There are two boys on my bus route that enjoy playing games with one another. They are the last two to get off the bus. Usually, after the girls have been dropped off, they find some game to play or topic to discuss. It is a rare day when they simply choose to sit and say nothing to one another. A game that they have played only once caught my attention. They were sitting across the aisle from each other. Each of them had their hands behind their head, cupped as if holding a ball in the throwing position. Almost simultaneously they both threw the imaginary ball at one another and said, “Fire ball!” After the initial exchange, they took turns telling each other that they were throwing even bigger fireballs and “getting” each other.
Both boys did not want to back down. It made me think about the times I would play with my childhood friend David. We used to play as Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. Each one of us would want to win. We would argue about who had the better move or the better hit. We would never want to give up. Because giving up meant losing. And losing was never a good thing.
Thinking back on these things I began to wonder about what the Bible said about relenting. And for some reason that word stuck with me. Not abandon, not surrender, but relent. So as all good theologians do I went to Bible Gateway and typed in “relent” to do a word search. The results were quite interesting. (These results were found here using the ESV Bible) All results actually were found in the Old Testament, but as we look, they have a very New Testament feel about them.
The number of times man relented from evil or from their evil ways was once. That’s right, only one time did it reference man relenting. Jeremiah 31:19 “For after I had turned away, I relented, and after I was instructed, I struck my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth.” As a result of this relenting, God showed mercy to the house of Ephraim.
The number of times it referenced man not relenting was also once. Jeremiah 8:6 “I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.” Here God is searching for someone who has relented but finds none. God is getting frustrated with man and their inability to relent.
Now let us change the main subject and look at God. God shows himself to be a just God. He does not relent from his will and wrath being carried out 5 different times in the Bible, coming from 4 different books.
- Isaiah 57:6
- Jeremiah 4:28
- Jeremiah 15:6
- Ezekiel 24:14 “I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God.”
- Zechariah 8:14
In these verses God shows himself to have a limit. A limit to his goodness? No, because his wrath can and does produce goodness and can be a result of his goodness not allowing evil to be among his people. His limit, his place where wrath must come and judgment must happen is when there is no other means. See, each of these books is known as a book of the Prophets. Each book contains a man that God sent to his people to tell them and urge them to turn away. To relent from their ways. Some do. Some listen to the messenger and turn, but others choose to ignore the warnings and are subject to the wrath and judgment of God.
Now for the most interesting part. The number of times God does relent from his wrath. Any guesses? The total number of references and uses of the word “relent,” when referencing God relenting from his judgment, is 12 times! (it could be 13 but the 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles verses discuss the same event.)
- Exodus 32:12-14
- 2 Samuel 24:16/1 Chronicles 21:15
- Psalm 106:45
- Jeremiah 18:8-10
- Jeremiah 26:3
- Jeremiah 26:13
- Jeremiah 26:19
- Jeremiah 42:10
- Joel 2:13-14
- Amos 7:3-6
- Jonah 3:9-10
- Jonah 4:2 “And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
12 different times, as opposed to 5 when God does not relent, God shows himself to be merciful. Based on this word study I can conclude that although God is just and a price must be paid for wrong, he longs to be merciful and gracious.
It is the story of Jesus.
God must be just, there must be a sacrifice, a payment for sin. Yet in his justice there is grace and mercy. This grace and mercy have a singular name. The Name above every name.
Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I hope that you will relent from sin. But I hope more that you will see God wants to relent from his judgment. And he has given us a way to receive the mercy and grace through a man named Jesus.
In Christ’s Love,