For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Malachi 3:6 (KJV)
Change – God doesn’t change, right? It’s silly to suggest otherwise when there’s a verse straight from Scripture where God declares exactly that. But maybe I can ask, what about God doesn’t change? Would you answer, nothing about Him changes? Or are there some things that do change?
How about His emotions? Does God feel love, joy, sadness, anger? There are many testaments to God’s feelings all throughout the Bible. Emotions are an ever-changing attribute. So is it just His emotions that change? Or do we claim this is just projection of human understanding to make God more relatable?
What about God’s mind? When God has set out to do something, that can’t possibly ever change, right? Well take a look at the conversation between Abraham and God concerning Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18). God declares that He is going to wipe out all within Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham contends with Him and changes His mind to get God to agree to preserving this area if there are 10 righteous people found. Actually Abraham makes his way down from fifty people to 10 people, and God changes His mind and agrees to this counsel.
What about the time when God is set on the destruction of Israel while atop Mt. Sinai with Moses (Deut 9)? God sets out to destroy Israel and start over with just Moses. Moses contends with God. God concedes to the counsel of Moses, changes His mind, and spares Israel.
What I’m getting at here is that there’s something about God that doesn’t change… His character and reliability. If God was immutable (unchanging), then He is as Augustine describes, “a Being without passion” who “is not troubled by any stormy disturbance of the soul”. But this is in contradiction to a God that can extend mercy (an expression of passionate involvement with a recipient).
These are just a few examples in the text. For a more detailed understanding and in-depth look at the origins of the philosophy of God’s immutability, I recommend Skip Moen’s book, God, Time, and the Limits of Omniscience. Skip explains at great lengths how God can exist without having to be immutable and live in a temporal realm rather than outside of time. He touches on that here:
God’s omniscience does not stand alone. In relation to omnipotence, it implies that God knows every future act that He intends to do at time t for God’s omnipotence can guarantee that such future acts will occur. Nothing except God Himself can prevent God from doing what He decides to do. But this does not mean that God’s intentions are permanently fixed and of the same class as timeless truths. For intentions are temporal actions. And as expressions of temporal truths they can change their truth-values as the agent changes his mind. But a change in intention does not entail that God knew something which was false at an earlier time simply because it is not true at a later time. For such a suggestion would merely reinstate the ambiguity we have uncovered concerning the temporal and logical contexts of ‘true’. God’s knowledge of His own intentions is indexically related to the present moment. It is not a statement of unalterability.
Anyways, to understand what God is implying from the prophet Malachi, we must read it in context. God states that He does not change. Why is He stating this? Is it a universal truth that He’s expressing, or does it have to do with what is going on at the time? Well he affirms by this statement that the sons of Jacob will not be consumed. Could God be referencing some other promise He made in history?
R. Hanina bar Pappa thought so…
It also says (in Mal. 3:6): FOR I THE LORD DO NOT CHANGE; AND YOU, O CHILDREN OF JACOB, ARE NOT DESTROYED (rt.: KLH). R. Hanina bar Pappa said: The Holy One said: I have never smitten a people and restored them, but you children of Jacob are not destroyed, as stated (in Deut. 32:23): I WILL USE UP (rt.: KLH) MY ARROWS ON THEM. My arrows are used up (rt.: KLH) but they are not destroyed (rt.: KLH). And so has the assembly of Israel said (in Lam. 3:12): HE HAS BENT HIS BOW; HE HAS SET ME AS A TARGET FOR THE ARROW. To what is the matter comparable? To a warrior who raises up the <target> post and shoots the arrows at them (sic). The arrows are used up (rt.: KLH), but the post stands. So it is also with Israel. Every time that afflictions came upon them, the afflictions ended, and they were standing in their place.
God declared to use up all His arrows on Israel, but the sons of Jacob still stand. So God has not changed… God won’t allow the sons of Jacob to be consumed, just like they weren’t consumed in the past. There will always be a remnant.
The God I believe in can rejoice, can become angered, can feel empathy and extend mercy. He can change His mind, especially in light of sound counsel from worthy men. He can repent of His creation (Gen 6:6; Ex 32:14) when things don’t turn out as He desired. But my God has an unchanging reliability. His character and righteousness will never change.