We have already seen that human repentance is a change of mind that leads to a confession of sin and complete change in direction. To read that God repented might imply that He too has had to readjust His views and correct His course of action. Some might even go further and suggest that He can make mistakes like us. Clearly, such a conclusion is totally erroneous.
God is unchanging: "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal 3.6). Theologians describe Him as being "immutable". He is ever holy and favourably disposed to that which is true and good. Likewise, His face is ever against that which is evil and sinful. When the Scriptures speak of God repenting, it is in relation to men and their response to Him. He is a God of revelation who has always moved out in love towards mankind and sought to bless. Different consequences follow the different ways in which men act before Him.
When the nation of Israel walked in obedience, God was favourably disposed towards them. When they began to walk in disobedience, they removed themselves from the sphere of His blessing and became subject to His discipline and judgment. Even then, He pleaded with them as a Father in love through His prophets who often reminded the nation of His patient dealings with them in grace.
Any parent knows this principle. Those who seek to bring up their children in the ways of the Lord are not unaffected by their behaviour. Undergirding the responsibilities of parenting is a foundation of love. That love is expressed in different ways. A child may be rewarded for good behaviour but the same parent who has patted little Johnnie affectionately and praised him for good behaviour one day, may have to use the same hand in a different but entirely appropriate way the very next day if Johnnie misbehaves. The young boy might complain, "Daddy doesnt love me any more. He has changed towards me." That would be untrue, of course. The love remains but the response to the childs behaviour will be different in an attempt to correct him and encourage the best in him.
In the following Scriptures we will try to show three things concerning God repenting:
1. Gods grief, when men rebel against Him
2. Gods mercy, when men pray and intercede for others
3. Gods forgiveness, when men themselves repent.
Gods grief judgment required
"And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Gen 6.6). Here is the first reference in the English Bible to repentance. God is affected by the way in which men respond to the revelation of Himself. He grieves when men disregard His will, His ways, and His Word.
Sin had multiplied since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Increasingly, men were turning away from God. In the headlong pursuit of sin they had removed themselves from the sphere of Gods blessing and placed themselves under His terrible judgment. Their rebellion and its consequences were the matters that grieved God. It is clear that God was not cold, distant, and dispassionate about the plight of man, even when He moved in judgment. Even so, there was an ark provided with an open door and a way of escape. In pride and arrogance the vast majority despised and refused Gods mercy and only eight were saved.
Saul was chosen to be the first king of Israel as a result of pressure from the people to be like other nations. Samuel, the prophet, was depressed by the thought that the people were rejecting his ministry. The Lord had to reassure him that in lobbying for a monarchy (the rule of a king) they were, in fact, rejecting theocracy (the rule of God Himself). Saul had started relatively well but elements of pride and disobedience soon began to dominate his character. On one occasion he did much more than God permitted when he offered sacrifices as if he was a priest. On another occasion he did much less than God had commanded and spared Agag.
The kings erratic and wayward leadership affected the whole nation, so it is no surprise to read that "Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night" (1 Sam 15.10-11). Here we see that the prophet shared in the grief that God must have felt at Sauls behaviour. Judgment was inevitable for, as Samuel explained, "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (1 Sam 15.23). Furthermore, Samuel confirmed to Saul that God would not repent or go back on His specific decision to rend the kingdom from him and give it to another (1 Sam 15.28-29). The stark summary concerning the reign of Saul was this: "The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel" (1 Sam 15.35), reminding us again that God was grieved, as it were, by the kings reckless course.
Gods mercy judgment restrained
God hears and answers prayer. When the Lord called Moses up into the mount to receive the Law, the nation waiting below quickly fell headlong into idolatry. Sadder still was the discovery that Aaron was instrumental in fashioning the golden calf and encouraging the people to dance naked around it. When God told Moses of that which would await him at the foot of the mount, He declared that He would consume them all in His wrath. Moses began to plead with God not to do this nor give any reason for the Egyptians to boast that God had forsaken His own. Moses also spoke of Gods covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in which He promised to bless them and their descendants. God heard the prayer of His servant and answered it. "The Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Ex 32.14).
Significantly, when Moses came down and saw all that was going on, he could not contain himself. In a burning rage he hurled the two tables of the Law to the ground, shattering them in pieces. At his express command the Levites went through the whole camp and slew about 3,000 of their countrymen that day.
To be continued.