4. The Power Of Prayer
4-1 God Changing His Mind
And God does change His mind. Remember how He told Moses that He was going to destroy Israel and make of Moses a great nation. And Moses pleaded with God. And God changed His mind. Just like He " repented" , changed His mind, that He had made man at the time of the flood. Moses was specifically told to go away from the congregation, and yet he ran towards them in order to make atonement for them (Num. 16:45,47). Moses was so close to God that he could apparently 'disobey' Him because Moses knew there was a chance of changing God's intentions. He was so close to God- and in this case, God did indeed change His intentions. He had only just changed them over another matter, in relenting from destroying all Israel due to Korah's rebellion- because Moses prayed for the people (Num. 16:21,22). And there are so many other examples:
- God told Israel straight in Jud. 10:13: " Ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more" . But they begged Him, and He did. And likewise in Hosea, He said He would give them up completely, but just couldn't bring Himself to do it.
- He had promised to bring Israel in to the promised land. But He destroyed that generation- " and ye shall know my breach of promise" , or, " the altering of my purpose" (Num. 14:34). God's purpose can change. He says so Himself.
- Amos preached the message of coming judgment upon Israel and then due to his prayer, averted it. Days / months later perhaps, he added to the record of his prophecies: " The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord" (Am. 7:1 cp. 3; 7:4 cp. 6). The prophesied sending of fire and grasshoppers upon Israel was recorded, but then averted by Amos' prayer.
- Some prophecies are dependent on prayer for their fulfilment. Take Is. 62:1: " For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness" . But this is dependent upon prayer: " I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem…ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (:6,7). The prophecy that " I will not rest" was dependent for fulfilment upon the faithful continuing to pray and thereby not giving Him rest. Of course, they pray from their own freewill; there is the possibility they won't pray, and thereby, surely, there's the possibility the statement " I will not rest" is purely conditional on our prayers…?
- When Hezekiah studied the words of Micah, " did he not fear the Lord,
and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which
he had pronounced against him" (Jer. 26:19). Those words of
prophecy had their fulfilment annulled or delayed thanks to Hezekiah's
prayer and repentance. Likewise Jonah's prophecy that in 40 days
Nineveh would be destroyed, unconditionally, was nullified by their
- Another example of God’s being so open to change is to
be found in the way He tells Hezekiah plainly: “You will not
get well”. And yet Hezekiah prays, and God informs him that
He will heal Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1,6 NET). Clearly enough, prayer
- The principle is summed up in Jeremiah 18. It has been truly commented about this chapter: " Whenever a piece of pottery turned out imperfect the potter would take the clay and make it into something else. God says that this is the principle behind His actions. If He says He is going to build up a nation but the nation disobeys Him the prophecy will not be fulfilled. Equally, if He says He is going to destroy a nation and the nation repents, He will not carry out His intention" . This is why God Himself reflects that He " said surely..." , but changed His mind (Zeph. 3:7; Jer. 31:20).
If there is genuine freewill, it is apparent enough that God's
purposes must be to some extent conditional. If the Lord had failed
in the wilderness temptations, " there was the possibility
that the purpose of God would have been circumvented". All
this explains why the fulfilment of prophecy can only be perceived
at the time of fulfilment- it is impossible to know in advance how
it will be fulfilled. It isn't a time-line of future events which
we are to discern. It should also be born in mind that " the
teaching of Jesus [is] that the purpose of prophecy is that we shall
be able to recognize the signs when they appear, not that we shall
be able to predict the future":
· " I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (Jn. 14:29).
· The disciples did not expect Jesus to enter into Jerusalem " sitting on an ass's colt" in fulfilment of Zech. 9:9. But when He did, then soon afterwards, all became clear to them- that He had fulfilled this prophecy (Jn. 12:16).
· Likewise with prophecies such as " the zeal of thine house hath eaten
me up" in Ps. 69:9, and even the Lord's own prophecies of His
resurrection. When it happened, " his disciples remembered
that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture
(Ps. 69:9), and the word which Jesus had said" (Jn. 2:17-22).
All this implies that God in a sense limits His foreknowledge.
God allows Himself to be open to the emotion of surprise. Once this
fact is established, it becomes apparent that God allows His option
of foreknowledge to be limited in some ways at some times- although,
as various passages make clear, He exercises it over other issues.
God was surprised at the way Israel offered their children to idols:
“…nor did it enter into my mind that they should do
this abomination… indeed it never even entered my mind”
(Jer. 32:35 NRSV; Jer. 7:31; 19:5). Likewise God “expected
[the vineyard of Israel] to produce good grapes, but it produced
only worthless ones” (Is. 5:1,2 NASB). God Almighty muses:
“Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes, did it produce
worthless ones?” (Is. 5:4). Likewise “He looked for
justice [i.e., expected it], but behold, bloodshed” (Is. 5:7).
All this explains the utter pain of His relationship with Israel:
“I thought that she would come back to me. But she did not…
I thought that you would call me ‘Father’ and would
not stop being loyal to me. But, you have been unfaithful to me”
(Jer. 3:6,7,19,20 NET). Bearing all this in mind, one wonders whether
the questions God asks at times are in fact merely rhetorical; perhaps
some of them are genuine reflections of how He has restrained His
foreknowledge in order to become vulnerably in love with His people.
For example: “How long will these people treat me with contempt?”
I’m aware that by saying these things, I’m pushing
a view of God that is quite different to that held by many believers.
My comment is that the view of God widely held in Christianity has
its roots in Plato’s philosophy that God is totally without
emotion and unable to be touched by our situation on earth in a
passionate manner. The very first clause of the 39 Articles of the
Church of England reads: “God is without body, parts, and
passions”. The Westminster Confession of Faith says the same-
God is “without passions”. Frankly I find it incredible
that this kind of thing can be said, when the Bible is so utterly
full of examples of God’s passionate response to human grief
upon earth. It seems clear enough to me that those churches founded
upon such suppositions are simply flatly in contradiction to clear
Bible teaching, and reflect their roots in pagan philosophy rather
than God’s word. Rather than in any sense bringing God ‘down’,
it seems to me that by assigning to Him the characteristics and
possibilities which His own word so often speaks of, we are in fact
elevating His awesomeness and wonder. It may be exhilarating or
fascinating intellectually to discuss these things; but accepting
the Biblical revelation of a God passionately responsive to our
situation on earth demands a lot. Action from us is demanded, rather
than resignation [which seems to me to be the result of thinking
that God is without passions and never changes His mind on anything].
If God simply states His purpose and carries it out, forcing His
way through human freewill, then God, to me at least, becomes about
manipulation, raw power, and despotism. But the God of the Bible
isn’t like this. I like the way John Sanders puts it: “God
did not want to dance alone, dance with a mannequin or hire someone
who is obligated to dance with Him. God wants to dance with us as
persons in fellowship, not with puppets or contracted performers,
and thus needs our consent” (1).
Asaph, in self-admitted depression, encourages himself to pray
by reflecting "That the right hand of the Most High does change"
(Ps. 77:10 RVmg.). The fact we can change the mind and
intention of God is a great motivation to pray.
(1) John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology Of Providence
(Downers Grove: IVP, 1998) p. 210.