Someone asked me recently if Numbers 23:19 was a proof text that God doesn’t ever change his mind. Let’s take a look at that verse and the answer will become clear.
Numbers 23:19, “God is not 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?”
Remember, the key to understanding any text is the context! Here’s the context of Numbers 23…
- The second generation of Israelites are in Moab getting ready to enter the promised land.
- Balak, king of Moab, is threatened and tries to hire Balaam to curse Israel.
- Balaam tells Balaak he can only do what God allows him to do, and after consulting God, Balaam ends up giving a prophecy where God blesses the nation, not curses them.
- Balak isn’t ready to give up just yet – He wants Israel cursed – so he asks Balaam to ask God again.
- In response to Balaam’s request, God gives this message to Balaam to give to Balak. Numbers 23:18-20, “…Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor. God is not 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? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.”
So we see that this isn’t a proof text one can use to say that God never changes his mind. This verse is simply saying that God isn’t going to change his mind concerning Balak’s request that He curse Israel.
You see, in Genesis 12:1-2, “The Lord…said to Abram, Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you…” God decided back in Genesis that He would bless Israel, not curse them. So in response to Balak’s second request for God to CURSE Israel, God lets him know (through Balaam) that He’s not going to change his mind on this. Numbers 23:19 isn’t therefore a proof text for making the point that God never changes his mind.
If God never changed his mind, then we have to ask ourselves what’s going on in the book of Jonah. In this book God sends Jonah to Nineveh to prophesy its destruction. But when Nineveh repents God changes his mind and doesn’t bring about the disaster he promised. This is in keeping with Jeremiah 18:7-10 where God says, “If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.”
When God says “I will not destroy it as I had planned” that’s another way to say “I’m going to change my mind.” When God says “I will not bless it as I said I would” that’s another way of saying “I will change my mind.” God is God! And Psalm 115:3 says “…He does whatever pleases Him.” and this includes occasionally changing his mind.