I am speaking on Amos 7 this Sunday at church. At the beginning of Amos 7, God is described as ‘relenting’ (or ‘repenting’ in some translations) when Amos prays (Amos 7:3,6).
Does this mean God changes his mind when we pray?
Alec Motyer’s commentary on Amos is very helpful at this point:
“Under this expression (‘The LORD repented’) Amos is saying that the will of God is no harsh, unfeeling fate but is rather to be thought of as His loving concern for His frail and needy people.
The revelation of the locusts and fire is a statement of deserving – now and always. Equally, it represents a perpetual element in the divine nature: God’s ceaseless wrath against sin. We must not think that suddenly God’s anger got the better of Him and flared out against his people bu that, happily, Amos was on hand to pray Him into a better mind.
The wrath of God is perpetual: the automatic reaction of a holy nature faced with rebellion and unholiness. But equally eternal is His determination to take, save and keep a people for Himself. This is what the Scripture means when it speaks of Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, 1 Pet 1:19,20) and of Christians as chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).
It is because we cannot unify these two revealed strands of the divine nature that the Lord graciously accommodated the truth to our powers of expression and speaks of Himself as ‘repenting’. He represents Himself as hearing prayer and turning from wrath to mercy in order that we may thus understand something of what is involved in His love for us and how great is that love when He beholds us in all our need.
On the one hand, there must be that is His love which satisfies and soothes His wrath: for the exercise of the one attribute cannot bludgeon the other out of existence, else there were war and not harmony in the divine nature. It has been revealed to us that it is the blood of Jesus, the great divine gift of love, which satisfies the divine wrath (Rom 3:25). On the other hand, when the Lord look upon his people mercy triumphs over wrath.
All this is very humanly expressed. We wrestle with the unity and unanimity of the divine nature and the subject outstrips our poor logic. Yet He who knows all allows us to see that for us, His wretched, wrath-deserving helpless people, His love wins the day, and in that love we are safe.”
Alec Motyer, The Message of Amos (Leicester: IVP, 1974), 156-7.
[The only piece I would quibble with is his description of the believer, whom in God’s eyes, clothed in Christ’s grace, is not ‘wretched’ but a beloved child of God (1 John 3:1) – however, his point still stands.]
Here are some other resources which get at the question of God ‘changing his mind’:
Essay on ‘Does God Repent’ (looking at Exodus 32)
John Piper on the Sovereignty of God and Prayer