A familiar hymn states: “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not abide with me.” It seems that nothing is exempt from the relentless forces of change in us and around us. But God is! Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore, you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” This text affirms His immutability in three ways.
His Name: “I am the Lord”
When he was asked by God to go back to Egypt, Moses objected that he wasn’t the man for the task and that the Israelites would question who sent him. The Lord’s answer was twofold. He was to tell them, “I am has sent me” and “the LORD (Yahweh) God of your fathers… has sent me” (Ex. 3:14- 15). These two descriptions applied to God affirm the same truth. I am that I am! He is! It means that God is like the burning bush which had caught Moses’ attention because it burned but was not consumed. He is the living God, unlike the pagan deities of the Egyptians. He is the self-existing God Who has life in and of Himself. He is the unchanging God: the same yesterday, today, and forever. That explains His interest in the Israelites. He promised Abraham that He would multiply his seed and give them the land of Canaan. Abraham didn’t live to see the fulfillment of those promises but God never changed His mind. He tells Moses that He was about to reveal Himself as the unchanging Yahweh: “I have also established My covenant with them [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] … and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore, say to the children of Israel, ‘I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians… and I will bring you into the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…’” (Ex. 6:4-8).
His Nature: “I do not change”
We change because of forces that are at work within us over which we have no control. As children we grow up to be adults and as adults we grow old. We change also due to forces outside of ourselves. For example, education helps us grow in knowledge, an accident may leave us with a physical handicap, or a relationship may damage us emotionally.
In contrast, God is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jam. 1:17, NKJV). It takes us back to Genesis 1:16: “God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.” There is variableness in the sky’s luminaries and there are shadows caused by turning, as when the rotation of the earth causes the sunrise and sunset, or when the movement of the earth and moon results in an eclipse. But there is nothing in God that changes. He cannot grow in power or knowledge or any other attribute because He is perfect in every way. There is no force or event outside God which can alter Him.
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
One of the implications of this is that God doesn’t change His mind. We do, possibly because we have erred, but God doesn’t make mistakes. Other times we may be unable to do what we intended, but God isn’t lacking in power. At times circumstances may change our priorities and desires, but God cannot be surprised by the future.
However, there is a sense in which God is spoken of as changing His mind. For example, Samuel says that “the strength of Israel will not lie nor relent” and yet, twice in that same chapter we’re told that “the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Sam. 15:11, 29, 35). But such references to His repenting or regretting do not indicate a departure from what He had promised. Human behavior produces a change on God’s part in His dealings with us but it isn’t an arbitrary thing. He simply responds in a way that is consistent with what always was His sovereign will and purpose. And so, for example, He warns, “I will come near you for judgment.” But He is willing to change His mind, “Return to Me, and I will return to you” (Mal. 3:5, 7).
His Ways: “therefore, you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob”
Some people have the idea that the God of the Old Testament was a God of holiness and righteousness who acted with harshness, severity and judgment, whereas the God of the New Testament seen in the Lord Jesus is altogether different, a God of love and kindness. But God has not changed!
The God of the Old Testament was indeed holy and righteous and demonstrated this in inflicting judgments and in disciplining His people. But they were “not consumed”, because He was a God of love. He loved the people of Israel before they existed: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples, but because the Lord loves you…” (Deut. 7:7-8). At the beginning of their history He loved them, “When Israel was a child, I loved him…” (Hos. 11:1). Throughout their history, even when they forsook Him and He was disciplining them, He could still say, “I
have loved you with an everlasting love” ( Jer. 31:3). Then in the final book of the Old Testament, He begins with this, “I have loved you, says the Lord” (Mal. 1:2). That’s the God of the Old Testament.
The God of the New Testament is no different. His love has not changed and neither have His other attributes. He is still a God of inflexible righteousness and holiness who hates sin and cannot ignore it. The gift of His Son to die on our behalf was the action of a loving God, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). At the same time, it was the action of a righteous God: “…whom God set forth as a propitiation… to demonstrate His righteousness…” (Rom. 3:25- 26). Consequently, there is forgiveness for those who trust in the Lord Jesus. However, those who refuse this salvation will one day stand before the judge with no excuses, no defense, and no hope when He “will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31).
God does not change! We can count on that. When circumstances are difficult and we question what He is doing or not doing, He hasn’t changed. He still cares. He knows what is going on. He is in control and He continues to work out His purposes in us and for us. When we sin, He hasn’t changed. He continues to love us and desire our restoration, like the father who looked for his prodigal son. When he saw him, he ran and embraced him and welcomed him home. When we we are discouraged and feel that the Lord is remote, remember that He hasn’t changed. In the words of Horatius Bonar:
My love is oft-times low,
My joy still ebbs and flows,
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change Jehovah knows.
I change, He changes not,
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting place,
His truth, not mine, the tie.
- Abide With Me, Henry F. Lyte
- Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Thomas Chisholm