Does Prayer Change Things? (3 of 3)

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(Continued from yesterday)

2. There are good alternative explanations to the verses that speak of “not change His mind” other than taking them nominally without considering the context:

• 1 Sam 15:29 – this pertains to the nature of God who will not lie. In His essence God never changes (Heb 13:8), but in His actions He provides room for people to respond without compromising His ultimate will.
• Ps 110:4; Heb 7:21 – the latter quotes the former with respect to the election of Christ as priest forever. This is God’s eternal decree for the salvation of mankind and of course will never change.
• Jer 4:28 – this must be interpreted in the light of what God said later in Jer 18:7-10 At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of (reconsider) the good with which I had promised to bless it.

Clearly God responds to whether people repent or disobey. What about passages in which God said, “I will not relent”:

Ezk 24:14 I, the LORD, have spoken; it is coming and I will act. I will not relent, and I will not pity and I will not be sorry; according to your ways and according to your deeds I will judge you,” declares the Lord GOD.’”
• Zech 8:14 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Just as I purposed to do harm to you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I have not relented,

Ezk 24:14 must be interpreted in conjunction with Ezk 24:13, “Now your impurity is lewdness. Because I tried to cleanse you but you would not be cleansed from your impurity, you will not be clean again until my wrath against you has subsided.” Taken together, the LORD will not relent because He wanted to cleanse Jerusalem, which won’t repent until it is judged.

Similarly, one must continue reading Zech 8:14 to v 15, “so I have again purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear!” As in Ezk 24:14, “not relenting” was meant for Jerusalem’s good. The end, or the intention, was always for her benefit, not harm. In this sense God did not change His mind, though in the means, His action, God changed from forbearance to judgment specifically to accomplish His purpose.

One last point, what about God’s sovereignty? Wouldn’t His responding to prayer make God subject to man’s action, and therefore not sovereign? No, not at all! God is always sovereign and in control, but His method is not to dictate everything. In His dealings with man, I believe God’s way is the way of wisdom. Instead of programming each incident to one static outcome, He gave people not only rules and principles to obey, but also freedom to choose for which they are accountable. His way is dynamic, interacting with people in a way that keeps their freewill intact, yet maintaining His sovereignty all the time simply because He is infinitely above His creatures. I have not touched on Jn 14:14, but we will leave that for some other time.

Does Prayer Change Things? (2 of 3)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we looked at the healing of Hezekiah which prompted opposing views as to the efficacy of prayer. Today we examine the evidence supporting each side.

Those who believe “God does not change His mind” feel that since God is omniscient, He already knows Hezekiah will pray and He will heal him. He just did not tell him in advance so that he will turn to God for everything, big (e.g. Sennacherib 2 Kings 19:14-19) and small (personal illness). They explained the verses indicating “the Lord changed His mind” as only apparent from man’s perspective, as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

Those who believe “God changes His mind” feel that with respect to major decrees – what God has sworn and purposed – indeed the LORD does NOT change His mind. These decrees are of eternal significance and can never be changed. However, with respect to lesser issues, e.g. pronouncing misfortune on His people in order to make them repent, God’s plan provides for alternative outcomes based on how they respond to His warnings. If they repent, God will relent on the punishment. If they persist in their evil, then God will send the harm He threatened them with.

To use a journey as an illustration, the “No Change” school is like God planning the complete itinerary, including destination (ends) and side tours (means). Everything is predestined, unchangeable. The “Change” school is like God fixing only the final destination, but allowing “options” giving people choice for side tours. You always end up where God wants you, because God is sovereign, but there is flexibility in the means.

Which school is correct? I believe the weight of the evidence is on the latter, as follows:

1. Besides Ex 32:12,14; Jer 26:13, 19; and Amos 7:3,6, there is a preponderance of passages speaking of the LORD relenting from calamity when His people turns from evil:

2 Sam 24:16 When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!
• Ps 106:45 And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His loving-kindness.
• Jer 15:6 “You who have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting!
• Jer 18:8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
• Jer 42:10 ‘If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you.
• Joel 2:13-14 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness And relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, …
• Jonah 3:9-10 Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
• Jonah 4: … for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

All the passages speak of God relenting (changing His mind) when His people turn from their wicked ways, because of His great loving-kindness.

(To be continued)

Does Prayer Change Things? (1 of 3)

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Q. Hezekiah became ill and God told him that he will die. He prayed and wept and God healed him, adding 15 years to his life (2 Kings 20:6). Manasseh, one of Judah’s most wicked kings, succeeded Hezekiah when he was 12 years old (2 Kings 21:1), which means he would not have been born had God not healed Hezekiah. Did Hezekiah change God’s will and the course of history by his prayer?

A. The account of Hezekiah’s healing is in 2 Kings 20:1-7, and Isaiah 38:1-6. The subject is on the immutability of God, and there are opposing views. Some believe “God does not change His mind” because He knows everything and makes the best decisions, and there is no need to change His mind. Furthermore, if God changes His will in response to prayer, His action is contingent upon man’s petition, then how can God be sovereign? Supporting verses include:

1 Sam 15:29 Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”
• Ps 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”
• Jer 4:28 “For this the earth shall mourn And the heavens above be dark, Because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it.”
• Heb 7:21 … but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER’”);

Others, however, believe “God changes His mind” because that’s what this passage plainly implies. If God does not answer prayer requests, why did Jesus ask us to pray? He said, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (Jn 14:14) If He didn’t mean it, why say it? Other supporting verses include:

Ex 32:12, 14 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. … So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
• Jer 26:13, 19 Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you. … Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and the LORD changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them?
• Amos 7:3,6 The LORD changed His mind about this. “It shall not be,” said the LORD. … The LORD changed His mind about this. “This too shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.

So which is it? Does God change His mind in answer to prayer or not? Does prayer change anything?

(To be continued)