Arguing with God

The instances where men argue with God concern me. If God knows and designs all outcomes, why does the Bible use the language of “arguing”? Is it possible to actually change God’s mind?


Dear Lynn,

Your question sent us on a Biblical search and we couldn’t find an example of anyone arguing with God. Perhaps we missed something (and we’re sure readers will tell us if we did) but we looked at a number of instances that came to mind and none of them used a Hebrew word for arguing.

  1. What first came to our minds was Abraham’s response upon hearing of the pending destruction of the city of S’dom. The conversation between Abraham and God uses two words that translate as speaking, “va-y’OMeR” and “va-yi’DaBeR” as well as the word for reply, “va-ya’AN”. We see a discussion, not an argument.
  2. We looked at two places where one might think that Moses argued with God, the first being the 4th chapter of Exodus. In Exodus 4:1 and some of the following verses, Moses does not leap at the chance to accept the leadership position God is bestowing on him. Again, we see the Hebrew words “vay’OMeR” and “va-ya’AN” speaking and replying.
  3. Once again after the incident of the Golden Calf, (Exodus 32 – 34) we find Moses speaking and pleading with God to forgive the people, however the Hebrew does not suggest any argument.
  4. The closest we could find to what you are asking was in Job 13:3. There, Job tells the friends who came to be with him in his loss, that he wishes to argue with God rather than with them. The word used is “v’hOCHeaCH.” (Which technically translates as reprove, rather than argue.) Yet we do not find that word used when Job addresses God directly.

What might we learn from this (other than the importance of looking at the Hebrew text)?

One of the practical applications of the commandment to honor parents, is that we do not contradict parents. What happens if a parent says something incorrect? Let’s say that you are driving your father somewhere and he tells you to turn left to get to your destination. You know that it is to your right. You are not permitted to say, “No, you’re wrong. We need to turn right.” Instead, you can say, “I thought it was to the right. Do you think we should go left?” In this way, you state your point but without negating your father.
We can learn this from the way that Abraham and Moses as well as other Biblical role models speak when they have questions of God. Their language shows respect and the acknowledgment that they will accept whatever God’s final word is. This may sound subtle, but it suggests an entirely different concept from arguing with the Almighty. We will never win an argument with God, but we can express our ideas, our pain, and even our anger, and find a listening ear.
Having restated your first question, we’re afraid that we are out of room before we have a chance to approach your second one. Perhaps you, or another Happy Warrior, will ask that one again.

Hebrew matters,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Ask the Rabbi & Susan post.
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