T H E R E L E N T I N G
H E A RT O F G O D
Can Things Really Change?
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2014 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written
permission of the author.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing
ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007
A Special thanks to the proofreaders: Diane Mac Leod, Lee Tuson
CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Preface
1 - Introduction
2 - The Regret of God
3 - Compassion and Mercy
4 - Conditional Sentences
5 - I Will Not Relent
6 - The Relenting of God and Prayer
7 - The Relenting of God and Human Decisions
8 - A Word of Caution
About The Author
T
PREFACE
his is a study of the relenting heart of God. It is not a topic I have
heard much about but one the Lord has led me to consider over
these past few weeks. The subject is a delicate one. I fully accept
and appreciate the great truth of God's sovereign and unchangeable nature. I
have come to see, however, that this does not mean that things in life can
never be changed. God is not inflexible. Blessings can be restored where
cursing was decreed. Blessings can be removed. Unused gifts can be
stripped from faithless servants. Judgement can be replaced by mercy and
pardon.
There is a fatalistic view of life that says that nothing can change because it
has been determined by God. I have come to appreciate, however, the
flexibility of God's purpose and how my experience of God can vary
through my obedience or disobedience. I have also come to a deeper
appreciation of the impact of prayer and faithfulness.
The fact that God has a relenting heart is an encouragement to us, but it is
not something to take for granted. In the course of this brief study, we will
see how God responds to our obedience and prayers but also how our
insistence in evil may also cause Him to remove His blessing.
I trust that this study will be an encouragement to you. I have been blessed
while examining the various passages of Scripture that speak about this
aspect of God's character. I trust that what the Lord has shown me will
strengthen and encourage you in your personal walk with our Saviour.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
A
1 - INTRODUCTION
10 God relented of the disaster that he said he would do to them,
and did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)
19 Did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced
against them? (Jeremiah 26:19)
10 The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made
Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not
performed my commandments… (1 Samuel 15:10-11)
s we begin this study let me introduce the matter before us. The
three verses quoted above are among a list of verses that deal
with the subject of God’s “relenting” or “regretting”. I use them
here to illustrate the subject of this study. Let's take a moment to consider
these verses in their context.
Consider the example of Jonah 3:10. In the book of Jonah we have the story
of the prophet Jonah, who was called to go to Nineveh with the word of the
Lord. Notice the word Jonah spoke to the people of this city:
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called
out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)
The word of the prophet was quite clear. Within a period of forty days, God
was going to overthrow the city of Nineveh. The word Jonah spoke that day
shook the inhabitants of the city. His words moved the entire nation to do
something about their sin and rebellion against God. From the lowest
servant in the land to the king, the people were moved to repentance. The
king decreed a city wide fast and told his people to cry out to the God of
Jonah for forgiveness. As they did, the people repented and turned from
their rebellious ways. They were sincerely touched by the prophecy of
Jonah.
It is in this context that we read in Jonah 3:10:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way,
God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them,
and did not do it.
What is striking here is the phrase: “he said he would do… and did not
do…” How are we to understand this verse? Did God change His mind?
Did He really say He would do something and did not do it?
The second passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter is from
Jeremiah 26:19. It comes in the context of the prophet's life being
threatened. Through His servant Jeremiah, the Lord prophesied judgement
on the nation. Jeremiah told the people of Jerusalem that if they did not
repent, God would make the city “a curse for all the nations of the earth”
(Jeremiah 26:6). When the people heard the words of Jeremiah, they took
hold of him crying: “You shall die.” (Jeremiah 26:8). Jeremiah was
presented to the officials of the city and put on trial for treason.
As the trial of Jeremiah unfolded, the officials began to debate his fate.
Among those present that day were some elders who stood up in defense of
the prophet and argued using an illustration from history. The illustration
used was from the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah. In those days a prophet
by the name of Micah of Moresheth spoke out against the people of Judah
in a similar way telling them:
“Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of
ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.”(Jeremiah
26:18).
The elders pointed to the response of the godly king Hezekiah in verse 19.
They reminded those who sat in judgement of Jeremiah that King Hezekiah
and the nation received the message as from God and “entreated the favor
of the Lord”. Notice the result of this repentance, according to the elders in
Jeremiah 26:19:
“... did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced
against them?”
God chose not to inflict disaster on Jerusalem in that day. Again, we are left
with the question: “Why would God tell Micah of Moresheth to prophecy
that He would plow Zion as a field, when in the end God did not do this?
Did this make Micah of Moresheth a false prophet?
Let me conclude this introductory chapter with one final illustration. In 1
Samuel 15 we read the account of how Saul was commanded by God to
fight the Amalekites. He was to destroy them completely. Men, women,
children, and animals were all to be slaughtered; they were to take nothing
from the city (1 Samuel 15:3). As the battle unfolded, however, Saul spared
the king of Amalek and took the best sheep, oxen, calves, and lambs. He
and his soldiers only slaughtered what they considered to be of no real
value. This was in direct disobedience to the Lord.
It is in this context that the Lord spoke to Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:11 saying:
“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from
following me and has not performed my commandments.”
How is it possible that God could regret an action He took? God knows all
things. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Everything He does is good. In this
verse, however, God is expressing His regret that He had chosen Saul to be
king.
These verses present a challenge to us. They bring up a series of questions
that need to be addressed. Does God change His mind? Does He say He
will do something and not do it? Does He have regrets concerning decisions
He makes?
In the course of this study, we will examine a series of verses that speak
about the “relenting” of God. Our attempt will be to make sense of these
verses in light of what we know about God as a sovereign and holy God. I
believe that our understanding of these verses will have an impact on our
personal lives and our relationship with God. May the Lord be pleased to
use this study to challenge us in our understanding of His character. May
they serve to draw us closer to Him as a sovereign and holy God.
I
2 - THE REGRET OF GOD
And the Lord regretted that he made man on the earth, and it
grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:6)
n the opening chapter we looked at some verses that showed that God
relented or turned back from doing what He had said He would to do.
We also saw how He expressed regret over decisions He had made.
The Hebrew word used to express the relenting and the regret of God is the
word “naham”. It occurs about 108 times in the Old Testament. The word
naham has a variety of meanings. In this chapter we will look at the word as
it is expressed in both Genesis 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:10-11, 35.
Let’s consider Genesis 6:6. The context of this verse is the increasing
corruption on the earth. Genesis 6 reminds us that the people of Noah’s day
were turning from the Lord God. They were inter-marrying with the
unbelievers of the land. As God looked at the earth in the days of Noah,
notice what He saw:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and
that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil
continually. (Genesis 6:5)
It is in this context that we read in Genesis 6:6:
And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it
grieved him to his heart.
Of particular importance in this verse is the connection between God
regretting and the grief He felt in His heart. The word naham can refer to a
sense of grief or pain because of an action taken. Dictionary.com defines the
word regret in the English language as follows:
To feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.).
To think of with a sense of loss. (www.reference.com/browse/regret)
We often think of regret as being the fruit of an inappropriate or sinful
action. This is not always the case. We can also experience a sense of regret
in doing something that is good or necessary. God’s regret in Genesis 6:6
was in the fact that “he had made man on the earth.” As we look at the
creation of human beings, (Genesis 1:27) we see that God made man in His
image. Listen to how God described everything He did on that day:
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very
good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:31)
It is interesting to note that in the account of creation, this is the only time
God describes what He did as being “very” good. God speaks of the works
of the other days as being “good” (see Genesis 1:3, 12, 18, 21); but He
describes the work of the sixth day as being “very” good.
When God tells us that He regretted making man on the earth He is not
telling us that He made a mistake or did something He should not have
done. What He did when He created man and woman was "very good". His
regret was not in what He had done but in what man had become.
In those days God was feeling the pain of His decision to create man and
woman with a free will. He grieved over their choice to wander from Him
as their Creator and Sustainer. To regret is to feel the pain of the decisions
we have made. God decided to create humankind and now He watched
them as they turned their back on Him and wandered in rebellion.
Jesus told the story of a young son who chose to take his inheritance and
leave his fathers home. While much of the focus of this story in Luke 15
relates to the son and what happened to him, consider the father for a
moment. What was the father feeling as he watched his son, the fruit of his
own life, leave home and turn his back on all he had been taught? Consider
the regret of the father over what was taking place that day. Consider the
sorrow and grief he felt for his son.
This is what is happening in Genesis 6:6. God’s heart is broken over what
He saw. God’s regret is expressed in a deep pain over a decision He had
made to create man on the earth with a free will. While His decision to
create man was very good, it was not without its pain. This was a decision
that would cost something. It was a decision that would bring deep grief to
the heart of God.
Let’s turn our attention now to 1 Samuel 15:10-11, 35. Here we catch a
glimpse of God’s regret as it pertains to His choice of Saul as king:
10 The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have
made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has
not performed my commandments.”
35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but
Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made
Saul king over Israel.
Saul was God’s choice as the first king of Israel. Through the prophet
Samuel, God revealed this to Saul. Not only did God choose this man to be
king, but He also filled him with His Spirit and gave him a new heart.
Consider what happened to Saul when Samuel announced God’s intention
for his life:
9 When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him a new
heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. 10 When they came
to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of
God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11 And when
all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the
prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the
son of Kish? Is Saul among the prophets? (1 Samuel 10:9-11)
God did a wonderful thing in the life of Saul to equip him for the work He
had been called to do. In fact, the change in Saul was obvious to those who
knew him. He was not the same person he had been. Those who knew him
well asked the question: “What has come over the son of Kish?”
The problem, however, was that Saul quickly turned from God and the
work of the Spirit in him. Instead, he chose to follow his own ways. He
compromised in his relationship with God and did not obey the commands
of the Lord fully. This grieved the heart of the Lord so that in the end He
said of him: “I regret that I have made Saul king.”
God’s choice of Saul was good. God not only chose him, but He equipped
him with everything he needed to excel in his calling. Saul, however, did
not walk in the provision of God, but chose his own way. He failed God,
did not obey Him wholeheartedly, and ultimately was rejected for his
unfaithfulness.
God felt regret over the good decision he had made to choose Saul and
equip him for ministry. In a sense this regret is a deep sense of
disappointment in His choice of this man to represent Him before the
nation.
As we conclude this chapter let’s take a moment to consider what these
verses teach us about God and our relationship with Him. There are three
points I want to make in this regard.
God’s Regret is not Because of any Shortcoming on His
Part
As we have examined Genesis 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:10-11, 35 it has become
quite clear that God’s regret is not because of any shortcoming on His part.
We regret bad decisions we have made. We regret sinful actions. Not all
regret, however, is the result of a shortcoming. We can also regret and feel
very disappointed in how things turned out even when we have made good
decisions.
God’s decision to create human beings was a “very good” decision. His
decision to choose Saul was also a good decision. God’s regret was in what
human beings did with what He gave them.
God gives us a Free Will to Obey or to Disobey
This leads us to the second important point of this chapter. God created
Adam and Eve with a free will. His heart longed for a people who would
choose Him and love Him not because they were forced to or programmed
to do so, but because they wanted to from their heart. Forced love is not true
love. Forced obedience is slavery. True intimacy can only be experienced
through a free and willing choice of both partners.
In creating human beings with a free will, God gave to them the freedom to
obey or disobey. We can choose to cling to Him and walk in fellowship
with Him or we can turn our back on Him. We can be faithful in our calling
and the use of our spiritual gifts, or we can misuse or abuse our calling and
gifting. Each of us has a decision to make concerning the call of God on our
lives. The people of Noah’s day chose to live independently of God,
walking away from Him. Saul chose to compromise and disobey the
commandments of the Lord. These decisions they made themselves and in
so doing disappointed the heart of God.
God Feels Deeply the Pain of our Wandering and Wasted
Potential
God feels deep regret when we do not choose Him and His purpose for our
lives. His heart breaks as He watches us wander from His excellent ways.
He grieves when we do not reach our potential by walking in faithful
obedience. He is pained by the loss of fellowship with us. God is not an
impersonal God but one who feels pain and suffers greatly when we miss
out on His best for our lives.
Understanding that fact that God feels regret helps us to understand just
how much He cares for us. It also challenges us to walk in a way that will
please Him and bring Him satisfaction and joy. The people of Noah’s day
caused God to feel deep regret over those He had created. Saul caused God
to feel regret and disappointment in His choice of king over His people.
How does God feel toward you today? Does He feel regret over what you
have chosen to do with your spiritual gifts? Does He feel regret over the
way you have chosen to live your life?
When God gave us life, He also gave us freedom to walk in obedience or
disobedience. With this freedom, God also accepted the pain and regret He
would feel to see lives wasted in rebellion and sin. He does not force us to
walk in obedience. Nor does He force us to reach our full potential for Him.
Our freedom comes at a cost. The cost to God is the regret He feels as He
watches us wander. The cost to us is the loss of fellowship, fruitfulness, and
the judgement of God for our unfaithfulness.
God feels regret as He watches the untapped potential in His children waste
away. He feels regret as He experiences the loss of intimacy with His
children. This is not His desire for us. He chooses, however, to suffer the
grief and pain rather than take away our freedom to choose obedience from
a willing heart. This does not mean that He does not continue to pursue us.
His Spirit will woo and convict in an effort to draw us back. He will even
block our path or discipline us in an attempt to protect us from wandering
further. May we not harden our heart to this work of God’s Spirit. May our
lives bring joy to God as we walk in His ways.
I am thankful for a God who regrets. He has my deepest interests at heart.
He is personal and intimate with me. He desires to see me become
everything I was created and equipped to be in Him.
For Consideration:
What does it mean to regret? Can we experience regret over something
good we have done?
What does God regret?
What is the connection between the free will God has given us and His
experience of regret over us?
Consider your life and ministry. Is there anything there that would cause
God to experience regret?
What does the fact that God regrets teach us about the personal nature of
God?
For Prayer:
Take a moment to thank the Lord that He feels regret when we do not reach
our potential in Him. Thank Him that He has this personal interest in you
today.
Ask God to show you if there is anything in your life or ministry that causes
Him to experience regret. Ask for strength to walk in greater faithfulness to
Him in this area of your life.
I
3 - COMPASSION AND
MERCY
15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was
about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity,
and he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is
enough; now stay your hand.” (1 Chronicles 21:15)
3 The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord
(Amos 7:3)
n this study of the regret and relenting of God, we have introduced the
Hebrew word “naham” as it is translated by the English word “regret”.
The idea is that God experiences regret in His creation when they do
not reach the potential, He created them to experience.
As we move on in this study, we encounter a second use of the word. Let’s
consider some examples of this second use in this chapter.
In the passage quoted above from 1 Chronicles 21:15 we see that David had
taken a census of the people of Israel. David had done this in pride and
disobedience to the Lord. The result of this disobedience brought the
judgement of God on the nation. While David did repent of his sin, God
told him through the prophet Gad that he would still be punished for his
rebellion. God sent a plague in Israel which resulted in the death of 70,000
men (1 Chronicles 21:14). As the angel of the Lord approached the city of
Jerusalem to destroy it, 1 Chronicles 21:15 tells us that the Lord “relented”
and spoke to the destroying angel saying: “It is enough; now stay your
hand.” God had decreed a punishment, but He relented and held back the
full extent of His judgement.
A similar use of the word “relent” is found in Judges 2:18 where we read
concerning the people of Israel:
18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with
the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the
days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning
because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.
In this verse the Hebrew word naham (to relent) is translated by the
expression “moved to pity.” Consider what is happening in Israel in those
days. The people of God would wander from Him and His ways. God
would punish them for their sin. The people would then cry out to God in
their misery for forgiveness. God would “relent” (be moved to pity) and
send a judge to give them relief from their trouble. This cycle of rebellion,
repentance, relenting and relief would repeat itself over and over again in
those days.
The psalmist reflects on this cycle when he wrote in Psalm 106:42-45:
42 Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into
subjection under their power. 43 Many times he delivered them, but
they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through
their iniquity. 44 Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when
he heard their cry. 45 For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
Notice the connection between the relenting of God and the abundance of
His steadfast love in Psalm 106:45. God’s relenting, in this sense, speaks of
His compassion and mercy in judgement.
Let me share one more passage that speaks of the relenting of God from this
perspective. In Amos 7 the prophet Amos tells us about a vision the Lord
had given him. In this vision he saw a swarm of locusts. These locusts came
to devour the grain of the land at a very crucial time in the harvest. When he
saw this vision, the prophet Amos cried out to the Lord: “O Lord God,
please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” Notice the response
of the Lord to the prayer of Amos for the people of his day:
3 The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord
(Amos 7:3)
The Lord gave Amos a vision of what would happen, but then chose not to
unleash the devastation of this vision when the prophet cried out to God on
behalf of the people. The Lord heard the prayer of Amos and had
compassion on His people, withdrawing His judgement. This use of the
word naham (relenting) shows us something very wonderful about the
Lord God. It reveals His incredible compassion and mercy toward His
people. Where would we be today if God did not relent and show us mercy
in our rebellion and sin?
What do we learn about the relenting of God from the verses we examined
in this chapter? Let me touch on several truths.
God’s Relenting Shows That He is a Holy God Who Will
Judge Sin
While it is the desire of God to bless His people, He would will not hesitate
to remove that blessing because of sin and rebellion. When David
disobeyed God and took a census of the people of Israel, this resulted in the
death of 70,000 men. This was a serious price to pay for disobedience and
pride. As a result of their sin, God’s people were oppressed by foreign
nations. We catch a glimpse of this in Judges 6 where we read:
1 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and
God gave them over into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the
hand of Midian overpowered Israel and because of Midian the
people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the
mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For whenever the
Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the
people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would
encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as
Gaza and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or
donkey.
In Judges 6 the people of God were reduced to living in caves and dens in
the mountains to escape the wrath and injustice of their enemies. These
enemies stripped them of their crops and animals, leaving them with
nothing to eat. Because of their sin, God’s people were reduced to poverty
and lived in hiding for fear of their enemies. This was a direct result of their
disobedience to God and His judgement for their sin. While God had a plan
to bless His people, He would also judge their sin and strip that blessing
from them if they turned from Him.
God’s Relenting shows that He Grieves in His Judgement
of Sin
While God does judge sin, we need to understand that He takes no pleasure
in this. This is quite clear from Ezekiel 33:11 where we read:
11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure
in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and
live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die,
O house of Israel?
God pleads with the wicked to leave their wicked ways in Ezekiel 33:11. He
longed for them to turn to Him and be forgiven. He did not delight in
punishing them. His heart broke as He unleashed His judgement.
As we have examined the relenting of God in this chapter, we have seen
that there is a strong connection between God’s relenting and His
compassion and pity for His people. As God watched the destroying angel
approach Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 21:15 He relented. “It is enough: Stay
your hand,” He cried to the destroying angel. You can’t read this passage
without having a sense of the grief in the heart of God as He punished the
people of David’s day. As we read about how God sent judges to set His
people free from the oppression caused by their rebellion, we are again
reminded of His compassion toward them. While this cycle of disobedience
was repeated many times in the history of Israel, over and over again the
Lord showed compassion and relented in His wrath and judgement. How
patient and merciful our God is!
I am encouraged when I read that God relented in His judgement because it
shows me that God is merciful. God feels for me, and His heart is moved by
what He has to do to correct or punish me. God’s relenting shows me His
personal nature and the reality of the grief and pain He also feels in judging.
God’s Relenting Shows That He is Compassionate in His
Judgement
God's judgement is very real, but it is tempered with compassion and
mercy. He feels His people’s pain and often withholds the full extent of His
punishment. God's mercy is demonstrated in His relenting. He did not give
His people all they deserved. God could have destroyed the nation of Israel
for their sin. During their punishment, however, God relented and chose to
hold back the full extent of His wrath. When God relents, He shows mercy
and compassion.
Where would we be today had God not relented in His judgement,
tempering it with compassion and mercy? He is not obliged to relent. We
read in Jeremiah 4:28:
28 “For this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above be dark;
for I have spoken; I have purposed;
I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”
The words of the Lord through Jeremiah are quite clear. “I have not
relented, nor will I turn back.” God has every right to punish sin without
relenting or showing compassion. While His grace and mercy are abundant,
there does come a time when His full wrath is unleashed. Listen to what the
Lord said through Jeremiah again in Jeremiah 15:6:
6 You have rejected me declares the Lord;
you keep going backward
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I
am weary of relenting.
God does show wonderful compassion and mercy toward us in our sin.
There is a time, however, when God grows weary of relenting and chooses
to unleash the full fury of His wrath. How thankful we need to be that God
does relent in judgement and show compassion, but we should never take
this for granted, for God is just in punishing to the full extent all rebellion
and sin.
For Consideration:
How is God’s relenting an expression of His mercy and compassion?
Does God always unleash the full extent of His judgement? Does He
always punish us as we deserve?
What does the relenting of God teach us about how God feels when He
must punish sin?
Take a moment to consider how God has relented in punishing you as you
deserved.
Is God obligated to relent?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that He feels our pain and shows compassion in judgement.
Thank the Lord for the way He has relented and chosen not to show you the
full force of His wrath.
Ask God to help you never to take His relenting for granted. Ask Him to
help you to live forever grateful for His relenting mercy in your life.
Do you know someone who is wandering from the Lord today? Ask God to
relent from judging them as they deserve. Ask Him also to help them to
realize that He may not always relent.
I
4 - CONDITIONAL
SENTENCES
It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that
I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of
their evil deeds (Jeremiah 26:3)
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over
disaster. (Joel 2:13)
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way,
God relented of the disaster he had said he would do to them, and
he did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)
n the previous chapter we saw that God relents and does not always
unleash the full extent of His wrath upon us. We see in this the mercy
and compassion of God toward those who do not deserve it. In the
passages quoted above we see yet another way in which God relents.
Let’s consider Jeremiah 26:3 in this context. As chapter 26 opens we see
that the Lord has called Jeremiah to the courtyard in the temple with a word
for the nation. The word of the Lord was very shocking and strong:
You shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to
me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the
words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently,
though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh,
and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.”
(Jeremiah 26:4-6)
Notice here that the Lord tells His people what would happen to them if
they chose to continue in disobedience. He would not hesitate to make the
city of Jerusalem a “curse for all the nations” (verse 6), before He sent
Jeremiah to preach this word the Lord God told him in verse 3:
It may be that they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way,
that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because
of their evil deeds.
God made His intentions very clear concerning the message. Judgement
was not yet final. Everything depended on the response of the people to the
word of Jeremiah. If they refused to listen to his message, God would make
the city a curse to the nations as He promised. The house of the Lord would
be abandoned. If, on the other hand, they listened and turned from their evil
ways, God would relent and spare them this judgement.
We notice the same thing in the book of Jonah. Jonah was to go to the city
of Nineveh with the word the Lord had given him to speak (Jonah 3:2). In
obedience to the command of the Lord, Jonah went to the city and
proclaimed the message God had given him:
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)
Again, notice how definite these words are. We see in these words what
would happen to Nineveh—it would be destroyed. We also see when this
would happen—forty days.
The response of the people of Nineveh, however, was one of deep
repentance. The king removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and
sat in ashes (Jonah 3:6). He issued a proclamation that no one in the city
(either man or beast) was to eat or drink anything. Instead, they were all to
mourn, turn from their sinful ways and call out to the God of Jonah for
mercy. The reason they did this is stated in Jonah 3:9:
Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce
anger, so that we may not perish.
While the word of Jonah was very clear, the inhabitants of Nineveh cried
out to God, and repented of their sins in the hope that He would relent and
not do what He said He was going to do to them.
According to Jonah 3:10 this is exactly what happened:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way,
God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them,
and he did not do it.
The words “He said he would do to them, and He did not do it” are striking
particularly because they speak of God. Is it possible for God to say He will
do something and not do it? How are we to understand these verses
considering what we know about God and His character?
The answer to this comes in the nature of the words God is speaking here.
God was pronouncing a conditional judgement on the people of Jonah’s
day. A conditional judgement is a word from the Lord concerning what
would happen if people continued in their rebellion without repenting and
turning from their sin. This judgement was not final, but it was very
definite. If there was no repentance, and if the people refused to listen, the
wrath of the Lord would indeed have fallen on them exactly as God said
through His servant Jonah.
In the case of the people of Nineveh, the inhabitants of the city chose to
repent and remove the offense. When God saw the response of the people,
He relented of the evil He intended to do to them, and they were spared
from His judgement.
When Jonah preached that God would destroy the city of Nineveh in forty
days and it did not happen, was he a false prophet? Definitely not—these
things would have happened had nothing changed in the hearts of the
people of Nineveh. In forty days, the judgement of God would have been
unleashed and the city destroyed. The people of the city were under the
judgement of God and unless things changed, they would suffer the
consequences.
In both illustrations (Jeremiah and Jonah) the people of God were under His
wrath. Their sin was an offense to God. The sentence for their rebellion was
that their city would be destroyed. Unless they repented, this sentence
would be carried out.
In a similar way, we were under the sentence of death because of sin (see
Romans 6:23). This sentence was already passed, and we were already
under its curse. While the sentence was passed, God did make a way of
escape. We are released from this judgement when we turn to His Son Jesus
Christ, surrender to Him and receive His forgiveness. On this condition
alone can we know the forgiveness of God and be set free. If we refuse this
condition, we will continue under His wrath. God does provide a solution,
but until we avail ourselves of that solution, we are guilty and remain under
the sentence. God relents only when we embrace the solution He provides.
In Jeremiah 26, the prophet proclaimed the judgement of God on the nation.
God was going to make His house in Jerusalem like Shiloah. Shiloh had
been the centre of Israel’s faith at one point but now it was abandoned. God
would turn from Jerusalem, and it would become a curse for all the nations
of the earth. These words of Jeremiah were not well received by the
inhabitants of the city. In fact, they called for the death of the prophet for
speaking against their nation. Jeremiah would not go back on his words,
however, and in Jeremiah 26:12-13 he said:
Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people saying,
“The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all
the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your
deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God and the Lord will
relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.
Notice that the disaster had already been pronounced against Jerusalem.
God had already judged them for their sin and rebellion. This judgement
had already been pronounced and was moving toward them quickly. If they
did nothing, it would crash on their shore like a great, overpowering wave,
destroying everything in sight. Jeremiah reminded the people, however, that
even though that judgement had been passed, there was a way of escape. If
they listened to the word of the Lord, repented, and changed their ways,
God would relent and turn this disaster from them. Everything depended on
their repentance.
The prophet Joel also prophesied of a great day of judgement coming for
the people of God. Listen to what he tells the people of his day:
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
Fire devours before them,
and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
but behind them a desolate wilderness,
and nothing escapes them. (Joel 2:1-3)
The vision was very clear. Great devastation was even now marching like a
great army toward the people of God. God’s people were already judged for
their sin. God’s wrath was already unfolding against them.
What is the advice of the prophet in light of this terrible judgement of God
unleashed against them? Listen to what he tells his people under the
inspiration of the Spirit of God in Joel 2:12-14:
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and relents over disaster.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
Again, we see that while the sentence had already been passed and God’s
people were under the sentence of death, there was still hope. There was
one final appeal. By turning from sin and seeking the face of the Lord, they
could cast themselves on His mercy and call upon Him to relent and
forgive.
Let me conclude this chapter by mentioning several things we learn from
the verses we have examined here.
God’s Judgement is Already on Us
One of the things that is very striking about the verses we have examined in
this chapter is the way in which God pronounces a very particular
judgement on His people. God had determined what the sentence for each
group was going to be. For the people of Jeremiah’s day, their temple would
be abandoned, and their city would become a curse for the nations. For the
inhabitants of the city of Nineveh, in forty days their city would be
destroyed. In the case of the people of Joel’s day a great army was coming
to destroy them. God had a very particular judgement for each situation and
people. He considered their case and determined their sentence. The
judgement of God was suited to the rebellion. Sentence had been passed.
This is also the case for us today. God’s judgement does not wait until the
final day. We are already under His wrath. He has already considered our
case and pronounced His sentence.
God Announces His Conditional Sentence
The second lesson we need to see in these verses is that through His
prophets the Lord announced His conditional sentence on the people
concerned. I say that these sentences were conditional because they could
be changed. If God’s people did nothing, they would suffer the full
consequences of the sentence passed against them. If, on the other hand,
they listened to God and took this warning seriously, the outcome would be
very different.
In our day, God continues to warn those who are under His judgement.
Through the Scriptures, He shows us our need and warns us of the
seriousness of our condition. He still sends His prophets in the form of
evangelists, preachers, and teachers to speak to us about our ways. His Holy
Spirit will convict us, and God will bring circumstances into our lives to
warn us of the judgement we are under. His purpose in all of this is to
challenge us to repent and turn from our evil to Him. The sentence of death
is upon us, but it does not have to remain. There is a way of escape.
There is a Way of Escape
Jeremiah, Jonah, and Joel all pleaded with the people of their day to listen,
repent, and change their ways. They told them that the sentence of death
and judgement would be lifted, and God would relent if they would only
listen and make things right with Him.
We do not have to perish. God is a relenting God. He takes no delight in
punishing the wicked. He provides us with a means of escape. We do not
have to suffer the consequences of God’s judgement if we will only listen,
repent, and turn to Him. The only way to escape this terrible judgement is
to face our Judge and cry out for mercy by repentance and obedience.
Our Response Opens God’s Heart
Finally, we discover in these verses that God was willing to relent of the
disaster He intended to do when those who were under His wrath listened to
Him and changed their ways. God is looking for more than just a change of
behaviour here. Through Joel, He challenged His people to rend their hearts
and not just their garments (Joel 2:13). God delights to relent of the disaster
He intends if we will return to Him with all our hearts.
We do not have to remain under the sentence of judgement. Because God is
a relenting God, He is willing to reverse the curse on our life. His greatest
act of relenting is seen in the sacrifice of His Son, the Lord Jesus, to offer
forgiveness to all who will come to Him through His Son. The relenting of
God gives us great hope. Even though we are under the curse of sin and
rebellion, there is still a way of escape. If we will cast ourselves upon His
mercy, He may still relent and turn back His wrath.
For Consideration:
The passages we have considered in this chapter show us that God’s people
had already been judged for their sin. How is knowing we are already
judged different from believing that we will one day be judged? How does
this impact our response?
What is a conditional sentence? Should we take such a sentence seriously?
What makes a sentence conditional?
How is a conditional sentence reversed according to the verses we have
examined in this chapter?
How does God warn us today of our judgement?
Jonah prophesied that God would destroy Nineveh in forty days. This did
not happen. Was Jonah a false prophet? Did he proclaim the truth? How
does understanding the conditional nature of God’s judgement help us see
that Jonah was a true prophet?
What encouragement do you find in the fact that God is willing to relent if
we turn to Him?
For Prayer:
Take a moment to thank the Lord for His willingness to relent in judgement
when we turn to Him and seek His face.
Thank the Lord for the way in which He has spared you from the judgement
you were under.
Take a moment to consider the people and the circumstances that opened
your mind to the reality of your judgement. Thank the Lord for how He
brought those people and circumstances into your live to warn you.
I
5 - I WILL NOT RELENT
I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I
will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to
your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord
(Ezekiel 24:14)
For thus says the Lord of host: “As I purposed to bring disaster to
you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent,
says the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 8:14)
n the previous chapters we have seen the wonderful compassion and
mercy of God as it is reflected in the Hebrew word "naham" translated
by the English word relent (repent, KJV). We find in this word a
source of great hope and freedom. Our God is a forgiving God who is
willing to restore all who will come to Him in repentance.
Having said this, however, it falls on us to also examine some other verses
containing the Hebrew word "naham" (relent). These verses remind us that
God is not obligated to relent or show compassion and forgiveness.
Let's begin by looking at Ezekiel 24:14. Before saying anything about this
verse, let's look at the context of Ezekiel 24. God gave the prophet Ezekiel a
word to speak to the people of Israel. That word came in the form of an
illustration, comparing His people to a cooking pot. Listen to what the Lord
says about this cooking pot (the nation of Israel).
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Woe to the bloody city, to the pot
whose corrosion is in it, and whose corrosion has not gone out of it!
Take out of it piece after piece, without making a choice. (Ezekiel
24:6)
Israel was like a cooking pot filled with corrosion. Not even fire would get
rid of the corrosion in the pot. This is how God saw His people. They were
filled with sin and even though He had disciplined them in the fire of His
judgement, they had still not turned to Him. This grieved the Lord God, but
it also aroused His fury. Through His prophet Ezekiel, the Lord said to His
people:
On account of your unclean lewdness, because I would have
cleansed you and you were not cleansed from your uncleanness, you
shall not be cleansed anymore till I have satisfied my fury upon
you. I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it.
I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to
your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord.
(Ezekiel 24:14)
The continual resistance of God's people to the work of His Spirit in their
lives resulted in their final judgement. In this case God made it clear to the
people of Ezekiel's day that there would be no relenting in His judgement.
He would satisfy His fury and they would perish in their sin and rebellion.
He would not show any more compassion toward them.
Zechariah 8:14 is another passage that speaks to the fact that God will not
always relent. The prophecy of Zechariah was written after the city of
Jerusalem was destroyed and its inhabitants sent into exile. For seventy
years the people of God were held in captivity. Most of those who had lived
in Jerusalem when the city was captured by the enemy had died in exile,
never to return. The once great city of God lay in ruins. Its temple, which
had been the centre of the worship of Jehovah, was desecrated. Its wealth
had been plundered and its important buildings burnt to the ground.
Through the prophet Zechariah, the Lord told His people that better days
were coming. He would restore His people to their land:
For thus says the Lord of hosts: "As I purposed to bring disaster to
you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent,
says the Lord of hosts, so again have I purposed in these days to
bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not.
(Zechariah 8:14-15)
God was going to renew His mercy to the next generation. Those who had
never seen the city of Jerusalem would be given the opportunity to return.
God makes it quite clear, however, that He had refused to relent or show
mercy to their fathers because they had provoked Him to wrath. This
resulted in the loss of their land, their temple, and their freedom in a foreign
land.
If we are to understand the relenting Spirit of God, we must do so in the
context of these two verses. God does relent in judgement. He does show
mercy and compassion, but this is not something He is required to do. In the
examples we have before us we see how God's people presumed that they
would be forgiven and safe. They felt no urgency to repent. This was their
undoing. In an instant, the judgement of God fell, and they lost everything
they had.
It is a serious thing to take the relenting Spirit of God for granted or to
presume that He will always show compassion toward us even when we
persist in our rebellion. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 2
on this subject:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness sand forbearance
and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you
to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you
are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's
righteous judgement will be revealed. (Romans 2:4-5)
Notice what Paul says about those who "presume on the riches of His
kindness" (assume that they can do what they want and be guaranteed God's
mercy). He tells them that the reason for God relenting and not unleashing
the full measure of His wrath on them was so that they would be given time
to repent. If they refused to repent, they would store up wrath for
themselves "on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgement will be
revealed."
The relenting Spirit of God does not mean that God will not judge sin. If
anything, it increases our obligation to repent and turn from sin. It ought to
stir up within us a sense of urgency. Imagine that you were in a burning
house. The fire surrounds you on every side and you don't know where to
turn. In your despair you hear a loud crashing sound. You look up and see
that a section of wall has fallen offering you a temporary means of escape.
To delay, even for a moment will mean you will be trapped forever. This,
however, is a means of escape, offered for a few seconds of time. If you
take advantage of this opportunity, you will be safe. If you reject it you will
perish. The relenting of God is like those few seconds of hope in a
desperate situation. For a moment of time, He breaks down the wall and
shows you a means of escape. How foolish it would be not to take
advantage of this grace. We are under His judgement but in this brief
instant, the relenting Spirit of God reveals a single avenue of escape. We
dare not delay. There may never be another opportunity. This is the moment
to repent. This is the moment to cast ourselves on His relenting Spirit and
receive the forgiveness and mercy He offers.
The passages above show us that God's relenting Spirit will not keep Him
from judging sin and rebellion. For a time, He relents, to give us an
opportunity to repent and be saved from judgement. This relenting,
however, will not last forever. To persist in sin when His relenting Spirit
gives us a means of escape, will only "store up wrath for ourselves" on the
Day of Judgement.
For Consideration:
Is God obligated to relent and show compassion on those who sin?
Give some Biblical example of times when God refused to relent.
What does the apostle Paul tell us in Romans 2:4 about the purpose for
God's relenting?
How does the relenting Spirit of God create a sense of urgency in us? What
is the result of not taking advantage of this offer of God?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that He does relent for a time so that we have opportunity to
repent and be restored to fellowship with Him.
Thank the Lord that while He is a God of mercy and compassion, He is also
a holy and just God who will judge sin and rebellion.
Has God been offering you a means of escape? Ask Him to help you to take
advantage of this opportunity before it is too late. Ask Him to give you
grace to turn from the sin He is speaking to you about today.
S
6 - THE RELENTING OF
GOD AND PRAYER
"Furthermore, the Lord said to me, 'I have seen this people, and
behold, it is a stubborn people. Let me alone, that I may destroy
them and blot out their name from under heaven… "So I lay
prostrate before the Lord for those forty days and forty nights,
because the Lord had said he would destroy you. (Deuteronomy
9:13-14, 25)
"… O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so
small!" The Lord relented concerning this: It shall not be," said the
Lord (Amos 7:2-3)
Then he said to me, "See, I assign to you cow's dung instead of
human dung, on which you may prepare your bread." (Ezekiel 4:15)
o far, we have examined the relenting Spirit of God from the
perspective of God and His character. In the last chapter we began
to look at the practical application of this truth. We spoke about not
taking this offer of forgiveness and release for granted. God is not obligated
to offer us pardon. He does so willingly and freely from a heart of
compassion and mercy. He relents for a time so we can repent and be
restored to fellowship. To refuse this offer, however, is to heap up wrath on
ourselves in the Day of Judgement. There comes a time when God will
cease to relent.
There is another important application of this truth about the relenting Spirit
of God. An understanding of this truth ought to affect how we pray. Let me
offer some Scriptural examples of this.
In Deuteronomy 9, Moses shares a conversation he had with the Lord when
he was on Mount Sinai. The Israelites did not know what had happened to
Moses and so they called Aaron and asked him to make them a god they
could see. They were afraid of the God of Israel and His power. Aaron
made for them a golden calf and the people fell down to worship it.
As these events unfolded, the Lord God spoke to Moses and said:
…"I have seen this people, and behold it is a stubborn people. Let
me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from
under heaven, and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater
than they." (Deuteronomy 9:13-14)
The Lord was angry with the people. That day He declared to Moses that
He was going to destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven.
Moses left the presence of the Lord on the mountain to see what was
happening in the Israelite camp. Notice the response of Moses to what he
saw that day:
Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty
nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin
that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the
Lord to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot
displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to
destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. And the
Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And
I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. (Deuteronomy 9:18-20)
Something quite remarkable happened in those days. Moses stood between
God and the people and for forty days fasted and prayed to the Lord,
begging Him for mercy on the people He was ready to destroy. Judgement
had been passed on the people for their rebellion. When Moses prayed,
however, the Lord listened and relented. This resulted in the lives of many
people being saved.
What was true in the case of Moses was also true in the ministry of the
prophet Amos. In Amos 7 the Lord showed the prophet a vision of a great
swarm of locusts that was going to invade the land at a very crucial point in
the harvest. This would have meant great hardship for the people of God.
While this event had been triggered by the rebellion of God's people, Amos
cried out to the Lord:
"O Lord God please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!"
The Lord relented concerning this:
"It shall not be," said the Lord. (Amos 7:2-3)
The Lord God then gave the prophet a second vision. This time it was a
vision of a great fire coming to devour the land. Again, the prophet cried
out to God:
"O Lord God, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!"
The Lord relented concerning this:
"This also shall not be," said the Lord God. (Amos 7:5-6)
What do we see in these examples? In both cases the judgement of God was
ready to fall on His people. The Lord relented, however, when His prophets
stood in the gap and prayed for mercy and forgiveness. We are left with the
distinct impression that were it not for the prayers of Moses and Amos, the
judgement of God would have fallen, and many people would have
perished.
This truth comes out very clearly in Ezekiel 22. In this case, however, there
was no one to intercede for the people of God.
The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed
robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted
from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among
them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before
me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.
Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have
consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way
upon their heads, declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 22:29-31)
Here in Ezekiel, we see the result of not having anyone stand in the gap.
The passage tells us that God looked for a man to stand in the breach but
could not find one, so He poured out His wrath. Again, we are left with the
impression that had there been someone to intercede for the people of God,
the fierceness of His wrath could have been avoided.
While this passage in Ezekiel may speak to the need of the Messiah, taken
with the other passages we have quoted above, we see that there is an
application for us as well. God has called us to stand in the gap. Our prayers
and our actions can have a dramatic impact on our land and the lives of
those around us. God's mercy is released by prayer and intercession. He
hears the cries of His saints for mercy on their nations and responds to those
prayers.
What is true on a large scale is also true for individuals. Consider Ezekiel 4
for instance. God called the prophet to symbolize the siege of Jerusalem by
foreign armies. The prophet was to build a model of the city and put up
siege works against it. When he had built this model, he was to lie on his
side for a period of days to symbolize the time Israel would be under the
judgement of God. God then told Ezekiel what he was to eat during those
days:
"And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a
day; from day to day you shall eat it. And water you shall drink by
measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink.
And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on
human dung." (Ezekiel 4:10-11)
Ezekiel was quite willing to follow this diet but objected to cooking it on a
fire fueled by human dung. He spoke to God about this:
Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself.
From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or
was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth."
Ezekiel was telling God that he did not want to eat his bread cooked over
human dung. This would have made him unclean. He respectfully brings his
objections to God. What is interesting in this passage is to see the response
of God to Ezekiel's objection:
Then he said to me, "See, I assign to you cow's dung instead of
human dung, on which you may prepare your bread." (Ezekiel 4:15)
There is something quite amazing here. God hears the request of His
prophet. Through He had commanded him to prepare his bread on a fire
made with human dung; God is sensitive to the wishes of Ezekiel. God
changes His requirement when Ezekiel objected.
What do these verses teach us about the relenting Spirit of God? They show
us that God is not a hard and uncaring God. He is sensitive to our cries for
help. There is flexibility in God's plan. He relents by showing mercy and
compassion when we ask Him.
The fact that God has a relenting Spirit shows us that things can change.
There are those whose view of God's sovereignty is such that there is no
room for change. If the events and circumstances of life are predetermined
so that they cannot change, what is the need for prayer? We can pray
expecting change because God has a relenting Spirit. He is not inflexible
but will consider our requests and answer us when we cry to Him.
While God does relent by changing our circumstances, we need to realize
that He remains God. We have seen in a previous chapter that God is under
no obligation to relent. Prayer does not give us power over God; it merely
casts us upon His mercy. It is not our way of telling God what to do but
humbly begging for compassion.
Moses learned this lesson in Numbers 12:13 when his sister was judged by
God for opposing him. God struck Miriam with leprosy for questioning the
authority of Moses and his call from God. When Moses saw that his sister
was filled with leprosy because of her sin, he cried out to God: "O God,
please heal her –please" (Numbers 12:13). Notice the repetition of the word
"please" in the verse. This was an indication of the despair Moses felt.
While God saw the sincerity of Moses' plea, listen to His response:
But the Lord said to Moses, "If her father had but spit in her face,
should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the
camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again."
(Numbers 12:14)
God does not give Moses everything he wanted here. He demanded that
Miriam pay the price for her sin and so for seven days she would be cast
aside as a leper so that she would learn her lesson.
The same principle is seen in the life of the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians
12:7-8 the apostle told the Corinthians that he had prayed three times that
God would remove a particular "thorn" in his flesh. God refused to do this
telling him instead: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The prophet Jeremiah was commanded by God not to pray for the welfare
of the people to whom he has been called:
The Lord said to me: "Do not pray for the welfare of this people.
Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer
burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will
consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence."
(Jeremiah 14:11-12)
While God is not obligated to answer our prayers as we want, He is not
inflexible. He is willing to change our destiny as we cry out to Him and
repent of our sin. He is willing to meet us in our need, extend our lives by
healing our afflictions or empower us for greater service as we call out to
Him in prayer. This flexibility in God means that the color and texture of
our lives can change when we pray or learn to walk in obedience. The
apostle James makes this clear when he says: "You do not have because you
do not ask" (James 4:2).
There are things we will never experience because we do not pray. There
are victories we will never know because we do not ask God for them.
There are levels of fruitfulness we will never attain simply because we have
never been willing to seek God for them. The day is coming when we will
answer to God for this.
While prayer moves the heart of God, it does not put us in control. We do
not pray like a military commander issuing orders to God but as humble
servants seeking mercy and compassion. We come to Him who is in control,
seeking strength to do His will. We cast ourselves on His mercy seeking His
favor in our time of need and pain. He is not insensitive to our cries. He is
willing to relent and extend His grace. The fact that God has a relenting
spirit ought to give us confidence to come to Him with our requests and
pleas.
For Consideration:
Is there flexibility in God's purpose? Can our circumstances change because
of our prayers?
How does an understanding of the relenting Spirit of God give us reason to
pray?
Is God insensitive to our needs and preferences? Is He willing to meet us in
this area of our lives? What does the example of Ezekiel teach us about
this?
What is the difference between seeing prayer as having power over God and
seeing it as casting ourselves upon His mercy?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that He is willing to hear your requests and change your
circumstances when you come to Him in prayer.
Ask God to forgive you for the times you have accepted things the way they
were and not asked Him to change them for His glory.
Ask God to help you to see prayer as a means of casting yourself on His
mercy. Ask Him to forgive you for times you felt like you could command
Him to serve you and your needs.
Thank the Lord for His relenting spirit that is willing to hear your request
and change your circumstances as a result.
I
7 - THE RELENTING OF GOD
AND HUMAN DECISIONS
When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest saw it, he
rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and
went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of
them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the
plague on the people of Israel was stopped. (Numbers 25:7-8)
And he said to him, "Well done, good servant! Because you have
been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten
cities." (Luke 19:17)
n the previous chapter we saw that God is willing to relent and show
mercy and compassion when we ask Him. We also spoke briefly about
how the relenting Spirit of God gives us hope that things can change
through prayer.
As we continue our reflection on the relenting Spirit of God, I want to touch
on another application of this truth to our lives. In the passages quoted
above, we see that the decisions we make in life touch the relenting Spirit of
God. Let me explain what I mean by this.
In Genesis 2:16-17 we read the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of
Eden. When the Lord God created them, He created them to live in
harmony with Him forever. Death did not exist prior to the fall into sin. He
also gave them a free will to choose Him and to walk in obedience. In the
Garden of Eden, the Lord planted a tree. He called this tree the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil. While Adam and Eve could eat from any
other tree in the Garden, this tree was off limits.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat
of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall
surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17)
God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from this tree they would "surely
die." What is important for us to note in this context is that there was a
choice for Adam and Eve to make. God had created them perfect. They
were living in communion with Him. They would have lived forever in the
presence of God. The only thing that could separate them from God was
their own decision to disobey and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of
Good and Evil.
Communion with God was wonderful in those days. There in the garden
their relationship with God was unhindered by sin. When Adam and Eve ate
the fruit of the forbidden tree, however, everything changed. Because of
their decision to disobey the command of God, the relenting Spirit of God
stripped them of the good He had intended for them. Pain, struggle, and
death would now be their lot in life. The holy God who created them
relented of the good He had planned for them and cursed them instead.
Numbers 25 recounts the story of Israel's rebellion against God. In those
days there was great idolatry and immorality in the land. The people of God
worshipped the gods of the Midianites. This aroused the anger of the Lord
against them. As a result of their sin, the Lord sent a great plague on the
nation that would ultimately take the lives of 24,000 people. As this plague
was ravaging the land one of the men of Israel brought a Midianite woman
home with him and took her to his tent to have sexual relations with her. He
did this in the sight of Moses and the people, without shame.
When Phinehas the priest saw what had taken place, he determined to do
something about it. Numbers 25:7-8 tells us what he did:
When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it,
he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and
went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of
them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus, the
plague on the people of Israel was stopped. (Numbers 25:7-8)
The plague that ravaged Israel was taking thousands of lives. Only when
Phinehas took a spear and killed this man and woman in their act of open
rebellion against God, did the plague stop. His action caused God to relent
and stop the judgement on the land.
King Ahaz was a very evil king. Under his reign the doors of the temple
were closed (2 Chronicles 28:24). Idol worship filled the land. This resulted
in the judgement of God falling on the nation. Listen to the description of
the land when Ahaz's son Hezekiah took the throne:
Therefore the wrath of the Lord came on Judah and Jerusalem, and
he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of
hissing, as you see with your eyes. For behold, our fathers have
fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives
are in captivity for this. (2 Chronicles 29:8)
King Hezekiah, however, unlike his father Ahaz, chose to walk in the ways
of the Lord. He opened the temple doors his father had closed and charged
the priests and the Levites to purify the temple so that worship of the Lord
God could be restored in the land. <