Does God Change His Mind?

Question
The Bible says God does not change (Mal. 3:6). Yet in 2 Kings 20 God changes his mind. What gives?
Answer
When we speak of God not changing we are speaking of his nature. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Theologically, this is called God's immutability (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Isa. 46:9-11; Ezek. 24:14). God is immutable in his essence, attributes, and counsels (or plans). As James P. Boyce states, "By the immutability of God is meant that he is incapable of change, either in duration of life, or in nature, character, will or happiness." However, this does not mean that God never changes his mind (Jer. 18).

2 Kings chapter 20 actually speaks of Hezekiah changing his mind when approached by God through prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz. Moreover, it reveals that God's eternal plan is unchangeable. Let's read the text:

2 Kings 20:1-11, 21, 2:1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.'" Then Isaiah said, "Prepare a poultice of figs." They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered. Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, "What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?" Isaiah answered, "This is the LORD's sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?" "It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps," said Hezekiah. "Rather, have it go back ten steps." Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the LORD, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz... Hezekiah rested with his fathers. And Manasseh his son succeeded him as king... Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother's name was Hephzibah.

In the text, God gives a conditional judgment. Hezekiah knew that God alone determines when repentance will turn his wrath aside (2 Sam. 12:22; Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9). Hezekiah repents and God adds fifteen years to his life. If Hezekiah had not repented, then God, true to his nature, would have carried out his judgment in full.

God knew what he was doing. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10). Being all-knowing, he knew his words (including all the ordained events, Hezekiah's illness, the approach of Isaiah) would turn Hezekiah around. How do we know this? It is important to note that during this "extra" fifteen years, Hezekiah had a son named Manasseh who became king at age twelve. Why is this significant? Manasseh was in the linage of Christ who was pre-ordained before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:19-20) to be born and die for the sins of his people (Rom. 5:15). Matthew's genealogy of Christ lists "Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon" (Mt. 1:10). Without Hezekiah's repentance, Manasseh would not have been born and Christ's lineage then destroyed. This reveals that God's eternal plan is always on schedule and that he uses secondary causes (i.e. obedience to his word, repentance, prayer; also see WCF 5: Of Providence) to insure they do. This also shows that God did not change his original plan to accommodate the sins of others. God's plan will never be overthrown (Dan. 4:35; Psa. 115:3). God is immutable and sovereign.

It should be noted that some believe that God is always guessing about the future. They assume that because he makes errors that he has to repair them. This gross theology is called Open Theism (see below).

Related Topics:

The Ever-Guessing god of Open Theism

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).