Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Does God Repent?

Biblegems # 293

Question: The book of Numbers (23:19) seems to indicate that God never repents. Yet other passages give examples of God repenting. Does God repent?

Here is Numbers 23:19 in the King James Version:
Num. 23:19  God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

In apparent contrast to the verse above, there are several examples where God is presented as repenting:
         Ex. 32:14  And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

This apparent contradiction is primarily one of proper translation from the Hebrew word nacham into English. Nacham means “comfort,” “console,” or “relent,”[i] depending on the context. Nacham is used in both Numbers 23 and Exodus 32. In Ex. 32:14 the translation should read: “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” In fact, of the thirty-eight times nacham is used in the Bible, only twice could it be used to mean “repent,” and those two occasions refer to people repenting, not God.

In Numbers 23:19 nacham should likewise be translated “relent” (meaning, “change”) rather than “repent.” The passage compares God against man: that God does not lie and He is not fickle. When He says He will do something, He does it. 
         1Sam. 15:29  “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.

Even so, Exodus 32:14 states that God did indeed “relent”—He changed His punishment against the Hebrews for building the golden calf in the Wilderness. Yet He did so without violating His own character, for God Himself has repeatedly stated three conditions where He will change His attitude and actions toward people: (1) when people repent (Jer. 18:3-11); (2) when someone intercedes on behalf of others (Amos 7:1-6); and (3) out of His own compassion (Dt. 32:36).

“Repent,” as it’s used today, carries with it emotional and spiritual overtones. In the 1600’s language of the KJV Bible, the word could be used as a synonym for “relent,” and the average reader would understand without difficulty. Because language changes, modern translations often use “relent” instead of “repent” in these and similar passages.

There is no contradiction. When God “relents,” He chooses a pre-planned alternate route to fulfill His promises, in keeping with His character:
         Ps. 106:45  …for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.

[i] BDB Abridged. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (abridged) (BDB). Based on A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907.  Digitized and abridged as a part of the Princeton Theological Seminary Hebrew Lexicon Project under the direction of Dr. J. M. Roberts.  Used by permission. Electronic text corrected, formatted, and hypertexted by OakTree Software, Inc. This electronic adaptation ©2001 OakTree Software, Inc. Version 3.6

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

God’s Foreign Exchange Program

Biblegems #292

Question: I have read many versions and several commentaries on Isaiah 43:4, and what a wide variety of interpretations there are!! Some seemed trivial, some missed the point (I felt), and some were just bizarre.

The immediate context makes it clear that God is talking directly to Israel:
         Is. 43:1  But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

The broader context (Is. 42:18-25) reveals why God tells Israel not to fear—the nation is about to be ravaged by war because of her rebelliousness against Him. Historically, we know this devastating attack refers to the Babylonian invasion and seventy-years exile of the Jewish population.
Even so, God assures His people beforehand that His covenant love and promises still stand:
         Is. 43:2  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

In other words, Israel will suffer the consequences of her sinfulness but she will not be utterly destroyed. Then, in striking historical accuracy before the fact, Isaiah 43:3b-4 details how Israel will be redeemed from exile (v. 3b; 4b):
         I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. …I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.

Then in verse 4a God explains why He will deliver His rebellious people:
         Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you

Through Isaiah, God promised Israel that her return to her homeland would not be accomplished purely out of the goodness of the Babylonian king’s heart. Rather, Cyrus—and later his son Darius I—would be lured by God to expand their empire to the Mediterranean Sea, invading Egypt, Cush and Seba. Transplanting the powerless descendants of the Jewish captivity—second and third generations growing up in Babylon—back into Palestine would provide a friendly stepping stone for such an invasion.

So when God declares in Isaiah 43:4 that He is willing to sacrifice three people groups for the sake of Israel’s return to Palestine He is making a very clear announcement to mankind as a whole: It is far better to be among God’s covenant people (even if temporarily out of favor with Him) than to be outside His covenant.

Those who belong to God by covenant are “precious” to Him. Think of it! God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, loves us and holds us in great honor! Only to His own does He say, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5). All others have every reason to be terrified, for God is in the process of creating a Kingdom people and will not hesitate to eliminate those who refuse Him. As Jesus taught centuries after Isaiah,
         Matt. 13:41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.