Tuesday, March 07, 2006

God’s “word” is reliable

Let’s look at the first of these verses:
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).

The majority of the verses that refer to God’s “unchangeableness” refer to the reliability of his word. When God promises something, we can count on it. This is what is in view in the passage in Malachi.
“I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and
have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3:6-7).

Also in Psalm 110:4:
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

(The identity of Melchizedek is not important for our discussion, but you may want to want read the Wikipedia article for more information about him.)

Samuel told King Saul:
“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change
his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).

But we run into a problem here. The context of Samuel’s statement is that God has changed his mind. God made Saul king of Israel. Then he decided that this was a “mistake” and chose David as king instead. A few verses later Samuel says, “The Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (v. 35).

Now here’s the interesting thing. The Hebrew word translated “grieved” in the New International Version is translated “repented” in the King James Version. This is the same word translated “change his mind” in verse 29.

Samuel is telling Saul that God changed his mind about making Saul king but that he will not change his mind about changing his mind.

It gets even more interesting in Jeremiah 18:7-10:
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

God is putting everyone on notice that he reserves the right to change his mind. And this is the same word again (nacham) which means “to repent.”

But this is not a capricious change of mind. And that is the point. We can trust God to keep his word. But that doesn’t mean that he can never “change his mind” or announce that the conditions of a promise have not been met.

So let’s recap what we’ve discovered so far.
  • When the Bible says that God does not change it usually means that his “word” is reliable, that he can be trusted.
  • But he still reserves the right to “change his mind” when circumstances warrant it.
  • So the phrase “God does not change” even when applied to God keeping his word has exceptions and “small print.”
  • At least when it means “God does not change his mind,” we cannot treat the statement, “God does not change,” in a rigid, “legalistic” manner.

So what do you think? How does this change your view of who God is and how he interacts with humans?

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

2 comments:

Jeff Franczak said...

Let me first say that posting your ideas in a public forum like this presents a real risk. But, I recently learned that the cost of regretting a missed opportunity can be greater that the risk itself. Since Pastor Rod’s posting yesterday (3/6/05) was a catalyst for me to spend a considerable amount of time in God’s Word, I’m going to take the risk of sharing what I discovered.

My approach in trying to understand the meaning of yesterday’s verses was to look at each of the verses in its immediate context. I did this by reading several English translations of each passage along with any corresponding study notes and footnotes.

Let’s start with Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Verse 20 gives us further details about what God has promised, “I [Balaam] have received a command [from God] to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.” And further in verse 21, “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” And finally, in verse 22, “God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.” Based on the context, I think God is telling us in verse 19 that He had already decided to bless the Hebrews and that everyone can rely on the fact that He will continue to fulfill His promise.

Let’s look at Malachi 3:6 next, “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Verse 7 provides explanation as to why destruction would have come upon the descendants of Jacob and why it has not, “'Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty...” Taken at “face value”, I think this passage is telling us that God’s covenant with the descendants of Jacob has caused Him to hold back the wrath they deserve and wait patiently for them to repent.

Next, let’s examine James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Verses 13-14 clearly state that God can never be tempted by evil and that He is never the author of any temptation. Rather, the evil desires of people always originate within themselves. In verse 18 we see that God chooses to give us a new birth through His Word. Following logically, then, through the entire passage, we see that God is completely set apart from all evil, that everything good comes from Him, that in His goodness He offers us a new life, and that we can be sure that none of these truths ever waiver or change.

Finally, let’s examine Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Verse 7 encourages the original readers to imitate the faith of the leaders who brought the Word of God to them. Verse 9 warns of “strange teachings” (i.e., non-Christian teachings) and to be “strengthened by grace” and not by “ceremonial foods” (i.e., a Jewish form of works.) Therefore, my understanding is that since we are told that Jesus never changes, our faith in Him is all that is necessary to continue to receive His unchanging grace.

Pastor Rod said...

Jeff,

Outstanding observations! Thanks for taking the risk to share them with us.