An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Changing God's mind
Changing God's mind:
Many Muslims, Christians and even Jews think that God is, or should be, unchanging. After all, the Torah proclaims, “God is not a person that He should lie, nor a human that He should change His mind.” Numbers 23:12) and the prophet Malachi says, “I am the Lord, unchanging.” (3:6) However, in the very next verse Malachi adds, “If you will return to me, I will return to you, says the Lord of Hosts.” God is thus unchanging in always changing responsively to human actions.
Those who claim God is unchanging say that God is all knowing and thus knows in advance how people will act. Therefore God only seems to change in response to human behavior. But in the days of Noah “When the Lord saw that humans had done much evil on earth and their thoughts and impulses were always evil, God was sorry that he made mankind.” (Genesis 6:5) If God knew in advance that humans would be so evil God wouldn’t have felt sorry for creating humanity.
Our Rabbis went even further in understanding God’s responsiveness. When Israel made the golden calf God was so angry he wanted to destroy them (Exodus 32:10) but Moses pleaded with God “like a man who seizes his fellow by his garment and says ‘I will not let go till you forgive them’ (Rabbi Abbahu). Rabbi Yohanan says, “in the end God conceded Moses was right as it says, ‘I have pardoned according to your word.’ (Deut. 9:14) Rabbi Isaac adds, “This teaches God said to Moses ‘your words have vitalized me.’” (Talmud Brachot 32a) Thus God not only concedes Moses’ arguments are right and changes his mind, but God also finds the interaction stimulating.
Indeed, our Sages even taught that God learned from Moses. When God tells Moses to destroy Canaanite cities (Deut. 20:17) Moses did not do it because he refused to smite the innocent together with the sinners. Instead Moses sent negotiators as he had to Sihon, king of Heshbon. (Deut. 2:26) Only when Sihon preferred war did Moses fight. Then God says to Moses, “I told you to destroy them and you didn’t do it. By your life, because you did this, I will do this ‘When you advance on a city to attack, make it an offer of peace’.” (Deut. 20:10) Midrash Tanhumah teaches that God added to the Torah because of Moses’ moral concerns.
The Rabbis even assert that one time when a majority of the Rabbis voted to support the interpretation of Rabbi Joshua even though God had indicated 3 times that Rabbi Eliezer was correct, God laughed and said (proudly), “My children have defeated me.” (Talmud: Baba Metzia 59b)
God’s mind changes because change is part of life in general and a good and faithful relationship in particular. The idea that God is perfect and thus cannot change is an error of Greek philosophy. Perfection is static. A circle is perfect. To live is to change and the God of the Bible is the living mentor of Israel and all humanity.
Originally written: 2012-FEB-05
Latest update: 2012-FEB-05
Author: Rabbi Alen S. Maller