James B Rector
DID YOU ever wonder just how far you can go with God without being disrespectful? Should your prayers be bold; and if so, how will He react? Is it possible to actually change God’s mind, or is He essentially unapproachable?
In times past God dealt with His people on a very direct, personal, often face-to-face basis. We know, for instance, that He walked and talked with Adam (Gen. 2:16; 3:8), that He stopped to eat a meal with Abraham (Gen. 18:1-8), and on one occasion even wrestled all night with Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30).
But God does not work that way today. No one is able to see God. He does not speak personally and audibly to us as He did to many of the righteous men of old. But we do have one of the greatest blessings of all – that of being able to look back upon the Old Testament and learn the meaningful lessons which the lives of God’s past servants hold for us.
Abraham Reasoned With God
The eighteenth chapter of Genesis deals with the prelude to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God had permitted these cities to exist for years, during which they had become increasingly evil.
Finally God decided to make an example of them. He said to Abraham: “… I have heard that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are utterly evil, and that everything they do is wicked. I am going down to see whether these reports are true or not. Then I will know” (Gen. 18:20-21, The Living Bible).
In all probability when Abraham heard these words, the color drained from his face. One thought flashed through his mind – his nephew Lot was in Sodom! Somehow he had to save him.
The fact that God was prepared to obliterate the cities did not seem to intimidate Abraham in the least. He proceeded to reason with God about His decision, not once, not twice, but five consecutive times!
He audaciously asked, “… Will you kill good and bad alike?.. That wouldn’t be right!… Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth be fair?” (Verses 22-25, The Living Bible.)
Admittedly, it sounds like Abraham was just a little out of line, perhaps a trifle too bold for his own good. But God didn’t seem to think so. He listened patiently while Abraham pleaded: “Suppose you find fifty godly people there within the city – will you destroy it, and not spare it for their sakes?” (Verse 24, The Living Bible.)
If you read on in verses 26-33, you will find that by the time God finally decided to leave, Abraham had convinced Him to save the city if He found only ten righteous men!
That is quite a job of persuasion; but through it all, God allowed Abraham to say what was on his mind, to be perhaps a bit presumptuous, to bandy words with Him about His own decision.
Abraham Was God’s Friend
What is so very exceptional about this entire account is the remarkable relationship Abraham had with God. Centuries later the Apostle James was inspired to write: “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the FRIEND OF GOD” (James 2:23).
What a fantastic statement! It almost boggles the mind to think that God would personally regard any human being as His “friend.” Was Abraham so perfect, so very special, that only he could ever be called God’s friend? The truth is just the opposite.
Any Christian can and should have the very same kind of relationship with God. To be a friend of God simply means that one is diligently serving Him and trying to unswervingly obey His laws – though perhaps not always perfectly. This is precisely what Abraham was doing – keeping the commandments (Gen. 26:5).
It was not disrespectful for Abraham to make his wishes known boldly to God, to be persistent until he received the answer. This is exactly what God appreciates. In fact, He expressly tells us to do just that in Hebrews 4:15-16.
Paul writes: “This High Priest of ours [Christ] understands our weaknesses, since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave way to them and sinned. So let us come BOLDLY to the very throne of God and STAY THERE to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need” (The Living Bible).
Such determination displays an underlying confidence and assurance that God is a loving, compassionate Father. This is the kind of attitude God wants all of His people to have.
Moses Also a Friend of God
Another classic illustration that God has human friends involves Moses and the children of ancient Israel. When God was ready to give His people the Ten Commandments, Moses was told to climb to the summit of Mt. Sinai, where he remained for forty days (Ex. 24:18).
While he was gone, the people were without a really strong leader; and they soon became restless. Some of them began to clamor for Aaron to make them a golden calf to worship.
Had this been their first infraction, perhaps the situation might have been different. But these rebellious people had tried God time and again. When He saw that they were reverting to the paganism of Egypt, He became very angry.
Turning to Moses, God said, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation” (Ex. 32:10).
Now when you comprehend the almost unfathomable honor which God offered Moses – that of becoming the father of the chosen people – then there is no question concerning what he should have done. Right?
Wrong! Despite what God had said, Moses did not like the idea; and he dared to speak his mind to God.
Moses could simply have accepted God’s plan. He could have calmly said, “Thy will be done.” But he didn’t. Instead he earnestly interceded on behalf of the whole nation. He carefully explained that if the people were destroyed, the Egyptians would impute an evil intent to God. He reminded the Eternal of His unbreakable promises to Abraham and the forefathers.
Finally he implored God to “turn back your fierce wrath. Turn away from this terrible evil you are planning against your people!” (Verse 12, The Living Bible.)
Strong words, those! But did God tell Moses to quit talking back to Him, to have more respect, to shut his mouth? No! Notice verse 14: “And the Lord [Eternal] repented of [changed his mind regarding] the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”
Here is an extraordinary lesson from the life of a most exceptional man. The scripture states that “the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his FRIEND” (Ex. 33:11).
Moses was willing to put personal advancement aside to beseech God to save the people of Israel. He turned thumbs down on God’s proposal to make a great nation from him.
One very significant point we can learn from Moses’ example is that God has made allowance for change. He created within His plan the opportunity for change based upon what we humans do.
Both Abraham and Moses approached God and pleaded for Him to change His mind. And He allowed them to speak forthrightly to Him. He permitted them to disagree, and to challenge what He had decided to do. He listened patiently to their arguments, and in both cases acquiesced to their wishes.
“Come… Let Us Reason Together”
The kind of strong, viable association Abraham and Moses had with God is the kind all Christians need today. It is the kind of relationship that really gets things done.
God wants all of us to be close to Him and serving Him. In other words, His intimate friends. And friends are, above all things, open and honest – always showing the utmost respect for one another. That’s the way we should be with God.
God is continually watching every Christian to determine just how strong he really is, how devoted, how obedient. He wants each of us to have a healthy, one-on-one association with Him.
He is for you, willing to hear you out, to listen patiently if you need to talk, to plead, to reason with Him over any issue. That is why Isaiah was inspired to write: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Eternal: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18).
Go unhesitatingly to God with whatever may be bothering you, whether it be a problem with no apparent solution, a need that cries for fulfillment or perhaps a special favor you would like to receive. Talk it over with Him, being confident in the knowledge that He will listen and answer.
Take God up on His own invitation to “Come now, and let us reason together.”
Don’t be doubtful or afraid. Approach your God confidently; come before Him with determination and boldness. You, too, can be God’s friend.
Since God was willing to change His mind when Abraham and Moses appealed to Him, doesn’t that contradict Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8, where it says God does not change? Not at all! These two scriptures tell us that God is consistent. He is reliable and unchanging in purpose and character. Unlike man, God can be counted on to keep His word. He is not fickle and capricious (as are the characterizations of many pagan gods). These scriptures do not rule out the possibility that God might reverse a decision He has made in a specific instance when and if circumstances change. God is both reliable and adaptable. – Editor