BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 152 (October-December 1995): 387-99
Copyright © 1995 by
“CHANGE HIS MIND”?
Robert B. Chisholm Jr.
Most Christian theologians have affirmed that God
is immutable. In support of this doctrine they often have cited sev-
eral Old Testament passages, including Numbers (“God is
not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should re-
change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His
mind”), and Psalm 110:4 (“The Lord has sworn and will not
change His mind”). In all these cases “repent” or “change His
mind” translates a Niphal or Hithpael form of the verbal root MHn.
However, many other Old Testament passages, using a Niphal
form of this same verb with the same semantic sense, assert that
God typically does change His mind (Jer. 18:5-10; Joel ; Jon.
4:2), describe Him doing so (Exod. 32:14; Amos 7:3, 6; Jon. ),
or at least assume that He might (Jer. 26:3;
How can one resolve this tension and apparent contradiction?
Some dismiss these texts as “anthropomorphic,”1 but this is an
arbitrary and drastic solution that cuts rather than unties the
theological knot. A more satisfying solution exists, if the biblical
evidence is allowed to speak for itself.
The thesis of this article is that the question, “Does God
change His mind?” must be answered, “It all depends.” This
study begins with a lexical survey of the Niphal and Hithpael
stems of MHn. The article then defines and illustrates the four
kinds of forward-looking divine statements in the Old Testa-
ment: (a) marked or formal decrees, (b) unmarked or informal
decrees, (c) marked or explicitly conditional statements of inten-
1 See, for example,
tributes of God, 2 vols. (reprint,
of the history of interpretation on this subject,
and the Repentance of God,” Scottish Journal of Theology 22 (1969): 262-68.
388 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1995
tion, (d) unmarked or implicitly conditional statements of inten-
tion. The article then argues that if God has issued a decree, He
will not change His mind or deviate from it. However, the ma-
jority of God’s statements of intention are not decrees. And God
can and often does deviate from such announcements. In these
cases He “changes His mind” in the sense that He decides, at
least for the time being, not to do what He had planned or an-
nounced as His intention.
A SEMANTIC ANALYSIS OF MHn 2
In the Niphal and Hithpael stems MHn carries one of four se-
mantic senses.3 (1) In at least nine passages the verb means “to
experience emotional pain or weakness” (Gen. 6:6-7; Exod.
; Judg. 21:6, 15; 1 Sam. , 35; Job 42:6; Jer. 31:19).4 In five
of these nine instances, yKi introduces the cause of the sorrow (cf.
Gen. 6:6-7; Judg. 21:15; 1 Sam. 15:11, 35). (2) In 13 verses the verb
carries the sense “to be comforted” or “to comfort oneself” (some-
times by taking vengeance) (Gen. 24:67; 27:42; 37:35; 38:12; 2
Sam. 13:39; Pss. 77:3; 119:52; Isa. 1:24; Jer. 31:15; Ezek. 5:13;
; 31:16; 32:31).5 (3) In perhaps as many as 10 passages the
word refers to God's “relenting” from or “repudiating” a course of
action that is already underway (cf. Deut. 32:36 = Ps. 135:14;
Judg. 2:18; 2 Sam. 24:16 = 1 Chron. ; Pss. 90:13; 106:45; Jer.
8:6 [man as subject]; ; 42:10).6 (4) The remainder of the oc-
currences fall into a fourth semantic category meaning “to re-
tract” a statement or “to relent or change one’s mind concerning,
to deviate from” a stated course of action (Exod. 32:12, 14; Num.
; 1 Sam. 15:29; Ps. 110:4; Isa. 57:6; Jer. 4:28; 15:6; 18:8, 10;
26:3, 13, 19; Ezek. 24:14; Joel 2:13-14; Amos 7:3, 6; Jon. 3:9-10; 4:2;
Zech. ).7 In this semantic category God is the subject of the
2 The following survey is indebted to the work of H. Van Dyke Parunak, “A Se-
mantic Survey of NHM,” Biblica 56 (1975): 512-32; and idem, “The Repentance of
God in the Old Testament” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1973). Paru-
nak’s six categories proposed in Biblica have been condensed here to four.
3 The Hithpael is used only seven times in the Old Testament. There are no clear
examples of a Hithpael use that falls into category one. Four examples fall into cat-
egory two (Gen. 27:42; 37:35; Ps. 119:52; Ezek. ), two into category three (Deut.
32:36 = Ps. 135:14) and one into category four (Num. ).
4 See Parunak, “A Semantic Survey of NHM,” 519, for semantic indicators of this
sense in the respective passages.
5 Parunak points out semantic indicators of this sense in the respective passages
(ibid., 520). He also observes that this use reflects a polarization of category one
6 Some of these verses might fit under category one.
7 Categories three and four derive metonymically from category one.
Does God “Change His Mind”? 389
verb. Some texts (Num. ; 1 Sam. ; Ps. 110:4; Jer. ;
Ezek. 24:14; Zech. ; cf. also Isa. 57:6) indicate that God
did/does/will not retract a statement or deviate from a stated
course of action, while others assert that He does/will/might
change His mind. This fourth category is the focus of this study.
what conditions does God retract a statement or
ate from a course of action? Under what conditions does He refuse
to do so?
TOWARD A SOLUTION: DECREES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
In the Old Testament not all statements of intention are the
same. Some are decrees or oaths that are unconditional and bind
the speaker to a stated course of action. Others, which may be la-
beled announcements, retain a conditional element and do not
necessarily bind the speaker to a stated course of action.
Two passages in Genesis illustrate this distinction at a secu-
lar (nontheological) level. In Genesis 25:32-33 conniving Jacob,
than relying on his brother’s rhetorical question. The rhetorical
question is equivalent to an announcement. It
intention to trade his birthright for some stew, but it might be re-
tracted later if he or someone else argued that the deal was made
under duress. Jacob wanted the transferral to be unconditional
and binding, so he made
on his deathbed in
out his father’s wishes (“I will do as you have
said,” v. 30),
forced him to swear an oath, formally ratifying and guarantee-
ing the fulfillment of the promise (v. 31; cf. 50:5-6).
One can discern this distinction between a decree and an
announcement at the divine (theological) level. A divine decree
(or oath) is an unconditional declaration. Because it is certain to
come to pass, the response of the recipient cannot alter it, though,
as will be seen, the exact timing of its fulfillment can be condi-
tional. An announcement is a conditional statement of divine
intention which may or may not be realized, depending on the re-
sponse of the recipient or someone else whose interests it affects.
Divine decrees are usually clearly marked as such. Some-
thing in the statement itself or in the immediate context indicates
its unconditional status. For example in Genesis 22:16-18 God
swore by His own being that He would bless
erences to this promise call it an “oath” and regard it as an un-
390 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1995
conditional gift (Gen. 26:3; Ps. 105:9-10). In Genesis 15:18-21 God
guaranteed Abram and his descendants future possession of the
nying ritual (vv. 9-17), in which the use of the qatal form yTitanA (v.
18) rather than the yiqtol NTex, (12:7; cf. , 17) further indicates
that the deed to the land was actually being transferred to
God’s promise to
characterized as eternal and unalterable (Ps. 89:3-4, 33-37).
Conditional statements of divine intention are often clearly
marked as well. For example in Jeremiah 26:4-6 the Lord an-
nounced, “If [Mxi] you will not listen to Me ... then I will make this
of the earth.” Sometimes an announcement completes an indirect
volitive sequence, implying that it will be fulfilled if the accom-
panying command is observed.9 For example Genesis 12:1-2
should be translated as follows: “Go [imperative] from your land
... in order that I might make you [waw + cohortative] a great na-
tion, bless you [waw + cohortative], and make your name great
[waw + cohortative], and so that you in turn might be [waw + im-
perative] a blessing.” The blessing is clearly contingent on
Abram’s leaving his native land. Similarly Genesis 17:1-2
should be translated: “Walk [imperative] before Me and be [waw
+ imperative] blameless in order that I might ratify [waw + cohor-
tative] My covenant between Me and you and greatly multiply
[waw + cohortative] your numbers.” Again the blessing is contin-
gent on Abram's obedience to the divine imperatives. 10
Most divine statements of intention are unmarked. In these
cases one cannot be sure from the form of the statement whether it
is conditional or unconditional. For this reason the recipient of
such a message sometimes does what is appropriate, declaring,
knows? The Lord may be gracious/turn/relent” (cf. 2
12:22; Joel 2:14; Jon. 3:9).
These ambiguous statements of divine intention sometimes
prove to be decrees. For example, when Nathan declared that the
son conceived from
8 For a fuller discussion of Genesis 15,
from Genesis,” in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, ed.
9 Following an imperative the cohortative expresses purpose or result. See E.
Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 577-78, para. 34.6.
10 For an attempt to harmonize the conditional and unconditional promises of
Does God “Change His Mind”? 391
would die (2 Sam. ),
unconditional. He prayed and fasted until the child died, hoping
that God might take pity on him and spare the child’s life (v. 22).
refusal to respond to
In response to the proclamation,
God to postpone the fall of the dynasty until
27-29). However, the prophecy still came to pass, for it was a di-
vine decree that could not be altered (2 Kings 9-10). The prophecy
was unconditional, but the exact timing of its fulfillment re-
mained negotiable from God’s perspective.
Many other ambiguous statements of divine intention prove
to be conditional.11 Micah announced
come a heap of rubble (Mic. ), but one discovers from
Jeremiah 26:17-19 that this judgment was averted by repentant
Jonah’s seemingly uncompromising declaration (“Yet forty days
when the people of that pagan city repented. The divine promise
delivered in Joel 2:26-27 (“My people will never be put to shame”)
proved to be conditional. After
prophecy was clearly directed, -25) passed off the scene, God’s
people were put to shame on many occasions because of their
failure to remain true to the covenant.
To summarize, divine statements of intention can be grouped
into two categories: decrees and announcements. Decrees can be
formal (marked as such) or informal (unmarked). Announce-
ments can be explicitly or implicitly conditional. On the one
hand those verses that declare that God does or will not change
His mind pertain to decrees. In fact the declaration formally
marks the divine statement of intention as a decree or oath. On
the other hand those passages indicating that God does/will/
might change His mind pertain to announcements.
PASSAGES IN WHICH DECREES ARE IN VIEW
Much to the Moabite king Balak’s chagrin, God would not al-
low Balaam to curse
prophet to bless His covenant people. Balaam prefaced the second
things remaining the same” (The Only Wise God [Grand Rapids, Baker, 1987], 41).
392 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1995
of his oracles with these words: “God is not a man, that He should
lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will
He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Be-
hold, I have received a command to bless; when He has blessed,
then I cannot revoke it” (Num. -20). The oracle as such
speaks of God's presence with His people (v. 21) and their invin-
cibility through His power (vv. 22-24). Several factors point to the
unconditional nature of this oracle. The oracle is designated a
divine blessing and cannot be altered.12 Balaam recognized the
blessing’s unalterable character and acknowledged his inability
to thwart it through sorcery or divination. This blessing, a predic-
tional promise to give
ing quality of that
promise. (God’s oath to
“blessing” in Gen. 28:4.) The introduction, in which Balaam af-
firmed that God would not change His mind or lie, formally
marks the blessing as a decree. Both MHn and the parallel verb bz.eKi
“to lie,” here mean “to retract” (an unconditional promise). The
verb bz.eKi has this same sense in Psalm 89:35, where God decreed,
I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to
While the verbs refer to how God typically acts when He has made
a decree, the principle here applies to the specific blessing to fol-
1 SAMUEL 15:29
him for his rebellion and declared that the Lord had rejected him
as king (1 Sam. ). Saul pled for forgiveness, but Samuel re-
peated the Lord’s decision (vv. 24-26). Samuel then added these
words: “The Lord has torn the
and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you. And also
the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a
man that He should change His mind” (vv. 28-29).
This was not the first time
12 See Genesis 27:33, 37.
similar lines, pointing out that rB,Di, in Numbers 23:19 refers to an oath. See their ex-
cursus “When God Repents,” in Amos, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1989),
13 For discussion of this point see
Does God “Change His Mind”? 393
disobedience and told him he had forfeited a golden opportunity.
commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you,
for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Is-
rael forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord
has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the
Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have
not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Sam. -14).
This rebuke sounds quite final and unconditional, but, as al-
ready suggested, the tone of a statement can sometimes be mis-
God had not yet revealed who the new appointee was, let alone for-
mally anointed him. As Samuel departed from Gilgal (v. 15), it
is not certain if his words constituted a decree or an implicitly
conditional announcement. Was the fate of Saul (or his dynasty)
sealed, or was there still a chance God might relent?
No matter how one initially answers
subsequent behavior, as recorded in 1
clear that he was on thin ice. He did nothing that would motivate
Yahweh to change His mind about the earlier prophecy; in fact his
folly and disobedience cause one to anticipate the worst. When
Samuel went to confront him at Gilgal a second time, any earlier
ambiguity was removed.
forgiveness shows that this second rebuke is in fact a decree, as
does the temporal marker MOy.ha, “today” (1 Sam. ). The con-
cluding words, emphasizing that the Lord will not lie or change
mind (v. 29),14 formally mark
conditional. Both MHn and the parallel verb rq.ewi, “to lie,” here mean
“to retract.”15 The Lord had decreed
could alter His decision.16
14 Perhaps the verse should be translated as follows: “He who is the Glory of Is-
rael will not (in this particular situation) lie or change His mind; for He is not a
man, that He should change His mind.” In this case the two yiqtol verb forms have a
specific future, not habitual, nuance.
15 rq.ewi is used in a similar way in Psalm 89:33, where God declared to David that
He will not “betray” His faithfulness by violating His decree.
van, 1986), 146.
ring specifically to God’s election of
Foreknowledge, Divine Constancy, and the Rejection of Saul’s Kingship,” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly 47 : 597-98). The
here, as Abner’s words in
more also, if as the Lord has sworn to
transfer the kingdom from the house of
394 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1995
What is the relationship between the pronouncement recorded
possible. First, perhaps the prophecy in chapter 13 concerns only
mean his dynasty; cf. the use of the term in 2 Sam. ), while
chapter 15 refers specifically to
(“He has rejected you as king” in vv. 23 and 26).17 In this case the
earlier prophecy does not necessarily become unconditional here.
“neighbor” mentioned in verse 28 could be one of
(cf. the use of the term fare, in 2 Sam. 12:11, where it refers to
David's son Absalom), but developments in 1 Samuel 16 quickly
eliminate this prospect.
Second, it is possible that both 1
informal decree with the second speech simply clarifying the ear-
lier ambiguity. However, if both speeches refer to Saul, it is more
likely that the first declaration was an implicitly conditional
announcement and that
ond speech.18 Several factors support this. (1) As noted earlier,
David, Saul's replacement, was not actually revealed and
anointed until after the second speech (cf. 1 Sam. 16). (2) Also the
declaration in 1
carried out My commands”) and
that the earlier warning to
velopment of I
19 The statement in verse 11 (also v. 35), does not contradict verse 29, for the verb
MHn is used in different semantic senses with different referents in this chapter. In
verses 11, 35 it means “to experience emotional pain” and refers to God’s response
the word is negated and used in the sense of “to retract.” Here it refers to God’s de-
tion (God’s making
(the rejection of
The Reign and Rejection
this semantic variation makes redactional
critical suggestions like that of
point expressed in vv. 11 and 35), also fails to take adequate account of the polyse-
mantic character of the word in this chapter (“‘The Glory of Israel Does Not
Deceive or Change His Mind’: On the Reliability of Narrator and Speakers in Bib-
lical Narrative, Prooftexts 12 [19921: 201-12).
Does God “Change His Mind”? 395
doom had already been decreed, why would the prophet experience
such grief and spend the whole night crying out to God? (3) The
presence of MOyoha, “today,” in Samuel’s second speech indicates that
God’s decision was finalized at that point, not earlier. (4) The
switch from TAr;mawA xlo (“you have not kept,” 13:13) to TAs;xamA (“you
rejected,” , 26)
was the basis for the judgment pronounced in chapter 15, or at
least the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
In this passage Yahweh swore an oath that the Davidic king
would occupy a special royal-priestly status, much like that of
God will not change His mind, or retract His statement, clearly
pertains to the specific pronouncement that follows and, together
with the reference to an oath, marks the statement as a decree.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel attach to a judgment speech a state-
ment about God’s refusal to change, thus marking the prophecy as
an unalterable decree. In Jeremiah 4:28 the words hn.Am,.mi bUwxA-xlov;,
“nor will I turn from it,” accompany yTim;Hani xlov;, “and I will not
change My mind” (regarding what I have spoken). The former
statement is used of God’s oath to
Lord has sworn to David, a truth from which He will not turn
back.”20 In Ezekiel 24:14 the Lord declared that He was no longer
open for negotiation; the announced judgment would then come to
pass (ytiyWifav; hxABA). Zechariah 8:14, which recalls that God judged
the preexilic generation just as He had planned without retract-
ing His decision (yTim;HAni xlov; alludes back to the divine decision
recorded in Jeremiah 4:28 and Ezekiel 24:14.
In each case God's refusal to retract a statement refers di-
rectly or applies indirectly to a specific decree identified in the
context--His blessing of
Covenant (Num. ), His rejection of disobedient
), His oath to make the Davidic king a royal-priest (Ps.
and His decision to judge
Zech. 8:14). Each passage has clear contextual indicators that the
declaration is unconditional. The statement that God will not
20 Also see Judges 11:35, where Jephthah lamented that he was not able to turn
back (bUwlA lkaUx xlo ) from the vow he had made.
396 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1995
change His mind, made in tandem with a synonymous expres-
sion, formally marks the divine proclamation as a decree.
PASSAGES IN WHICH ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE IN VIEW
EXODUS 32:12, 14; AMOS 7:3, 6
When God saw the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, He
angrily announced to
and raise up a new nation through
alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may de-
stroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exod. 32:10).
The form of the statement (imperative + jussive + cohortative +
cohortative) indicates that it is not a decree, but an expression of
God’s frustration with His people. The implication is that Moses,
if he did not leave God alone, might be able to persuade Him to
change His mind.21 In fact this is exactly what happened (vv. 11-
think?”), asked Him to relent (MHen.Ahi) from His stated course of
action (v. 12), and reminded Him of His unconditional decree to
the patriarchs (v. 13). Verse 14 states that God did indeed change
His mind. Moses was able to succeed because God had only
threatened judgment, not decreed it.22
Amos 7 records a similar case of prophetic intercession. The
Lord showed Amos two visions of judgment He was planning for
be merciful. In both cases the Lord relented from the planned
course of action and announced that judgment would not fall. He
had simply shown Amos two visions, but had not yet decreed a
course of action. However, God’s patience can run out. He showed
Amos yet a third vision, which, instead of picturing the nation’s
destruction and rousing Amos’s emotions, invited the prophet to
ing convinced His prophet of the necessity of judgment, God de-
clared that He would “no
ing God’s words as a decree, Amos offered no objection this time.
As already noted, God came to the point where He decreed
However, He issued this decree only after many warnings.
21 See the helpful discussion in
22 For a similar treatment of Exodus
ing of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 50-51.
Does God “Change His Mind”? 397
Early in Jehoiakim’s reign God told Jeremiah to proclaim
His word in the temple courtyard in hopes that the people would re-
pent. He declared, “Perhaps they will listen and everyone will
turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I
am planning to do” (Jer. 26:3). When the people threatened to kill
Jeremiah, the prophet again urged them to repent and once more
promised them that God would retract His announcement of
judgment (v. 13). Some of the elders stepped forward and re-
minded the people that God had retracted such an announcement
in the days of
) and repented (Jer. 26:17-19).
The principle underlying
ders’ advice is that God will change His mind concerning a
stated course of action depending on the response He receives.
This principle is articulated clearly in Jeremiah 18:7-10. Here
the Lord explained that a nation may avert His threatened judg-
ment if it repents when confronted with its sin. In such cases He
will “relent” and not inflict the announced disaster (v. 8). On the
other hand, if a nation to whom God intended to show His favor
sins, He may “reconsider” (yT;m;Hani, v. 10) and withhold His bless-
(cf. ),23 the Lord decided to judge His people, declaring that
prophetic intercession, even by such advocates as
lenting (MHen.Ahi ytiyxel;ni, v. 6) and would no longer postpone judgment.
The decree of judgment in , formalized by the statement “I
will not relent,” must have postdated this decision.
The locust plague experienced by
harbinger of an even more devastating judgment. The Lord
Himself was leading an awesome locustlike army toward
but perhaps judgment could still be averted. After all, the Lord
Himself was calling His people to repentance (Joel ) and, as
Joel reminded his audience, He characteristically relented from
sending announced judgments on His covenant people through-
out their history (v. 13). Though one could never be certain if the
Lord had not been explicit, Joel urged the people to respond appro-
priately and encouraged them with these words: “Who knows? He
23 On the relationship of Jeremiah 18:12 to
the preceding verses, see
Fretheim, “The Repentance of God: A Study of
Review 11(1987): 87.
398 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1995
may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing.” The people
apparently took heed to
that the Lord did indeed take pity on His people (v. 18) and
promised to restore what the locusts had devoured (vv. 19-26).
This important passage again illustrates that God is able and
willing to retract announcements of judgment.
Furthermore verse 13 indicates in creedal style that God
characteristically relents from sending announced judgment.24
This willingness to change His mind is linked with other divine
attributes, such as His grace, compassion, patience, and love. The
creed has its roots in Exodus 34:6-7, where, following God’s mer-
ciful treatment of
described Himself as follows: “The Lord, the Lord God, compas-
sionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lov-
ingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thou-
sands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” God’s
willingness to change His mind concerning judgment is not
mentioned in these verses, but the inclusion of this theme in later
verses is certainly justifiable in light of Exodus 32:14, for God’s
decision to relent stands in the background of the creedal state-
ment recorded in Exodus 34.
JONAH 3:9-10; 4:2
Though Jonah’s announcement of
sounded unconditional, it was accompanied by no formal indica-
tion that it was a decree
(3:4). For this reason the king of
responded appropriately in hopes that judgment might be averted
(v. 9). Like
and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”
When God saw the Ninevites’ sincerity, He did indeed change
His mind concerning the announced calamity (v. 10), much to
Jonah's dismay. In fact Jonah had anticipated this development,
and that is why he ran away in the first place. With words almost
identical to those of
and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lov-
ingkindness; and one who relents concerning calamity” (4:2).25
24 On the implications of the creedal form of this text (and Jon. 4:2) see Kuyper,
Suffering and the Repentance of God,” 277;
tance of God: A Key to Evaluating Old Testament God-Talk,” Horizons in Biblical
Theology 10 (1988): 58-59; and
Openness of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), 31.
rather than being unalterable decrees, are actually designed to motivate repentance
and in turn, enable God to retract the announced
Foreknowledge and Man’s
Free Will [
Does God “Change His Mind”? 399
The texts analyzed in this section clearly show that God can
and often does retract announcements. Two of the passages even
regard this willingness to change His mind as one of His most
fundamental attributes. In every case where such a change is en-
visioned or reported, God had not yet decreed a course of action or
an outcome. Instead He chose to wait patiently, hoping His warn-
ings might bring people to their senses and make judgment un-
Does God change His mind? It all depends. If He has decreed
a certain course of action or outcome, then He will not retract a
statement or relent from a declared course of action. Verses stat-
ing or illustrating this truth must not be overextended, however.
Statements about God not changing His mind serve to mark spe-
cific declarations as decrees. They should not be used as proof
texts of God’s immutability, nor should they be applied generally
to every divine forward-looking statement. If God has not de-
creed a course of action, then He may very well retract an an-
nouncement of blessing or judgment. In these cases the human
response to His announcement determines what He will do. Pas-
sages declaring that God typically changes His mind as an ex-
pression of His love and mercy demonstrate that statements de-
scribing God as relenting should not be dismissed as anthropo-
morphic. At the same time such passages should not be overex-
tended. God can and often does decree a course of action.26
26 Some scholars have recently suggested a solution to this problem much like the
one proposed in this paper. In following their lead, this writer has tried to bring to
the debate greater exegetical clarity and place this proposed solution on a firmer
exegetical foundation. See, for example, Rice’s discussion in The Openness of God,
32-33, especially the statement: “In general, then, God’s repentance is a genuine
possibility, but one that is foreclosed when God pledges himself unconditionally to
a particular course of action.”
an oath in some passages (such as Ps. 110:4 and Num. ) but fail to extend the
implications of this observation to all the passages in question (Amos, 638-79).
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