In 1 Samuel 15:29, Samuel explained that God does not repent. That is, he does not change his mind. Because God is perfect in every way, he never changes (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8).
Unlike people, God does not need ever to change his mind. His words, decisions and actions are always good and right. He never acts in a manner that is not proper. He never says anything that is not true.
It is people who need to repent. Their actions are evil and their desires are wrong constantly (Romans 3:9-20). They are all guilty (Romans 3:23). The Bible urges them to repent so that God can change their lives (Ezekiel 18:30-32; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19).
Sometimes, however, the Bible says that God repents. There is an example in 1 Samuel 15:35; God repented about his decision to appoint Saul as Israel’s king. The explanation is that, in the original language (Hebrew), the word for ‘repent’ really means ‘to be sorry’. God was sorry that he had appointed Saul. God’s character had not changed and his attitude had not changed. However, Saul had not been loyal to God, and God regretted that fact.
Sometimes God repents of a judgement that he intended to carry out (for example, Jonah 3:9-10). He does that because people themselves have repented; in other words, they changed their minds and decided to obey God. To such people, it seems that God has repented. He has chosen now to allow that punishment not to happen. However, really God has not changed; only they have changed. God’s perfect character remains the same. His attitudes and opinions are the same. He is still the God who declares his judgement against people’s evil deeds. He still shows his great kindness to people who repent (Exodus 34:6-7).
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© 2014, Keith Simons.