After the Israelites had turned against the Lord and worshiped a golden calf, God told Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:1–10).
However, Moses prayed and pleaded with the Lord to spare the people. In verse 14, we are told, “So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” What does it mean that God changed his mind?
This may be a difficult passage, but it is not impossible to understand. First, we must recognize that God knows all things, from eternity past to eternity future. There is nothing that surprises him. He knew the people would rebel against him. He also knew Moses would intercede to spare them. The only reasonable conclusion, then, is that the Lord made this statement to hear the response of Moses.
God does not have a “mind” in the same sense as humans that changes upon request. He already has a plan in place. Though our prayers matter and do make a difference, we are to pray according to his will that includes him knowing all future activities. He does not change his mind due to our prayers; he accomplishes his will through our prayers.
The same was true in the life of Moses. He asked the Lord for mercy, and the Lord said yes. However, God’s answer was not completely positive. Many people died in the resulting judgment, revealing the powerful consequences of sin and turning from the Lord.
Another important issue in this passage is the Lord’s reference to making Moses into a nation of his own. The words are very similar to God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 12:2, in which he promised to bless Abraham and make him into a great nation. These words would have reminded Moses of the past promise to Abraham, leading to his response to, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:13).
In this manner, God used the circumstances to remind Moses of his promise he would fulfill through Abraham and the tribes of Israel. He could not and would not destroy them, but would bring them into the promised land despite their weaknesses and failures. This powerful story serves as a reminder to us today as well. We often fail the Lord through our actions, yet he remains faithful to us. Despite our weaknesses, his love for us provides redemption and salvation, ultimately leading to eternal life for all who believe (John 3:16).
Used by permission from 100 Bible Questions and Answers by Alex McFarland & Bert Harper; copyright 2021, Broadstreet Publishing Group, LLC.
Rev. Alex McFarland is heard daily on the American Family Radio network and weekly on The Alex McFarland Show (podcast and YouTube channels). He directs Biblical Worldview for Charis Bible College, located in Colorado. Alex speaks frequently throughout the U.S. For more information go to https://alexmcfarland.com/speaking/.