Draw Close to God

Can God Feel Regret?

JUDGES 2:11-18

AS IMPERFECT humans, we all feel regret at times. For example, we may feel sorry after we realize that we have made a mistake. Curiously, the Bible says that Jehovah can feel regret. ‘But God is perfect,’ you say. ‘He does not make mistakes!’ In what way, then, does God feel regret? The answer can help us to understand something awe-inspiring: Jehovah has feelings, and our actions can affect his feelings. Consider the words recorded at Judges 2:11-18.

The Bible book of Judges chronicles a turbulent period in Israel’s history. The nation was now settled in Canaan, the land that God had promised to Abraham. For the next several centuries, Israel’s course could be summed up as a recurring cycle of four phases: defection, oppression, supplication, and deliverance. *

Defection. Influenced by the Canaanites, Israel “abandoned Jehovah” and began following other gods; specifically, they “took up serving Baal and the Ashtoreth images.” * Such a defection amounted to apostasy. Little wonder that the Israelites “offended Jehovah,” the God who had delivered Israel out of Egypt!​—Verses 11-13; Judges 2:1.

Oppression. Provoked to righteous anger, Jehovah would withdraw his protection from the people who had turned their backs on him. The Israelites would then fall “into the hand of their enemies,” who would come in and pillage the land.​—Verse 14.

Supplication. In the throes of distress, the Israelites would feel sorry for their wrong course and cry out to God for help. Their supplication may be indicated by the expression “groaning because of their oppressors.” (Verse 18) Supplicating God was part of the recurring cycle. (Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:6, 7; 10:10) How did God respond?

Deliverance. Jehovah would hear Israel’s groaning and “feel regret.” The Hebrew word rendered “feel regret” can mean to “change one’s mind or intention.” One reference work says: “Jehovah, moved by their groaning, changed from his purpose of punishment to one of deliverance.” In his mercy, Jehovah would “raise up judges,” who would deliver his people from their enemies.​—Verse 18.

Did you notice what moved God to feel regret, or change his mind? It was the change in attitude on the part of his people. Think of it this way: A loving father may discipline an erring child, perhaps by withholding some privilege. But upon seeing that the child is truly sorry, the father decides to end the punishment.

What do we learn about Jehovah from this account? Whereas willful sin arouses his anger, repentant hearts move him to show mercy. It is sobering to think that what we do can affect God’s feelings. Why not learn how you can make Jehovah’s “heart rejoice”? (Proverbs 27:11) You will never regret it.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 2 Judges 2:11-18 is part of an introductory summary that gives an overview of Israel’s pattern of behavior, which is recounted in detail in the chapters that follow.

^ par. 3 Baal was the most prominent god of the Canaanites, and Ashtoreth was a goddess who was considered to be the wife of Baal.