God Is Immutable, Yet Does He Repent?
By Thomas Taylor
Immutable according to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary is: “invariable; unalterable; not capable or susceptible of change.” We can find several Scriptures that prove the immutability of God, such as:
Malachi 3:6 KJV For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Psalms 102:25-27 KJV Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. (26) They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: (27) But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
Hebrews 13:8 KJV Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
James 1:17 KJV Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
We see clearly that God does not change, He is always the same, and there is no variableness in Him. The immutability of God is one of the primary attributes that make God God. All of creation had a beginning but God did not, because that would mean there was a change. All of creation changes, yet God never does. Man has whims of emotions that can change him. However, God is never moody. Man can learn new information which would make him change his mind. But God never learns new information that would change His mind because He knows all things. God is eternally the same. It is this stability of God’s unchangeableness upon which His Word and all of creation is founded.
But What About Judgment?
So if God pronounces a judgment upon man, can He change His mind? Would God repenting from judgment conflict with the immutability of God? Consider the following verses:
Exodus 32:9-14 KJV And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: (10) Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. (11) And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? (12) Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. (13) Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. (14) And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
So we see when Moses prayed a prayer of intercession for the people of Israel after they had done wickedness, God “repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people.” So Moses’ prayer made God repent. The word “repent” does not mean to turn from sin, but rather to change one’s mind and go a different way. We see God fully intending to destroy His own people, however intercessory prayer changed the circumstances so that God did not destroy Israel but rather extended mercy instead. Did God change or rather did the circumstances that God was dealing with change? I believe, as proven before, God does not change. But when the circumstances change, He deals appropriately with the change in a way which is consistent with His immutable character. His wrath is unchanging, but circumstance with man may change and His wrath is averted. Consider also the following verses along this line:
Jeremiah 26:3 KJV If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.
Jeremiah 26:12-13 KJV Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. (13) Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.
Jeremiah 26:19 KJV Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls.
Jonah 4:1-2 KJV But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. (2) And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
God repents? What a strange concept! Especially if we do not properly define the word “repent.” But when we know it means to change one’s mind and go a different direction, it is not so hard to understand that God does “repent” because the circumstances changed. However, to be more technical about it, God did not change His character in any way. He was, is, and will always be the same. The circumstances changes because man changed.
We see men repenting which changed the circumstances that God was dealing with. Before, His wrath was to be unleashed. But then men changed, moving from a place of being under God’s wrath to a place of being under God’s mercy. God did not move, men did! It is not that God changed, He would have carried out the same judgment if the situation remained the same no matter what. But when the situation changes, then God has a course He will always follow through with, which is consistent with His immutability when it comes to mercy. So God did not actually change His character or will; in reality, man moved from a place of being under God’s wrath to the place of being under God’s mercy. Man changed – God did not.
Imagine a lava flow beginning to run down a volcano toward the ocean. You are in the path of that lava. That lava is coming and there is nothing in the world you can do to stop it, so what do you do? You move out of the way of the burning hot lava. The lava did not change; it is still just as hot and destructive whether you are in its path or not. The lava’s substance did not change, yet you did by moving out of its path to a place of cool safety. When God pronounces judgment upon man, it is going to come to pass unless man moves out of the way. Nothing about God changes when man repents; He simply does that which is consistent with His mercy and grace.
Other examples where it appears God has changed can be found in the covenants. God seems to act differently from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Some imply the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament is a God of mercy. Some Bible critics even go so far as to say there are two different Gods. But that is nonsense. What changed were the circumstances, which make it seem from man’s perspective that God changed…but He did not. He did that which was right based on the covenant He was dealing with at the time.
Does God Repent? If So, Would That Not Be A Change?
When the Bible talks about God repenting, that is more of a perspective statement rather than an accurate statement. From man’s perspective it looks as if God changed His mind but to be more accurate about it, man moved from under wrath to under mercy. Consider the following verse:
Numbers 23:19 KJV God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
This verse would seem to contradict other verses, above, which clearly say God did repent of the wrath He had planned. We need to balance out the immutablity Scriptures with all of the Scriptures that talk about God repenting. They are both true. We need to understand that God is always the same. However, when man changes His relationship with God, through repenting from sin or entering into a different covenant or intercessory prayer, God appears to change His mind. But in reality, He stayed the same. His relationship with man changed through man’s choice which allowed God to pour out mercy, blessings, and grace instead of wrath.