible word of God. So what can Exodus 32 mean?

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: God does not change. If God could change, there is no promise that he will not turn into an angry, demonic, crazy judge and throw all of his covenant people into hell. Hebrews 1:12 says that the world will change and pass away, “But you [God] are the same, and your years will have no end.” More than that, how could a mere man, Moses, change God’s mind? One theologian wrote, “Indeed, if man is capable of changing the mind of God, then it might be argued that man knows more about governing this world than God.”

So what did Moses do on Sinai that terrible day? Indeed, we can say that Moses was changed, not God. We can say that God used the awful situation of the golden calf to test Moses. How can we know this? Well, Moses prayed and he used God’s word in prayer. It says, “Moses implored the Lord” (v. 11). Moses remembers God’s deliverance of the Israelites in Egypt (v. 12). Moses begs the Lord to remember the promise of covenant with Israel (v. 13). God’s promises are good and true and perfect. They are unchangeable. If they weren’t, they would not have been promises in the first place. God had spoken to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God knew his covenant to Israel since eternity past. His covenant was not going to end, and this flub-up by the Israelites was not going to change that. This awful moment in the history of Israel caused Moses to trust in the promises of God. It caused Moses to seek the face of the Lord and go before God and plead for his people. God tested Moses and, by the grace of God, Moses passed the test because he remembered and believed in God’s promises.

Let us remember God’s promises as well. Let us never think that God should sin and repent like a man. God tests us, yes, but he never makes mistakes. As we look to God’s promises, let us remember that every promise “finds their Yes in Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:20). We have a rock solid hope that God will never change, because we have Jesus, the perfect image of God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).


Why God Says He is Angry and Sorry

John Calvin:

Why is it that God says he is angry, that he is sorry? Is it not because we cannot comprehend him in his incomprehensible majesty? So then, it is no absurd matter, that holy writ should speak unto us of the will of God after two sorts: not because his will is double, but to apply himself to our weakness, because our understanding is gross and as heavy as lead.

More reading:


Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?

There are two primary views of prayer in Christianity. One is that God uses prayer as one avenue to bring about his sovereign purposes in the world. The other is that man uses prayer as an instrument to bring about his will in heaven and on earth.

Open Theism is the theology that God does not know the future and he is, therefore, “open” in his relationships and dealings with people. Because of this belief, Open Theists claim that prayer can change God’s mind. Greg Boyd, one of the spearheads of Open Theism, says that this view of prayer helps God decide or change his mind, since he does not know everything. E.M. Bounds, the 19th Century Methodist minister, wrote, “Prayer affects God more powerfully than His own purposes. God’s will, words and purposes are all subject to review when the mighty potencies of prayer come in. How mighty prayer is with God may be seen as he readily sets aside His own fixed and declared purposes in answer to prayer” (my emphasis).

But is this true? Do we really serve a God who can be manipulated, persuaded, and influenced by human reason and emotion in prayer? I think William Barrick had it right when he said, “Indeed, if man is capable of changing the mind of God, then it might be argued that man knows more about governing this world than God. However, God does know what He is doing. The appearance of change is merely the fact that God had already planned to ‘change’ when His people have finally come to behave in the way He had anticipated they would in response to His words and actions.”

Instead, we can say that God uses people’s prayers as an avenue to bringing about his ultimate will. Prayer changes us. God uses prayer in our lives to pray in accordance with his will so that we are in alignment with what is on his heart and mind. We must remember that when God “changes” his mind, he already decided he would do that. We must remember that the God who seems to “repent” at times in the Old Testament does not repent like a man (see an article by John Piper for a greater discussion of this). We need to know that this the same God who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), “does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3), and “works all things for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

We must submit to Romans 11:34-35 when Paul writes, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Know that you aren’t changing the Sovereign, Almighty God when you pray. He is changing you from one degree of glory to another into a greater degree of Christlikeness.

Praying with you to be more like Christ,


Resting in God’s Sovereignty

The God of the Bible does not take risks. He is not a God who sees the world spinning out of control. He never gets frustrated at what happens. Nothing is “out of his will.” Psalm 115:2-3 reiterates this. “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Later on in this chapter, in verse 11, it says, “You who fear in the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” The psalmist is communicating that God is a God to be trusted in because he is dependable and unchanging. He is a rock and a defense. He is not a God who is doing things on the fly. Later on, in Psalm 135:6, David says, “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” That whole chapter teaches how the Lord controls all things. God does all things and everything pleases him, because he ordains it. He cannot disappoint himself.

O, how we can rest in the only Sovereign in the universe! O, how we can turn to him in times of trouble and rely on his unshakable nature. When times are hard and questions come, God is a utterly immovable. When storms arise and our lives our flooded with trials, resting in the sovereignty of God gives us a fortress of safety and comfort. He is a God to be praised and worshiped because his knowledge is far beyond anything I can think up. It is deeper and wider than what I can fathom. As Paul cried in Romans 11, “O, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” It’s too much for my finite mind, yet it is glorious to embrace and learn about.

I urge you to wrestle with this attribute of God and search the Scriptures. Discover the blessing of trusting in the Sovereign Lord, for he is our help and shield! He is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases!


Three-part series on God’s sovereignty

For the next three weeks, I’ll post an article about God’s sovereignty. This first article is a discussion of God’s control over death, disaster, and disease. I hope you find the series encouraging, challenging, and eye-opening. Look for the last two installments later on in the month.

You can find it under the “Articles” tab or you can click here to read it now.