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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the Updated American Standard Version of the Holy Scriptures, 2020 (UASV)
CHANGE ONE’S MIND
Verb: נָחַם (nāḥam), GK 5714 (S 5162), 108×. nāḥam bears two distinct but related meanings in the OT: “to comfort, console” (see comfort) and “to relent, repent, change one’s mind, be grieved.”
nāḥam denotes repentance or a change of mind. Of these occurrences, the most theologically significant relate to a shifting of the divine countenance. God relents from destroying Israel after the golden calf (Exod 32:12, 14). He is grieved that he made Saul king (1 Sam. 15:11). And in accordance with his promise, he replaces judgment with grace when people repent of their sins and turn back to him (Jer 18:7–10; cf. 8:6; 31:19). God’s changing of his mind takes place in the temporal sphere of creation and is related to his providence. As such, it is a real changing of the mind. At the same time, however, God’s eternal decrees and immutable will never come into conflict with his providential interaction with creation. The full reality of both aspects of God’s being and action need be affirmed.
Does God Change His Mind?
Concerning God, the Bible says: “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) God is quite different as one might expect from the humans we know that cannot be trusted because they are always changing their minds.
Some Bible readers are in denial of the idea of God changing his mind. An example, at one time God gave the first century Christians the power to perform miracles, but he let this peter out after the death of the apostle John in 100 C.E. Much further back in Bible times, God created one man and one woman, marrying them so that they became one flesh; then, later he permitted polygamy for four thousand years, but this he brought to a halt when Jesus came to earth. Under the Mosaic Law, God expected Sabbath-keeping, but after Jesus Christ nailed the Mosaic Law to the cross, God no longer requires it. Do these few cases evidence that God has changed?
First, the above examples are not really cases of God changing his mind per se but rather his altering circumstances once persons with free will brought those altered circumstances about, so God could carry out his will and purposes. Second, draw comfort in the fact that we can be certain that God will never change his standards of love and justice regardless of what created beings do with their free will. Furthermore, his “eternal purpose” to bless humanity by means of the Kingdom of God will not ever change. (Ephesians 3:11) Nevertheless, just as any of us might change our mind about someone who has altered the way they treat us, God does change in the way that he deals with humans to changing circumstances, situations, and conditions.
There are also times when God has changed his commands, his laws, his instructions according to the situation and needs of his people. We should not be astonished by this because God has foreknowledge, and he is well aware of situations that will come where he is going to have to change or alter circumstances. This is found in humans that are guides that get people from the comfort of their lodges to an intense trek through dense forest. If the weather changes, a person in the group has chest pains or an asthma attack, the skilled tour guide will alter his plans in order to deal with the changed circumstances. Just because God sees the need to alter circumstances, situations, and conditions in our trek toward the second coming of Jesus Christ, this does not mean he has changed his mind or altered the destination.
The Prophetic Judgment of Nineveh
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which Jehovah has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that Jehovah has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Jonah 3:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 And Jonah began to go into the city a journey of one day, and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Jonah 3:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented[*] concerning the calamity which he had declared he would do to them, and he did not do it.
[*] Lit felt regret over
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 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)
The opposite is true as well,
Jeremiah 18:9-10 Good News Translation (GNT)
9 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 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 When I say to the righteous one: You will surely keep living, and he trusts in his own righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous acts will be remembered, but he will die for the wrong that he has done. 14 And when I say to the wicked one: You will surely die, and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, 15 and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die.
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 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 And when I say to the wicked one: You will surely die, and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, 15 and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die. 16 None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live.
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 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain[*] of the house as a high place in a forest.
[*] I.e., the temple mount
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 Chron. 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). 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 22:2, 14). (Barker and Bailey 2001, 82)
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.
A God changing his mind
God is not man, that he should change his mind (Num. 23:19); God does not change his mind like a man (1 Sam. 15:29); the Lord does not take back his words (Isa. 31:2); the Son of God was not Yes and No (2 Cor. 1:19); I knew that you were a God who repented of evil (Jonah 4:2); change your mind about harming your people (Exod. 32:12); God changed his mind about harming his people (Exod. 32:14); God changed his mind (Amos 7:3; Amos 7:6; Jonah 3:9; Jonah 3:10); if the nation turns from evil, I will repent of the evil (Jer. 18:8); that I may repent of the evil I plan to do (Jer. 26:3); the Lord will repent of the evil he pronounced (Jer. 26:13); I will repent of the evil I inflicted on you (Jer. 42:10); the Lord repented of the evil he pronounced (Jer. 26:19); the Lord repented from the evil (2 Sam. 24:16); if it does evil, I will repent of the good (Jer. 18:10); I will turn my face from them (Ezek. 7:22).
What the Bible Really Says
Yes God changes his mind, but not in the way humans do. God changes his attitude when his created beings change their behavior. For example, God had sent a judgment message to his Israelite people, he said: “It may be they will listen, and turn every man from his evil way; and I will relent[*] of the disaster which I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.”—Jeremiah 26:3.
[*] Or change my mind, feel regret
Older Bible translations render Jeremiah 26:3 so that it says God would “repent” over ‘the disaster which He intended to do to them because of their evil deeds,’ which some have misunderstood to mean that God had made a mistake. However, the original Hebrew word (נִחוּם nichum) has the sense “change of mind or intention.”
Genesis 6:6-7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 And Jehovah regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 Jehovah said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the heavens; for I regret that I have made them.”
Feel regret over: (nacham) Or feel regret over. 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 their unrepentant wickedness and failure to heed his warnings. On the other hand, if they repent and turn from their wicked ways, the Father can be compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love; and he will “reconsider” the calamity that he may have intended.―Joel 2:13.
The English word “regret” means ‘to feel sorry and sad about something previously done or said that now appears wrong, mistaken, or hurtful to others.’ The Hebrew word (nacham here translated “regretted” relates to a change of attitude or intention. This could not be used to suggest that God felt that he had made a mistake in creating man.
However, returning to our Hebrew word behind the English word, we find that Jehovah had changed his attitude or intention toward the pre-flood generation of which he said, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5) Since they had willfully rejected and disobeyed Him, it was now obligatory for Him to reject them in return. The change in their attitude mandated a resultant change in His attitude toward them. It is this change or altered situation that is conveyed by the Hebrew nicham (“repent,” “be sorry about,” “change one’s mind about”). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament had this to say,
Unlike man, who under the conviction of sin feels genuine remorse and sorrow, God is free from sin. Yet the Scriptures inform us that God repents (Gen 6:6–7: Ex 32:14; Jud 2:18; I Sam 15:11 et al.), i.e. he relents or changes his dealings with men according to his sovereign purposes. On the surface, such language seems inconsistent, if not contradictory, with certain passages which affirm God’s immutability: “God is not a man … that he should repent” (I Sam 15:29 contra v. 11); “The lord has sworn and will not change his mind” (Ps 110:4). When nāḥam is used of God, however, the expression is anthropopathic and there is not ultimate tension. From man’s limited, earthly, finite perspective it only appears that God’s purposes have changed. Thus the OT states that God “repented” of the judgments or “evil” which he had planned to carry out (I Chr 21:15; Jer 18:8; 26:3, 19; Amos 7:3, 6; Jon 3:10). Certainly, Jer 18:7–10 is a striking reminder that from God’s perspective, most prophecy (excluding messianic predictions) is conditional upon the response of men. In this regard, A. J. Heschel (The Prophets, p. 194) has said, “No word is God’s final word. Judgment, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man’s conduct brings about a change in God’s judgment.”
The change in attitude and intention was going from the Creator of humanity to that of destroying them by means of an earth-wide flood. He was very displeased with their wicked heart condition but saved Noah and his family to continue with his plan of offering a future seed that would ransom humankind. (Gen 3:15; Matt 20:28) The evidence is that he only “regretted” those that had chosen to become so evil in their ways that they forced him to the course of destroying them. (2 Peter 2:5, 9) However, his choice to all some to survive means that his words are not applicable to His creation of mankind itself.
As a final thought, some may conclude that the “them” at the end of verse 7 is in reference to both animals and wicked mankind, but this is not the case. There is nothing in the text that would suggest that the animals had done anything to displease God. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to suggest that “them” is in reference to the animals as well. They were simply victims of man’s sin, and the flood would result in their destruction as well. The antecedent of “them” need not be the immediate referent but was to the preceding reference to “man” (Heb., ha adam), wicked mankind.
We have to keep in mind too, just because God can change his mind, this does not mean that he has to change it. Here are a few texts where we see that God has not changed his mind.
Numbers 23:18-20 English Standard Version (ESV)
18 And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
“Rise, Balak, and hear;
give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19 God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
20 Behold, I received a command to bless:
he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
1 Samuel 15:28-29 English Standard Version (ESV)
28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
Psalm 110:4 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
So Christians who have failed to dig deeper will point to verses that say God does not change his mind. “For I, Jehovah, do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) As we already saw, the Bible says “with [God] there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17) However, this is not a contradiction in the Bible just because we also have texts showing us that God changed his mind. What we have is a God, who is unchangeable when it comes to his personality and standards of love and justice. (Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 John 4:8) Nevertheless, he can humans one set of at one particular time in history and the different instruction at other times.
Some Christians misunderstand translations that say God felt regret that he had made humans: “And Jehovah regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:6) We just simply need to understand that this Hebrew word can mean “change of mind.” We can understand God changing his mind about almost all of the preflood people because they were wicked. They were mentally bent toward evil. (Genesis 6:5, 11; 8:21) Yes, God was grieved in his heart that they chose to abuse their free will and follow a bad course, God had not changed his mind about the human race as a whole. In fact, he went to great lengths to save humanity by rescuing Noah and his family from the flood that killed all others.—Genesis 8:21; 2 Peter 2:5, 9.
 William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 104.
 Cf. Lam 1:1, 4, 6, 18–19; 2:2, 6, 9–10, 20; 5:17–18, etc.
 A. Colin Day, Collins Thesaurus of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009).
 Marvin R. Wilson, “1344 נָחַם” In , in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 571.