GOD DOES NOT CHANGE HIS MIND? (I Samuel 15:29)
HERE IN 1 SAMUEL 15 WE HAVE A CLEAR STATEMENT ABOUT God's truthfulness
and unchanging character. But elsewhere in the Old Testament we read of God
repenting or changing his mind. Does God change his mind? If so, does that
discredit his truthfulness or his unchanging character? If not, what do these other
Old Testament texts mean?
It can be affirmed from the start that God's essence and character, his resolute
determination to punish sin and to reward virtue, are unchanging (see Mal 3:6).
These are absolute and unconditional affirmations that Scripture everywhere
teaches. But this does not mean that all his promises and warnings are
unconditional. Many turn on either an expressed or an implied condition.
The classic example of this conditional teaching is Jeremiah 18:7-10: "If at any
time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and
destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not
inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a
nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and
does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it."
This principle clearly states the condition underlying most of God's promises and
threats, even when it is not made explicit, as in the case of Jonah. Therefore,
whenever God does not fulfill a promise or execute a threat that he has made, the
explanation is obvious: in all of these cases, the change has not come in God, but
in the individual or nation.
Of course some of God's promises are unconditional for they rest solely on his
mercy and grace. These would be: his covenant with the seasons after Noah's
flood (Gen 8:22); his promise of salvation in the oft-repeated covenant to
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David; his promise of the new covenant; and his
promise of the new heaven and the new earth.
So what, then, was the nature of the change in God that 1 Samuel 15:11 refers to
when he says, "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned
away from me and has not carried out my instructions"? If God is unchangeable,
why did he "repent" or "grieve over" the fact that he had made Saul king?
God is not a frozen automaton who cannot respond to persons; he is a living
person who can and does react to others as much, and more genuinely, than we
do to each other. Thus the same word repent is used for two different concepts
both in this passage and elsewhere in the Bible. One shows God's responsiveness
to individuals and the other shows his steadfastness to himself and to his thoughts
Thus the text affirms that God changed his actions toward Saul in order to remain
true to his own character or essence. Repentance in God is not, as it is in us, an
evidence of indecisiveness. It is rather a change in his method of responding to
another person based on some change in the other individual. The change, then,
was in Saul. The problem was with Saul's partial obedience, his wayward heart and
To assert that God is unchanging does not mean he cannot experience regret, grief
and repentance. If unchangeableness meant transcendent detachment from people
and events, God would pay an awful price for immutability. Instead, God enters
into a relationship with mortal beings that demonstrates his willingness to respond
to each person's action within the ethical sphere of their obedience to his will.
When our sin or repentance changes our relationship with God, his changing
responses to us no more affect his essential happiness or blessedness than Christ's
deity affected his ability to genuinely suffer on the cross for our sin.
Taken from Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser Jr Peter H. Davids , F. F. Bruce and
Manfred T. Brauch. Copyright © 2002 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Permission kindly
granted to Faith & Reason Forum by InterVarsity Press.