Is the God of the Old Testament rigid or is that God flexible? David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, probes this question.
The answer is No and Yes. No, God is unchangeable; Yes, God is changeable. That’s biblical, and here’s why…
Num. 23:19 God is not a human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
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.”
Psa. 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Mal. 3:6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed..
Very good evidence that God does not change. But, there’s even more evidence that God does change:
Ex. 32:14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
2Sam. 24:16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.Psa. 106:45 for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.
Jer. 15:6 You have rejected me,” declares the LORD. “You keep on backsliding. So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I am tired of holding back [relenting].
Jer. 26:19 “Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the LORD and seek his favor? And did not the LORD relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!”
Amos 7:3 So the LORD relented. “This will not happen,” the LORD said.
Amos 7:6 So the LORD relented. “This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said.
Joel 2:13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.
Jonah 4:2 He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
Here’s how David Lamb puts this together: Context determines everything. “In contexts where there is doubt as to whether or not God will be faithful, the text declares that God does not waver from his commitments.” “In contexts of imminent judgment from God, when people repent, God changes his mind and shows mercy.”
Thus, “God is predictably flexible, constantly changeable and immutably mutable, at least in regard to showing mercy toward repentant sinners.”
Here’s one for a zinger: This is why I began my Rob Bell series with the prayers of Abraham about the about-to-be-destroyed city. There is a pattern in the Bible that God will relent from punishment if people will turn toward God. On that we can stake some hope.