God has commanded us and encouraged us to pray, and if we are going to be obedient to His revealed will, we must live a life marked by prayer.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
“Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).
We are commanded to pray, but we are not to come to our Lord out of a sense of duty. Rather, we come into His presence because of a thankful, joy-filled devotion to the One who invites us to communicate with Him about everything that is going on in our lives. Prayer is the lifeblood of the believer’s relationship with the Lord.
It’s important to state here that our prayers don’t change God; they change us and a whole lot more! You may be thinking, “Wait! ‘Our prayers don’t change God’? Surely that’s not true!” You may be recalling Moses praying for the people of Israel during the Exodus. The people grew impatient while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God.
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.’ . . . [Aaron] took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf . . . They said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:1, 4).
These people had seen God work awesome and terrible judgments on the Egyptians and had passed through the Red Sea on dry ground; now they were worshiping a cow!
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. . . . Leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them’” (Exodus 32:7, 10).
If you were Moses, what would you have said? The Israelites had done nothing but grumble and complain since they left Egypt. Wouldn’t you have been tempted to reply, “Burn ‘em down, Lord! I’m sick of their whining!” But Moses’ heart was being conformed to the heart of Christ, who lives to intercede for His people (Hebrews 7:25).
“Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘O Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?’” (Exodus 32:11).
Look closely at what happened next:
“The Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Exodus 32:14).
We read that the Lord relented. The King James Version says that the Lord repented. Two popular Bible translations say that the Lord changed his mind. Earlier in this article I said that our prayers don’t change God. Doesn’t Exodus 32:14 prove me wrong?
We know that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that the writers of the Bible “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). We also know that the Bible does not contradict itself. How do we know that? Because we know the character of God, and God does not change His mind.
“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).
“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19).
Think about it: When Moses prayed and asked God to spare the grossly idolatrous people of Israel, did Moses give the all-knowing God new knowledge? Did Moses’ prayer cause the unchanging God to reconsider His plan? That simply isn’t possible! That is not the character of God; He is the sovereign, unchanging Lord, who says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10).
So how do we interpret Exodus 32:14 — “The Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened”? The issue lies with the Hebrew word nacham, which can be translated as “relent … repent … be sorry … bring comfort.”
If God does not change His mind, He certainly did not “relent” or “repent” of what He had threatened to do. And we cannot say that God “felt sorry” about what He had said. He is the righteous Judge of all the earth. His anger that burned against the people of Israel was not a sudden flash of emotion; no, His anger is righteous anger, the set disposition of His will against all that is evil. He would have no reason to feel sorrow over that.
Consider this rendering of Exodus 32:14, using a literal translation of nacham:
The Lord was comforted and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
This is entirely consistent with the gracious, forgiving nature of God. When Noah and his family disembarked from the ark after the waters of the Flood had receded, Noah sacrificed a burnt offering to the Lord. We read that “The Lord . . . said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man’” (Genesis 8:21).
Did God “change His mind” about the future of mankind because of Noah’s sacrifice? No, but He was pleased at Noah’s obedience, just as He is pleased when we humble ourselves and pray and seek His face. The Lord was pleased by Moses’ intercessory prayer on behalf of a sinful people; God was comforted by it.
Someone might ask, “If my prayers don’t change God, what’s the point of praying at all?” It’s a fair question, and I’ll give you a fair answer: Because prayer changes everything else! Prayer changes you and me; it changes others; it changes circumstances; prayer can change the world!
Don’t take my word for it; hear the Word of the Lord:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:23-24).
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7-8).
James 5:16 assures us that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective, not because there is something special about us, but because when we pray, the supernatural power of God is released on our behalf, and hard hearts are softened, broken bodies are healed, and hopeless circumstances will be reversed. I have seen it time and time again.
God has ordained the END — His perfect purpose, whether that be salvation for a lost soul, healing for someone who is injured or ill, guidance and direction for ourselves and our leaders, protection for children, etc. And He has also ordained the MEANS for accomplishing those ends—our prayers!
These words from Samuel Chadwick encourage me to be faithful in prayer: “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayer-less studies, prayer-less work, and prayer-less religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.