MALACHI 3:6 OTBDC: What Does the Bible Really Teach about God Changing His Mind?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

The Bible says of God, “… with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” And reassuringly, God himself said: “For I, Jehovah, do not change” (James 1:17; Malachi 3:6, UASV) We have all met humans that are hard to please, whom we can never completely trust for everyone has changed their mind many times on many things. Some people change their minds constantly. God is different.

Some readers of the Bible have likely wondered, however, if God has ever changed his mind or will ever change his mind. For example, in Bible times, many of God’s servants were given the power to perm miracles, to the point of raising people from the dead, but after the death of the apostle John, Christians have not had those same powers. In the Old Testament period, God tolerated polygamy, but after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this practice was stopped. Under the Mosaic Law, the Jews had to keep the Sabbath, but Christians were not obligated to do so. (See The Mosaic Law and Christians) There are times in the Old Testament when God judged certain peoples to destruction but then changed his mind.

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Before delving into prophetic judgments, let us make some brief observations. One thing we know for certain that does not ever change, God’s will and purposes, his standards and his moral values. the apostle Paul wrote, “This was according to the eternal purpose which he carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:11) Just as humans made in the image of God may change their view of a person, or how they choose to deal with him or her because they made changes in their behaviors, God too will change how he deals with such a person. Let us, therefore, examine the prophetic judgments of God, which some find puzzling.

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The Prophetic Judgment of Nineveh

Deuteronomy 18:20-22

20But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— 22when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

Jonah 3:4

4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Jonah 3:5

5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Jonah 3:10

 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Based on Deuteronomy 18:20-222, does Jonah 3:4-5 and 10 not prove that Jonah was a false prophet. No, both Jonah and the Ninevites were aware of a principle that is often overlooked by the modern-day reader. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel give the answer, or the principle that that readers of that time would have understood about judgment prophecy. Jeremiah explicitly explains the rule of judgment prophecies, when he writes, “If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would.” (17:7-8, GNT)

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The opposite is true as well,

Jeremiah 18:9-10 Good News Translation (GNT)

On the other hand, if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, 10 but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would.

Yes, if one turns back from their evil ways, endeavoring to obey God’s Word, he will not receive the condemnatory judgment that he deserves. That a repentant, evil person’s previous wicked deeds will not be held against them, God states,

Ezekiel 33:13-15

13Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

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Regardless of all that one has done throughout their life, it is their standing in God’s eyes at the time of the divine judgment, which God considers. Therefore, God goes on to say through Ezekiel,

Ezekiel 33:14-16

14 Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.

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Supposed Unfulfilled Prophecy

In the days when Micah was prophesying, c. 777-717, the king, the heads of the Jerusalem government, the religious leaders, the priests, and some prophets, were deserving of nothing but death. All were guilty of causing the life of their fellow countrymen, all for the sake of greed. They were guilty of false worship, bribery, lies, and wicked behavior. These leaders used false prophets, who were not true spokesmen of God. Therefore, the real prophet, Micah, shouted,

Micah 3:12

12Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

The destruction occurred in the late seventh-century B.C.E., just as it was prophesied. As we can see below, Micah 3:12 was quoted over a century later in Jeremiah 26:18.

Jeremiah 26:16-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken to us in the name of Jehovah our God.” 17 Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spoke to all the assembly of the people, saying, 18 “Micah the Morashtite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spoke to all the people of Judah, saying: ‘Thus says Jehovah of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear Jehovah and entreat the favor of Jehovah, and Jehovah changed his mind about the misfortune, which he had pronounced against them? But we are committing a great evil against our own souls.”

Is this another unfulfilled prophecy? Did not Jeremiah himself say, “Jehovah changed his mind about the misfortune, which he had pronounced against them”? Verse 19 of Jeremiah [chapter 26] “indicates that Micah’s preaching may have been instrumental in the revival under King Hezekiah (see 2 Kgs 18:1–6; 2 Chr 29–31).” (Barker and Bailey 2001, 82) The New American Commentary authors go on to say,

Lamentations describes the awful fulfillment of this prophecy (see Introduction, p. 30). [Cf. Lam 1:1, 4, 6, 18–19; 2:2, 6, 9–10, 20; 5:17–18, etc.] It is ironic that those who thought they were the builders of Zion (v. 10) actually turned out to be, in a sense, its destroyers. The Lord, because of their breach of covenant, used King Nebuchadnezzar’s Neo-Babylonian army to raze Jerusalem and its temple. They were reduced to a “mound of ruins” (translating the Hb. word ʿîyyîn) similar to an archaeological tell and to Ai (see also comments on 1:6), foreshadowing the Roman destruction of a.d. 70. Jerusalem became a place suitable only for wild animals. And the temple mount that thronged with worshipers became as deserted as when Abraham almost offered Isaac there on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:214). (Barker and Bailey 2001, 82)

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Yes, there is no reason to view Micah’s words as an unfulfilled prophecy. What we have here is a following of the above rule, with a qualifying clause, so to speak. As God said through Jeremiah, “If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would.” (17:7-8) However, “if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would.” In other words, the king, the governmental leaders, and the priests heeded Micah’s warning, repented, and were forgiven for a time, with the judgment prophecy lifted. However, they fell back into their former ways, even more grievously than before. Therefore, Micah’s prophecy was reinstated. It is as Jeremiah said in 26:19, “But we are committing a great evil against our own souls.” Therefore, Jeremiah was saying, Micah prophesied, the people repented, God forgave them, and now Micah’s words will be carried out, because of the current generation of God’s people ‘committing a great evil against their own souls.’

As we can see from the above, judgment prophecies are based on a continued wrong course by those receiving condemnation. However, both the condemned and the one proclaiming the prophecy knew that the judgment would be lifted if they reversed course, and repented. This was even expressed by Jonah himself. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to Jehovah and said, “O Jehovah, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (4:1-2) However, it is also true, if one goes in the opposite direction after having repented, returning to the sinful ways, the judgment will be reinstated.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Prophetic Language

The prophet is much like the poet, in that he is given a license to express himself in nonliteral language. Generally, he is working with images that are far more effective than the words themselves.

R. A. Torrey, a 19th century Bible scholar and Christian Apologist,

God Immutable

Mal. 3:6, f. h.: “For I am the LORD, I change not.”

Jas. 1:17: “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.”

1 Sam. 15:29: “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” (See also Heb. 6:17; Num. 23:19.)

PROPOSITION: God is unchangeable. His counsel purpose and character are always the same.

Objection: Jonah 3:10: “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” It is here said God repented.

Answer: God remained the same in character, infinitely hating sin, and in His purpose to visit sin with judgment; but as Nineveh changed in its attitude toward sin, God necessarily changed in His attitude toward Nineveh. If God remains the same, if His attitude toward sin and righteousness are unchanging, then must His dealings with men change as they turn from sin to repentance. His character remains ever the same; but His dealings with men change, as they change from a position that is hateful to His unchangeable hatred of sin, to one that is pleasing to his unchangeable love of righteousness.

Objection: Gen. 6:6: “And Jehovah regretted[1] that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Here it not only says that God regretted of what He had done in creating man, but “it grieved Him at His heart.”

Answer: (1) Man’s wickedness was so great and so abhorrent that his very creation was an object of great grief to God. This does not necessarily imply that God wished, all things considered, that He had not created man, but only just as is said, that He grieved that He had. Many things that we do are a grief to us, and yet, everything considered, we do not wish that we had not done them. (2) By God’s repenting that He had made man is meant (as the context, v. 7, clearly shows) that He turned from His creative dealings with man to His destroying dealings (v. 7). This was necessitated by man’s sin. The unchangeably holy God must destroy man who has become so sunken in sin.

[1] Feel regret over: (nacham) The Hebrew word (nacham) translated “be sorry,” “repent,” “regret,” “be comforted, “comfort,” “reconsider” and “change one’s mind” can pertain to a change of attitude or intention. God is perfect and therefore does not make mistakes in his dealings with his creation. However, he can have a change of attitude or intention as regards how humans react to his warnings. God can go from the Creator of humans to that of a destroyer of them because of his unrepentant wickedness and failure to heed his warnings. On the other hand, if they repent and turn from their wicked ways, he can be compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love; and he will “reconsider” the calamity that he may have intended.–Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Joel 2:13.

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