”Judas Hanged Himself — Thou Do Likewise”
Vol: 137 Issue: 19 Tuesday, February 19, 2013
”God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: Hat He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)
“If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” (Jeremiah 18:8)
So, which is it?
God says of Himself that He isn’t a man, that He should “repent” which means to ‘change His mind.’ But then He says he will repent of a decision in response to the actions of man. Is God indecisive?
It seems rather a difficult character defect to ascribe to an all-powerful and all-knowing God without having to demote Him to really powerful and really knowledgeable. (Instead, they are actually attributes of the Enemy)
The word translated ‘repent’ is much richer in its understanding in Hebrew or Greek than it is by the time it makes it to English. It implies a complete change of mind from one thing to another in which the two positions are mutually exclusive, rather than simply meaning any old change of thinking.
When a person repents of his sin and surrenders to Christ, what takes place is that person’s core worldview undergoes a fundamental reversal. A repentent believer understands that he deserves to go to hell.
A repentent believer knows that his salvation cannot be attained or secured based on one’s own good works or righteous behavior, but is the product of the grace of God obtained by faith and secured by the righteousness of Christ.
By nature and definition, God is all-knowing. For God to repent suggests that God either made a mistake, which is impossible, or didn’t foresee events that subsequently caused Him to change His mind.
The Bible lists thirty-one different times in which it says God does repent. It would take too long to list them all, but a few examples in which it appears God did change His mind include:
“And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7)
“And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” (Exodus 32:14)
“If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent Me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.”(Jeremiah 26:3)
God says He doesn’t repent. He also says He doesn’t lie.
It is a conundrum.
“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)
Is the Bible true? How can it be with this seemingly impossible contradiction? God says He doesn’t lie and doesn’t repent and then He goes ahead and repents thirty-one times. How can both be simultaneously true?
God’s holiness is unchanging. Consequently, it requires Him to treat the wicked differently from the righteous. When the righteous become wicked, His treatment of them must change.
For example, America was once among the most righteous of the nations, and simultaneously, the most blessed among the nations.
Most of our blessings have soured as America moved further and further from acknowledging God as the Creator and Guarantor of our rights and freedoms. God didn’t change. We did.
By way of analogy, the sun doesn’t ‘change its mind’ when it hardens clary while softening wax. The sun is the same and so is the effect — the sun will always harden clay and it will always soften wax.
It is the wax and the clay that differ, not the effect of the sun. God is unchanging in His eternal plan — the changes are from the perspective of the changed:
“Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him:” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
“In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Titus 1:2)
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8)
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2nd Peter 3:9)
God is immutable, but that is not the same as being immobile. The plan remains unchanged. God’s ‘repentance’ involves the execution — while working within the confines of space and time — of purposes eternally existing in the mind of God.
The execution of that plan necessarily involves human beings, which necessarily involve free will, which requires God to make adjustments. Are these adjustments unforeseen? Was God taken by surprise?
That totally misses the point. God is perfect. We are not. He must allow for our imperfections.
Read in context, Numbers 23:19 is part of a wider discourse concerning Israel, not God. Speaking through Balaam, what God is saying when He says, “God is not a man, that He should lie or repent” He is speaking in relation to His plan for Israel.
In context, it isn’t saying that God will never repent of anything — here the Scripture is promising that He will not repent concerning His promise to Israel. There actually is no contradiction — the contradiction is created by making the mistake of using one passage of Scripture to interpret another.
That will almost always produce error because every passage of Scripture must be understood in context.
Once you pull Scripture out of context, one can accurately argue that the Bible says that Judas went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5) and “thou do likewise” (Judges 7:17) therefore supports the conclusion that the Bible encourages suicide by hanging.
Rather than presenting an insurmountable Bible contradiction, the fact that God repents Himself teaches a series of wonderful truths. It teaches that God is not impersonal. He responds to man’s actions. He is not an unfeeling Spirit. He knows what ails us.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
The entire debate teaches us the importance of rightly dividing the Word of truth. Many approach the Scripture seeking confirmation of what they already believe to be true, rather than seeking the truth itself.
As we’ve already seen, if one is seeking confirmation that the Bible is flawed, or that Scriptures contradict themselves, then that is exactly what they will find. One can find proof texts for all four positions on the doctrine on the Rapture.
One can find proof texts that seem to confirm that one can lose one’s salvation, that the Bible teaches soul sleep, that there is no hell, that God is indecisive, that the Rapture is pre, mid, pre-Wrath, post trib and that there is no Rapture at all.
If one approaches the Scripture looking for contradictions, one can find them. Even when they aren’t there.
When somebody does that, it can be pretty convincing. But on deeper investigation, it always turns out to be a case of the melting wax complaining that the sun is indecisive because the clay hardened.
It isn’t God that changes — His holiness is unchanging.
“If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. . . If it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.” (Jeremiah 18:8,10)
If America is no longer under God’s Hand of blessing, it isn’t because God changed His mind about America. It is because America changed its mind about God.
God is simply responding in kind.