There are several cases in Scripture where God appears to change His purpose, while on the other hand we know that there is "no variableness nor shadow of turning" with God. Some (1) explain this by suggesting that God changes His purpose in accordance with the repentance and obedience of His people. There may be some truth in this, seeing that it appears the Lord's 'coming' in AD70 was 'scheduled' in some ways for 40 years after His death; when actually it was 37 years. Was the 3 years 'hastening' due to the prayers for the hastening of the Lord's day requested in 2 Pet. 3, and also because of the Jews filling up their cup of wrath so quickly, due to their persecution of the Christians? Yet this view has its problems, and the alternative suggested here is that God Himself is unchanging, but He has delegated His purpose to His Angels to a far greater degree than we realize. Because they have limited wisdom and strength, their decreed purpose may well change; and thus it appears that God changes His mind. In several apparent instances of God changing His purpose, it can be seen that it is in fact the Angels who are changing.
- Gen. 6:6 says that "It repented The LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart". To repent means to change around. It was the Angels who actually made man on earth, in the image of themselves, and we have shown that it was the Angels who actually brought the flood on the earth. So it was they who repented and therefore decided to bring the flood. Thus only Noah "found grace in the eyes of the LORD" (v. 8). The eyes of the LORD are the Angels- it was they who surveyed the earth and saw that it was wicked, except for Noah. The phrase in v. 13 "the end of all flesh is come before Me" implies that it was brought to God's attention- another example of language of limitation, which must refer to the Angels. Thus it was the Angels who repented, or changed their mind, about creation.
- The Angels who visited Lot in Sodom wanted initially to lodge in the street, but they were persuaded by Lot to change their plans (Gen. 19:3). And who is to say that to some extent this isn’t possible today, too?
- When Moses "besought the Lord his God. . . repent of this evil against Thy people" he was praying to the Angel. He definitely conceived of "his God" as an Angel, therefore. And if we have personal guardian Angels, then Moses' guardian was no less than Michael, the Angel of Israel, the Angel that dwelt between the Cherubim. Truly he was "the servant of the Lord" (the Yahweh Angel); there was truly no such man whom the Lord-Angel knew face to face so well.
- Dt. 32:36: "For the Lord shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when He seeth that their hand is gone, and there is none shut up, or left". The hand that was with Israel was their Angel- after the Angel physically left Israel, resulting in their punishment, the very pity of their state caused the Angel to repent, and return to them. He "shall judge his people". This is quoted in Heb. 10:20 concerning the judgement seat- where we know the Angels will play an important part (see 'Angels and the judgement seat', Chapter 14).
- Jer. 15:6 "Therefore will I stretch out My hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary of repenting". The hand of God is an Angelic term, and here we see it responsible for the frequent repenting (changing of mind) of God concerning Israel. Frequent repentance is fundamentally not a characteristic of God Himself- "God is not a man, that He should repent" (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29).
- Ps. 90:13 "Let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants. . . Return, O Lord. . . O satisfy us early with Thy mercy. . . for we are consumed by Thine anger". This 'prayer of Moses' (title) is lamenting how Israel were being destroyed by the Angel as they wandered in the forty year period of punishment. It may even be that the Angel left Israel in a sense (hence "Return O Lord") although still leading them. Thus there are different degrees of the Angelic presence- as at the restoration the Angel did in a limited sense return to the temple. Yet Moses clearly believed that this period of decreed punishment could be shortened ("satisfy us early with Thy mercy") by the Angel repenting. Previously his prayers had succeeded in making the Angel repent of the evil that He had planned to do to Israel, and Moses evidently hoped the Angel would again repent. Why exactly didn't He? Ps. 91 follows on from Ps. 90, and is also clearly Angelic.
- Jeremiah's message as the Babylonian armies approached Jerusalem had stressed that if the Jews repented, then God would repent of the evil He was planning to bring upon them (18:8,10; 26:3,13). The Jews did not repent, and so Jerusalem was taken and Zedekiah deported. Even at this thirteenth hour, God said to the Jewish forces that remained at large outside Jerusalem and who were about to flee to Egypt: "If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down. . . for I repent Me of the evil that I have done unto you"" (42:10). What a God we have! Although Israel had not repented, the Angel repented to the extent of changing His pre-requisite for repenting of bringing more evil on them. And so God changed this from returning wholeheartedly to the Law, to merely remaining in the land of Israel rather than fleeing to Egypt. The Angel's eagerness to repent and willingness to accept even the slightest sign of repentance in His charges, explains why Moses was so willing to strive to make the Angel repent by his prayers. Thus in Ex. 34:9 Moses asks the Angel to forgive the people' sin, although it was one of the Angel's stated principles not to do so (Ex. 23:21). Moses had had personal experience of such repenting; the Angel "sought" to kill him, but God changed his mind due to Moses' repentance (Ex. 4:24). What of us? Jer. 31:18,19 tops all for such encouragement: "Turn thou Me (said Ephraim), and I shall be turned. . . I (God in the Angel) was turned, I repented"- and therefore God repented too!
- "Who knoweth if He will return and repent. . . turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil" (Joel 2:14,13). These are the attributes of 'the Lord' that passed before Moses in Ex. 34:5,6, thus also indicating that this was an Angel. Jonah 4:2 makes the same connection.
- 1 Sam. 15:28,29,35: "The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee (Saul). . . and hath given it to (David). . . the strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that he should repent. . . and the Lord repented that He had made Saul king over Israel". This juxtaposition of such conflicting statements seems to imply that it was the Angel who allowed Israel to have kings, although it was not the will of God Himself. He allowed the Angel to permit Israel to have a king, although the Angel later repented of this. God Himself, who does not repent, then firmly intervened to replace Saul with David.
- "The Lord repented Him of the evil, and said to the Angel that destroyed the people, It is enough; stay now Thine hand" (2 Sam. 24:16). This “destroying Angel” (1 Chron. 21:15 RV) is surely “the destroyer” who operated in the wilderness. We see here one Angel having the ability to formulate a purpose and another blindly carrying it out until told not to- a scenario which we see repeated elsewhere (e. g. at the Passover and in Ez. 9). It was only david’s prayer which lead to “the destroyer” ceasing. Notice how the Angel repented and then encouraged David to offer a sacrifice so the Angel would be "intreated for the land" (v. 19,25). Similarly, the Angel repented of punishing Israel and wanted to restore them, and to enable this to happen He encouraged the people through Ezra to be spiritual. Thus Angelic repentance has to be confirmed by human action.
- Ps. 106:44,45,23: "He (the wilderness Angel) heard their cry: and He remembered for them His covenant, and repented according to the multitude of His mercies ('mercies' is a word often associated with the promises). . . He (the destroyer Angel) said that He would destroy them, had not Moses stood before him in the breach. . . lest He should destroy them". The Angel's repentance is very often mentioned along with Him recalling the promises He made to the patriarchs. This would explain why powerful prayers (e. g. of Jacob and Ezra) often make mention of the promises- because it is by recognizing that the answer to our request will further the fulfilment of those promises that our Angel is likely to repent and hear us.
- The relatively small amount of human repentance needed to make the Angel repent is shown in Amos 7. Amos sees visions of the impending judgements on Israel. After each he prays "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee: who shall stand for Jacob? ('If you, his Angel-God, don't?') for he is small". The answer comes :"The Lord repented for this. It shall not be, saith the Lord". He repented for the sake of one intense prayer! Notice too Amos asking "Who shall stand for Jacob?". Michael the Angel stands for Israel in the court of Heaven (as the Angel 'God of Jacob'; Dan. 12:1), and thus it appears Amos is pointing out that if Israel is condemned and punished they will have no Angel with them- and so the Angel / God changes His mind.
- Hos. 11:8 wonderfully summarizes how frequently the Angel can repent due to the intense emotional pain He feels at punishing His charges: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? (the Angels punished Sodom and surrounding cities like Admah). . . Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together". If by mere reason of being Abraham's seed hard hearted, idol-worshipping Israel could evoke such feelings, how much more- and this our minds surely cannot comprehend- will our Angel be moved by the new Israel at least making some effort to obey the Lord!
- Hebrews 3:9-11 implies that God changed His mind about letting Israel enter the land: "your fathers tempted Me, and saw My works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation. . So I sware in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest". Or as Num. 14:34 (A. V. mg. ) says "ye shall bear your iniquity, even forty years, and ye shall know the altering of My purpose". These were the words of the Angel to Moses. We know that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13-15); therefore the passage in Hebrews referring to God being tempted and therefore swearing that they would not enter the land must be concerning the Angel which led them; and similarly the altering of purpose which this involved was the altering of the Angel's plans, not those of God Himself.
- Moses seems to have pleaded with the Angel to change His stated purpose of not going up with the children of Israel through reminding the Angel of the mockery this would bring Him into among the nations around. Thus Ex. 34:9 shows Moses pleading for this "O LORD, let my Lord (the Angel) I pray thee, go amongst us" after the clear statement in Ex. 33:3 "I will not go up in the midst of thee". So let us not be afraid to ask God to change what seems like His purpose in our lives, no matter how hard it seems, if we truly feel that another way would give Him more glory. Moses would not have tried if he did not think success in that prayer was possible. But he not only tried, he succeeded. Also consider Ex. 32:11: "Moses besought the face of the LORD (A. V. mg-i. e. the Angel) and said, LORD, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, which Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt (the Angel did this). . turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people". Thus Ezek. 20:17 says that God's eye (the Angel) "spared them. . in the wilderness" when they provoked Him. Psalm 90 is Moses meditations on the fact that his generation were slowly dying in the wilderness, and on the vapidity of life at that stage. And yet he is bold enough to plead with God to change His purpose- "Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants. O satisfy us early with Thy mercy (i. e. don't leave it till some distant point in the future when Messiah is here to show me Thy mercy- do it early, do it now). . make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us. . " (v. 13-15). So from his previous experience of changing God's purpose , Moses was not afraid to try and do so again. This possibility of God changing His mind about this is shown by the Hebrew of Ps. 95:11: "That they should not (Heb. 'If they enter', as AVmg. ) enter My rest". The ambiguity here nicely shows the possibility of them entering.
- Similarly Hosea 12:4 implies that through his intense prayer, Jacob had power over the Angel he wrestled with in getting his prayers heard. "He had power over the Angel (he didn't in the physical wrestling), and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him" (this was the way Jacob prevailed over the Angel).
- Dt. 4:31 and 31:6,8 say that despite the sins Israel may commit, their Angel-God "will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant. . . He will not fail thee". But then Dt. 31:17 says that because the people would disobey Him, God "will forsake them. . . and they shall be devoured. . . and I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought". We have seen that in the Pentatuch, especially in God's dealings with Israel on their journey, God is to be conceived of as an Angel; which would explain the apparent fickleness shown here.
- Similarly "I will give thee rest" (Ex. ,33:14), the Angel said (33:11). But they did not enter that rest- Heb. 4:8,10. "Rest" was defined as the land being subdued before God with all the tribes driven out (Josh. 1:13,15; Num. 32:21,22; 1 Chron. 22:18). This being conditional on Israel's faithfulness, we conclude that when the Angel said "I will give thee rest" He was speaking of what was possible in prospect; or perhaps He over-estimated Israel's obedience, or was unaware of the degree to which their entering the rest was conditional on their obedience.
- Zeph. 2:2 urges Israel to repent "Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass. . the day of the Lord come upon you". It may well be that this is referring to God's decree to the Angels to begin judging Israel.
- Judges 2:1 "And an Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers: and I said, I will never break My covenant with you". The subsequent rebuke of Israel by the Angel makes this passage imply that although the Angel had promised never to break the Covenant, He could and would do so. Later, He did: "And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break My covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day" (Zech. 11:10,11). This 'repentance' must make the "I" refer to God manifest in the Angel. v. 6 gives the context: "I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord" (cp. Is. 63:9 regarding the wilderness Angel:"in His love and in His pity" He redeemed Israel from Egypt). Although the Angelic covenant was broken, it is to be re-established: "I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant (i. e. you've broken the covenant, I'll do the same). Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with thee. . . and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. . . thou shalt receive thy sisters. . . and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy (former) covenant. And I will establish My covenant with thee. . . " (Ez. 16:59-62). This covenant was a marriage covenant. "For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God" (Michael the Angel?), Is. 54:6. This is all referring back to the Angel calling Hagar, showing that God's Angel was figuratively 'married' to Israel; thus it was the Angel who divorced and will take back Israel.
- Another compact example of Angels shortening a time period (as they will regarding the second coming) is found in comparing Rom. 9:28,29 with Matthew 24:
Romans 9 is quoting from Is. 28:22 , which is about "a consumption, even determined upon the whole land. . . from the Lord God of hosts (Angels)". Thus the Angels planned to destroy Israel even more terribly than they did in AD70, but the "determined" "days" of "consumption" were "shortened" because the Angels- other ones apart from the destroying Angels?- had preserved a faithful seed or remnant, which is the theme of the section of Romans where the quotation from Is. 28 occurs. And there must be marked similarities in the last days too.
So great was Moses' concept of the Angel's limitation and characteristic of changing His mind, that he "returned unto the Lord (the Angel), and said, Lord. . . why is it that Thou hast sent me? (The Angel in the bush sent him). For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast Thou delivered Thy people at all" (Ex. 5:22,23). Moses here gives a great warning to us: because God's purpose and the Angels who implement it can change, we must not let this militate against humble faith and works. "My Lord delayeth His coming", the unworthy complain. They are quite right- He does delay, because a few verses later we are told that "the bridegroom tarried" (same word as 'delayeth')- God's purpose, even regarding the time of the second coming, may be subject to change, but this should serve to humble us and increase our faith rather than make us bitter and doubtful of God. Thus God through the Angel responds: "with a strong hand (i. e. by an Angel) SHALL he let (Israel) go" (Ex. 6:1). God goes on to stress that He is ultimately connected with the Angels, therefore implying that to wrongly question them is to question God Himself: "I appeared (through an Angel) unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by God Almighty (i.e. an Angel), and by My Name JEHOVAH was I not known to them?" (Ex. 6:3,7)- this is the correct translation, seeing that God had revealed Himself as Jehovah to the patriarchs, e. g. at Jehovah-Jireh. Moses and Israel would be brought to accept God's vindication of the Angel, so they would know that "I am Jehovah (in) your Elohim (Angels)".
Despite all this, the Angels being active in our lives represent by that token God's fundamental faithfulness to us- "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints (Angels) and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about Him (the Angels round about the Heavenly throne). O Lord God of Hosts (Angels), who is a strong Lord like unto Thee? Or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?" (Ps. 89:7,8). The Angels around the throne are here equated with God's faithfulness. It is likely that other occurrences of this word may also have an Angelic context.
The idea that God's purpose is signed and sealed unchangeably and the Angels are just putting it into practice militates against our faith in prayer. Jacob "had power over the Angel, and prevailed" (Hos. 12:4)- not physically, because the Angel eventually had power over him that way; but spiritually, through his wrestling in prayer, he succeeded. "He wept, and made supplication unto Him. . . even the Lord God of Hosts (Angels)". Because the Angels do change their mind and God's purpose is in many ways open-ended, we should be greatly encouraged in our prayers, knowing that we convince our Angel first (see later), then Christ, and finally trust in God's love to answer what Christ presents to Him. Or has God delegated certain power for the answering of prayer to Angels, leaving it up to them to decide how to answer prayer? No wonder Jacob strove with that Angel so zealously! The idea that we have power over the Angels by our prayers is continued when we consider that Jacob and Jesus saw Angels ascending and descending in that order- as if to imply that the Angels are sent on their missions by us?