Tom Hayes


Titus 3:3-7

Does this fact of divine repentance startle you? I confess, the first time I was confronted with this truth, it bothered me. My question was, "Why would God need to repent?" I knew He hadn't done anything wrong! Too, I thought repentance was a change of mind, and God, Himself, said, "I change not" (Mal. 3:6). And, what about His settled decrees and His unchangeable will? How could the word "repent" apply to the immutable God and His eternal will?

It was the great commentator, Matthew Henry, who came to my aid. In referring to this unusual concept, he pointed out that the Lord, "changed not His mind, but His way" (Matthew Henry's Commentary; Vol. 2, page 574). In a more explanatory reference to this doctrine of divine repentance, he wrote, "Repentance in God is not, as it is in us, a change of His mind, but a change of His method or dispensation. He does not alter His will, but wills an alteration" (Vol. 2, page 360).

Actually, the doctrine of repentance involves more than a change of mind, doesn't it? Genuine repentance, or "godly sorrow" (2 Cor. 7:10), as the Apostle Paul calls it, is a change of attitude towards God, His Son, and our sins. Furthermore, it is a change of attitude that changes the course of our lives. We know that God "will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent" (1 Sam. 15:29). But, He does repent! Sometimes, He changes His attitude and His course of dealings with man.

While there is no hope for humanity in an inconsistent deity, there is hope in the truth that God sometimes changes His way. As we think of our nation and its spiritual degeneracy, our churches and their form and pretense, our homes and the selfish motives of family members, our individual lives and the prayerlessness of our own hearts, we confess that we deserve the judgment of God. Yet, how encouraging to think that He would will an alteration, or change His course of dealings with us! God grant that it might be so!

What does the Bible say about this subject? To say the least, it is most enlightening! As we examine a few texts, we are made aware of several facets of the character and nature of God. Oh, may we see Him and experience Him in the light of His Own revelation!

1. Divine Repentance Shows That God Hates Sin

The first time this unusual doctrine is mentioned is in relationship to the antediluvian age. Twice, in Genesis 6, which graphically depicts a society that had forgotten God, we are told that God "repented" that He had made man (6:6, 7). This change of attitude clearly unveils God's holy detestation for sin. He doesn't take sin lightly! He doesn't nod in approval of rebellion. He doesn't smile at wickedness! Neither does He wink at it! Quite to the contrary, His righteous anger is aroused because of it!

A. God's Attitude Toward Sin Was Rooted In What He Saw

We read that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (6:5). Nothing is hidden from God! The Bible says that "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). But, in this case, He viewed man's "wickedness," or lewdness. He saw all the sexual impurity and corruption. He also saw that it was "great," or that it multiplied "in the earth." And, what He saw aroused His anger.

B. God's Attitude Toward Sin Was Related To What He Sensed

As He surveyed the wickedness of man,  "it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart" (6:6). The love of God had been hated! The grace of God had been rejected! The mercy of God had been evaded! The holiness of God had been violated! The justice of God had been mocked! And, the righteousness of God had been offended! He was "grieved," or displeased and vexed. Thus, the wrath of God was aroused! By the way, if God felt this way then, how does He feel about our generation?

C. God's Attitude Toward Sin Was Revealed By What He Said

Although, in the beginning, it had been "good" (Gen. 1:31) that God created man, now it was bad. The heart of God is set forth in the strong, severe words, "And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth" (6:6). Like Judas Iscariot, about whom Christ said, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matt. 26:24), it would have been better had man not been created. Now, because of a flood of wickedness, the Lord must send a flood of waters and bathe the earth with judgment.

2. Divine Repentance Shows That God Hears Supplications

Another reference to divine repentance is found in the Book of Exodus. When the Lord threatened to extinguish the Israelites, Moses made intercession for the people. The Lord heard his desperate plea for mercy and "repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Exo. 32:14). We are told that "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). And, as Moses humbled himself before God in behalf of His erring people, grace was dispensed to the nation. This account should give us an incentive to pray, shouldn't it?

A. God Hears Supplications That Associate With His Patience

The idolatrous practices of His people had moved the Lord to act in judgment. He even told Moses, "Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation" (32:10). But, immediately, Moses made supplication and boldly questioned His action. "Lord, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people?" (32:11). Siding with God's patience, longsuffering, and forbearance, he asked for a stay of judgment, and received it.

B. God Hears Supplications That Advocate For His People

Without question, the Lord has a heart for His covenant people and their needs. Even though He had called them "a stiffnecked people" (32:9), and was ready for His "wrath" to "wax hot against them" (32:10), when Moses "besought the Lord", and reminded Him of how He had redeemed them "out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand" (32:11), He "repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (32:14). In spite of their many blemishes, He loved them and responded accordingly.

C. God Hears Supplications That Appeal To His Promises

As Moses cried out unto God, he did not remind Him of all the people's promises to Him. Rather, he brought up all God had promised His people. He said, "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou swarest by Thine Own Self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever" (Exo. 32:13). Let us remember, too, that God's word, His pledge, His promises are more significant than His feelings.

3. Divine Repentance Shows That God Helps Seekers

Although there are several other references to divine repentance (see Num. 23:19; Deut. 32:36; 1 Sam. 15:11; 2 Sam. 24:16; Psa. 110:4; Jer. 18:8-10; 26:19; Hosea 11:8; Rom. 11:29), the manifestation of God's heart recorded in the prophecy of Jonah demands our attention. In fact, the story underlines a three-fold relationship of repentance. First, Jonah repented of his disobedience (2:1-10). And, secondly, when he preached to the Ninevites, they repented of their wickedness. Then, we are told that "God repented of the evil, that He said He would do unto them" (3:10). Several lessons emerge from these developments.

A. The Ministry That Was Blessed

Having repented in the belly of the fish, and having experienced God's resurrecting power, Jonah was recommissioned to go to Ninevah. "And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, ÔArise, go unto Ninevah, that great city, and preach the preaching that I bid thee'" (3:2). As he obeyed, the Lord used him greatly! Like Jonah, as we seek to do God's will, we can know Christ "in the power of His resurrection" (Phil. 3:10) and be a channel through which He can work.

B. The Message That Was Believed

Jonah's sermon was a judgment sermon! In "forty days," he preached, "Ninevah shall be overthrown" (3:4). Somehow, in a miraculous way, as only God can work, "the people of Ninevah believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (3:5). As the heathen king encouraged his people to seek God, he said, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?" (3:9).

C. The Mercy That Was Bestowed

Admittedly, it is unexplainable, but it is wonderful, as well, that the God Who hates sin is also "The God Who Repents!" When He "saw their works" of repentance, the God Who has a heart for genuine repentance, and longs to bestow His grace and mercy, "repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not" (3:10). Instead of being like Jonah, who pouted because he didn't understand God's mercy, let us seek His mercy in these hours (see Psa. 106:45). Who knows what God might do? He may change His ways, or His methods! He may will an alteration! He may change His course of dealings with us! He is "The God Who Repents!"

Those women who sew well illustrate this truth. They determine they are going to make a dress and the pattern is chosen. However, because of their height, width, size and weight, they may improvise the pattern at certain points. They don't alter their will! They're going to make a dress! However, they will an alteration and sew the dress accordingly. Oh, in this day when it seems that the judgment of God is inevitable, may He enable us to plead with Him for ourselves and one another, repent of our sins, and experience divine intervention! Amen.