God Changed His Mind Three Times. Here’s Why.
With Election Day fast approaching, I’m not surprised that a question I’ve struggled with for years has resurfaced: Does my vote really matter? In the big scheme of things, has a national election ever been decided by one solitary vote?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m voting and exercising my constitutional right, but perhaps I’ve lost some faith in a fair and untampered process as well as a legitimate outcome. Thinking about this makes me feel small and powerless, tempted to question the power of my one vote.
I would rather put my faith in a just and righteous God who, in His sovereignty, is in complete control of the way history is being written. When I think about God as the Author of history, I question whether my prayer counts. Does it make a difference? Is there ever a time when the sovereignty of God overrides all of it? When He’s going to do what He’s going to do and that’s it? The votes, the prayers … does any of it matter? And if I think that way, where does it leave me?
Change of Heart
I am reminded of the age-old mystery between God’s sovereignty and man’s actions — and when, where, and how the two intersect when it comes to determining history. It’s at this juncture I am confronted by the question: If God is the Sovereign Lord over all things (Acts 4:24) (and He is), if He has decreed and declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) (and He has), and if His counsel prevails (Isaiah 46:10) (and it does), can we change God’s mind? Especially as it relates to impending judgment? And if so, how? Can a change of heart in us change the heart of God toward us?
I was ready to confront my “Que Será, Será” attitude. Just as I want to believe my vote counts, I want to believe that my prayer and intercession counts, my crying out to God counts, and my repentance counts. The reassurance I was searching for was confirmed by three distinct stories in Scripture.
Ahab and Personal Humility
In I Kings 21, God had mercy on King Ahab of Israel, a wicked leader who, above all others, “sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (21:25). Many would write him off as a hopelessly morally bankrupt human. And he was. Look no further than the time he thought nothing of turning a blind eye to a conspiracy that killed an innocent man, just so he could plant a vegetable garden (21:1-15). When Elijah came to call him out on it, he addressed God’s chosen prophet as his enemy (21:20), although that didn’t deter Elijah from telling Ahab that the Lord was going to “utterly burn him up” and cut off every male from his lineage (21:21).
At these words, something in Ahab changed. He actually took them to heart and tore his clothes, putting sackcloth on instead. He fasted and let Elijah’s message of truth take root in his heart. And God took notice. The Lord said to Elijah, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me?” (21:29). Ahab’s self-humbling changed God’s mind. God delayed judgment for sin by not bringing disaster in Ahab’s days but in his son’s days (21:29) instead. If God gave this morally-bereft king an opportunity to change His mind about judgment, is He not still giving us a window of time to change His mind as well?
Moses and Intercession
In Numbers 14, we find God’s mind made up to wipe out the children of Israel, as in the entire population, except Moses. After having been miraculously brought out of Egypt, they rebelled and cried out to go back to the slavery of Egypt after hearing the report of the twelve spies. Offended by their unbelief, the Lord had determined to “strike them with pestilence and disinherit them” (14:12). Until Moses interceded. Moses reminded God of His relationship to Israel and the greatness of His steadfast love, imploring Him “to pardon the iniquity of this people” (14:19).
It was a clear-cut intervention by Moses — and God listened. And changed His mind. He did not wipe them all out in the desert. Instead, through Moses’ mediation between Offended and Offender, God relented and upheld His own reputation of being a merciful promise-keeper. God altered his original course of total annihilation and allowed that generation of unbelievers to pass away over time in the desert while their children inherited The Promised Land.
Nineveh and Corporate Fasting and Repentance
During the time of Jonah, the “exceedingly great city” Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and its evil had come up before the Lord (Jonah 1:2). After running away to Tarshish and being swallowed by a fish, Jonah finally obeyed God and went to Nineveh proclaiming a message of impending judgment and an overthrow of the city in forty days (3:4).
Immediately, the residents of Nineveh believed God. From the king all the way down to the cows, everyone without exception, fasted and humbled himself and turned away from what was evil in God’s sight. Nineveh’s king said, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish” (3:9).
He was right. God saw what they did and “relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and He did not do it” (3:10).
Again, God changed his mind. The humility of Nineveh’s king did not assume their actions as a guarantee, but rather as a possibility, subject to a higher authority than his. No one was exempt from fasting and repentance, and the decree came from a leader who was participating, as well.
What is God Looking For?
II Chronicles 16:9 says God is looking for “those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” He’s looking for hearts. Hearts full of honesty that don’t talk about turning away from sin, but actually turn away from sin. Don’t talk about prayer, but actually pray.
From these biblical accounts, it gives God no joy to get our attention through disaster and judgment. As Jonah said, “…for I knew You were a gracious God…slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster” (4:2).
I will answer my own question: My prayers matter. So, I will pray and intercede, I will seek, I will repent and humble myself. Who knows? “God may turn and relent that we may not perish.”
Yes, God may and can and does change His mind.
Annemarie McLean is a four-girl mom, freelance writer, and co-founder of Brave & Beautiful, a ministry focused on challenging young women to live purpose-driven lives full of courage and character, while developing Christ-centered inner beauty. Annemarie holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.