Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Does God Change His Mind?

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, July 2, 2013:  II Kings 20:1-22:2

In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’”  Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.”’”  II Kings 20:1-6 (NKJV)

At first glance, it appears that God Almighty changes His mind based on the prayer of King Hezekiah.  It seems self-evident from the story.  Hezekiah is sick from some sort of boil (vs. 7), and the prophet Isaiah tells him, "'Thus says the Lord' ...." you're not going to recover!  Get your things in order; you're going to die!"  Hezekiah is so distraught over the news that he turns his head against the wall and cries out to God.  Even as Isaiah is leaving the building, God tells him to go back and deliver another "Thus says the Lord."  This time, it is totally different: "You're going to live.  I've heard your prayer, and I'm adding 15 years to your life!"

This seems confusing.  The very nature of God comes into question.  Did Isaiah deliver a false prophecy when he first spoke to Hezekiah?  Did Hezekiah talk God into doing something that He did not really want to do?  Is God so wishy-washy and indecisive that He doesn't know what to do and so waits for men to instruct Him?

The Bible clearly teaches that 1) God knows all things (His omniscience) and 2) He does not change (His immutability).  Numerous passages support this.  I John 3:20 states, "For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things."  Isaiah 46:9-10 says, "For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done."  Numbers 23:19 makes it clear: "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" 

So what's going on in II Kings 20?  The answer to this important question carries us to the essence of PRAYER.  If God already has everything figured out and knows exactly what He wants to see happen, why does He command us to PRAY?  If we read the story surrounding II Kings 20 more closely, we find out that Hezekiah, while being one of the best kings in Jewish history, had nevertheless become prideful and arrogant.  God had much more to do in Hezekiah's life, but he needed to humble himself.  God brought severe sickness and the threat of death upon him in order to bring Hezekiah to the place of prayer, petition, and repentance.  God does that! 

Throughout Bible history, God has brought scathing threats of judgment in order to bring people to repentance.  He did this in the book of Jonah against the city of Nineveh.  He told Jonah to prophecy sure destruction (Jonah 3:4).  Yet when Nineveh REPENTED, Scripture says that God "RELENTED from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them" (Jonah 3:10).  Did God lie when He told Jonah about the coming destruction of Nineveh?  No.  The promise of sure destruction, while sounding final, was really CONDITIONAL.  It was conditional upon the response of Nineveh. 

There is an interplay here between the IRON-CLAD WILL OF GOD and the REDEMPTIVE CALL OF GOD.  We must know the difference if we want to understand our sovereign God.  Louis Bekhof, in his classic Systematic Theology, calls it the decretive will of God and the preceptive will of God.  Others have called it the perfect will of God and the permissive will of God. 

God's ultimate plans for Hezekiah remained unchanged.  The only thing that changed was Hezekiah's heart.  God brought judgment and threat upon Hezekiah that was severe enough to bring that stubborn man to the right place.  It is amazing to me how much God desires our cooperation and participation in His sovereign plans.

Without doubt, God already knew how Hezekiah would act and react.  In His redemptive grace and infinite mercy, He brought this great king to the place of intimate prayer.  This I know:  God loves it when we pray to Him!  He created us to have fellowship with Him.  He will move heaven and earth in order to bring you and me into the communion for which we were formed.

There is a mystery in prayer.  God knows what you need before you ask (Matt. 6:8).  Yet He desires that we ask Him.  He loves to answer our prayers.  It blesses us and brings great glory to His name.  That's what He told Hezekiah:  "I will answer your prayer... for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David." (II Kings 20:6)

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