Just What Does God Mean — “I Do Not Change?”
As many people reckon time, a new year — 2017 — has just broken. [See: "Happy New Year!"] For many, this also is a time to make “New Year’s resolutions,” a time to change – usually for the better. But, as many ruefully find out while the days, weeks and months roll by, those resolutions are soon forgotten and fall by the wayside. “Maybe next year again?” they console themselves.
Why do men need to change, whereas God says, “I do not change” (Malachi 3:6)? Just what does God mean by that?
In at least three of their hymns, Evangelicals (or Protestants) acknowledge God’s unchanging nature: “Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not; as Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be” ["Great Is Thy Faithfulness"]; “…Through endless years the same” ["Our God Our Help in Ages Past"]; “…Who was, and is, and is to be, and still the same” ["The God of Abraham Praise"].
Protestant and other religious teachers are quick to cite Hebrews 7:11-19, etc. as a counterpoint to their avowed faith in God’s “changelessness.” Here the writer of this epistle, Paul [see: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?], says: “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law…there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness” (Verses 12, 18).
Without really understanding the context of Hebrews 7, many Evangelical theologians and preachers teach that God has thus annulled or changed His other commandments regarding the holy Sabbath, God’s holy days, God’s food laws, tithing, etc. for the alleged “weakness,” “unprofitableness,” and failure of these laws to make anything perfect (Verse 19). Like God’s statute on physical circumcision, these commandments are now to be considered as constituting so much “yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1, 3), say these theologians and teachers. [See: Freed From Bondage, Barking up the Wrong Tree, What If the Sabbath Is Still Holy? God's Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers -- or to Be Observed? Did Christ Cleanse All Meats? and The New Testament Teaching on Giving.]
Unless we understand the rather complex mind of the apostle Paul, we are bound to come to the wrong conclusions about what he meant (2 Peter 3:15-16).
What “change of the law” did Paul mean in Hebrews 7?
The context of Paul’s statement
Here Paul talks about “a change of the law” concerning the priesthood in the community of the children of Israel. In Old Testament times the priesthood had been assigned by God to Aaron and his descendants (Hebrews 7:11-12; see also Exodus 28:1, 41; Leviticus 8).
With the coming of Jesus Christ, that law on the priesthood has been changed. “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood [of Aaron's lineage] (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest [Jesus Christ] should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He [Jesus] of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Hebrews 7:11-14).
Paul describes the law concerning the Aaronic priesthood as “a fleshly commandment” (Verse 16) — one involving mortal men who “were prevented by death from continuing [in their priesthood]” (Verse 23). In contrast, Christ’s priesthood, according to the order of Melchizedek, is a perpetual one, “according to the power of an endless life” (Verse 16, latter part). In Verses 1-3 Paul describes Melchizedek as “priest of the most High God” who is “without father, without mother, without genealogy [meaning, not a mortal man who traces his origin from some human ancestor], having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, and who “remains a priest continually.” [See: The Mystery of Melchizedek Unlocked. This will explain the connection between Melchizedek and the Old Testament God who became Jesus Christ of the New Testament.]
Like circumcision and the ordinances concerning sacrifices, offerings and washings (which were also “fleshly ordinances,” Hebrews 9:10), the law concerning the Old Testament priesthood (of Aaron) was a temporary one that was “imposed until the time of reformation” — until the first coming of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of Israel and of all mankind.
These ordinances were a part of the Law Added to Law Transgressed — law added “till the Seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise [the blessing of Abraham, Galatians 3:8-9] was made” (Hebrews 9:19). A part of God’s blessing on Abraham, which true Christians (people of faith like Abraham’s; see: The Children of Abraham) also enjoy, is the forgiveness of one’s sins (Romans 4:1-12). [See: Transgressions Under the First Covenant.] That forgiveness is completed by the resurrection of Christ from the dead to glorious immortality (1 Corinthians 15:17), in order to affirm that Jesus was not a mere human being but also the very Son of God (Romans 1:3-4), and indeed the “Captain of their salvation” (Hebrews 2:10-13). [See: Two Goats Together.]
Paul affirms the relevance of God’s law as holy
There is no question that the apostle Paul affirmed the rightful place of God’s law in a Christian’s life. He taught that without God’s law (which defines right and wrong conduct), we would not know what sin really is from God’s view. He affirmed that the law of God is “holy…and just and good” (Verse 12). He taught that true faith does not make void God’s law but rather establishes it (Romans 3:31).
Jesus Christ Himself taught that He had not come to abolish or destroy the law — meaning the law of God as embodied in the Ten Commandments, the statutes, the judgments and the ordinances — but rather to fulfill that law (Matthew 5:17-19).
How did Christ fulfill it?
Firstly, Jesus fulfilled the ordinances of sacrifices, offerings and washing by being the perfect sacrifice — the holy Lamb of God — that alone can take away the sins of the whole world (John 1:29), the sins of every human being. While He came to fulfill all of that, Jesus did not abolish those ordinances completely, nor the Levitical priesthood. As we shall see, Ezekiel 40-48 prophesies about a coming temple in Jerusalem that will restore the Old Testament sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood, particularly that of Zadok’s line. [See: The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. This link also explains God's purpose for that restoration.]
Secondly, Jesus fulfilled the commandments, statutes and judgments of God by making them binding not only in the letter of the law, but in the spirit and intent of God’s law. The spirit of that law is love for God and for one’s neighbor, and for one’s spiritual brother as Jesus has loved us. [See: The Law of Christ, Moses and Jesus -- Are They Contraries? Being and Doing, and The Law of Moses Before Christ's Return.]
As a God who does not change, God has always used His law to judge His creation — whether spirit beings like angels or mortal human beings — as to their conduct, right or wrong. It’s ironic — and dissonant! — for Evangelicals to sing of God, “Established is His law, and changeless it shall stand” ["The God of Abraham Praise"], and believe and teach the very opposite — that God’s law has been done away!
God used His law to judge that Lucifer and his angels “sinned” and thus they were cast out from His heavenly presence (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-15; Jude 6; Revelation 12:3-9). [See: Where Did the Devil Come From? and Two Goats Together.]
God has used His law to judge all human beings in their own time as God chooses [see: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation]. Jesus, whom God has appointed Judge over all of mankind, says that every person (and his works) will be judged according to the word which He (God’s Son and Representative on earth) has spoken (John 5:26-30; 12:48; Revelation 20:11-13). That “word” includes God’s law, which is equated with God’s truth (Psalm 119:142; John 17:17). [See: The True Christ, Peter Knew "The Holy One," and Why Is the "Unpardonable Sin" Unpardonable?]
God is utterly stern and uncompromising when it comes to sin — the transgression of His law (1 John 3:4, KJV). God had told Eve that she and her husband Adam would die in the day they disobeyed His commandment about not eating the forbidden fruit (of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”). They followed the devil who tempted them, they disobeyed God, and thus they did die. God has since told mankind that if a person sins, he shall die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Romans 6:23 famously says, “The wages [consequence] of sin is death.” [See: "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!" The Flaming Sword East of Eden, A Matter of Life and Death, No Walls, No Ceiling, and The Great Wall.]
God’s unchanging mercy
The context of God’s saying to Israel (and other people as well) “For I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:7) is right in the next words: “Therefore you are not consumed.” It has always been in God’s heart to save sinners, not consume or destroy them. God’s says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:1). 2 Peter says that the Lord is “not willing that any should perish…” because of sin, which earns the penalty of death.
That is why God has prepared, since the foundation of the world (even before human society began), His only begotten Son — the God of the Old Testament who became a human being in Jesus Christ — as the only means by which the sins of men can be atoned for (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Hebrews 10:5-10). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish [die] but have everlasting life,” John 3:16 declares famously.
Those who would be saved and not perish had better believe Jesus’ words He said twice: “I tell you…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). With this 2 Corinthians 7:10 agrees: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted…”
Malachi 3:7 continues the thread of thought of God not changing: “Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you.”
God then proceeds to show a most important way to return to Him: submit our pocketbooks, as it were, to Him by giving Him his rightful tithes (tenths of one’s income or increase) and offerings. This goes with a promise to curse those who withhold these from God and thus “rob” Him, and to bless abundantly those who comply with this law (Verses 8-12). As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). [See: The New Testament Teaching on Giving .]
As did all the prophets before and after Him, Jesus preached repentance when He proclaimed the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17; 3:1-2 Jeremiah 3:14; 5:5; 26:3; Ezekiel 25:6; 18:32; 33:11, 19, etc.; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20, etc.).
Repentance is something that God “grants” (Acts 5:31; 11:18). He does this by opening a person’s mind to understand the “goodness of God” (Romans 2:4). The person then exercises his own will to turn around from his evil ways and to walk in the path of God’s righteousness as God leads (Psalm 23:3).
God is consistent and unchanging in His mercy to even the vilest of men who truly humble themselves before Him and repent. God relented from venting His anger on one of Judah’s most wicked kings — King Manasseh — when the king humbled himself. The story is found in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33. Jesus illustrated this unchanging mercy of God on repentant sinners in His parable about the “Prodigal [or Lost] Son” (Luke 15:11-33).
God’s unchanging standards
God has also set His unchanging standard for granting mercy to repentant sinners: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). In the Old Testament, God had inspired King David to declare of the LORD: “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful” (Psalm 18:25).
Jesus said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). He also said: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus even gave a parable about the “Unforgiving Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35). The faithful servants of Jesus preach the same thing He did, about forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-13; Ephesians 4:32).
God is thus also unchanging in His judgment on those who will not repent despite their being given all the opportunity to do so. Malachi 3:5 says that God is “a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien…” God will cast into the lake of fire all unrepentant sinners (Revelation 21:8). Having thus died the “second death” and their names expunged from the Book of Life, they will be excluded from ever setting foot on the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:15). [See: Predestination, This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation, and Why Is the "Unpardonable Sin" Unpardonable?]
We can rely on God’s unchanging goodness — and severity (Romans 11:22). While we can trust God’s sure judgment on sinners, we can also trust God as a faithful “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” and love His brethren (Hebrews 11:6; 6:9-10; 13:5). We can absolutely trust God’s Word, for it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).
God’s Word, which includes God’s law, will endure forever — unlike mankind and man’s ways that are contrary to God’s. The apostle Peter, quoting Isaiah 40:6-8, says that the word of God “lives and abides forever” because “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever” (1 Peter 1:23-25).
Quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, Jesus tells us: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Things God has changed and will change
Although God is unchanging as we have seen, He however has effected changes — and will yet effect more and grander changes in the future — in His dealings with men and the rest of His creation. In fact, God has promised: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). We can hold on to that promise, because we can trust that God’s “words are true and faithful” (same Verse). Knowing His perfect character, we can trust that whatever new things God makes will always be better than the old ones!
Changes on this side of Christ’s return:
- Old covenant — now the new covenant (Hebrews 10), and with it the promise of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27; Acts 2, etc.) and everlasting life (Romans 8:10; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Peter 3:18) [See: The Two Laws in Hebrews 10, Freed From Bondage and God's Spirit and Obedience]
- Tabernacle/temple — now the Church of God and individual Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16; 16:19-20) [See: The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48]
- Levitical priesthood — now the true believers in Christ (1 Peter 2:9) who will serve as priests and kings in God’s kingdom (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:4)
Changes after Christ’s return:
- True Christians resurrected or changed to immortality [1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; see also: "The Next Chapter of History"]
- Satan and demons chained [Revelation 20:1-4; Jude 6; see also: Where Did the Devil Come From? Two Goats Together and Of Dungeons and Prisons]
- Earth’s landscape cleared and reshaped [Isaiah 40:4; 58:12, see also this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select "Books & Booklets" and scroll down to the booklet titled "The Wonderful World Tomorrow -- What It Will Be Like;" see also: Enough Room on Earth for All the Saved?]
- God’s kingdom set up on earth by Christ, with His glorified saints ruling with Him for a thousand years [Revelation 19:11-16; 20:6; Daniel 7:27; see also the above just-mentioned link]
- Restoration of Israel as a blessing to all nations [Amos 9:11; Acts 1:8; Genesis 28:3-4; 12:2-3; see also: God's Kingdom and Israel and The Children of Abraham]
- All “unsaved” of mankind resurrected to judgment at the end of Christ’s 1,000-year reign [Revelation 20:5, 11-12; see also: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation]
- New heaven and new earth [2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22; see also: The Flaming Sword East of Eden, The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48, and The Great Wall]
Humans need to change
The apostle Paul declares of all men: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The prophet Isaiah declares about how mankind is utterly different from God: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). [See: Switching Positive and Negative and Is Jesus Your Lord -- Really?]
That is why God tells all sinners: “Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Verses 6-7).
The apostle Peter admonishes us: “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things [mentioned in Verses 1-13], be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).
1 John 3:2-3 tells us: “Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Jesus tells us: “Therefore you shall be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Humanly speaking, this would be an impossible task. But, as God’s Word assures, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27).
Without God’s help, and purely by human willpower and effort alone, man will always be unable to change for the good. All of man’s good intentions and resolutions will only fall by the wayside. As the saying goes, “The way to hell is paved with good intentions.” But with God and His power, through His Spirit, man is able to resolve to change — and do it — not just at the turn of the year, but at any time! [See: Is There Ever Any Good in Man? The Deceitfulness of Sin, God's Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, Breaking Down our "Walls of Jericho" and Saved for Good Works.]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.