Does God Repent? :: By Mark A. Becker



We often see in Scripture the word or act of repenting. The proper Biblical definition of repent or repenting is a turning around, having a change of mind, attitude, or purpose.

As a lost humanity drowning in sin and rebellion, we are commanded to repent and follow Christ and His free gift of salvation. For mankind, we can see how we genuinely need this transformation in relation to our salvation and walk with the Lord. But how do we interpret passages of Scripture where it is said of God that He repents? After all:

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19).

Yet we see in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that God often “repented.” Are the Scriptures contradictory on this topic, or is there a logical and Biblical explanation?

Let’s see if we can understand more fully what this repenting of God really is and how it differs from man’s responsibility of repentance.

The Word ‘Repent’

The Hebrew word for “repent” is 5116 נָחַם “nacham” and means comfort self, ease one’s self, repent. A primitive root; properly, to sigh, i.e. Breathe strongly; by implication, to be sorry, i.e. (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue; or (unfavorably) to avenge (oneself) — comfort (self), ease (one’s self), repent(-er,-ing, self). Grief, suffer grief. [Definitions]

In every passage that is cited in this article, the same Hebrew word – “nacham” – is used.

The Greek word for “repent” is 3340 μετανοέω “metanoeó” and means I repent, change my mind, change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God), repent. 3340 metanoéō (from 3326/metá, “changed after being with” and 3539/noiéō, “think”) – properly, “think differently after,” “after a change of mind“; to repent (literally, “think differently afterwards”).

Interestingly, “repent” in the New Testament appears to only apply to men repenting of their ways and moving toward God and is never attributed to an action or feeling of God.

As we move on, we must remember what the Hebrew definition of repent is: That of being sorry and suffering grief. This we can understand, especially when it concerns the Lord and all He has to witness in this fallen creation that He originally created “very good.” But when we read these passages of God’s “repentance,” we seem to see another aspect, and that is in relation to the Greek word’s definition of repentance as a “change of mind.”

In the following passages, we will see that God does repent; or so it seems – especially to man. But we must look at these situations not through the lens of man’s wisdom and knowledge but through the lens of God’s sovereignty.

First Mention of ‘Nacham’

Let’s start with the law of first mention: Genesis 6:6.

“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:6).

We can understand God’s grief of mankind as described in Genesis 6. Violence and evil in man’s heart continually reigned upon the earth. But we get the impression that God is actually sorry – and seemingly surprised by man’s descent into wickedness – “that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.” Many translations translate “repented” as “sorry” because of the definition of the Hebrew word we just looked at.

But doesn’t the idea of God being “sorry… that He had made man on the earth” convey the idea that God was actually “surprised” by the wickedness of man at this point in history? The answer is, “No!” God was not surprised by man’s wickedness. In fact, God saw everything that would transpire in history, from creation’s creation to creation’s redemption and consummation of His divine plan, before He ever began the act of creating. We should not make the error that this is what the passage is trying to convey to the reader.

Just because God knew what His creation would become doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t grieve Him. His sorrow is a legitimate feeling generated by the facts He already knew would become a reality due to His omniscience in eternity past. The divine plan of the Godhead up to this point had come to fruition, and although the Lord knew the reality that was to come, it doesn’t negate the sadness that came through an already known outcome.

Consider the Cross

In Psalm 22 (one of the many Messianic Psalms), we read:

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

And, of course, Jesus cried from the cross in fulfillment of this prophecy:

“… Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Not only was this fulfilled prophecy – known and seen by God the Son in the divine plan of reconciliation before creation – these were true feelings of abandonment. Even though the Godhead knew that this situation would happen, it didn’t preclude the passion and feelings of a condition that had happened in the mind and knowledge of God in eternity past.

So, in relation to God’s sorrow of making “man of the earth,” this would have nothing to do with His being “surprised” and wishing He hadn’t made man on the earth, but that His Holy sensitivity of the moment could only be expressed in this way. He was “grieved… at His heart.” Just like Christ was grieved in His heart of the abandonment of His Father when He paid for our sins on the cross – which He knew would happen.

For we were redeemed “… with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for [us], Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that [our] faith and hope might be in God” (1 Peter 1:19-21). (emphasis mine)

Repentance and Intercession: God’s Way

Let’s look at a very important and enlightening example of when God seems to repent as man does.

When Aaron had made the golden calf, and the people sacrificed to it and rose up to play…

“… the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation” (Exodus 32:7-10).

God was prepared and ready to “consume them” and “make of [Moses] a great nation.”

Then we read:

“And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (Exodus 32:11-14).

Moses, reminding God of His righteous and mighty acts of freeing Israel out of bondage in Egypt, begged God to “repent of this evil against thy people.” Did God need reminding of His “great power and… mighty hand”? Of course not. This was all for Moses!

Moses, as God knew he would, stood in the gap and interceded for God’s chosen people, which was exactly what God knew he would do and what God knew Moses needed to know he was able to do. In other words, had God not threatened to wipe Israel out (which He most assuredly would have), Moses would not have been the intercessional leader which God desired him to be. It wasn’t that God “changed His mind” as much as it was that He knew Moses would stand in the gap for God’s people. Had it not happened in this way, Moses would never have known what he was capable of regarding the leading and loving of a stiff-necked people as ancient Israel was during the exodus. It was all for the benefit of Moses.

Someone may say that had Moses not intervened in standing in the gap for Israel, God would have destroyed the children of Israel. This, at first glance, might seem to be a logical assumption except for this fact: God already knew that Moses would intervene on Israel’s behalf; therefore, the assumption is mute and void.

What seems like a “change of mind” to man is actually an outcome that had already been pre-determined by God’s foreknowledge in eternity past. 1. God was going to wipe out Israel. 2. But God knew He wouldn’t because Moses would intercede for Israel due to the Lord’s threat of annihilation. 3. Moses interceded for Israel and reminded God of His power and might in bringing out Israel. 4. God didn’t wipe out Israel. 5. God knew this would happen just as it did, so there was no real “change of mind” because God, in His sovereignty, already knew the outcome that would result from a chain reaction of events and interchanges.

I realize that this can be a little difficult to grasp with our finite minds, but I am trying to make the ideas and concepts as simple as possible. God’s sovereignty, thoughts, and ways are higher than our thoughts and our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Godly Sorrow

Now, let’s look at the incident with king Saul and king Agag.

After Saul took king Agag alive and did not utterly destroy every human being and the animals of the Amalekites:

“Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night” (1 Samuel 15:10-11).

Keeping in line with what we have just learned and considered, God was very sorrowful for making Saul king of Israel. Was God surprised that Saul had failed so miserably? On the contrary. God knew Saul would fail in his leadership responsibilities and rebel against the Lord’s commandments, but it still grieved His heart.

When Stephen gave his amazing speech to the leaders of Israel and reflected on the lives of Saul and David, he said:

“And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will” (Acts 13:21-22).

It was Saul’s failures that allowed David to lead Israel and be a “man after God’s own heart” – a fact that God knew before David ever took the throne. Again, God knows all, and in His sovereignty, God never repents as man repents.

David’s Sin and God’s ‘Repentance’

After David took his prideful and ill-fated census of the people, God gave David three choices for his punishment, and David chose to fall into the hands of God and not men. Therefore, God sent an angel to destroy by pestilence:

“So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men. And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Samuel 24:15-16 (1 Chronicles 21:14-15).

Was God “sorry” for “the evil” he had sent on Israel because of David’s sin? I do think that it’s safe to say that God was sorry that the entire issue had to play out in the first place. Wouldn’t this be the case with every sin, wickedness, and rebellion from all men and women from creation to consummation? I think so.

Notice that in God’s sovereignty, it was immediately before David recognized in his own heart that his personal choice was causing this destruction and offered the Lord heartfelt remorse of his sin that God stayed His hand:

“And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O Lord my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued” (1 Chronicles 21:16-17).

God’s “repentance” and David’s agonizing admission of his own sin and responsibility that caused this catastrophe on God’s people coincided with each other.

More of God’s ‘Repentance’

Now, with all we have looked at, let’s look at some other passages of God’s “repentance” with some brief commentary to each.

“Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies” (Psalm 106:43-45).

God’s lovingkindness, along with a change of heart from His people, will inspire the Lord to remember His promises “according to the multitude of His mercies.” His desire for His people is always for their good, but disobedience and rebellion must always be addressed. It’s due to this conflict that the repentance of God – unlike the repentance of man, as man is incapable of repentance without God – will always be instigated by the moving of God on the hearts of mankind.


Twice, Amos stood in the gap for Israel, and because of his intercession, God “repented”:

“Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord. Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and, behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part. Then said I, O Lord God, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God” (Amos 7:1-6).

Just like Moses – and like with Moses, God was not surprised by the intercession of Amos – Amos petitioned the Lord on the people’s behalf. God heard, and He repented, up to a point. Punishment must come:

“Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (Amos 7:7-9).

Amos’ intervention reminds one of Abraham’s pleadings with the Lord for the righteous living in Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family (Genesis 18:16-33).


A warning concerning the nations and a promise of repentance for the nation’s repentance:

“At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Jeremiah 18:7-8).

God’s appearance of repentance is wholly dependent upon man’s responsibility of repentance toward evil. Man rejects and repents of evil because of the warnings of God, and God seems to repent of the judgment He purposed because of that evil.

God commanded Jeremiah to proclaim the Word of God to the cities of Judah:

“If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 26:3).

“Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12-13).

Henry Morris, in the Henry Morris Study Bible, makes the following observation concerning God’s repenting:

The apparent contradiction involved in the biblical record of God “repenting” when the Bible also says God does not repent (contrast 1 Samuel 15:11 and 15:29) is resolved in terms of man’s viewpoint versus God’s viewpoint. To “repent” means to “change the mind.” God cannot repent since He cannot change His mind concerning evil. He seems to repent when man changes his mind concerning evil. God’s attitude toward man is conditioned by man’s attitude toward Him. It is because God does not repent that He must seem to repent when man “changes his mind.”

Jonah & Nineveh

After Jonah finally fulfilled God’s will to preach to Nineveh, the king and the people of Nineveh believed Jonah’s preaching and humbled themselves, saying:

“Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:9-10).

Because the king of Nineveh and the people of the city repented of their sins and “turned from their evil way,” God repented – or changed His mind – concerning His determination to destroy the city based on the change of the people’s hearts regarding the evil God had condemned. Because the people of Nineveh had a change of mind and heart, God was able – in His love and mercy – to appear to “change His mind,” but God, knowing all things, surely wasn’t surprised at their repentance after the preaching of Jonah. After all, that’s why He sent him!

Jonah, though, was not happy with God’s ability to change His stated intentions because the people of Nineveh had changed their minds and repented of their sinful behavior. Jonah was certainly not surprised by this turn of events – in fact, it was because he knew of God’s grace that he fled from the face of the LORD in the first place!

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:1-2).

It’s because God is a gracious God that He is able to turn from His intended purposes when man sincerely repents. Of course, when this happens, it is no surprise to God; but, nonetheless, God and heaven rejoice when man comes to saving faith in the God of Israel and forsakes their sins (Luke 15:10)!

Conclusion: Consider Prayer

Prayer is said to be a motivating factor in God moving for His people. It’s not that God doesn’t desire to “move mountains” for His people – He absolutely does – but God wants to be petitioned by His people so that God’s heart is aligned with the desires of those He loves.

Does God need our prayers to move? Absolutely not. But He greatly yearns for them. Prayer is communion and communication with the Creator. This should inspire us and greatly awe the child of God that He desires to be petitioned and consulted within every facet of our lives. If our will is in line with His will, mountains, indeed, will be moved!

So, what’s the answer to our question, Does God Repent?

Without threats and/or warnings from God, His Word, and His prophets speaking in His Name, mankind would never repent and change their minds about anything. Without the threat and warning from God of man’s future destiny in hell and the Lake of Fire apart from Christ Jesus, men and women could never be saved from their just fate.

Think about it: God declares that mankind, because of rebellion and sin, is destined for hell and the Lake of Fire apart from Him for eternity. But because of the intercession of Christ paying for our sins on the cross, God is able to seemingly “repent” of His just judgment because of our rebellion and sin if we but put our faith and trust in His Son and His propitiation for our rebellion and sins. Now, this is a “repentance” we should all desire – yet it is ultimately based upon our repentance that even makes this seemingly repenting of God possible.

In conclusion, it is only because of these threats and warnings from God that will often result in men’s change of mind that it appears that God changes His.

Here are three summary points regarding our study for us to consider as we conclude.

One: God seems to repent, but only because of man’s change of mind concerning sin, evil, and rebellion. God doesn’t repent as men do, for He can never change His mind regarding sin, evil, and rebellion, as man often does because of God’s compassionate and very real threats and warnings of damnation if they do not repent.

Two: God is always open to men and women of righteous integrity who intercede and stand in the gap on behalf of others. But God knows, in His sovereignty, when that will occur as well, and this is entirely for the benefit of the person who stands in the gap and those that the person is interceding for. Prayer – for God’s children – often works in the same way.

Three: The Lord experiences sorrow and grief, just like we do, regardless of knowing all outcomes. Consider when Jesus wept over Jerusalem and, as He lamented, noted that He had desired to gather together her children just as a hen gathers her chicks, but they were unwilling (Matthew 23:37).

What all of this shows us is that God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Freewill work in tandem, one with the other, to the glory of the Lord and His perfect will for our lives.

To all of this, we should sing and proclaim with upheld hands and thankful hearts, “Praise ye the Lord!”

Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!


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