The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God.Amos 7:6 (KJV)
Repented – This isn’t the first time the Lord repented from His plan. In fact, it’s the second time in this chapter of Amos alone! God also repented for making man in Genesis 6:6, He repented from the evil that He sought to do to His own people in Exodus 32:14, and He also repented upon raising up judges for Israel so to bring them again from captivity. These are just a few examples.
But when God repents, it’s a different word. It’s not teshuvah or shuv, which means “to turn back,” as we might imagine. It’s the word, naham, meaning to regret, to be sorry… and even to be comforted. That last one is a little odd, isn’t it?
The Niphal form of the word naham is translated 38 times in the KJV as “repent.” The majority of these refer to God’s repentance, not man’s. When man repents we understand that it’s due to his sin, but with God there is no sin. On the surface, this appears contradictory. In the verse here in Amos, God literally changed His mind. He planned for destruction, and upon listening to Amos’ plea, God decides something quite different.
If you’ve ever studied the theory of God’s immutability, these verses should cause you angst. The theory claims that God is perfect and has no need to change because change would be an indication of imperfection. But here it is. God changed… or at the very least He changed His mind, His plan. There is a long history of immutability that stems from the Greek philosopher, Parmenides, if you’re interested. However, let’s return to the word itself.
God showed naham for His decision. He regretted, He was sorry, or was He comforted? These are two opposing views. If I’m regretting something, I’m definitely not comfortable with my current situation. And if I’m comfortable, I’m probably not in a state of regret. How can naham mean these two very different things?
The word is used in Isaiah 40:1 and Psalm 23:4 as “comfort.” So where is the connection? How does the word mean both to regret and to comfort? I believe Abraham Heschel sums it up nicely, “No word is God’s final word. Judgement, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man’s conduct brings about change in God’s judgement.” (The Prophets, p 194)
There is a comfort knowing that although God may repent from creating mankind, his judgement upon us isn’t final. It’s conditional, and He is long-suffering so that we all may shuv and turn back to Him. God’s word is the utmost authority, but He is ready and quick to repair and restore when man desires a relationship. He gave His only begotten Son, the Messiah, for this very purpose.