We often say that if a prophecy doesn’t come true, the prophet must therefore have been a false prophet. While this is rationally and even Biblically true (Deut 18:15-22), this is only one aspect of the prophetic genre. God shows Jeremiah that prophecy is a bit more complicated than this.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. (Jer 18:1-10)
According to this illustration, God was telling Jeremiah that He had the flexibility to change legitimate prophetic words. If He declares destruction, He is still able to recall His proclamation if humanity responds by changing their ways. David knew this well, and that’s why he prayed for his child to live even though God had given him the prophetic word that his child would die (2 Sam 12:15-22). Likewise, God is also willing to revoke a declaration of blessing on a people if they decide to live evil lives. It’s therefore interesting to note that although prophetic words come from God, we are instrumental in allowing them to come to fruition.
God proves this lesson throughout the Scriptures. Jonah is a perfect example. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to declare the city’s destruction because of its sin, but the whole city repented and “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). And then on the flipside, we have Israel. Even though they were God’s chosen, elect and blessed nation, God turned them over to judgment because of their sin.
These scenarios don’t strike us as odd. It isn’t hard to think of God deciding not to bless people who do evil. However, this exact scenario enrages some when it is restated with casual language; for it seems we’ve learned here that God can change His mind.
In order to take this statement further, tomorrow we’ll establish some thoughts on free will and how God interacts with human beings.