How do you respond to Numbers 23:19?

The Lord tells Balak through Balaam “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind.”

This verse (as well as 1 Sam. 15:29, which quotes it) is often cited in refutation of the claim that God genuinely changes his mind. However, since Scripture explicitly states in dozens of contexts that the Lord does change his mind (twice in 1 Samuel 15!) the text cannot justifiably be used in this fashion. There is a straightforward explanation of this text that is perfectly consistent with texts that teach that the Lord does sometimes change his mind.

In this passage Balak attempted to get Balaam (a “prophet-for-hire”) to prophesy what he wanted to hear (cf. 22:38–23:17). The Lord informed Balak that he, the true God, is not like a human being who can lie when it’s profitable or a mortal who will change his mind for the sake of convenience. This was a common practice for false prophets who speak on behalf of false gods. But for the first time in his life Balak (and Balaam!) confronted the real God. This God is not like a mortal who would change his mind for the reasons Balak gave him to do so.

The conclusion that the whole council of Scripture should lead us to is that God changes when it is virtuous to change, but is completely unchanging when it is virtuous not to change.

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