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Does God repent?

18-11-2011 - Posted by Andre Piet


repentance? This week, I received (not for the first time) a question, How it is possible that we read in the Bible, a number of times, that God repents (see: e.g., Genesis 6:7 and Jeremiah 42:10)? Is it not so that anyone who repents, says in effect: if I had known it in advance, I would not have done it? But how can this ever apply to God, Who indeed knows all things beforehand? Is the whole idea of “repentance” by God, not an outright denial of His omniscience (1John 3:20; Rom.11:36; Eph.1:11b)? anthropomorphism Or does God merely have remorse, “by way of speaking”? The same as He also “by way of speaking” walks (Gen.3:8), smells (Ex.29:41), sleeps and awakens (Ps.44:23), descends and ascends (Gen.11:5), has arms, eyes, ears, nose, intestines and even has a behind (Ex.33:23). Each and every one of these examples is speaking of God in terms that are characteristic of human beings. Anthropomorphism (the ‘expensive’ word for this phenomenon) is very often used in the Bible, rhetorically. Figuratively speaking, God has a nose, eyes and ears, but in a literal sense, God [is] spirit (John 4:24). Figuratively, He sleeps and awakens, but in the literal sense, God never tires (Isa.40:28). Etc.. opposite statements When reading that it repented God, we indeed, have to realize that such is a mere human-way of speaking about God. That becomes clear when we consider other statements given in Scripture. Declarations that are factual and true, which deny that God repents. Thus we read in Numbers 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? (KJV)

1Samuel 15, in connection with our question, is altogether a very interesting chapter. At the end of this chapter (15:35) we read:

…Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. (KJV)

However, a few verses earlier (15:29) Samuel, in stark contrast, had said very solemnly:

And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he [is] not a man, that he should repent. (KJV)

Two seemingly contradictory statements, almost directly behind each other. Both statements, of course, can not simultaneously be literally true. One of them must be a “so to speak” expression. In this case, that is not difficult to recognize. In relative terms, i.e., for us to easily understand the intensity of His grief, He expresses Himself humanly. But in absolute terms, GOD, obviously has no remorse “for He is not a man” who makes a mistake or ever can be surprised. repent or comfort? Something that is not to be ignored, either, is that the Hebrew word, hidden behind our translation-word “repent” (nacham), has a much broader meaning. It is related to the word for “warm” (cham). It is often used for ‘warm’ feelings such as ‘mercy’, ‘compassion’ and ‘consolation’. When it says in Gen.6:6, “it repented the Lord”, then it uses the same word (Strong’s # 1562) as in Gen.24:67, where we read, “Isaac was comforted.” If the translators in Gen.6:6 would have used the same word as they did in 24:67, we would read: “The Lord was comforted that he had made man…”. Does this rendering not throw a glorious light on our wonderful GOD? No matter how wickedly humanity manifests itself, it ‘comforts’ God that He has made man. The very fact that HE is the Creator and Maker of man, is the best guarantee for a happy ending! ——————————— translation: Peter Feddema