In the section of his book entitled "Reversed Divine Intentions," Boyd presents a number of
passages that he believes declare "the truth that God changes his mind when circumstances call for it." Here
for the relevant part of which he uses the translation "the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he
planned to bring on his people." (28) At the end of this section Boyd comments:
Clearly, the motif that God changes his mind is not an incidental one in Scripture. It runs
throughout the biblical narrative and is even exalted as one of his praiseworthy attributes. It is very difficult
to see how passages such as these can be fairly interpreted if we assume that the future is exhaustively settled
and known by God as such... God is not only the God of future certainties; he's the God of future possibilities.
For Exodus 32:14
this article suggests the translation "And God relented concerning the disaster which he spoke of doing to his
people." (30) God "backed off," withdrew, from his threat to consume the
Israelites and leave only Moses, out of whom he would make a great nation. He did not wipe them out; however,
God did chasten them, by means of a plague, as reported at the end of chapter 32 (v. 35).
The "relent/'back off"' translation well fits the context in
Further, this rendering of nacham in the niphal is either the preferred, or a possible, translation in
numerous other Old Testament passages. (31) "Relent," this article proposes,
is a better choice than "God changed his mind," or "God repented over/was sorry about." The latter two translations,
as already explained, can mislead the reader into thinking that God really does not know what he is going to do,
that he initially decides on one course of action, but in the end takes another course. Worse yet, the reader
might in addition believe that God in the heat of his anger can say some things that he is sorry about later
on, realizing that his words were a mistake. The fundamental concept throughout all this type of thinking is
that God does not have complete foreknowledge, even with regard to his own activity.
That concept and type of thinking are not in accord with a proper interpretation of Scripture.
God is not limited in his knowledge, as well as capricious, and subject to uncontrollable fits of anger that
lead him into errors. Besides being omniscient, God is fully in control of himself (to speak anthropomorphically)
and all situations. He is consistently holy, just, and righteous in his thoughts, words, and actions.
In Exodus 32:14
nacham is an anthropopathic term imparting, anthropopathically, spiritual truths to us mere sinful
mortals. God in his Word comes down to our level, communicating with us in the best, most effective manner,
to the limit of our understanding.
What are we to see, then, in the use of nacham in
This verb conveys, as discussed above, the dual aspects of decision and emotion. God, who is immutable and
outside of time, is portrayed as making a decision in time, due to a change in his emotions. Righteously angry
with the Israelites, and speaking of consuming them, God turns from his fierce wrath (as Moses requested), and
spares them. God knew from eternity what he would do and how the situation would turn out; but from Moses', and
the reader's, point of view, God holds out one course of action, and then goes with another.
It should be noted that God did not necessarily say to Moses, "I will" destroy the
Israelites. Rather, the Hebrew text can be translated as God saying, "Now therefore, let me alone [imperative],
that my wrath may [jussive] burn hot against them and I may [cohortative] consume them" (v. 10; NKJV).
(32) With this translation God's words carry a hint of conditionality. They
imply that someone can stand in the way of God's fierce anger, preventing him from consuming the people, namely,
Moses. As is well known, in Scripture many of God's threats (and his promises, too) are conditional.
God turns aside from his fierce wrath and refrains from carrying out his threat not because
of a change in the Israelites. The decisive factor in
is Moses, acting as intercessor. (34) Nacham in verse 14 presents what
is taught elsewhere in Scripture, that the prayers of believers truly have an effect upon God. James writes:
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (5:16; NKJV). On the one hand, God knows in
advance how he will act, long before his people pray to him. God announces in Isaiah: "It shall come to pass
that before they call, I will answer..." (65:24; NKJV). On the other hand,
reports, concerning the scene in
"He [God.] spoke of destroying them, except that [לךלי] Moses his chosen one stood in the breach before him to
turn back his rage from destroying." Moses' intercession had an impact; it was effective with God. According
to our limited human reason and way of speaking we might say that God allows himself to be moved by the prayers
of believers, and he also knows in advance he will be impacted by these petitions.
As observed, God in verse 10, with the implicit conditionality of his words, is subtly inviting
Moses to plead with him. In addition, at the beginning of the verse God speaks one way - "let Me alone" - to
bring about an effect that is the opposite of what his words seem to mean on the surface. Far from leaving him
alone, Moses proceeds to engage in intimate, straightforward conversation with God.
In fact, God throughout is speaking with great intentionality to Moses. The scene in
is not one of God being overcome by a fit of anger, and spewing forth rash words, for which he is later sorry,
or about which he changes his mind. Rather, God is talking in a deliberate manner with a certain purpose, and
corresponding goal, in mind. God's purpose is to put Moses to the test. (35)
In Exodus 32
God chooses his words carefully, to lead Moses into exactly the kind of test he intended for his servant.
Scripture teaches that God prepares people in advance for the testing process, and that he puts someone to the
test for that person's good, and for the glory of God. Moreover, there are a number of Scriptural examples in
which God, while testing a person, seems to take one stance, but actually has something else in mind, as the
In Genesis 22
God puts Abraham to the test by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac. God knows in advance what Abraham will do,
and that God's purpose will be accomplished. God did not actually want the patriarch to slay his son; other
scriptural references proclaim clearly that God abhors child sacrifice. The Angel of the Lord prevents Abraham
from killing Isaac, not because God has had a change of mind, but because Abraham has successfully met the test,
by God's grace and power. As a result of this crisis Abraham's faith reaches its highpoint; he holds steadfastly
to the word of God, as the author of Hebrews indicates.
In Genesis 32,
the Angel of the Lord wrestles with Jacob. At first this seems to be a stance of hostility on the part of God;
in the end, however, God blesses Jacob. Through this test God causes Jacob to grasp him and his word, so to speak,
with bulldog tenacity.
When the Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter, Christ apparently ignored her, not
answering her a word. When she persisted, Christ gave her a somewhat insulting, and far from encouraging, response.
In the end, of course, Christ went on to heal her daughter. Christ knew all along what he would do. He acted and
spoke as he did to test the woman, to exercise her faith, so that she could display herself as spiritually bold
Partial analogies to these examples are found in
Genesis 18 and
In the former passage, God appears determined to exterminate totally the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. By
the last part of the chapter God agrees to take a different position, in response to the petitioning of Abraham.
Because of the way God dealt with him, Abraham shows himself to be a great intercessor. God knew in advance,
however, what he would do to the cities, and how he would spare Lot and his family. In
the resurrected Christ seems to take a position of ignorance in responding to the question of the two men,
whether or not he knew about what had transpired in Jerusalem. Jesus simply replies, "What things?" He knew
everything, but replies as he does to have the men articulate their disappointments and concerns, as the
background for Christ then ministering to them from Scripture.
In Exodus 32
God speaks one way initially, because he is putting Moses to the test, but later, when the test is over,
nacham, "backs off" from his threat, from what he suggested as a course of action. (36)
As God intended, Moses benefits mightily from this test, which God uses to shape and prepare him for the
coming years, and for God's glory. The following paragraphs are illustrative.
Moses rejects ungodly pride, which would have prompted him to jump at the chance to become
a new patriarch. Humility remained a characteristic of his life and work.
Through this test Moses emerges as the great intercessor for his people, and takes on in a
decisive manner his role as their true shepherd, under God. All that he relates to God concerning the Israelites
has meaning also for Moses. Because of this test he sees in clearer fashion the importance of his people, and
learns to identify in a closer manner with them. As Maxie Dunnam explains, we see on the part of Moses "a
commitment that had moved almost unbelievably from long argument against God's call to standing toe to toe
with God for the sake of what God had called him to do in the first place..." (37)
Moses will have to endure these Israelites, in a wilderness setting no less, for some thirty-eight-plus years.
God, through this experience in Exodus 32, leads Moses to stand in an even firmer manner on
God's Word, with its promises. Moses recalls what God had said to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: "I will multiply
your descendants." He reasons, "How, God, can You wipe out the Israelites and make of me a great nation? These
future people would be called the descendants of Moses, and not of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
Because of his being tested, Moses' agape love is drawn out and brightly shines.
(38) He has this love, certainly, for his fellow Israelites. He perhaps displays
this love for the Egyptians, too, since he says to God: "Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought
them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?"'
(v. 12; NKJV). Moses possibly is thinking that, whatever positive effect God's mighty miracles in Egypt and
at the sea might have had on the Egyptians, would be undone with God's annihilating the Israelites. Ronald
Clements emphasizes this point. He writes: "...the foremost reason why God should not destroy Israel is that
the Egyptians (and so all gentile peoples) would not recognize the LORD as the true God if he did so. In this
way God's name would be profaned, as Ezekiel describes in a similar situation
(Ezek. 36:20)." (39)
God is fulIy in control of the situation. He is acting and speaking according to a preconceived purpose and goal,
and having his will accomplished, as was foreordained.