The Immutably Mutable God

balaams ass“God is not man, that he should lie or a son of man that he should change his mind (naham)” (Num. 23:19).  Thus, Divine Immutability.

“So the LORD changed his mind (naham) about the harm which he said he would do to his people” (Exo. 32:14).  Thus, Divine Mutability.

So the Bible clearly teaches both that God doesn’t change his mind and that he does change his mind.  And both texts use the same Hebrew verb, naham.

If you’re uncomfortable with this translation of Exo. 32:14 (ESV), perhaps you’d prefer the King James Version which says “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people”.  God had to repent of evil?  On 2nd thought, the KJV sounds worse.

So, how do we resolve this biblical tension?

In a word, “Context.”

I realize not all of you have read God Behaving Badly where I discuss this topic in chapter 7, so if you’re interested in my longer than one word answer, but you don’t want to fork out $11 to buy the book, you can listen to this sermon podcast here “Is God Rigid or Flexible? (30 minutes).  I preached at Grace Bible Church of Souderton (April 28, 2013).  The sound is a little weak for the first minute, but then gets much better.  The website also includes my sermon from the previous week, “Is God Angry or Loving?” (30 minutes; April 21, 2013).

I conclude that God is predictably flexible,  consistently changeable and immutably mutable in regards to showing mercy toward repentant sinners.  That’s good news for me.  I’m a sinner.  (But don’t tell my family–they haven’t realized that yet.)

What do you think, does God change?  

Image of ‘Balaam’s Ass” (from Numbers 22-24) by Rembrandt from http://www.wga.hu/index.html.

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4 comments

  1. I just finished reading your article in Southeastern Theological Review, and I appreciate your conclusion that the text highlights God’s faithfulness and his mercifulness. I also appreciate your call for Christians to be changeable and unchangeable (This is a challenging exhortation). In the article you discussed the texts which highlight God’s faithfulness or mercy, but have you discussed Gen. 6:6 elsewhere. How does God’s changing his mind in Gen, 6:6 fit your pattern in Gen.6:6?

  2. Bradley, thanks for engaging. I haven’t really discussed Gen. 6:6 elsewhere. The word is naham, but some think that it doesn’t imply a change in the sense naham does elsewhere, but merely that he was sorry (although, I’d say, it’s still problematic). Feel free to email me directly (dlamb@biblical.edu).

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