God doesn’t change; we do
In a recent post I argued that God is not a jealous God, even though he said he was. I am either the world’s greatest heretic, or I am confident that I know who my Father is!
How can I say God is not jealous when it’s right there in black and white in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6?
Because I have learned to filter what I read in the Bible through Jesus and His finished work. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Don’t you know that Jesus loved us and died for us while we were still idol-worshipping sinners (Rms 5:8)? That doesn’t look like jealousy to me!
Rest assured that God never changes. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).
But judging from the feedback I’ve received, some of you are having trouble wrapping your heads around the idea that God can change the way He relates to us without changing His nature. Yet there are many examples in the Bible of God acting differently in different circumstances. Most notably, God changes the way He relates to us in covenant.
If this puzzles you, look at the table below which compares God’s behavior before and after Mt Sinai :
God’s Behavior Before and After Mt Sinai
|Before: Covenant of Grace (unmerited favor)||After: Covenant of Law-Keeping (merited favor)|
|Cain kills his brother and God protects him (Gen 4:15)||A man picks up sticks on the Sabbath and God says “kill him” (Nu 15:32-36)|
|The Israelites cry out to God about their hardships and He delivers them (Ex 3:7-8)||The Israelites complain about their hardships and God sends fire and kills them (Nu 11:1-3)|
|The Israelites complain about the Egyptians and God delivers them (Ex 14:11-12, 21ff)||The Israelites complain about the Canaanites and 10 are immediately struck down; the rest are condemned to die in the wilderness (Nu 14:26-37)|
|The Israelites grumble about the bitter water and God gives them good water (Ex 15:22-25)||The Israelites grumble about the bad food and God strikes them with a plague killing many (Nu 11:4-10, 31-34)|
|The Israelites whine about the lack of food and water and God feeds them supernaturally (Ex 16,17)||The Israelites whine about the lack of food and water and God sends a plague of snakes that kills many (Nu 21:4-6)|
Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a loving God acts one way one time, but a completely different way another?
If it does, then you’ve never raised children. Go find a loving parent and ask them, “Did you spank your kids when they were little? Do you still spank them now that they’re grown?” Do you see? The same loving parent relates to their children differently depending on how the children wish to relate to them.
Under the old covenant, the law was used to reveal the dangers of sin and help the children of Israel recognize their need for a Savior. Now that Jesus has come, we no longer need the supervision of the law.
God has always loved us with an everlasting, and therefore, unconditional love. He blessed Abraham and told him, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendents” (Gen 17:7). Even while the Israelites were under the temporary law-keeping covenant, God’s true and unchanging nature would occasionally be detected by prophets like Jeremiah (31:3) and Isaiah (54:10) – not to mention David who lived as if the old covenant wasn’t as real to Him as God’s loving-kindness (Ps 51:1, 63:3,KJV). This is why God said of David, “Now there’s a man who knows my heart.”
That old covenant – the one where God chose to make His love conditional on the Israelites’ performance – is long gone. We live under a new and better covenant where the heart of God is clearly seen in the way He relates to us.
And how does he relate?
Through the pure and unqualified grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. If you want to know how much your heavenly Father loves you, look to Jesus who died for you and now lives for you.
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Another great article! I can’t tell you how much I learn from you addressing the hard questions that so many avoid and simply don’t take the time to answer. I have been thinking lately about why God came up with the Law for the Israelites in the first place. Correct me if I am wrong but this is what I have been thinking. God began this whole thing relating to us (Adam and Eve) the way He wanted. Adam chose another way to relate to God when he made the choice to know or chose right and wrong, good and evil, for himself. This decision changed the dynamic of man’s relationship with God and the way God related to man. MAN’S choice…not God’s. Then as this choice brought destruction into the world, man couldn’t clean up his mess so God would chose individuals to empower to lead mankind CONTINUALLY back to Himself. Here is what I read. God gets to the point where He has delivered the Hebrews out of Egypt and He calls them to Himself once again. As a nation they respond by telling Moses that they are afraid to come near God so they ask Moses to go for them and talk to Him and tell them what He wants them to do. The way I see it THEY chose the LAW…not God. He gave them what they asked for. He simply showed us the truth about the terms in which we wanted to relate to Him. The AMAZING thing is that Jesus came so we could relate to Him on His terms! YAY GOD. The sad thing is that so many STILL want to relate to Him on their terms…LAW. I chose GRACE!
I love reading your articles and I pray that everything is going well for you in this transition you are in!
Justin, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!
Justin your understanding on law is amazing. After Adam & Eve chose the law instead of trusting God to lead them; it’s God mercy and grace that the fullness of the law only came more than 2000 years later at mount Sinai. The patriarch Abraham, Issac & Jacob enjoy amazing grace! No Israelis died before mount Sinai even they murmured & complained. God’s grace is locked-up during the dispensation of law which only lasted about 1500 years but thanks be to God; (John :16-17) And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
I think you are on to it Justin, your revelation is very similar to something that I believe God has shown me that has completely changed my whole understanding. The knowledge of good and evil is man determining good and evil for himself independently of God, legalism is man using SOME of Gods ideas in an attempt to sanctify our independent use of the knowledge of good and evil, which only deepens the error and leads to self righteousness. Going back to your original comment, get a load of this scripture from Jeremiah:
“For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.“But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ “Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.
Don’t know if you’re the greatest heretic…Pro 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,and do not lean on your own understanding.
You seem to take a different tact. Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
I wonder how many of your doctrines begin like this one. The Bible says X but disregard that and believe Y instead. I’ve seen this disregard before, but not quite so plainly. Instead start by believing what God says about Himself, but perhaps you will find that heretical.
He is jealous FOR us and not OF us. This is not the jealousy that is otherise known as envy. Love/God is not envious or insecure of us, but His love wants the best for us as any Father does and is not satisfied until we experience all of His fullness. That’s jealousy.
Jeff, I fully agree with you that love is not envious or insecure – love is indeed everything we read in 1 Cor 13 and more besides. But that is love, not jealousy. Jealousy, as God describes it in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6 is bona fide jealousy – the kind that seeks to control through fear and punishment. (Is there any other kind? Not in the Bible.) I appreciate that people have been trying to put a spin on “godly jealousy” for hundreds of years, but note that His threats are directed to Israel, not to their enemies. How is this a good thing? This can only be called good if we change the meaning of the word good. “Godly jealousy” is one of those terms that we have accepted without thinking. God does not want us to view Him as jealous anymore than He wants us to see Him as angry. Yes, He acted jealous for a time (during the old covenant, but even then He often let that mask slip revealing His true nature of loving-kindness). But let us not confuse how He acted towards Israel during that period with His true and eternal nature. To illustrate the difference, let me paraphrase Psalm 30:5: “His jealousy lasts only an old covenant moment, but He is love and His loving-kindness lasts forever.”
Also, what do you think it means to deny self everyday and what Jesus meant by that in the book of Luke?
Check out this post on Luke 9:23. (For other requests, I encourage you to search the Scripture Index.)
Awesome! Absolutely, Awesome!
Hi Paul, My view is that God is still a God who is jealous and demands justice, but Christ took all the punishment for that for all mankind on the cross so we can now receive His unconditional love. So His nature has not changed but the way He relates to us had changed. Because of Christ, God will never be jealous of us again and no matter our behaviour, His love for us will always be unconditional. Thanks, Peter Wilson.
A couple of questions I am wrestling with: Given that from the Exodus to Sinai no Israelites died (though they grumbled and complained a lot) and that from Sinai onwards many did (due to the curses activated by the Law), how does one:
a. explain the flood and the destruction that took place there before the Law;
b. deal with the quesiton of the genocide of the Canaanites – was it commanded by the Law and not by God?
Thanks for any help in these areas!
I’ll tackle the flood question. My view is that God wiped out mankind to save the human race. He had a redemption plan that required certain things to happen. But the way people were going crazy with sin that plan was in jeopardy. For instance, He needed a virgin mother for His Son. But by the time of the flood there were only 8 worthy people left in the whole world. God had waited until all was nearly lost – He gave people every chance to repent, but when they didn’t, He saved Noah’s family and started over. If He hadn’t, you might’ve been lost.
I’ll leave the genocide question for some clever E2R reader to tackle.
Hi Paul, a really helpful book can be ‘The Problem of War in the Old Testament’ from Peter C. Craigie. You can still buy it on Amazon.
Thanks for the recommendation.
let me try this but not because i claim to be clever. lol
genocide of the Canaanites.
Mr. Paul Ellis answered this already somewhere: (correct me if im going out of context)
“you want to know who to be afraid of? It’s not these clowns who can only hurt your bodies. There is One far scarier than these guys – One who is able to destroy both body and soul”
The is the part where Dad kicking out some other dad for opposing His beloved.
1 Samuel 15:2-3
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
this is the part where God fulfilled His promise “vengeance is mine”
i might reach my 250 words quota… so i will have to do double post.(now thats being clever)
Here’s my (kinda inconplete) take on the Canaanites (I’ll also throw in the Amalekites as well):
1) Canaanites were doing evil stuff like messing with reproductives, child sacrifice, etc for over 400 years. The Israelites struggled to walk with God, and God knew bad influence plus distrust equals disaster.
2) God always gives those who are being judged a chance to repent. Even if it may not be mentioned towards the group, Jeremiah 18:7-8 says that if a judged group decides to stop doing BS, God will NOT destroy them. Note — I still believe that “God never changes” and “God keeps his promises” — it’s just that God’s CHARACTER is consistent and that most of judgment happens in final judgment.
3) God always accounts for those who repent. In Genesis, God said that he won’t destroy cities if there are even 10 righteous people! In Joshua, Rahab let the spies in and got spared.
4) God is just, but in 2 Timothy and Ezekiel, he’d rather have the judged groups repent than perish!
5) Some like Lucas Kitchen think that the Canaanite “genocide” isn’t a genocide at all! Passages in Deuteronomy talk about gradually taking only a part of the land — the Canaanites can just move out.
I hope this helps — I also struggle with this too.
I agree, good stuff Paul. Praise God for the wisdom that he demonstrates through you. I also find that Peter said Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 1:5), so there must have been something he was saying or telling others. It really does speak of Gods grace seeing as how Noah was naked and drunk at one time (Gen 9:21) lol.
Yes indeed, that was an intesting answer from Paul about the flood. Indeed, God waited until the very end before sending the flood. Methuselah lived for 969 years(Gen.5:27) the oldest man on earth. His name means ‘when he is gone it shall come’. Can you see God’s grace there? The flood would only come when Methuselah had died and what did God do? Made him live for almost 1000 yrs. If he had died at 200 years, the flood would have come. God has always been about Grace and Mercy from the beginning. Many thanks to Paul for the Grace filled articles. This is indeed the Gospel
Pretty good, but I’d argue for three covenants: (1) Abrahamic, (2) Sinaitic, and (3) Grace (Jesus). Limiting the discussion to two categories perforce equates (1) and (3), which, as we know (or, at least, imo), are not equivalent.
The Bible actually mentions seven covenants, but I limit myself here to the two described in Hebrews 8-10; the old one, because this is how many relate to God, and the new, because this is how we’re supposed to relate.
Hey Phil! Totally encouraged by your posts brother! I have a few questions that maybe you can take a whack at:…
Phil doesn’t work here – not since the unfortunate incident with the wet gerbil and the microwave – so I will respond. Please check out this post “8 ways to get your grace questions answered.”
I have been asking lots of questions re God and covenants lately. Your article was helpful In a number of areas. I have a couple of questions…. 1. Did the Abrahamic Covenant have an end date? 2. Why did God change to the Mosaic Law? I’m not understanding why God went from I will bless you (a covenant that He made) to a law based one. It just looks like He broke the first covenant to institute the next. Thank you! Tess
1. While the old law-keeping covenant was rendered obsolete by the new, I would say the Abrahamic covenant was consummated in the new. The new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant on steroids.
2. This is the $64,000 question! The answer to this question is the same as the answer to this: Why did God put two trees in the Garden? A: To give mankind a choice. At Sinai, God was basically saying, “You can relate to me through grace, as your father Abraham did, or you can relate to me through law.” They chose law! Can you believe it? They repeated Adam’s mistake. And there is no doubt they knew what they were doing for Moses distinguishes between the covenant made with our fathers and this new law covenant (Deu 5:2-3).
If I had been at Sinai I like to think I would’ve responded differently from the others. While they were shouting, “Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it” (Ex 19:8), I would’ve said, “Not for me thanks. I’d rather trust in your promises made to Abraham rather than my law-keeping performance.” Why the Israelites did not shout, “Remember your covenant with Abraham!” is one of history’s great mysteries.
Like Adam, the children of Israel distrusted God and the result was the same: death.
Hi Paul, First off, i totally agree with you on grace… so you MUST be right!
I am just running into something as i study, and it has been an amazing dynamic for my own walk. All the promises and covenants of God are “yes and amen.” I believe the first covenant is still in effect… after all, a covenant is a covenant – especially by a God who cannot lie (His words) and does not change, but NOT for the purposes of eternal security. Rather, i think the old covenant now applies to the daily salvation we can receive from the problems of sin and self (really the same problem) in the world today. Does this make any sense? It seems like all the “obey and He will bless stuff” is still useful for those who are now FREE to obey Him. It is like even more and bigger blessings for those who desire to follow Him and enjoy the victory HE has already won. Oswald Chambers once said, “When obedience (my note here: obedience is yielding to Him in resting, faithful belief) is in the ascendant, He will tax the furthest star and the smallest grain of sand to assist you with His mighty power.” And i believe this guy was on to something. No guilt, no works… just added grace on top of amazing grace!
Anyway, just a thought. So thankful for the freedom for which He has set us free! He is making the way, and what an adventure to be already His child in His family forever!
Hi Paul,just recently came across E2R and love it!The whole “God doesnt change” thing is so misunderstood.I agree with your comments and others as well concerning the Israelites choosing the law….leaving their place under Gods gracious care.The greatest book i have ever read is “Grace”by Lewis Sperry Chafer and was wandering if you or any others have read it.His explanation of the Scriptures cleared up for me so many “seeming” contradictions in the Bible.God does not change but his purposes for mankind in different time periods has certainly changed.Thank God we are under Grace!Also,i am new to blogging and “computer challenged” and was wandering if u or anyone else could tell me if i should make comments at the “tell us what you think” box, or if ishould only hit the “reply” box to participate in further discussion?
Agree! Haven’t read Chafer’s book, but I believe that when God says that he doesn’t change, he refers to promises (since it’s meant to be kept) and character.
I keep getting hung up on one thing I can’t reconcile. Soddom abd Gomorrah. Pre-covenant, not Jews. Destroyed for sin. Is it their lack of faith? Their denial of God’s holiness? If we believe, which I do, that God does not visit retribution and judgment on us, even non believers today, then why them?
I look forward to your insight.
That’s the only OT story that troubles you? What about Noah’s flood?
Ok. Two? Two things I’m now hung up on?….well, isn’t this a fine mess. I seem to be regressing. Help!
Haha. Join the club. Seriously, it is not essential for me to have a good explanation for Sodom or Noah to have faith in Jesus. We only know in part, said Paul, but what we do know – about the love of God revealed in Christ – should be enough for us find rest in his embrace. There are mysteries here, for sure, and by all means take your questions to the Holy Spirit. But don’t allow yourself to get hung up on them. They ought not to be deal-breakers.
Good question. I do have a few points.
1) Technically, God’s way of dealing with nonbelievers is similar. In Romans 1, God’s main strategy is letting them walk away from him. Also, there’s final judgment.
2) According to Genesis, God destroyed Sodom because the outcry against them is so high.
3) Although sin is widespread even today, in pre-Flood times, it’s hyper extreme. Noah faced a lot of pressure being one of the few righteous left. Given the intensity, God wanted to save Noah.
PS — I need to look more often on Paul’s post on not allowing myself on these issues.
I don’t think God ever got us to see our need for a saviour by showing us the effects of sin and especially not by inflicting punishment on us for it.
He attracts us to the Saviour by His beautiful life and shows us our error and perverse misunderstanding that lead us to crucify Him. He thus enables us to connect with Him through an emotional understanding of the Truth.
This is just simple and clear. Also, God not changing doesn’t turn him insensitive and static. While his nature and standards never change, he planned that his ultimate approach to dealing with mankind would be wrapped up in his incarnate son. Anything before the incarnation wasn’t the “thing” but a way of paving way for the “thing” . His nature and ultimate mission has always been the same but his style of revealing himself and pursuing the mission has always changed to suit time and circumstances. Eg, to farmers he may give rain but fish to fishermen to eaters bread but seed to Sowers.
Understanding the 5 major covenants between God and man has brought me so much freedom.
A worthwhile study indeed.
I came to a question in 1 Corinthians, when Paul says how God sent snakes, and the Holy Spirit sent the answer to my inbox. Thanks for being one of His vessels!