God's nhm ("comfort") as the unfolding of God's promise in four Old Testament historical passages
Beakley, David Lee
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God expresses Himself with emotions. This is well attested in Scripture, with statements of love (1Jn 4:8), anger (Ex 4:14), and delight (Isa 62:4). But the real question is not whether God has emotions, but what is the source of those emotions. If God emotes in the context of our suffering, and our suffering is not abated, does this mean that God is impotent or indifferent? Both possibilities yield a frightening conclusion. Rightly understanding the character and nature of God in this regard is paramount. For the past two thousand years, the prevailing doctrine was that God was in some way impassible, in that He is without passions or emotions with respect to his creation. This means that God does not change his feelings or thoughts about events on the earth. Even though certain passages called the “divine repentance” passages in the Old Testament (Ge 6:6-7; Ex 32:12-14; 1Sa 15:11, 35; Nu 23:19) appeared to contradict God’s impassibility, this was solved through the idea of anthropopathism, that is, the belief that God describes Himself with emotional terms. Prior to 1930, most of the English Bible renderings of the divine repentance passages preferred the word “repent,” because the prevailing theology was rooted in the impassibility of God, and these passages were deemed to be anthropopathic. But with the doctrine of God’s impassibility now in question, English Bible translations began to reflect the view that God actually reacts to our suffering with strong emotion. Words such as “sorry,” “grief,” “regret,” and even “changed his mind” were now used to describe the reaction of God whenever God appeared to be disappointed with his creation, or worse, if He was disappointed with his own plan. The purpose of this study is to provide an exegetical solution to the problem of God’s response in the divine repentance passages in four Old Testament historical texts. These passages are labelled as such because of the use of the Hebrew verb ~xn which describe God as “sorry” or “repenting.” For those who hold to God’s full immutability, the preferred view through the ages was that the Hebrew ~xn was to be taken as anthropopathically. This study will want to explore the possibilities of an alternative view for the Hebrew ~xn in the divine repentance passages which allow for God’s passibility while holding to his full immutability. Specifically, this study not only strives to answer the question “Does God repent?”, but through a sound methodology also wants to answer the larger question of the source of God’s emotion when his judgment or grace is in view. The methodology followed in this study is two-fold. First, it is biblical-theological, meaning that it utilises a whole-Bible theology, and following the work of Walter Kaiser and James Hamilton, posits that the Old Testament contains a theme or centre of grace within judgment. At the Fall in Ge 3, God simultaneously introduced judgment and grace into the world. That judgment and grace has never left. As one looks through the Bible, these are the two unbroken strands that weave their way through every chapter and every book. In addition, this study is also an exegetical study, and follows the grammaticalhistorical- lexical-syntactical methodology of Walter Kaiser. God disclosed Himself objectively through the words of a book. This book records actual historical events, as well as specific declarations and commands from God Himself. It is necessary that the words of this book be correctly understood in their context so that a correct understanding of God will result. Using this methodology, this study will explore the meaning of God’s ~xn in each divine repentance passage. The lexical study will be combined with the biblical-theological approach of a theme or centre of “grace within judgment” that flows through the Old Testament. Because of this, is it possible that God, who is fully immutable, provide us everything that we need to navigate a world of sin, suffering and uncertainty? The answer could very well be in the understanding of God’s ~xn in light of our suffering and sin.
- Theology