Today’s Chocolate: Vosges Black Salt Chocolate with Caramel
Today’s Passage: Amos 7
If you want to argue that God changes his mind, you’re probably going to turn to Exodus 32. In this well-known passage, after the Israelites make a golden calf and start worshipping it, Moses apparently talks God down from destroying them and starting a new nation with Moses. The text even comes right out and says it: “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14). But if you wanted to argue your case without reaching for the low-hanging theological fruit, you might opt to look at Amos 7.
In this chapter, Amos switches gears from conveying God’s prophetic message to relating a series of visions God gave him. (He also reports an incident with the priest Amaziah.) In each vision, God prepares to judge Israel, first with locusts, then with fire, but each time, Amos intercedes for his countrymen, asking God to show mercy. Ever the lover of formulas and repetition, he establishes a pattern, ending each vision word-for-word with:
“Lord God, please pardon!
How can Jacob stand,
For he is small?”
The Lord changed His mind about this.
“It shall not be,” said the Lord. (2-3)
Amos refers to Israel as “Jacob,” the original name of the patriarch. I’ve told the story of Jacob’s renaming and its significance back in late-game Hosea, if you need a review, but Amos’s choice of the name “Jacob” is an appeal to God’s pity. Jacob is the weak heel-grabber who resorts to deception, a mere little man, not the patriarch who wrestled with God and men and prevailed.
So the first two times, God relents and withdraws his judgment. But, like a well-practiced comedian, he follows the rule of threes and breaks the pattern in the third vision. And the punchline? A plumb line.
A plumb line is a thread with a weight on it, used as a vertical guideline to ensure that the walls and other structural elements in a building are straight. The third vision is simply of God with a plumb line by a vertical wall. He explains to Amos: “Behold I am about to put a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer” (8). The plumb line is the standard of justice (cf. Isaiah 28:17; recall that Isaiah and Amos were contemporaries), and Israel will be judged for deviating from it. A building may stand for awhile even if its walls deviate slightly from the right angles prescribed by the plumb line, but just like the law of gravity, moral law dictates that the merest flaw in the architecture will eventually bring the structure crashing down. And that’s Israel.
So, does God change his mind? Obviously, yes, because just as in the golden calf incident, the text here straight-up says he does. But the NASB translation notes supply an alternate rendering, “relented,” and the verb in question is נָחַם, nacham. Rooted in the notion of sighing or exhaling, it has a number of meanings, but in the form that it takes here, it can mean “to be moved to pity or compassion,” “to repent,” or “to console oneself.” From context, it’s pretty clear that God is showing compassion; the “sigh” is to lament the nation’s pitiable plight.
Thus, I don’t think God “changed his mind” in the sense that he said to himself, “Whoa, Amos really cares about Israel, I’d better call off the judgment!” I think he knew all along that Amos would go to bat for the people. At the risk of painting over the scene with too broad a brush, I think he gave Amos these visions to show him that the people are headed for destruction by their own choices. He’s put the ball in their court, and he’ll only forestall his sentence for so long. And frankly, to judge from the text, it sounds as though God knows his people won’t choose to change course.
In short, God’s activities in the universe may change, and in this sense he may “change his mind,” but his character remains perfect and motivates his activity in the changing universe, situation by situation. But the greater question of how a timeless being can interact with humans in time remains a topic for another entry.