Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a human . . . that he should change his mind.” But, in Exodus 32:14, we read. “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” So, which is it? Does God change His mind or not? And, can mere humans actually sway the intentions of a holy and sovereign God?
I admit, this is one of those questions I’ve wrestled with my entire life, and I don’t really have a definitive answer to this one. That’s one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to Saturday’s show on the topic featuring Dr. Jack Graham of PowerPoint Ministries and Dr. Brian Shelton of Toccoa Falls College.
Interestingly, in both the Numbers and Exodus accounts – though God seemingly changes his mind in one, but not the other – He remains true to His promise to Israel in both. In the first instance, Balaam is relating God’s words to Balak, the king of Moab. Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam says He will do only what God tells him to do. God’s word to Balaam is clear: He will not curse the Israelites whom He had earlier blessed. The blessing is irrevocable: what God promises, He will fulfill.
In the second instance, Moses pleads with God not to destroy the Israelites, after they rebelled against him by worshipping a golden calf. In this instance, Moses is the one who reminds God of His earlier promise to the Israelites: “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” So, in both cases, God acts consistently with His character and His promise. Still, the way the stories are told makes you wonder. Would God have destroyed the Israelites had Moses not pleaded with Him?
Of course, there are other instances in the Bible where mere mortals seem to “change” the mind of God. Hezekiah, for example, asks for 15 more years to be added to His life and God grants his wish. So, what does this mean for our prayers today? In advance of Saturday’s show, I decided to ask our guests – and a couple other biblical scholars: Does prayer change God’s mind?
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Author and Founder of FIRE School of Ministry
“The Scriptures clearly teach that there were times when God decreed disaster and the prayer of one of His servants caused God to relent, while at other times, He said He would relent if people prayed, but they didn’t, so judgment came. But, the idea of ‘changing God’s mind’ can be misleading, so it’s better to say this, based on Jeremiah 18: God says He will do ‘A’ if we respond in prayer and repentance, or He will do ‘B’ if we do not.”
Dr. William Thrasher
Professor at Moody Theological Seminary and author of A Journey to Victorious Praying
“The Bible is clear about how God works. When He wants to do something, He puts a prayer concern on someone’s heart. As that person responds in prayer to what God has put on his heart, the work of God is set in motion. We see this principle in Isaiah 62:6-7: “You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourself and give Him no rest until He establishes and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” You can also observe this principle in Matthew 9:36-38. We observe Jesus – God in the flesh –desiring something to happen as He feels compassion for the multitude. We next see Him placing this prayer concern on the hearts of His disciples by asking them to look at the ripeness of the harvest fields. The next instruction is for the disciples to respond to this concern and pray, “Lord, send out laborers into the harvest.”
Dr. Brian Shelton
Vice President for Academics at Toccoa Falls College
“Yes, I believe that prayer does ‘change God’s mind,’ although theologically it’s language that is tricky. God genuinely interacts with his people and his actions find motivation in the dedication of his people to rely on him.”
Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and the broadcast voice of PowerPoint Ministries
“I answer (this) question by drawing a diagram. At the top is the throne of God, and at the bottom are followers of Christ. On the right-hand side is a steady stream of plans that God wishes to accomplish on earth, and on the left-hand side is a steady stream of prayers being prayed to God.
What I show in my diagram is that prayer is really a loop that begins and ends with God. Our heavenly Father, by His Spirit, places requests and petitions on our hearts, only for us to then offer them back to Him. What begins in heaven returns to heaven through the mysterious power of prayer. In this way, prayer is not working to change our Father’s mind. It’s instead finding the mind of God!”