"For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."
Malachi 3:6 (ESV)
CS Lewis is known for of children’s books series, the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In those books, every so often you get in allegorical form, a presentation of Christian truths. The second book of the series is entitled, Prince Caspian. In that book the children return to the land of Narnia to help Prince Caspian retain his kingdom. At one point in the book the little girl Lucy, meets up with Aslan the lion. At their encounter she falls upon the mighty lion in an embrace. Her first impression of the beast though was one of his greatness. She seemed impressed at his size and she remarked, “Aslan, you’re bigger.” In his soothing, but dominant way, the mighty lion replied by saying he had not grown at all, but that he only seemed bigger to her. He said because the more she got to know him, the bigger she would find him to be.
The truth in that depiction is one of great significance. As Christians, we apprehend God to be great. But as we study God’s word more and grow in our relationship with him, we come to find that God becomes bigger to us. It is not that he grows, but it is that we grow in our apprehension of how great he really is. And it is as our minds are stretched and as our understanding of God’s infinite being expands, that we learn to trust him more.
This is what I want to focus on for the next few weeks. I want us over the next few weeks to consider how great our God really is. The title of this series is “Gazing at the Greatness of God.” We will be focusing our attention on what are called God’s incommunicable attributes. That is to say, we will be focusing on those attributes of God that are unique to him alone. As created beings, we have some of the same attributes that God has. We call these the communicable attributes. They are things like wisdom, power, mercy. So you can think: We have intelligence, just as God has intelligence. His intelligence is infinitely greater than ours, but, nevertheless, there is some commonality.
But when we talk about his incommunicable attributes we are talking about those attributes (or those characteristics) that are unique to God alone. These are those attributes that distinguish him as God and sets him apart as the one who is Supreme and above all other created things.
And this morning we are going to focus our attention on God’s attribute of immutability. Now what does that mean? When we talk about God’s being immutable we are talking about his being unchangeable. The immutability of God is the unchangeableness of God. And that is what our passage for this morning talks about. If you look at it again, you find that to be very clear. “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
This passage tells us 2 things about the unchangeableness of God. It tells us that God is unchangeable in his essence (or his being) and it tells us that God is unchangeable in his works. More simply you could say that God is unchangeable in who he is and what he does.
The first half of the verse tells us that …
I. God is unchangeable in his essence.
If I might read it again, “I the Lord do not change.”
Now this attribute has no analogy in us as humans. By nature we are changing beings. You know they say that 90% of the dust in your house is human flesh. That is, the cells that make up our skin are continually dying. And if they are not washed down the drain during your shower they end up on your couch, TV screen, and window sill if they. Well these cells that die have to be replaced. So new cells are always being produced.
Those of you who are studying biology can perhaps correct me on this, but from what I understand all of your body is like this. All the liquids, organs, and bones are always replenishing themselves—the same way your skin does. So, if someone comes up to you and says, “You’ve really changed.” You can say, “You’re right, I’m completely different!” You can literally say that you are not the same person you were last year at this time.
And not only do we change in this way, but we change as we get older. The first half of our lives is characterized by development, both physically and mentally. We sprout up and our minds sharpen through education. And the second half of our lives is characterized by change too. Instead of development we begin to see signs of decay and decomposition: Last week I mentioned arthritis. And we start getting these things we call wisdom lines and our hair turns color (or falls out!).
But this is not so with God. God, in his essence, never changes. Or to use the words of the book of Hebrews, he is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” He does not need to develop because he is wholly perfect in his being. His intelligence is immutable because he has perfect and infinite intelligence. There is no need for him to try to become good because he is perfectly good. And God cannot decay because his nature cannot permit it to be so.
Now, if you are a student of the Bible, you might make an objection at this point. You might want to stop me and say, “Hey, I know places in the Bible where it says that God changes.” And you may point out the time recorded in Exodus 32. The time when Moses was on Mt. Sinai and God became made at the Israelites because they had made the golden calf. God said to Moses that he was going to kill them all and make a nation out of Moses instead. But Moses pleaded with God and interceded on behalf of the people. And it says that “God relented fro the disaster he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
But you must understand that the Bible often speaks of God in human ways. It does this, not because God has these human attributes. No. It speaks this way in order to teach us more about God. It is inevitable that there will be times when He who is infinitely incomprehensible condescends to accommodate our finite minds.
The fact is you do this same thing all the time. When you speak to little children you sometimes have to accommodate your language to help them understand. You have to use crass pictures and words to describe what cannot be otherwise comprehended.
So too with God. In all reality God didn’t change his mind. God’s intention, from the very beginning, was to make a great nation out of Israel.
Really, if you would deny God his immutability—if you would make him to be a changeable God, he would not be God. Herman Bavink, a Dutch theologian, said it this way, “He who predicates any change whatsoever to God…belittles God…[And] robs Him of his divine nature.”
Why do we say this? Because change implies a cause. If you change the way you walk, usually there is something that caused you to do it: a broken leg or a surgery. God cannot change, because nothing can act to influence him. If something had that power over him, then that something would be greater than God. And that something then would be worthy of our worship. But as it is, God cannot change. As the book of James says, “there is no shadow of turning” in God. He alone is absolute. And as a result, he alone is worthy of our worship.
Now, this may be hard for some of you to accept. It might not be hard to understand, but it might be hard to accept. I hope you know what I mean by that. Someone might say, “Yes, I see what you are saying. I understand what you mean when you say that God is unchangeable. But I do not wish to believe it.” I wouldn’t doubt that someone would want to say that because we live in a time when change is thought of as a virtue.
Think about it: We are surrounded by people who have an evolutionary mindset. The world developed out of the slimy mire. That change is thought of as a immense feat. And we often say, “He made a change for the better.”
As a matter of fact, some have taken this “change for the better” mentality and applied it to God. Mormons for example have a saying. It goes like this, “As God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be.” That implies that God used to be just like us, but by a process of change, he became what he is. And, in their belief system, all of us will one day become like him.
And this isn’t limited to cults. There are even some Christians today who say that God is constantly changing. They see this as a virtue, that God is always becoming better. But what is virtuous about it? What is good about a God who is in some way deficient? How can you trust someone who is not wholly reliable?
The fact is, God’s being immutable is what makes us able to trust him. God’s immutability shows us that he is dependable. Because he will not change, our trust in him is something that is secure.
Really that is what we see in the second half of the verse. If the first half shows us that God is unchangeable in his being. Then the second half shows us that God is unchangeable in his work.
II. God is unchangeable in his work.
Read it with me again, “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The verse is one of complete logic. It uses the word “therefore.” On the basis of A, you are therefore guaranteed B. Since God is unchangeable in his being, you can be assured that his dealings with you will not change.
Now, by this passage, I want you to see that God is unchangeable both in his work of mercy and his work of justice.
The first one is the most obvious one. God is unchangeable in his mercy. The children of Jacob were God’s chosen people. They were the descendants of Jacob, the one who God chose. But do you remember Jacob? Do you remember anything about him? He was a deceiver, wasn’t he? He tricked his brother, Esau, and stole his birthright. Then he deceived his father and stole his brother’s blessing—he dressed up like his brother and fooled his blind father.
So Jacob wasn’t the most godly of men. And neither were his descendants. Remember his children? He had 12 sons, and they don’t come off looking any brighter. Two of his sons slaughtered a whole tribe of people. One of his sons convinced the rest to sell their youngest brother into slavery. One of Jacob’s sons had an incestuous relationship. And, you know how the rest of the descendants of Jacob acted. They were always described as a stiff-necked or rebellious people.
And in this verse we see God’s unchangeable mercy. “Because I do not change, you wicked and ungrateful people are not consumed.” God had every right to destroy them, didn’t he? You could say that the Israelites were the worst sinners on the face of the planet. God had showed them more kindness than any other nation in the world, but they refused to pay homage to him.
God should have sent fire from heaven and scorched every one of them. But he didn’t. Why? Because he made a promise to them.
We just talked about how Moses prayed on Mt. Sinai and God relented from bringing disaster on his people. Do you know why God “changed his mind?” It was something Moses said. Moses said, “Remember Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven.” Moses pointed God to his own promise. Moses knew that God could not go back on His word.
The only reason we too are not consumed is because God is unchangeable in his mercy. It could very well be said, “I the Lord do not change, therefore, O people of CRF, you are not consumed.”
It is not our faith that keeps us from being thrown into the lake of fire. It is not our admirable features that keeps the ground beneath us from opening and swallowing us alive. We are not that lovely and our faith is not that strong. The only thing that keeps us from being consumed is the unchangeable mercy God.
I cannot remember the exact words he used, but Charles Spurgeon said something along these lines: “Our righteousness did not make us to acquire our salvation. It was only God’s infinite mercy. But just as our righteousness did not earn us our salvation, neither does our wickedness thrust it aside.”
I know that many people struggle with the assurance of salvation. Perhaps you are just one such person. You worry about your status before God. You fret that God will turn his back on you because you have done thus-&-such.
Well, the unchangeableness of God should strengthen us in our assurance of salvation. While we should strive for perfection, we should not despair when we find ourselves to be the chief of sinners. With those whom God has covenanted, the Lord is unchangeable in his mercy.
But let us remember that this verse not only tells us that God is unchangeable in his mercy. We should remember that this verse tells us that God is unchangeable in his justice.
In this verse you can kind of see that the children of Jacob are hidden behind a fireproof wall. The Lord keeps them from being consumed. But everyone outside that covenanted people is in harms way. Those who are the children of God may escape, but the flames of God’s anger consume everything else.
You may think of it like Noah and his ark. Noah and his family were safe and sound inside the ark. Everyone outside that ark was consumed in God’s anger.
Now if there was one point where people would like God to be changeable it is here. And many people do make him to be changeable at this point. Many people would like to make God out to be a indulgent grandfather. They would like to think of him as someone who forgives and accepts everyone without conditions and even despite their rebellious behavior.
I know that some sects of Jews today believe that God has changed with regard to his justice. They will readily admit that in the OT times God demanded the shedding of blood for atonement. But they will say that that has all changed. They would say something like this, “That was how he acted with those people long ago. But now there is no such requirement. What God requires now is that we bring him offerings to offset our offenses.”
But why worship a god who would be so ruthless in times past, but would change his mind. What would prevent him from changing his mind again? In the end God becomes capricious.
Perhaps I should also say something here on the Muslim god. The Islam faith believes that God is capricious. They would say something like this: If God is going to be completely supreme, then he should be allowed to change his mind whenever he wants. So, according to Islam, Allah is capricious.
And the Muslim man, if he were consistent in his views, would find himself in a state of utter despair. Because there would be no justice or mercy in this view. If a man was a faithful Muslim all his life, even if he gave the most extreme sacrifice for Allah and died for him, he could have no assurance of his salvation. Allah could very well deny him access to Paradise and he could welcome a complete renegade instead.
When all is said and done, there is only one God who is worthy of our worship and faith. There is only one God you can truly rely on. There is only one God who can and will save you from your sins. It is the God of the Bible. It is the One who reveals himself to be the unchangeable God.
When Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels, was a university student, he lived an a boarding house. Downstairs on the first floor was an elderly, retired music teacher, not infirm and unable to leave the apartment. Douglas said that every morning they had a ritual they would go through together. He would come down the steps, open the old man’s door, and ask, “Well, what’s the good news?” The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of his wheelchair and say, That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, THAT is middle C!”
The old man had discovered that there was one constant reality in his life. He found that there was one thing upon which he could depend.
For those of us here this morning, let us remember that we have one who is absolutely dependable. As we gaze at the greatness of God, let us remember that we have one who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.